It’s COVID-19 in Peru Day 20.

Wow. We have passed the 19 in COVID-19 to arrive at Day 20. That means we’re about to hit the 3-week mark since what my friend Deborah calls the “Peru Challenge” began.

This week has gone surprisingly fast. And….it’s Lady Day!!

I leave the complex right behind another women with a shopping bag. This should be fun.

covid-19 in peru day 20

Ladies Run Amok

Oh man. Is it EVER Lady Day.

I enter our trusty Plaza Vea grocery store—similar to a Meijer in the midwest, selling clothes, beach towels, small appliances, but mostly groceries—and it’s busier than I’ve ever seen it, a multitude of masked women. Though, as busy as the store is, it’s still much calmer than any Michigan grocery right before a big snowfall is predicted.

covid-19 in peru day 20

The hair color aisle, by the way, is getting particular scrutiny.

I walk around, taking my time. I genuinely enjoy grocery shopping, always have. It means I have money (there have been times when I didn’t). I love orderly rows of things on shelves, the sheer variety in packaging. The aisles are more crowded than usual, but it’s honestly not bad. Just busy.

We don’t need much: hand creme, as the frequent washing is taking a toll, more juice oranges. It’s not Wine Day, which means tomorrow will be, technically. But we can’t shop tomorrow, so I think about maybe picking up a bottle. But I opt out, figuring I’ll give the old liver a break over the weekend.

I head to the front of the store with my small collection of stuff. The young woman directing traffic gestures to a line, I start to get in it.

“No, señora, tiene que…..” blah blah blah. When spoken rapidly through a mask, Spanish, this language I feel I’m beginning to understand a teeny bit, becomes incomprehensible. But I realize she’s saying the equivalent to the grouchy dad in A Christmas Story: “No, kid, the line ENDS here. It BEGINS there…” as he points about a mile away.

No problema. I trudge back the length of the store, past the produce, past the dairy, past the deli meat. The actual beginning of the line is right before prepared foods. It’s actually kind of a genius strategy, as pretty much everyone in it continues to shop while they wait.

We stand patiently. Some women have huge carts full, some more modest amounts similar to mine. We pass a display of monster papayas, one of the few tropical fruits I really dislike. It’s ransacked, although someone has thoughtfully and artistically arranged a bundle of beets to decrease the negative space.. And….what’s up with the suitcase in the shopping cart?? A gold one, at that. Fancy.

Those prices are Peruvian soles, by the way, about 3.5 to $1 at the moment. At the top, it says, “Buy More Enjoy More.”

The line moves quickly, and I’m in it about 10 minutes or so. Once I make it to a register, I wait another 5 for the previous person to finish. If you look at the middle left of the photo below and squint, you can see the crowd of women lined up along the freezers waiting to check out.

I get my stuff, head out—and the big metal doors that I typically exit through, the kind that roll up and down like garage doors, have been pulled in place and locked tight.

I backtrack, make my way past a young traffic director through the entryway; there’s only one small portal for shoppers on their way out.

It’s been just about 45 minutes since I entered. Now, the line to get into the store extends to the end of the block.

Still, the women waiting in it are patient. One of the things I loved about living in New York was how good people were at waiting in line. I consider it one of the great lessons I learned from my 10 years in the city. I think it holds true for any densely populated city, that people know how to wait their turn. There’s lots to look at, and you can also just breathe and relax and clear your brain, because there is absolutely nothing to do but queue, so you might as well be patient and gracious. I vowed to stop reading my phone in line a while ago in an effort to have some time in my day that was deliberately non-productive, and I notice the non-phone-readers outnumber the ones with their heads dropped.

There are a lot of policia out, mostly guys, and the store personnel, while mostly women, also includes a fair amount of men. I see a civilian guy walk toward the store, and I kinda want to see how that plays out. Will there be a dramatic policia pile on?

But more than that, I want to get home and use my new hand creme. So I don’t stick around to find out.

Small Mission Accomplished

I get home, wash up, lotion up—the hand creme feels like some balm straight out of paradise—and have a piece of toast.

Steve notices a woman with an empty shopping bag down below. “She’s quite jaunty,” he says.

“She’s in for a treat,” I reply.

By Treat, I Mean….

About half an hour later, Steve heads to the roof for his Lady Day outdoor fix—remember, he’s not allowed in the street. Half an hour after that, he pops his head in the apartment door.

“Come on up,” he says. “There’s something you should see.”

Over the rooftop railing, I look down. The line to get into Plaza Vea has now wrapped around 2 corners, and it’s getting longer by the minute.

When Steve comes back downstairs another half hour later, he says, “It’s longer. Gotta be 150 people right now.”

I have a feeling there’s a whole bunch of Peruvian men today who will be recipients of a rather stern talking-to from their female housemates. “Next week, sir, YOU are going shopping on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. Because this Saturday thing? Is for los aves.”

How ‘Bout That Embassy?

Walberg’s rep gets in touch. She says she’s been personally assured that we will be directly contacted with a flight out. “If you haven’t heard anything by 2 p.m., please let me know,” she says.

Shortly after, I do get an Embassy email, though not a personal one. Over 4600 repatriations so far, and they continue to work. “If you are in Lima, Iquitos, or Arequipa, we have not forgotten you,” says the email.

So that may be it for the day. We’re used to those, but it’s ok.

When I talk to my son and tell him about the new gender specific rules, he says, “I wish I were there.”
“Me, too,” I reply. “That would be fun.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to be around older people,” he says. Again with this. Alas, he is correct.
He’s just saying that he would love to be someplace that takes COVID this seriously, and doesn’t send mixed signals like the president saying, “Wear a mask if you want. I’m not gonna bother….”

If it weren’t for the fact that there is zero indication when regular flights will be bookable out of Lima, we’d be fine with staying. But at the moment, an embassy-arranged charter is all we got. And we don’t even got that yet.

Oh well. Nothing to do but wait. And at least neither of us has to shop any more today, so we don’t even have to stand in a line to do it.

Never Give Up

A little before 1 p.m. (Lima time, which is equivalent to Central DST in the US), I get an email addressed specifically to me and Steve, which hasn’t happened before. Previously, we’ve been getting generic-seeming mails. This one says, “We have registered your interest in a flight. We will be in contact via email when we have more details for you.  There is no need to reply to this email.”

That part is in a smaller font size than the generic message that says they’re still working on repatriation flights.

I’m even gladder that I didn’t buy any wine.

But then we hear from Walberg’s rep. Once again, the message from the Embassy to them is: we know they’re there. We’ll let them know when we got something.


Afternoon Entertainment

I decide to watch The Last Man on Earth, the first screen version of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. Vincent Price is the first iteration of the hero eventually played by Charlton Heston and Will Smith. So….that’s an interesting evolutionary path.

The movie is low-budget, and given our current reality, both creepy—Mr. Price’s character has immunity from an airborne pandemic that starts with a cough because he was bitten by a bat—and a bit comforting. I mean, at least we all don’t get this, go blind, and then turn into vampires unless we’re burned up.

Steve is completely not into this type of movie. So I watch it alone.

About 2/3 of the way in, I hear the most depressed rendition that’s ever been sung, anywhere, of “Happy Birthday to You.” The singer sings in English through a loudspeaker down in the street. There is no accompaniment, and the singer keeps stopping after getting out a line of the song, as if he’s either not sure what comes next or he’s deciding to call the whole thing off for a minute. I wonder if it really is someone’s birthday, or if he’s trying to instruct people on how long to wash their hands.

I guess I’ll go take a roof walk.

Rebel, Rebel

OH MY GOD. But not til after Steve gets safely back from defying Lady Day, and walking to the corner to get a beer. God help me, I am nervous.

About half an hour later, I hear Steve calling me from outside. My first thought is, oh shit, he’s with a cop. I’m having to appear in order to vouch for the clueless gringo. But he’s on the rooftop. There were 4 women waiting outside the bodega where they sell beer, so he came back.

I say, look. We’re here. Respect their rules. Don’t do that again. If you want a beer on Lady Day, just ask me.

And if either of us wants anything on Nobody Day, which is tomorrow, well, tant pis.

Pray With Your Booty

We watch Keb Mo in a live YouTube concert. (If you’re not familiar with the wonderful organization Playing for Change, of which KM is a part, please check it out.) We saw him live with Taj Mahal a couple of years ago. It’s the weirdest phenomenon about concerts in Ann Arbor, but the musicians on stage can be crushing it so you can’t help but get up and move along. Yet I’ve watched audiences, time after time, sit there politely, barely nodding their heads in approval.

Well, hell with that. I always stand up and dance in place. There were about 5 of us doing that at this particular concert, including Steve. Finally, Keb Mo, clearly as concerned as I that there were so few of us on our feet, said, “C’mon, people. Sometimes, you got to get up and pray with your booty.” So about a third of the house finally got up, having received permission, although apparently, the other 2/3 took that to mean “wiggle a teeny bit from side to side in your seat to prove you’re not completely expired.”

Here in our Lima house, we pray with our booties. We wish you a comparable religious experience.