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Escape Tunnels

October 8, 2007

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Escape Tunnels in Lima, Peru

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I wasn’t very good at translating from Spanish to English when I studied abroad in Lima, Peru in 2000. I saw this sign on the street while I was walking from a shopping center to the Catholic University where I was taking classes. I took this picture because I wanted to remember the feeling I had the first time I considered the meaning of “Tubos de Escape”. I thought it might mean “Escape Tunnels” and I imagined Peruvians tunneling away from their oppressors. I don’t really know where they would end up. Brasil? Chile? I had an imaginary ‘better place’ in mind at the time. The sign belonged to a shop a ways back from the road. It seemed hidden and mysterious to my untrained eye. I imagined it as a stop on a South American ‘Underground Railroad’ to traffic humans away from what was causing their pain. The secondary “Silenciadores” took on an ominous meaning as well. I thought it literally had to be “silencers,” as in rich people whose job it was to stitch poor people’s mouths shut.

It’s actually a sign out in front of an auto repair shop. A mechanic is advertising “exhaust pipes” and “mufflers”. I hadn’t learned car part terminology yet, so I was a quixotic victim of my own ignorance of the Spanish language, trying to process all the poverty and suffering that I was surrounded by for the first time in my life.

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7 Comments
  1. October 9, 2007 10:55 am

    I remember you talking about this sign and what you thought it meant. I see now why you thought that. The poverty is devastating.

  2. October 9, 2007 5:22 pm

    Hey FFPT, welcome to my blog!
    I didn’t know what to do when I was surrounded by poverty. I thought I had found a bargain when I bought a round-trip domestic plane ticket from Lima to Cusco for $120. I told my friend about my sweet deal and he raised his eyebrows and told me his family could stretch $120 over an entire month’s living expenses. I was ashamed of having enough “extra” money to go on a tourist outing, but I didn’t know what to do about it or how I should act.

  3. February 4, 2008 5:28 pm

    This is quite thought provoking and moving.

    It’s funny what we see culturally as poverty. What to us looks impoverished may to others be quite a lot. i recently read a post on Theory My Culture blog that delved a bit into the American idea of poor that i found profound. i mention this because your interpretation of the sign was influenced by what you saw around you. Most Americans would make the same connections (if they were not fluent translators, i know i would have).

    i enjoyed this.

  4. February 4, 2008 8:46 pm

    Funny how misunderstandings of trivial things can lead to deeper thought and reflection. My recent run in with poverty is linked in my version of this meme. The one about doing my first eviction.

  5. February 4, 2008 10:23 pm

    Very interesting post, and a stunning picture, too. I think I would have had the same thoughts as you.

  6. February 5, 2008 8:30 am

    What I like about this photo is that it represents how much I didn’t know. But it shows how I think. Also, it’s neat that since it’s scanned and not digital, it looks grainy and implies even more poverty than a clearer shot would have.

  7. February 5, 2008 10:11 am

    I love this post. It reminds me that we all learn about what is around us first and then we spread out like a wave when learning about everything else, hitting foriegn shores, rocky outcrops, coral, seaweed, all kinds of unexpected things. For some reason it reminds me of a song that says: “Life is a dance we learn as we go, sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow, don’t worry about what you don’t know, life is a dance we learn as we go.” I love learning…I just love it!

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