Friday, January 28, 2011

Lima Day II: Clinica Divino Nino de Jesus & Opalos

November 19, 2010

I have just found my seat on the plane to Arequipa, the altitude is higher – the taxis driver to the airport from my Hotel in Miraflores told me to make sure I chew on some coca leaves as soon as I arrive otherwise I will get a headache. He said they sell the coca leaves in any ‘Botica’ (small 7-Eleven type shops). We’ll see..

My second day in Lima was a bit more disorganized. I spoke to my contact in Arequipa about 7:00 am – his wife recommended that I try and find the opals (opalo) in Lima – she thought the price would be better. I had a few meeting to attend and I wanted to make a visit to the ‘Clinica Divino Niño de Jesus.’ It is on the grounds of the Children City (Cuidad del Niños); the Clinic is on a large parcel of land shared with an orphanage and home for unwed mothers and victims of domestic violence. The land and orphanage is owned by the Catholic Church while the Clinic rents space on the land – it reality, the Clinic is part and parcel of the Church- most of the support come from the congregations in Lima – technically it is an independent entity but the Founder and President of the Clinic is very committed to the Church – I am now the proud own of a stature of El Divino Niño de Jesus’ – not to mention a extensive assortment of holy cards and Catholic brochures. I joke but this woman is very impressive – she is in her mid sixties, her husband is an ophthalmologist in private practice. She decided to start an eye clinic for ‘los pobres.’ In four years she has raised the money to support 4 ophthalmologist, surgical suites, optical shop, pharmacy, and cafeteria, not to mention exam rooms, special testing, and electronic medical records – they do perform over 6 thousand surgeries a year and are growing rapidly.

This is where I come in, they need cheap consumables; a friend is putting together a consortium of VOSH (optometrist charity & Rotovision (Rotary Club Eye Charity) to make the donation – it’s my job to get the consumables and equipment and get it to the Clinic.

Well, enough of that, after I visited the Clinic I meet with a doctor I know that lives in Lima – she is a pediatric ophthalmologist; works for free – and has for many years – how she does it I haven’t a clue – she is not wealthy. Anyways, she offered to help take me to a place that I could find opals – it was a very large Indian Market – literally hundreds of stalls – and yes I did get lost.

I spend about 2 hours trying to get the best deals on a string of opals for Marilyn. As it turns out opals come in many shapes, color – it is all dependent on the location in Peru from where they are mined. Finally, I picked a type that I thought mom would like, and began the negotiation process between two vendors – I got them down about 30 USD, but not quite where I thought I could get; but they would go not further.

After a few more trips between the stalls, an older woman in the second stall told me in Spanish that they would go no lower and didn’t I realize that the same people owned both stalls. To make the situation all the more humiliating it was the same string of opals, as we were negotiating they were moving the string of opals from one stall to the other. In my defense they did have different business cards for each stall – they were different colors. What can I say; I bought the opals and left with my tail between my legs.

All is well that ends well; Marilyn liked the opals and enjoyed the story of my all too clever negotiations to get them for her.

Winter Bike Commuting

I’ve been biking for years, first on a mountain bike and then on a road bike. When I first started about 10 years ago – I bought a cheap mountain bike – a Murray. It’s a tank, heavy steel, big fat knobby tires, cheap gears, but at the time it was fine; I loved riding through the woods and even on the road.

I finally bought a road bike when I was planning a 100 mile ride on the eastern shore of Maryland – the Seagull ride. That ride did it I got hooked on biking particularly road biking, even if I did crash at the 60 mile point and ended up in riding to the hospital in an ambulance. I was lucky I looked a lot worst than I was; the thing that I remember most vividly was how painful it was being strapped to a board for the ambulance ride. Every bump seemed like a ditch the size of a bus.

But enough of that, one of my 2011 New Year resolution was to ride to work on my bike no matter the weather. I geared up for foul weather and even got the old mountain bike in shape for the worst days. I was fairly certain I would only have to deal with cold and rain, and a little snow. Washington’s winters are generally mild; or rather they were until last year.

As usual I was wrong, the weather has been offal, but I had a resolution to fulfill – I couldn’t bale on it after less than one month. I road home in a white out the night before last – I made it all the way without getting off my bike. When I left the office there was less than 1 inch of snow on ground and the roads were wet and a little icy but not too bad; by the time I got home an additional inch and a half had fallen.

I was thrilled that I made it – it was fun, challenging, and exhausting. I’m going to keep it up – although maybe work on finding a better used mountain bike but nevertheless push on. At the same time I guess I should issue a stupidity alarm. I am tempted to say that this verges on the stupid. Granted I was prepared for the weather, I was light up like a Christmas tree – complete with flashing light, my bike was equipped with big knobby tires, and warm cloths, but you can’t control the drivers – they present the real danger. My neighborhood has more than its share of enormous pick-ups and drivers with excess macho. Don’t get me wrong so far they have been much more patient and considerate of me of the road than they are in good weather – they probably think I’m touched.

However, Washington is what it is, a transient population with a high percentage of people not accustom to foul weather driving – the unpredictability of my companions on the road and their uncertain ability to control their massive hunks of steel (more plastic these day, but you get my point) is my one fear.

Well, I will have to admit to another concern – going down hill on a snow covered road – not as much fun as when it is dry.

Despite my misgiving about the intelligence of my resolution I will continue biking to work, but for those of you that would like to join me on the road I will offer a few words of caution. Be careful, use flashing lights, keep your glasses clean, assume that the gas drivers are a hair’s breath away from being out of control, and don’t be reluctant to dismount and walk when it the weather outpaces your skills on the bike. Hell, it’s a ball riding, even in foul weather; but it is no fun being in the emergency room.

Top Photo: Decked out in my bad weather biking gear - if this doesn't embarrass my sons I give up!

Middle & Bottom Photos: Snow Storm as seen from my front porch upon arrival at home from my bike commute.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lima - Day 1

November 18, 2010

It’s 6:00 am and I’ve been in Peru for about 32 hours. I made a big mistake talking to you about the ‘hand carry’ practice; I cursed myself – I got caught on my entry into Peru. I was carrying about 6,000 USD of equipment and either by pure chance, my suspicious mug (I cut my hair down to about a quarter of an inch – I now match some profile), or x-ray screening they pulled me over upon arrival to do a hand inspection of my bags – one bag actually. They found the big item I was carrying; they retrieved the paperwork I signed declaring that I had nothing to declare and marched me off to the security area – I guess the whole area is a security area.

After immigration, you claim your bags and then you go to the declaration station; they collect your declaration forms and then you go through a portal and press a green button – if it lights green you move forward, if red you get inspected.

Before I left I asked my contact about the customs situation – his response, ‘press the green button with confidence.’ It did not work. I do not think they actually have the detection technology built into these portals; rather, I think they follow the thinking of the traffic police that set-up blow up cops in patrol cars on the side of the road to make you think they are checking for speeding – bottom line I think it is random. Without getting into too much detail, after opening the bag and discovering the big item they did not look any further and moved on to the interrogation phase – no hot lights or rubber hoses. They were actually pretty polite. All the time I trying to decide the best mixture and truth and lies to use that would be most effect in getting me out of this mess as cheaply as possible.

After two hours of selective lying and the luck that they couldn’t find a value of the instrument online they accepted the value I gave them added a few hundred dollars and told me I would have to pay taxes on that amount, I should not forget the stern lecture on respecting the laws of Peru. I did not get fined or ‘frog walked’ out of the terminal – it cost me a little over a hundred dollars – in cash, no credit cards accepted, I was freed and nothing was confiscated.

It’s been six years that I’ve been doing the ‘hand carry’ thing and the first time I’ve been caught with the exception of the incident at US customs in Miami.

So far, the trip has been productive, the highlight has been we had a meeting with the COO of the Clinton Initiative in a Ramada at the airport – money let’s them do things that we couldn’t even consider – they rented a conference room for the meeting – we’d have just pushed a couple of chairs together in the lobby. The meeting went well enough that John and I were invited for a visit to their headquarters in Harlem for follow-up discussions. I doubt if we will get any direct funding but they have developed IT and patient outreach tools that could be very useful. Their goal in Peru is to sponsor 50,000 cataract surgeries in 4 years.

The hotel we are staying at is a modest one, more than adequate, clean and with free wireless internet – the only other luxury I could wish for would be a coffee pot in the room. When I first arrived and they took me to my room we got off the elevator and everything was dark – they have motion sensors on the lights and the hall lights come on as you walk down the hall and turn off as you pass. A few years ago I would have thought of this was typical developing world energy conservation, now I think of it in terms of things to come in the US.

Today is fairly light, I have to attend a few meetings this morning, and a dinner this evening but otherwise I am free – I have general maintenance work to do on my Program but nothing critical – catch up work. Marilyn, for the first time, asked me to bring her something back from Peru – she wanted me to find her some opals. This is significant since she never asks for anything, so maybe today I will go on an opal search. I would feel extremely bad if unsuccessful, not because she would be upset if I failed but because in all the years we have been married she has asked for so little – nothing really; the things I have gotten her have generally been too lame to mention.

Tomorrow I am off to Arequipa, the Hospital I am visiting has set up a welcoming reception for Friday night or Saturday It is it a Social Clinic – not sure what the next few days hold for me; I do not have a formal schedule.

To be continued....

Monday, January 17, 2011

Old Town Alexandria

January 16, 2011

Yesterday was a cold sunny mid-January Sunday – a perfect day to stretch our legs, have a bit of lunch and see Old Town Alexandria. It's been years since I roamed Alexandria; and even then it was only a quick bike ride down Duke Street on my way to Mount Vernon. I've never visited the Torpedo Factory – after so many years I’m not sure how I’ve avoided it.

It was a choice between Eastern Market, Annapolis, and Old Town Alexandria. Annapolis was too far for my mood, and I’ve visited Eastern Market more times than I care to remember, so Old Town Alexandria was the choice. Alexandria is on the Potomac River just south of National Airport (officially Reagan National Airport but since I am not a fan of the Reagan presidency I still refer to it as National Airport).

Old Town is manufactured quaint - period architecture, quaint (read expensive) shops, restaurants, a river side boardwalk, and art to boot. I may sound a bit sarcastic; it’s nice, clean, safe, modular, and relaxing on a Sunday afternoon stroll. Nothing exciting about the walk; we roamed and had brunch and toured the Torpedo Factory. Old Town is laid out in a grid with names like King Street, Duke Street, Prince Street, and Washington Street as homage to our first president. Straight down Washington Street for 11 miles is Mount Vernon.

The Torpedo Factory is a cooperative of artist studios and galleries. As you might guess the name comes from its history – it was originally a torpedo factory. I’ll avoid the history and just leave you with a link (

Just about all the galleries and studios were displaying beautiful works but ….

It is not a place for deep or innovated work. Don’t get me wrong it’s a nice place to visit, but it is more of a place for tourist, natives strolling on a quiet afternoon and maybe corporate art buyers looking for art with class but nothing controversial. That said there is nothing wrong with derivative art, or even imitation art; hell, I love when song are covered, sometimes even better than the original version. What they created is better than rows of sports bars, pawn shops, or tattoo parlors (let’s put a hold on the tattoo parlor - they can be interesting). Old town is nothing original; many cities have similar areas – the Inner Harbor in Baltimore to name one. If you are looking for a unique experience keep looking, but if you want to spend a relaxing afternoon, get a bit to eat, or just stretch your legs it just might be the ticket.

A disclaimer to avoid hypocrisy:

It you go to my photo site ( or my video site ( I doubt if you will find anything there that is innovative, but give it a look anyway.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Traveling to Peru

November 16, 2010

Well, I am finally on my way to Peru. In fact, I’m writing on the plane. I am on the first leg of the trip – Miami and then on to Lima from there. I am staying in the Miraflores neighborhood.

This trip should be more interesting; more relaxed than the trip to Australia or Chicago – both of which were bears – very productive bears but too busy to be anything other than work.

I am spending 2 full days in Lima; not much pressure of this part of the trip – mostly meet and greet, show the flag and make sure that as many people remember us as possible. I do have a dinner meeting on Thursday night with the Clinton Foundation representatives for Peru. It should be interesting they are dedicating big money to Peru and rumor has it that they are frustrated with the lack of progress – loads of dedicated money not being spent – everything too slow. I can help them spent the money.

After Lima I’m off to Arequipa, Arequipa is the main event of the trip. I am giving a lecture on technological procurement to health ministry officials, local ophthalmologist and the heads of a couple of Hospitals. I have known the main players in Arequipa the longest; some of them have become friends. It was the group from/Arequipa that were behind making me an honorary member of the Peruvian Ophthalmology Society.

I am hand carrying about 6 thousand dollars in technology for the Arequipa group. Hand carrying is a NGO (Non Government Organization) way of saying smuggling. The duties are so onerous in the developing world that you practically have no choice; unless you are either willing to pay a bribe or get a Certificate of Donation processed. These countries are trying to protect the local business men; the problem is their mark-up can easily double the price and that is after customs are paid. The most notorious country is Egypt – they require the NGOs to purchase all items from in-country vendors regardless of where it is manufacture red – it’s outrageous – this is free equipment, paid for by the NGO. So we use the euphemism ‘hand carry’ to cover suitcase technology. It has never been a problem; US customs once in Miami gave me a lecture 3 or 4 years ago, but that has been the only time it was ever an issue.

After Arequipa I go to Piura for a couple of days – it is in the far north, desert country. It is so far north that the inhabitants refer to themselves as Piurians not Peruvians. Finally back to Lima and then home. I will miss Thanksgiving by a day.

Andrew is having one of the Mike’s over for dinner and Rob and Vickie are coming, so the house will still be full. I am sure it is not decided yet and won’t be until the day before Thanksgiving but Marilyn and Andrew are playing with the idea of not having turkey and the usual fixing. I can’t say I blame her – it is a ton of work; but for me it just would not be Thanksgiving without the usual traditions. Mind you the usual traditions usually do not involve much on my part – Marilyn would say that I have a tradition of not doing any work that day so my opinion is not relevant.

On the way to the Metro (Metro sucks by the way – the last Metro scandal involves the escalators – it seems they bought the model that has the worse service record – are you surprised?) this morning

Miami to Lima - Several hours later

I just finished dinner; it’s a good thing I’m from Pittsburgh and don’t have a discriminating palette, despite the questionable cuisine, I like dining on a plane; I eat slowly (no where to go) and listen to music and every once in a while I have a glass of wine to smooth out the trip.

The trip from Miami to Lima is a little over 5 hours – not so bad. I have music and the Kindle to keep me busy. The one thing about these trips that burn my ass is putting the seat back. Most airlines make people bring the seat back to the upright position at least for meals – not the case tonight. The only saving grace is aisle seats; I’d have a hard time if I was locked into one of those casket-like middle or window seats.

In some ways I am a little glad not to be home for Thanksgiving – I always fixed Mike (my dog – passed a couple months ago) a plate, I’ll miss that, it was special for him. Of course, that was before he took over the kitchen with rotating chefs – now if you want to talk about a discriminating palette. Mike in his old age acted like a diva New York food critic, and your Marilyn made it a daily act of mercy to read his mind and prepare just the right meal to satisfy Mike ‘The Dog.’ This bizarre behavior must have something to do with latent Catholicism.

I just flew over Panama - another trip across the equator. I’m getting a little tired of typing on a ‘V’ shaped computer screen and keyboards – the seat in front of me is reclined. One last thing before I leave for the evening – I finally got a blackberry smart phone. The advantage is that it has international ‘push’ email and international chat; also international calling, but too expensive to answer except in an emergency.

More later.

Monday, January 10, 2011

It’s Been a Long Time

It’s been a long time since I posted an entry into my Blog; over two years (almost three) since my last written entry (I have posted a few photos and video). It is time to change – time to start posting again. I have taken many trips since my last entry, two trips to Australia, a trip to Argentina, a tour of Central America, Nepal, South Korea, Paris, and most recently to Peru. It is time to end the silence. I want to thank Ying Ho of Australia for encouraging me to get back on the writing horse

I do plan on a few changes. One, I intend to expand the scope of my entries. I will comment on things that are relevant to my travels even remotely. I will add some political commentary; although I will do my best to avoid local issues.

I generally travel for work, but for privacy reasons I have generally avoided including anything about my work activities in my Blog, I am going to try and change; I will experiment with entries relating to my work – I will avoid criticism of anybody or any institution. It may be interesting but not appropriate. I will do my best to identify individuals with sensitivity to their privacy. If you are identified and wish you were not, just send me a note and I will remove the identity information and if appropriate your image.

If I have any comments that I feel strongly about, I’ll do my best to disguise the individual or institution involved.

As some of you may know I have several other sites related to my travels principally my Flickr site and my YouTube site. Please visit them and comment; aside from being a source of encouragement I’d like to know what you find interesting. Don’t hesitate to criticize. A few years ago while my son was spending a semester in Santiago de Chile I started a Blog (Letters to Chile) documenting my letters to him. I only included my letters but he has given me permission to include his responses. I doubt if I will go back and insert them, we’ll just have to see.

He is currently serving as a Perce Corp Volunteer (PCV) on the island of Palawon in the Philippines. I am currently working on a site to include our correspondence. If anyone writes him and you would like to post on the site please sent it to me. I’d love to include it if it has any general interest. I will edit out or disguise any personal comments or references that are in keeping with privacy issue.

I expect to open the site within a week. It will be titled “Letters to the Philippines.” I will post a notice with the link as soon as I start posting the correspondence.

I’d like to plug a friend’s Blog. A friend, Nora Ivory, has recently begun an adventure – she is spending a semester abroad in Galway, Ireland. She is an excellent writer and if you can follow her adventures through her Blog entitled ‘There She Goes.

Finally, any suggestions to make the Blog more interesting, or in some cases more grammatically correct please post a comment – Viagra spam comments I do not need. Comments can be anonymous; so far most of them have been so don’t hesitate to let me have it. If I have made a mistake regarding anything let me know – if I agree I will correct it. You can all serve as the copy editor I do not have.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lunch Time Kathmandu

Lunch Time Kathmandu
Originally uploaded by Bill Shields

Kathmandu, Nepal; April 2009

The Dusty Road

The Dusty Road
Originally uploaded by Bill Shields

Along the Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, April 2009

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hindu Cremation at Pashupati Temple

Hindu Cremation at Pashupati Temple on the Bagmati River in Katmandu Nepal 2-13-2008.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008