Posted by: joshtoro | October 29, 2008

A Chat on Buses

I visited EDAPROSPO branches in Huaycan and Vitarte today.  Huaycan is off the Carreterra Central about halfway between La Molina and Chosica.  To get there, I left my house in Surco at 7.30am, caught a bus at the corner, rode said bus all the way up Avenida Ayacucho and Av Aviación for forty-five minutes to Javier Prado (a main thoroughfare that runs through the center of Lima and out it’s northeastern corner, aka La Molina), switched buses to one going out Javier Prado, through La Molina and out to the Carreterra Central which runs out to the provinces.  Huaycan is about an hour further out once you reach the Carreterra (Vitarte is only thirty minutes out on the same road).  Combined with my post yesterday, I think you can begin to appreciate how much time I spend on buses, mototaxis, and walking around interviewing a handful of clients a day.  One of the unexpected pleasures on these long bus rides is when a conversation can develop despite the blaring music, insistent and high-pitched honking, jerky stopping and acceleration, yelling by the cobrador (guy who hangs out the window and yells where the van is going, hopes to hear a pedestrian yell back or wave, opens the sliding door, collects your fare, jumps out sometimes and smacks the side of the van, and immensely enjoys the words ‘sube [get on]’ and ‘baja [get off]’), and movements of your twenty fellow passengers in your 10-passenger van. 

Today I had the opportunity to talk to a grandmother (probably in her early 50s) holding her baby grandson while we haltingly made our way from Huaycan to Vitarte.  And what made the talk even more amazing than the fact that we could hear each other was what she had to say.  As Hernando de Soto describes much better (and in more depth) than I in his book The Other Path, this is how a typical land invasion works: a group of people usually from the same province decide to move to an empty piece of land.  They form an invading committee, divvy up the land into plots, and decide on a night to move in as one.  There is strength in numbers and if they hold firm, the government will willfully overlook their presence and after several years of successful occupation, grant them titles to the land.  Like almost every suburb of Lima, Huaycan began as a land invasion in the 1980s.  This grandmother had been a part of the first group of people to settle in what would become Huaycan.   She told me that she had lived in Huancayo (a town in the Sierras about 6 hours away from Lima) and her cousin had told her about a community of people that were preparing to invade some empty land northeast of Lima.  On the night of the invasion, she received her plot and moved in.  For three days she had no shelter at all and shivered the nights away sitting on her piece of land (I think she didn’t expect it to be so cold).  Little by little, she and the rest constructed dwellings of thatch.  These thatch roofs and walls are replaced by plywood when there is money.  Plywood gives way to better wood which gives way to adobe bricks which gives way to concrete which gives way to adding a second story of bricks, etc.  People create terraces where once only uneven rocky hills lay; staircases first of shifted rock and dirt then wood then concrete are put in the hillsides; roads develop between blocks of lots, first made of the misshapen terrain then of flattened dust then of asphalt.  Markets form in much the same way as vendors start with a dollar of inventory walking along the road then get a bit more and cart it around in wheelbarrows then build a community of thatch stalls which turn into a market of tin stalls then a market with walls and hired security and concrete floors.  Over time, a city is formed where once there were only rocky desert hills. 

Thus over twenty years time, a gringo like me could find a two-storey building housing EDAPROSPO off a split four-lane paved highway surrounded by markets and next to houses on a hillside with staircases for me to climb from house to house and then return on a bus driving the same road and talk to a grandmother with her grandson about her participation in the invasion of empty desert and about her daughter who is married to a German and now living in Finland studying English in German.  After our thirty-minute chat, I disembarked and went on my way to interview women like this one who literally turn nothing into something, little by little, every day.  

On my Kiva lender page (which all of you should get one now if you don’t have one already), I say that my occupation is traveling the world collecting stories and friends.  While my job is to collect the stories I garner from interviews with Kiva clients, it is the talks with people like the grandmother today that make me reconsider the interim time I spend on buses not as a drag on my productivity but rather a fulfillment of my self-professed occupation.



  1. Love the collected stories you share 🙂

    I also appreciate the photo side bar — they make me realize just HOW tough it must be to find these places. Fortunately, you are blessed with a better sense of direction than I 🙂

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