I first saw Carabayllo at night, in Farmer’s company. The road from the airport, four lanes and divided, felt very smooth, even after the driver turned away from the old Spanish colonial center and the skyscrapers of downtown and headed into the settlements of Lima’s northern outskirts…. “Lima doesn’t seem like the third world,” I said.
“Oh, yes it is,” said Farmer. “You’ll see.”
- Mountains Beyond Mountains
As the Tech in the World team settled into Lima, I felt like I had never left New York. Our apartment there had all the furnishings of my home in the US and was in one of the safest and —not coincidentally— richest neighborhoods in Lima. The only changes to my habits seemed to be only drinking bottled water and not flushing toilet paper down the toilet. We soon discovered a different Lima as we finished first weeks of work and went on our first weekend trip.
Within a week of working in the Socios En Salud office, the other TITW fellows and I had discovered many similarities between Lima and the other developing countries we had lived in. From the intermittent bullhorn blasting fruit sales that idled under our office windows every afternoon to the whizzing engines of the three wheeled autos, Lima sounded a lot like the India I experienced two years ago. In addition to these smaller observations, I also noticed the convergence of other components of the city. For example, the city had an informal bus system operated by lanky men dangling out of tiny, rusty buses brightly painted with the main stops on the side. Called jeepneys in the Philippines and combis in Lima, these cheap buses seemed to attract local commuters of all kinds while foreigner travelers like us opted for the official Metropolitano bus for fear of not being able to communicate with the conductors about the cost or the destination.
Combi in Lima, Peru
Jeepney in Cebu City, Philippines
These and other noticeable similarities led me to consider the history of development. Take the bus system for example, there seemed to be two possible paths for developing these similarities, which I decided to call convergent and divergent development. Convergent development I defined as the result of each community, in this case Cebu City in the Philippines and Lima in Peru, facing the same problem and, in turn, coming up with the same solution. Similar to how the theory of convergent evolution of the four chambered heart in mammals and birds, convergent development could have occurred when each city realized the need for an efficient but cheap transportation system to move its workers from the city edges were they lived to the developing center of the city.
Divergent development, on the other hand, occurred when a developing city A comes up with a solution and, as a result of international communication, city B sees the solution and implements it as well. Both the Philippines and Lima developed during the colonial period under Spanish rule and each became critical harbors in the Mexico and silver trade routes, respectively. Without further research, I didn’t have further insights into which theory—either divergent or convergent—played a greater role (as I’m sure both played a part). But this thought experiment did lead me to some other questions: is globalization good for development? Was it better for each region to come up with their own solutions independently or for a working solution to be modified and applied? Did it matter if both sometimes seemed to produce a similar result?