Monday, January 3, 2011

New Years Eve

New Years Eve in Peru. I sadly feel like I missed out. In the morning, I went with my host sisters to church. It’s really interesting because I don’t realize it I guess, but my host family rarely leaves this little area of the street where all the family is, and for the most part they can buy everything they need here as well. So making the ¼ mile walk to the church was a big deal. And being that it was sunny, it became an ordeal. We had to take 2 breaks along the way to the church in the shade, and then once we got to the church we sat outside for another 10min break before we entered. Sometimes I get really confused about this stuff. Once we were in church I have come to realize that it is more of a social gathering then it is to truly attend mass. For one, they talk through the entire mass and eye up the other people within the church and then talk about them. And the kids just run wild and play in the aisle, scream, and be as loud as possible and no one does anything. And this goes on the entire mass. It’s very distracting and I cant seem to figure out why they even go, I think it’s more out of moral obligation then anything else.
Then, in the afternoon we came home to make a scarecrow. Apparently the tradition is that at midnight in Peru they burn these scarecrows that are dressed in old clothes and it’s burning away the old and preparing for the new. It was so weird to see these scarecrows all over the place for new years. My host family went out and bought fireworks for it too…I missed all of this which I will explain later.
Later in the evening we had dinner…or so I thought, we had a soup. But I was informed at midnight we would have a bigger dinner. My host sister has asked me earlier in the week to go to a quincianera with her in my site mates town. I knew a little of this was so she could see her boyfriend who was a godfather for the event. I agreed. She said we were going to leave at 10, so I got ready and was good to go at 10. I also had told BJ about it and text him saying that wed be on our way at 10. I should have no better…Peruvian time. My host sister comes by my room at 10 and she is just then going to get her shower. So….at 11 we leave. So there was a moto taxi waiting for us outside and my host sister had commented about something before we left but I didn’t pay attention, and I didn’t pay attention to the guy driving either. So we get to the quincianera, and I didn’t even bother looking for BJ because we were so incredibly late, and she told the moto taxi guy to wait for us and we’d be just a minute. I should have known she was up to something. Well we go in, find her boyfriend, then she darts off. So I am left sitting there and people are just staring at me. I am not as well received in that town because I am not their volunteer and they aren’t familiar with me.
Then, the beer and food started circulating, and as sick as I got after the last wedding I attended I turned them both down, not without a steady persistence from a man with beer. I decided to avoid it all I would go outside and wait for my host sister. The moto taxi driver came to sit with me….that’s when it hit me that he was at the wedding we were at the weekend before and he has a huge crush on my host sister and he keeps coming around the house to get her attention. And the only reason he drove us to the party was because of her! And here she made him wait for us while she spent time with her boyfriend. When I figured that out, I was really upset. He started asking me lots of questions about her, and if she had a boyfriend and all kinds of stuff, I felt terrible. Then, as time passed, he was wondering where she was, because she said we were only going to be a minute, and apparently she had promised to go to a dance with him that was back in our town.
So here I was when midnight rolled around of the new year sitting outside this party in a town I was dragged too because my host sister wanted to see her boyfriend in secret and she ditched me. And I am sitting there with this mopey 19 year old moto taxi driver with a broken heart. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was in Peru, it was a pretty crappy way to bring in 2011. Eventually my host sister found me, dragged me back in so I could watch her dance with her boyfriend one time and we left with the very sad moto taxi driver. I was even more sad because as we drove home, all of the scarecrows I was dying to see burned up were lying in the streets charred. I missed the entire thing! I was really sad. And the entire time we rode home in the moto taxi there was this super weird tension because the kid was crying, we even had to pull over for him to wash his face and get it together. And the whole time my host sister was making fun of him. I just don’t have much of a tolerance for that. This kid never did anything but like her, and she just totally used him and was a total bitch to him. It wasn’t fair. Then right before we got home she asked me lie to the rest of the family and tell them that BJ was there so they didn’t get suspicious of her. I felt horrible about everything.
When we came in the house my family was just finishing up dinner, and I got served alone after everyone, and then they all went next door to my host sisters cantina to drink and dance. I wasn’t really interested, my heart was broken a little as well, I just hate how the whole night had gone down.
My family dragged me outside with them, and I made an escape to make a pretend phone call that would end with me going in the house and going to bed. But while I was sitting there the inebriated nasty drunk neighbor came and got literally directly in my face and said to come dance. When I repeatedly told him that I was talking to my boyfriend in the US, even pretending to talk into the phone he just got closer. I got so incredibly angry, he just kept telling me that he wasn’t here so what did it matter. He was so close I almost just pushed him, and I started yelling, and once I did that he got the point. I have just had it, this happens constantly and it makes me so angry. NO RESPECT!!! So at that point, and it was 3am, I went to bed and left them to drink and dance until who knows.
I’ve never been a big New Years Eve person, but I was looking forward to being a part of their traditions, and I sort of felt like I got shafted. Usually I am not superstitious, but I really hope how I brought in 2011 is in no way a reflection of how the rest of the year is going to be!


Often I get emails or letters that ask about the food here…so let me tell you a little about the food, I’ll take you through a typical day of meals here in the valley. For starters you can pretty much guarantee that rice will be present with each and every meal, no matter the time of day it doesn’t matter there is almost always white rice. Plus, rice is grown all over the valley so it’s fresh, not that I am sure there is such a thing as rice that is unfresh. But the other day I did have the honor of sifting through the rice. I am really confused on the whole process of rice anyway, I am starting to learn. Once the tops of the rice are chopped off (it looks like wheat), they are laid out front of the houses on large tarps and it dries in the sun all day. The thing I’m not sure about is when it goes from looking like wheat into looking like rice. But I do know that when I was sifting through the rice my job was to pull out the ones that still looked like wheat. So I don’t get it!
Okay, so back to the food, breakfast usually starts with a fried egg and rice and usually this coffee drink. It’s not really coffee but I know it’s similar. Some days, if I’m lucky I just get bread for breakfast and I have some jelly I put on it. Other times I could have pasta with chicken for breakfast. This morning…I actually had boiled sweet potatoes and a fried egg and I thought it was a good breakfast.
Lunch is usually and almost always rice and chicken. And you would think that with all the chicken I eat that I would be so sick of chicken, but the truth is that I am always craving more and more….there is usually barely any meat to pull off the bone of whatever part of the chicken I am served so I am always wishing for more. The absolute best part of lunch is the juices. I have fresh juice everyday from an assortment of fruits. My absolute favorite is maracuya. It’s this hollow shelled fruit that has these weird globules of seeds inside and you put that part in a blender and it makes the best juice you have EVER had. Other times I get papaya blended up or guananbana which is a coconut looking fruit that doesn’t have a really distinct taste but isn’t bad. A lot of time, I just have lemonade made from limes. Sometimes they also make this awesome tea from orange leaves and I like that too. The other day I had lunch at my host sisters house, and she made juice out of these weird little tomatoes that are a little bigger then a cherry tomato but also resemble an apple. That juice was not so good, it smelled like something I shouldn’t be drinking, but I did it anyway.
So for dinner, usually it might be chicken and rice again. But sometimes I get chicken soap with some vegetables thrown in there. Or at night they go and get cheese and we have cheese and rice. The cheese isn’t like anything I can explain. It is made from cow milk and they make in their home, and it’s wet and just different. Most of like a cottage cheese texture but molded together. I actually like that dinner because the cheese just adds a little something. And my absolute favorite meal usually is avocado. In Lima I used to have mashed avocado sandwiches. Here, they just cut up the avocado and serve it like that and I always really like it. That isn’t as frequent anymore because apparently avocados have been hard to come by.
Their fancy dinner is this meal called green rice and chicken. And it is literally just that, it’s green rice (not sure what makes the rice green) and it is always mixed with carrots, and then chicken, and usually a lettuce leaf with a slice of potato and this really good spicy yellow sauce I have grown to love. No lie, that is literally the EXACT meal that gets served at all special occasions.
There are rarely snacks, but if there are, it’s usually a mango.
That’s pretty much it, it doesn’t vary too much, I think of all the fruits and vegetables that they have here they could get more creative and experiment, but not really. But I’m not complaining because I actually enjoy the food, I am losing weight so that makes me happy. The variety kind of sucks at times, but I actually look forward to some of it. I guess the lack of options will do that. And food is a huge deal here, they take so much pride in it even though not much creatively goes into making it.
So when I get the opportunity to go into the capital city for a night or two and I can pick my meal, usually we go to Carbon Burger (I know not a very Peruvian name), and they have really good hamburgers for literally the equivalent to $1-2 American dollars. Sometimes we go to the chicken place and get a giant chicken dinner and fries, that makes up for the chicken craving! And then there are the other indulgences that include a frappucino at the cool place we discovered or a milkshake at this really good ice-cream spot. Other than that I usually get some good bread for an avocado sandwich ( I do love those things) or I pick up some fresh fruit in the market for snacks.

Cinderella Moment

Tonight I had a little Cinderella moment and it made me laugh. Well I was on my way back from BJ’s town and I was riding in a moto taxi and it was dark out. And we were riding alongside some of the fields and all I could see on both sides of me were sparkles. For real…sparkles. These sparkles were from the millions of fireflies (or lightening bugs) that were hanging out in the field. It made me think of Cinderella and the fairy godmother transforming everything with her magic wand. And then on top of it, I was riding in a moto taxi, which for a moment felt like my carriage (or at times my pumpkin). It definitely made me smile to myself , mostly because I couldn’t be further from feeling like Cinderella since I was all sweaty from the heat, and my clothes and feet were filthy. I felt more like the Cinderella before the sparkles and carriage. But the whole thing was pretty cool, I’ve never seen enough fireflies in one place for it to look like sparkles in my entire life, but I loved it!

Thursday Night Tradition

So BJ and I have gotten into this tradition and we always get together on Thursday afternoons just to hang out. We’ve been trying to find little spots to go where we can hang out and not really be bothered with Spanish and all the other stuff. We’ve gotten lucky and found some really good spots. However, this week we succeeded on the good spot, just not so much on the secludedness. To have to say an “hola” or a “Buenos tardes” is no big deal, but this week, it was really bad. First, we had this lady come up, she was from a neighboring town that was actually quite far for her. And here we were sitting in the middle of a field, surrounded by corn and cows and yet she found us. At first she questioned us about where we were from and then asked us about Patricio (the legend volunteer who worked in my town over 2 years ago). Apparently Patricio had taught English is her town…which again is no surprise because Patricio was definitely a super volunteer. Well, the lady wouldn’t leave, even when there were lulls in conversation she just kept standing there staring at us, which was incredibly awkward. At times when their were lulls, she would again bring up how beautiful the valley is and whether or not we liked it. That was a question we probably answered at LEAST 3 times in the conversation. Then, she spotted BJ’s laptop and began asking “how much” questions. Finally, finally after being polite and cordial for very very long, BJ and I just decided to start doing work on the laptop and look really engaged in it. With some time, the lady got the hint and said her goodbyes.
An hour or so later, we were approached by an interesting looking gentleman, this guy didn’t wait for us to chat he just started going, and going, and going. We heard about the money his kids send him from lima, and the entire story as to how he told them to go, and how people always ask why he is so skinny and he always loses weight from walking so much, he named all the towns in the valley, he even talked about fruit at one point I think. I could tell that this guy was a little off. For one he didn’t seem to concerned about the 2 white people sitting in a field listening to music, it just seemed like he wanted to talk, and he had stuff to say and we were sitting there, it could have been anyone. After what felt like forever, he spotted BJ’s lap top and asked about it, and as BJ was answering the guy just walked away, and that was the end of it. It was kind of a funny end.

TV...the leading cause of heart attacks

So this week, I was informed that my host Dad was in the cemetery helping to dig a whole for someone who passed away that previous night. Apparently, the man who passed away was 38 and he died of something happening to his heart because he had just bought a TV and was so excited his heart stopped working. Yes, I was told this story in complete seriousness, it was hard to not have a reaction.
I commented that 38 was very young for someone to die of heart trouble, and again, I was faced with the grave explanation of the TV again. Sometimes I think I ask those kinds of questions just to be sure my Spanish wasn’t too rusty and I heard it right. Other times I ask those questions because I am so completely shocked at the justification I have to hear it again.
Later that night, my host Dad got all dolled up, and my sisters started coming down hard on him about drinking, so I just figured he was going to a drinking circle or something. Since it has been the week between Christmas and New Years I just thought there was continuous celebration. But apparently no, my host Dad was going to the viewing of the dead man. The way I understood viewings as well is that they deceased person is placed on a table in the living room for 2 days and people come and pay their respects at the household, this sometimes includes drinking in the same room as the body. This whole concept really disturbs me, because I live in the middle of nowhere so I know during this time the body isn’t preserved, and during the day, the temperatures can get incredibly hot. So I asked my host sister and answer I already knew, wouldn’t the body stink. She told me that yes, but probably not this guy because it was a heart problem. But another guy who had stomach issues and after he died his stomach was swollen and his nose had bleed, apparently he stunk really really bad.
This whole thing bothers me so much. How can you watch someone you love decay right in front of you. I think the hardest part of someone passing is the viewing anyway, and then to have that inside you house. It just doesn’t feel right. But it also allows me to see how different these people view death. I believe them having that person in their living room allows them a little more time to say goodbye, and their love and devotion helps them overlook the smells and the strangeness that death brings.
I was hoping to see the funeral precession, or however that works here, but as of today I haven’t seen it. I sure hope that it has happened because it has been 6 days since the man passed away. I am sure they have put him somewhere else by now.

Shame in my Belly Button

Although I have had plenty of episodes of not so great health since I’ve been in Peru, I don’t think I have had such a bad day as I did this past week. I am not entirely sure what caused it but I was miserable, throwing up, even had a fever. And it definitely does suck to be feeling sick in incredibly hot weather. But instead of being able to curl up on the couch or in my bed at home, I am in Peru and everything is different. For one, I had a good half of days laundry to get done, and at first that wasn’t so bad, I didn’t start feeling really sick until closer to the end. But then when I started throwing up and realizing I couldn’t keep any water down, I started panicking. I don’t think I would have worried if I were home. But I knew that it wouldn’t take long to become dehydrated if I couldn’t keep water down, and then if I became dehydrated, that meant that it would be harder to get up and get out of bed. And if I couldn’t do that I knew I’d be looking at being sick much longer then I ever wanted too.
Anyway, once my host sisters realized I was sick they made it their duty to not leave me alone. I was able to get a few hours rest in while they finished up laundry, but after that, they somehow thought asking me every two seconds if I was feeling better might somehow miraculously make me feel better. That didn’t happen! So since women here are incredibly sensitive about their food, my family instantly went into blaming the food and alcohol from a wedding I had attended a few days earlier. First they claimed all the cooking was done in the sun and that could have made me sick. If that were the case I would have been way sicker much sooner then that. Then, they blamed me not being used to drinking. That was frustrating because I am 26, I’ve obviously had a few drinks in my life. Besides I didn’t even drink enough that day to feel anything. And then I through out there that drinking out of the same glass that is their custom probably is what made me sick. They kind of looked at me funny when I mentioned that one.
Later, when I was up making myself some water, my host sister pulled up my shirt and put her finger in my belly button and claimed she was trying to feel my shame. Because apparently, having shame can make you sick as well, I tried to explained that wasn’t it. Then she explained to me that sometimes during that time of the month for a female they could have pains associated in their stomach, and she asked me exactly where the pains were. Again…I’m 26 and I think I’ve had my period more than a few times in my lifetime.
All that I wanted to do was lay in bed and hope that as long as I hydrated myself it would pass. However, my host sisters thought differently. The forced me to come and sit with them outside my room, and the entire time commented on how my face looked sad. Then they kept telling me that I needed to walk around because if I stayed in my room I would just become sad, and being sad would make me more sick. All of the insights are very valuable to my work here, but at the moment I just wanted to be left alone and not have anyone guess anymore about me and just lay in bed and relax and rest. They also kept trying to force me to eat. I would go to the table to oblige them, and then I’d take two bites, say thank you, and leave the table. I know they always like for you to finish you food, but if you are going to force me into something I already don’t want and said over and over again I wasn’t interested in eating, then you might get your feelings hurt when I barely touched it.
They also claimed that they NEVER get sick, and this was as my oldest host sister was sitting there looking absolutely miserable fighting a cold. When they mentioned she should visit the doctor, she said she had shame and that she would just take pills from the pharmacy she has in her house. I guess maybe being sick is shameful because they aren’t stronger. I don’t know…but I thought that was a poor excuse for not going and seeing the doctor.
Fortunately, I believe in part to my rehydration salts and lots and lots of water, I felt much better the next day and didn’t have anymore problems other then just feeling kind of week which took a few days to wear off.
I had the opportunity to talk to my friend Brittany who lives about 6 hours away in Piura Alta, and she told me that she had also been sick over the same time span I was and like me, she would NEVER tell her family again because they also had problems leaving her alone. They blamed hers on washing her Mango with COLD water. There is a myth in these areas that believe COLD makes you sick. This includes and is not limited too, cold water for drinking and washing, as well as the cold from your refrigerator, and ice-cream. So unfortunately Brittany has never heard the end of her terrible mistake.