Things I Didn’t Think I’d Miss

1 Feb

When I left for Peru, I suspected I was headed for a moderate-to-hard core adventure, and as a moderate-to-hard core gal, I was pleased to leave behind the creature comforts of American living. I asked for a rough-and-tumble site, and I’m really happy with the wood stove, latrine, dirt floor, and all the other accoutrements of campo life.  That’s why I’m so surprised that now, in my mature, accostumbrared, and well-adjusted year 1.5, and even though I have some luxuries other volunteers would sell their nuts for (like electricity and no mosquitos), I feel myself yearning for some of the things I so smugly left behind: the little things you can live without, but that keep you comfortable. Cold water to drink, warm water to bathe with, a minimum of dirt in your bed; you know, the things I didn’t think I’d miss. I’m going to share these guilty little desires with you here, just so my mature head doesn’t get to feeling too proud of itself. I don’t want to complain, of course I am enjoying myself just fine without these comforts, but I know that I will forever appreciate them a whole lot more. Also, if I could have seen the future, my going away party would not have been Peru-themed, it would have been carpet, cheese, and hot shower themed. Mmmmm…

So, it will be nice to see you in 7 months, friends and family, but I’m really gonna be happy to see…

Carpets

I am fully convinced that when I step through the door of my house in the states, I will immediately fall flat on my face into the carpet, make a carpet- angel, refuse to stand back up, and my only means of locomotion thenceforth will be Roomba-like, scooting around on my belly. As much as I do like the convenience and ease of my dirt floor, plus the lovely aesthetic of the plants growing in it, I miss the comfort and luxury of a floor covering you can put your things and body on, without your things and body becoming covered in dirt and insect life. I’m a big floor advocate: the floor is the best and biggest shelf/chair there is! But not so here.  Plus, if you drop food on a carpet, I bet it practically bounces back into your hand, and you can eat it, no questions asked. If you drop food on your dirt floor, and it is candy, first you have to hunt for it, and then when you eat it, people will look at you funny.

Cheese

I lived on bread and cheese throughout high school and college; cheese is my favorite food, non-prepared category, and I would gladly eat it for any meal. I am not partial to color, texture, flavor, or odor, though I do believe that, for cheese as for feet: the stinkier the better. Where I live in Peru, there is one kind of cheese, queso fresco, and it’s not bad. Sometimes it is fresh and salty and mushy and delicious and made by my host mom’s squeezy fingers right there in front of my eyeballs. But usually, it’s bland, stuck to the paper it’s wrapped in, and available only rarely: when I buy it myself in the city and bring it home to my host family, where it is happily and swiftly consumed by all 11 of us. Also when I buy it and horde it greedily in my room for 2 days, until its vital juices leak out and onto my table and it becomes slimy and a little blue, and I have to sadly throw it away. Since it’s the only cheese, I will still eat hunks of it with my bare hands, but it’s not the same. Plus, since cheese and milk are so rare out here, I binge on dairy when I get to Huaraz, which invariably produces some sort of special and exciting pants-pooping situation. See what I mean about guilty yearnings? I can live without cheeses of many colors, but when I come home, I’m eating just cheese for a month.

Big mirrors

Now this one took me quite by surprise, since I don’t think I spent a lot of time in front of the mirror at home. But, moderate-to-hard core ladies, I hope I speak for all of us when I say: sometimes, you just want to see how your butt’s looking. Even if you just want to see if you managed to scrape all the mud off, or if the bird poop made a stain, or how wet those preemptive-strike-Carnaval water balloons got you. The mirror I have is smaller than my face, and it took me a while to buy that one even, until I caught myself in public with a dirt mustache. But it’s pretty much useless for admiring below the chin. Fortunately, the fancy new cultural center in Huaraz has big, shiny reflective windows. Unfortunately, the Serenazgo frown upon extended use, plus you can’t be naked even a little bit.

Newspapers and Magazines

The newspaper here is a treat, a treasure. Every couple of months my family will splurge on a newspaper in Huaraz, usually a colorful tabloid-y type since the more legit versions run pretty pricey. This newspaper will be passed around and pored over for the good part of a week, all its contents shared, discussed, misinterpreted, panicked and argued over. Cashi sometimes reads me the more boring articles out loud. When the newspaper has filtered down from the adults to the children, its wild ride truly begins, and sheets of it turn up here and there, with Goku or ducklings drawn on them in colored pencil. Having completed the written information stage and the art-medium stage, the newspaper passes into a dormant period, where it may lay undisturbed for years before embracing its next and hopefully final reincarnation: as toilet paper. I know about the dormant period because in the latrine yesterday, I noticed a shard of newspaper with a photo caption about mourners of Michael Jackson. The paper was from 2009. Anyway, the idea that a nice, fat, juicy newspaper, from the current year and even day, will magically come to be in or close to your house daily and that it will be in English and contain true, current news is pretty fancy. My current news sources are a) three-week-old “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” podcasts and b) my host mom, who has cried wolf so many times in terms of alarming news (like the giant tsunami hitting England, or the 300 astronauts coming back from living on the moon) that she is nervous to tell me anything she thinks she hears on the news anymore, in case I don’t believe her (which is why she didn’t tell me about the Connecticut shooting). I think someone needs to prepare a video tape of everything important from the past two years for me, like they do for brain-injury patients in movies from the 90s. And forget about magazines! No better form of entertainment exists here. So shiny and colorful and dumb! When I bring in newspaper to cover the table or magazines for art projects, my students get so excited they can’t focus. They end up literally rubbing the newspaper with their cheeks and staring at it with their mouths open, and then running away with magazine pages stuffed down their pants. I understand.

Full-size toiletries

For me, every shower is an adventure. Whether it’s getting into my bathing suit and sandals and lugging a bucket of water down a muddy pig-path to the latrine while most of my host family watches and provides advice, or a weekend trip to the city, a shower never goes down without planning and effort. My last two showers not only span nearly a month, but took place in two different departments of the country, 21 hours of travel apart. Yes, for those keeping track at home, that’s 2 showers in 2013. I’m going to see if I can keep it under 20 by COS in August! Since most of my showering happens on vacations or travels, sometimes I can’t remember when or where my last shower was. And that brings me to the thing I miss: full-size toiletries. I always use dinky travel-size bottles, refilled from non-mobile full size units I keep in my room, since I always travel, at least a little, to the bathing location. But how nice would it be to have a hefty, full size conditioner at my disposal, kept right there in my shower, to tackle those really gnarly gnars? Not life or death, or even close, but I will never take a Cosco-size shampoo for granted again.

The Idea of Cosco

Speaking of Cosco, nothing is more appealing to me in my most snack-starved moments than the idea of Cosco, which is nothing if not a dimly lit, highly efficient snack palace. Not only does Cosco seem to have a good grasp on the idea of bulk snacks (just 6 packs of Casino cookies? That’s one lonely weekend, at most!) and bulk pricing (No, Trujillo Mart, the prices go down if I want an entire case of Sublimes), but they have people specially employed to offer you morsels of meat! They don’t force it on you, or guilt you into buying it, or put it in your hand when you’re not paying attention and then ask you if you liked it, they just offer it to you. Meat! Now, the prospect of actually going to a Cosco seems daunting, like Ali’s and my idea to go straight from Peru to Disney World, and just get the whole reverse-culture- shock thing over with in one loud, sugary, nauseous afternoon, probably culminating in Disney Seizures. But, on those desperate hungry afternoons, when I cross the river plus ford river-size mud puddles, only to find that the two stores in town are both shut on account of the Peru/Venezuela futbol game or it being a Wednesday, and I squelch back to my room to snack on dry oatmeal because the power and/or water is out, well on those days even the idea of Cosco is good enough.

Yup, I’ve been missing those things like an amputated butt-cheek recently. Plus libraries, running paths, hitting the ceiling of the car going under yellow lights, names for pet cats, toaster ovens, seat belts, extra-curricular activities for children, pickles, and trained animals. I hope this calms down some people I know (P.U.s I mean you) who think I may never come home and are probably planning a Patty-Hearst-style cult re-kidnapping and re-brainwashing right now. I’ll come home, someday soon, but when I do you had better be ready for a pretty weird couple of months. Like eating pickles in the shower weird.

Shtuff My Host Mom Says Pt. 2!

10 Nov

I’ve been in site for going on 14 months now, and to celebrate my having lived with my one host family this whole time, I’ve decided it’s time for another edition of…

Shit My Host Mom Says!

I’m excited.

As I disclaimed last time, I do respect and love every member of my host family, and feel so grateful for all they do for me and teach me, and love spending time with them, and feel so lucky to have landed with them, and do my best to listen to them with my intercultural effectiveness hat on as much as possible. But my family has an extreme tendency towards melodrama, and there are some stories that are so outrageous, or upon the eleventh hearing, become so absurd, that I’ve been looking forward to this outlet to release the pressure of the cultural effectiveness hat (that thing is tight!), wipe that well-practiced earnest listening look off my face and just let loose a couple well-meant giggles at my host mom’s expense. I’m sorry. But I consider it fair payment—I’m afraid that earnest face might have gotten stuck.

The Infectiousness of Seafood

So my host brother Roger crashed the family car, usually driven by my other host brother Chino, because Roger doesn’t actually know how to drive; it was his second or third time behind the wheel when he was startled by another car “in his lane” (like there is such a thing on this road), and panicked, and swerved the car off the cliff and into the riverbed. It was of course a HUGE deal: Roger smashed his face up pretty good, the car (and poor Chino’s income source) is papilla (baby food), the old tio in the passenger seat got his EAR CUT OFF when the carload of firewood that was stacked in the back came flying forward—in short, disaster. This happened in August, and while everyone is fine now, my family is still in deep debt doo-doo because of Roger’s medical bills (ongoing- he might need plastic surgery because his eyelid doesn’t close right anymore), the old guy’s medical bills (since Roger doesn’t have his driver’s license, the other family bullied mine into footing everything…which Ali has convinced me actually makes sense), plus Roger found out on his birthday that the other family is suing him, so now there’s lawyers to pay for…and still I hear the story of that fateful day about once weekly (“He was like Jesus- he was dead! Blood everywhere! Blood flooding the car! Do you want to see his bloody shoes?”). But the funny part is this: one day in the recent aftermath, when I was cooking lunch, I was told to hold the tuna in Roger’s portion. Why? Because the fish is infectious. Hmm. What is it going to infect him with? And more importantly, if it’s infectious, why are you feeding it to the rest of us? Nope, the fact is that all fish is “infectious” to the wounded, even the wounded-3-months-ago, because Roger is still not eating fish. Turns out aji, (slightly hot yellow peppers, and/or the word for anything spicy) is also infecting Roger’s eye. I’ve learned that there is absolutely no arguing with this sort of logic; while I am contractually obliged by the government of the United States of America to listen to my host mom, she is not similarly bound to listen to a single word I say. There may be a kernel of truth hidden somewhere in there, a misunderstood warning from the doctor, something that came to my host mom in a dream, something, but until the mystery is solved, I’m happy to eat Roger’s portion of spicy fish.

Lightning and Cellphones

I’ve actually heard this one from other sources, but my host mom, as always, told it best. As I was leaving one afternoon, my host mom warned me: there is a storm coming, so don’t you use your cellphone, because lightning will find you and hit you. I didn’t have time to share with her one of my favorite fun facts: that lightning doesn’t actually seek out metal to hit, and anyway cell phones are mostly plastic, so I just said, “Ok, I’ll be careful, but don’t worry- I don’t think that’s true.” No, she countered, last year, Doña Victoria’s cow and burro both were hit by lightning. When I asked if they had been talking on their cellphones, my host mom was not amused. This is a good example of why you shouldn’t argue with Mama Cashi: she dosnt play by the rules of fair debate, and you will not win. She has seen so much, or imagined so much, in her life, that whatever she believes automatically gains the weight of truth.

Drama Host Mama

My host dad died last month. Oh, don’t worry, he’s totally fine, he just died for a little. This event nearly drove me to the end of my patience with my host family’s theatrics, though it’s pretty funny now. One night, my host dad had a bad stomachache, and my family got very worried about him, and around 8pm decided to take him to the hospital. So my host mom, brother Chino, and host dad are off in a taxi to the hospital. Meanwhile I turn off my light, and am about to fall asleep when: Roger screams bloody murder from outside, hollering his head off. My host sister Virginia starts screaming and sobbing hysterically, and I leap out of bed to go see what’s wrong, along with all the neighbors within earshot. I couldn’t figure out what was happening, and there were plenty of other people around, so I just went back to bed, but the next day it was explained to me. Roger had gone to get something from his father’s room, and had felt ghost/spirit hands caressing his face, and decided that that meant that his dad had died. Meanwhile, in the cab on the way to the hospital, Chino believes his dad is dying too, he’s praying and yelling and pushing air into his mouth; when they get to the hospital, my host dad is diagnosed with gastritis (gas) and colico (upset stomach), throws up, and then feels better. I don’t really know what to say about this episode, just that I’m glad my host dad is ok, because he is the only sane person in this loony bin.

Obama

Here’s a topical one! Since I’ve arrived, Cashi has been telling me how big of a fan she is of Obama, how she prayed for him to win the last election, how she’s so happy that he won.  She told me she loves him because he’s such a religious man. Well, we were discussing the upcoming election recently, and she said she really hopes that Obama wins again, and not the gringo, Romney, on account of how religious Obama is. So I told her that Romney is very religious too, actually Mormon, and she said: “Oh! Then I’ll pray for him, then.” If only it were that simple, Mama Cashi.

The Fight

This story marked the sole moment when the earnest-listening-face failed me. My host mom launched, apropos of nothing, into a story replete with all her favorite conceits: it was a long time ago, the boys were babies, something horrible and full of vice was happening to bad people. I was deep in my usual role as attentive listener: eyes wide, nodding when appropriate, si, claro-ing when it seemed required. The story was about two people having a very violent fist-fight in the street in Carhuaz, the next big town over. Suddenly the climax of the story arrives: “And then,” Cashi declares, “one guy punches the other guy in the penis and he DIES.” I forgot the earnest listener, I forgot respect of elders and host mothers, I forgot that I don’t believe it’s actually possible for this to happen. I lost it. I think potatoes actually came out of my nose. Cashi was desperately trying to finish the rest of the wrenching tale: the crying widow, the blood in the street, the dead man’s penis, but I couldn’t play along with it anymore. All the pretending was over, I was finally free to laugh at something ridiculous. It was a beautiful moment. I should ask her to tell that story again.

Food Stuffs: Frequently Asked Questions

13 Sep

Food is a big issue for Peace Corps Volunteers, ranking right behind poop in the list of things we like to talk about. It’s what we miss most from the US (sorry family and friends), the first thing we hunt down in our capital cities, how we share our culture with our host families and communities, and what community members endlessly ask if we’ve accostumbrared to. So it’s high time the topic of food took center stage here, with some frequently asked (by me, mostly) questions!

Do you cook your own meals?

Yes, I make my own breakfast. This serves the dual purpose of allowing me to sneakily avoid any sort of alarming breakfast food (pig-skin soup, I mean you) and enabling me to ease gently into the day, as opposed to letting the day wind back and whack me repeatedly on the skull. My host family is many things, but they are not a pill that goes down smoothly first thing in the morning: imagine waking up, rolling over, and going directly to a three-ring circus. Located in a busy New Delhi market place. During rush hour. In a jungle full of monkeys. That oatmeal in bed—it’s a survival thing. I have been cooking (1 electric water heater + 1 kilo of oatmeal= as far as “cooking” goes for me)  my own breakfast for going on 7 months now, and every single day it is devastating news to my host mom, who loves to feed me almost as much as she likes to cuddle me in her lap. I toyed with the idea of making my own lunch, but it’s just not worth the heartache.

Do you ever cook for your host family?

I sure do! I’ve cooked a few of my favorite foods (or sketchy renditions thereof) for special occasions: pizza for Soledad’s birthday last year, pancakes for my host mom’s birthday, a delicious apple cake (recipe courtesy of a text from Ali’s mom) for my birthday… there’re lots of birthdays in a household of roughly 12 people. I’ve also gotten my host family hooked on eggplant, which was a coup. I enjoy cooking for my host family, because Soli and Jose get a kick out of helping me crack eggs and crush crackers and mix things, and because my family actually really likes to try new things, and they praise me highly even if they hate it, and because it’s just fun to share. I also help out with normal cooking duties whenever I can: peeling potatoes, harvesting lemons, kneeling on a guinnea pig’s tiny skull. I’m just about in charge of the salad-making-duties at lunch-time, although my one attempt to vary the standard tomato-onion-lime juice salad was met with disapproval and me eating an entire bucket of salad alone.  I’ve also discovered that although I can easily botch sauce or soups or salads with the limited ingredients, eyeballed measurements, and fire that campo cooking entails, every darn thing I pop in the adobe oven comes out a dream. It’s a limitedly useful gift of mine.

Biggest cooking success: eggplant parmesan-ish sandwiches.

Biggest cooking failure:  banana-pepino smoothies. I should have known better.

Whenever my host mom isn’t around (like when they go on strange outings, or most recently, when my host brother Roger crashed the car, and spent three days in the hospital in Huaraz, and all hell broke loose), my host sister Virginia and I always cook together. The conversation always goes like this:

Virginia: “Karencitaaaaa ayudame a cocinar. Que vamos a hacer?” (Help me cook. What should we make?)

Me: “Que hay?” (What is there?)

Virginia: “Papas.”

So far we’ve made French fries, hash browns, latkes (which I found out also means vagina in Quechua. It’s like Eskimos and snow over here), mashed potatoes, browned potatoes, and potato soup. You know what they say: necessity is the mother of eating lots of potatoes.

Have you eaten guinnea pig? Do you like it?

I have eaten many a guinnea pig, though I guess “eating” is not really accurate. I have picked, torn, gnashed, and generally puzzled over how to eat a guinnea pig. A properly cooked guinnea pig is like fried bones with a fried carpet on top. If you can, through a combination of manual dexterity and ingenuity, manage to get a bite of guinnea pig meats, you’ll find it rather tasty, though. I have actually liked the combined two mouthfuls of the stuff I’ve had; it’s like a very soft, stringy, slimy chicken.  Guinnea pigs are for special occasions, where there are lots of people watching you try to eat it, so saying no is not an option. Licking the delicious spicy sauce off and sneaking it to your host siblings, is an option, however. I do think that eating guinnea pigs is a great idea those Inca folks had: in a place where meat isn’t the cheapest food and malnutrition in kids under 5 is around 50%, guinnea pigs are easy to feed, easy to house, and of course easy to breed- and everyone can give their kids a little protein now and again. Nothing wrong with that, even if it’s mildly cute protein.

Are you still vegetarian?

No. Not one bit. I cheer as much as the next carnivore when its meat for dinner. I mostly maintained my vegetarianism during training in Lima, where my host mom was used to gringos and their weird dietary needs, but there was no way I was getting around eating meat with this host family without a doctor’s note. Probably even with a doctor’s note, I’d have to eat a little. The concept of vegetarianism itself isn’t very clear here; my host sister still tells people I’m a vegetarian, even as I am disemboweling a chicken inches away. My host mom firmly believes that those who don’t eat, die, and she’s probably right when it comes to protein. Maybe I wouldn’t die, but I surely would get rickets or scurvy or whatever it is you get when you only eat potatoes. My host family eats meat or fish or any protein really (lentils and eggs are just as rare) once or sometimes twice a week, so it’s definitely a treat to be savored, and savor it I do. I’ve eaten chicken, chicken feet, sheep, cow, sheep’s head soup (which is actually delicious), pig, guinnea pig, guinnea pig liver, rabbit, duck, sheep’s blood, and turkey. I’ve stuffed, though not eaten, pig’s blood sausages (Best. Birthday. Ever!). Will I go back to my veggy ways back in the states? Probably. Will I miss being hand-fed pig meat dipped in grease by my host mom? Definitely.

Enough with the potato-bashing. What’s Peruvian food really like?

You’re right, I’m sorry. Peruvian food, really, is delicious. Delicious things include aji, the spicy sauce that accompanies everything, and that my family makes by mashing yellow aji peppers, garlic, and salt together between two stones. Other yummy things my family makes are creamy sauces like huancaina and ocopa, which are so tasty they cover up the guilty taste in my mouth from the fact that they are made with government-hand-out milk meant for the baby. One of the most delicious is something I was recently up to my elbows in: pollada. A pollada is like a bake-sale in that its mostly used for fundraising, and not like a bake sale in that it is a huge plate of delicious chicken, served with mote, which is rehydrated dried corn (softened and puff-ened by boiling it with ashes), and coleslaw, which is tasty. The best part of pollada is the chicken juice, which from my spying seems to include aji,  soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, and mSG crystals. I want to open a polladeria in the states. A pollada food truck, maybe? Other yummy Peruvian foods, that don’t get made too much in my house, include ceviche (I absolutely cannot eat enough ceviche. It’s not possible.), lomo saltado (beef, tomatoes, onions, and French fries sautéed together. Sounds weird huh?), aji de gallina (creamy, crackery sauce with chicken), and tacu tacu (like a fried patty of burrito insides). Peruvian food, truly, is delicious, and don’t listen to those potato-bashers.

What about snacks?

What about them! Snacks make the world go round for a Peace Corps Volunteer. I can absolutely stuff myself with lunch and be a starvin marvin in about 15 minutes, due to the magic of carbohydrates and metabolism and having a tiny bird stomach and whatever.  I’m more of a grazer anyway, so its lucky for me that Peru has an array of incredible snacks available to the hungry gringa. One of the best, for almost every reason, is chocho, whose English name, Alpine Lupin, makes it sound more like a disease, and less like the delicious little bean it is. Chocho is more or less flavorless until tossed with tomatoes, onions, and parsley, dowsed in lime juice, salt, cumin, and parsley and served in a plastic baggy with cancha, toasted dried corn kernels. Chocho is sold outside just about every school and inside every shop. My favorite is what I call party chocho (parties are the places to find the best snacks, in the greatest quantities, which is mostly why I go to them), which is served with a chunk of sweet potato, seaweed (radioactive seaweed from the Rio Santa!) and a scoop of fish juice and fishy bits on top.

Reason #562 that I love Peru: Where else would they ask if you wanted a scoop of fish juice? It’s exactly what I want!

Ice cream and popsicles of every variety are also sold everywhere. I like it best when it is spooned into a Technicolor cone for me by my favorite toothless two-hundred-year old ice cream lady, Teresa.  The ice cream folks also have marcianos, which are little plastic bag popsicles, akin to Otter Pops (and a teen-slang for condoms). Mostly marcianos are frozen juice or sometimes delicious fruit like lucuma, but sometimes they are three colors of frozen yogurt and that is when I eat 30 of them.  Another excellent frozen treat are raspadillas, which are snow cones but way better. The raspadillero raspas the raspadilla off a huge block of ice with a little hand-held ice shaver that gathers the ice flakes into a little prism inside itself. The raspadillero opens the contraption, shoves the ice prism into a plastic cup, drizzles it with various colored syrups he has brewed up back at home and keeps in assorted recycled plastic bottles with holes punched in the lids, and then covers the whole thing with chicha morada, which is sweet purple corn juice. The raspadillero will tell you that the ice is from the nevados, the glacier-covered mountains all around, and while today you can clearly see the writing on the ice imprinted from the bucket he froze it in, this was probably true a couple years ago. It was also true when a team of PBS filmmakers making a documentary about climate change rolled into my town a couple weeks ago, and filmed the raspadilla-man making them a snow-cone with ice he actually did harvest from the nevados (coincidentally the nevado that Ali and I climbed!). I don’t know what point they were making, but I hope they didn’t eat any ice worms, or any of my frozen saliva that I added to the icepack, and maybe we’ll all be able to watch my site and the raspadillero in the documentary some day!

The snacks available in Huaraz are endless and incredible. You could graze your way straight across the tiny city, from pig sandwiches served straight off the pig, fried coconut bits, arroz con leche, coconut milk, and sugar cane juice, to churros stuffed with manjar blanco (caramel stuff), cachangas (elephant ears), avocado sandwiches, pineapple and watermelon slices, and borachitos (chocolate rum brownie bites). The one snack I haven’t had yet is a frog milkshake. We were this close, but then we saw the frogs hopping around by the blender and couldn’t do it.

Also besides potatoes, what does your host family cook?

Whatever’s around, mostly. Breakfast is usually bread and tea or “Quaker” – sweet, watery oatmeal, which is actually growing on me. Sometimes there’s avocados from the tree, which have been “sleeping” in blankets for a week or so to ripen. Delicious. Lunch is usually a whopping portion of noodles, lentils, rice, potatoes, or peas, sometimes with salad or tuna, and just about always with potatoes. On special tasty days we get chicken, and on even specialer tasty days, fried fish from the fish car! Desert sometimes happens, in the form of masamorras, which can be anything from warm jello, to a sludge of water, flour, and sugar, to the worst masamorra of all, toquosh (fermented corn or potatoes. It has a lot of penicillin, apparently, but it smells like a farm). Dinner is usually leftovers, noodle and potato soup, bread, or tea, or all of the above. When there’s no bread in the stores, we make cachangas or eat machka, which is like eating matzoh meal out of the box—except sometimes mixed with pig lard. I like most of my host family’s meals, though that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes supplement dinner with an extra serving of oatmeal in my room (especially last week, when dinner was popcorn).

So there you have it: I think about food a lot.

Running Around

29 Jun

Ali and I have been marathon training for 18 weeks, and today, TODAY, we ran our last run before the the Pacasmayo Marathon on July 1! Some people compare the Peace Corps to running a marathon, so as I see it, we’ve been training for a marathon IN a marathon, and like an oreo-stuffed chocolate-chip cookie, it is not as easy thing to tackle (do I need to mention that running about 30 miles a week and eating only fries, rice, and guinnea pigs has turned me into a food-obsessed, starved maniac?). And it isn’t just the running and the starvation. Training for a marathon in a small Andean Peruvian village at 9,600 ft. above sea level is quite unlike running anywhere in the States, and it happens to be the exact opposite of running in Boston (where I was when I last attempted this marathon thing, and where 86-year-old runners in ear-flap hats run continuously and vigorously, and will trample you if you are in their way). Here, it seems that Ali and I have actually undertaken an 18 week regimen to convince people we’re not nuts. It’s not going well. I still get quite the raised eyebrow when I explain that I’m running because, get this, recent studies show that exercise is good for you (to be fair, most of the 70 year old ladies here walk farther, up a steeper hill, with more babies and potatoes on their backs, every day than I could do in a car, so exercise wouldn’t just be redundant, I guess it’s also a luxury only crazy gringas have time for).  My host mom is just about paralyzed with worry that people will think I’m not getting fed at home because I’ve managed to lose a smidgen of potato-weight. And people in town have told me not to come back if I don’t win the marathon. Of course, the views of Huascaran, the sculpted calves, the endorphins, and the almost post-coital post-run naps I take on Ali’s floor have made it all worth it. To amuse you until I tackle the big M on Sunday, here are some running-in-the-campo-tales you won’t be finding in no fancy pantsy running mag:

On a 5 mile run a while back I accidentally ran into a wedding situated right on my path. It would have been charming, except that the wedding was at the end of the loop I run in my town. A .4 mile loop (which also goes right by the municipality, so the mayor and his buddies often chuckle at me from the balcony). So, doing the math, I had to accidentally run through that wedding about 13 times. I would have gone somewhere else, but in my site, there is absolutely nowhere else to go that isn’t straight up a mountain; this .4 loop from the plaza to the house of the newlyweds is the only relatively flat strip in my whole site. I hadn’t expected the wedding would be there, since the ceremony had been the day before, but it seemed the die-hards weren’t even close to winding down, and the band had possibly spent the last 30 hours right there on their folding chairs, and besides the midget-or-child in the band who was playing the coffee can, everyone was still having a great time. It was awkward, especially as my Early-Run-Bloats threatened to turn into Mid-Run Farts (or the even more dangerous Late-Run-Runs), but stubbornness is the only reason I’ve gotten this far into this stupid running thing in the first place, so I wasn’t goin anywhere. So 13 times around the wedding; that’s 13 cat calls from the band, 13 frantically proffered glasses of beer, 13 very confused looks from the out-of-towners, 13 “aren’t you tired?” from the grandma, 13 “KA-REN! YAMAY YAKU? (how are you, in Quechua) from the dad, 13 run-ins with a sodden uncle relieving himself in the road, and 26 screams of “FASTER FASTER!” from the little boy named Yunior pushing the world’s largest baby in a stroller up and down the road.

Dogs. Dogs on my run used to scare the bejesus out of me. Startled out of my reverie, I would often perform cartoon character leaps meters high. It’s a uniquely silly situation, because the dog is freaked out by your weird running movements, and then it chases you because you’re running, so you have to stop to make it stop, but running is the only way to get away from it, but stopping is the only way to leave with all your skin. But you can’t leave if you don’t move. It’s just annoying, and I was starting to take it personally. There are the big guard dogs, the sheep-herding dogs on their way to grazing grounds, the useless yappy little ugly bastards in their useless yappy little ugly bastard clans. The silliest of all are the lobos-del-techo, my term for the especially vicious and useless dogs that live on roofs. They always get twice as worked up as a normal dog when I run by, insulted that they can’t actually leap on my head and gnaw my scalp off. On the rocky road we travel (not a metaphor, our medium runs lead us down a mining road so rocky, hilly, dirty, and puddle-y that we have promoted it to “trail running” status) dogs can be dangerously distracting. I rolled the living eggsalad out of my ankle when I turned around to whack a dog with my running stick a while back. The running stick is an essential piece of running gear here. Most of the time I feel like a huge Muggle just swishing my stick around, and the one time I had to make actual contact the dog really couldn’t have cared less, but it gives you some extra security. But I’ve recently discovered an even better trick: just be scarier than the dog. It’s easy, all you have to do is lose your shit, fling some invisible rocks, shout made-up swear words, even bark if necessary. I’ve stunned a snarling, charging dog into slamming on his brakes in a cloud of dust and just standing there, staring at me. True fact.

Alimentaring (sorry there is no better word in English, or if there is, I’ve forgotten it. Nourishing? Feeding?) oneself on runs here is also not easy- no water fountains along our route, which brings us down the main highway in our valley between the Blaca and Negra mountains ranges, though I have gotten some kind people washing their cars to spray me on hot days, and of course, there’s always the acequia (run-off gutter). On my first long-ish run I stuck a chocolate bar in my pocket for sustenance and a 10 sole bill in my shoe for emergencies and to use at the end of my run to buy water. The chocolate worked great, but this was during the still-raining season, so once I got to the end, the bill was a bit damp (by a bit damp, I mean I had to run through knee-high mud puddles), and smelled of my foot (which anyone who has shared an overnight train compartment with my feet can tell you, can be fatal.) People here are very suspicious of fake money, so they won’t accept any bill that’s even a bit fishy, which mine definitely was. Since then, it was coins in the shoe for me, until my parents sent me an awesome running belt, and my outfit got a bit classier.

As I mentioned, it’s also a bit tricky to keep to a marathoner’s diet here, where my diet consists of potatoes (carbs) supplemented by junk food (vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, proteins, fats). Since Ali and I both eat with our families, our pre-run eating schedules can get hard to manage- once before a run, we got tempted into a Pachamanca meal with her host family. Pachamanca, a traditionally massive Peruvian feast of potoatoes, sweet potatoes, chicken, sweet tamales and whatever else baked underground with hot stones, is delicious, but the only thing you are able to do after eating it is digest in a coma, like a python. Which I guess leads me to: pooping on the side of the road.  This is something we’re pros at now, (though I did drop Ali’s room key in a field I was um…decorating in a pouring rainstorm once…) and I think Ali’s even gotten rid of the “side of” part. Good for her.

We try to vary our routes as much as possible, or at least our end point, based largely on what after-run snack can be obtained there. My favorite is a juice, Especial flavored. Here is what I can remember went into the blender (so you can try it at home!): banana (the isla kind, more like a plantain), apple, papaya, quinoa, bee pollen, honey, beer, condensed milk, sugar, and water. It tasted like a sweet bread smoothie, which Ali says doesn’t make it sound delicious. But it was.

So add to that a couple of close brushes with hypothermia on rain-soaked, late afternoon long runs, a handful of hairy combi-changing-lanes-on-top-of-us-situations, and endless, pero endless, catcalls, and you’ve got our last 18 weeks! It all ends in Pacasmayo this Sunday, where our mountain-girl lungs get the treat of sea-level air, where the route runs straight through the desert, but where there is pizza in close proximity when it’s all over. I can’t hardly wait, I don’t know what we’ll talk about after Sunday, and I sure hope I win (or at least finish, which I’ve tried unsuccessfully to explain would be like winning for me) so they’ll let me back into site!

Half Baking

26 May

I’m not trying to make a broad stereotypical statement  here(because as even my Youth Health Promoters now know, stereotypes are harmful), but compared with the exhaustive Project Plans I’ve been working on for grant applications recently (not of my own volition), complete with Direct and Indirect Beneficiaries, Budgets, and Monitoring and Evaluation Plans, my host family is not excellent at planning. What they are truly stellar at is coming up with half-baked schemes to amaze and astound. They are 4-star half-bakers. I have to say, as the owner of a closet full of half-finished crafts myself, I sympathize, and I am not one to be calling the kettle bad at follow-through. But I just wanted to share some recent half-baking recipes from my endearing host family, if only because I’m running low on blog themes, and my host family is hilarious, always.

During my site visit, almost 9 months ago, my host brothers were enthusiastically talking about a new bathroom: flushing toilet, shower, hot-water-showerhead-contraption, it would be a thing of beauty. “Oh, no”, I worried, “I don’t wish for such amenities!” But, they started making adobes bricks that very week, and by the time I came back to stay for good, the little shack had been built, right next to the house, and within a week those enterprising young men had even installed a lovely tin roof. And that was when the enterprising pretty much dried up, and now the building is where the sheep sleep.

My host sister Virginia is perhaps the most prolific of the family’s half-bakers. Nearly every week brings a new plan for income-generation (maybe she’ll decide to move to the coast to be a fisher-woman, or learn to be an electrician, or open a bakery, or a grocery shop, or an ice-cream store, or make Jell-o, or sell treats at the town soccer games), a plan which needs to be researched with various extended family members in the city, and discussed and debated with me and everyone else. These plans, while some of them good ideas, are always abandoned, and always for the same reason: Virginia realizes suddenly that she has three little kids. It makes sense of course that working and chasing after three wily little creatures might not be compatible for her, it’s just disappointing to see her give up over and over.  She’ll get there, one day, when Clari is old enough to not poop in doorways, when Soli grows out of her habit of spectacular falls from great heights, and when Jose gets that career as a Superhero/disco dancer he’s always practicing for.

My host brother Chino drives a car, a collectivo, and the owners of the field where he parks it overnight have told him he can’t park there anymore, unless he pays to rent the spot. That’s reasonable, but the problem is that my family doesn’t judge this spot safe anymore, as people around town have been getting their car parts stolen, and so someone, usually my host mom, who I suspect doesn’t sleep anyway, sleeps in the car many nights to guard it. Who wants to pay for that pain in the butt? So, a brilliant plan was hatched: let’s just park the car here in the yard! Clearly, a simple and elegant solution. So, of course, despite the fact that to get the car from the road into the yard would require driving over a narrow wooden Indiana-Jones-adventure-bridge, through a tight gap between two stumps about 2 feet wide, up a very steep rocky cliff, down a narrow path, and down an 8 foot drop into the yard, the first step is to the destroy the whole yard, churning out the switchbacks that allow one to get down into the yard without rappelling gear. Yes, this is the clear first order of business. As you might be able to tell, this caused me no small amount of personal bitterness, because I slipped and fell on my butt in the mud repeatedly, often carrying big bags and often in recently-washed (2 weeks ago) jeans. The path was left as a pile of mud for about 3 weeks, and then the plan was abandoned, and no one talks about it, and last I heard the car was in the shop.

My favorite half-baked good, though, has to be my new housemate, Big Jose. Please do not be misled, here, Big Jose is not big- you could probably flip-flap him shut like a wallet and slip him in your back pocket, but what he lacks in girth he makes up in length, and he does have about 5 feet on the reigning Jose in the house, my (possibly malnournished) 9-year-old host nephew. Big Jose was brought here about a month ago on a “So-Help-Me-I’ll-Send-You-To-Your-Uncle’s-In-The-Country” threat gone terribly wrong: his mom dragged him whining and moaning from Lima to finish high school here. Apparently he’s spent the last 3 years partying and has two years of high school left. His first visit, when he and his mom popped in unannounced to install him in his mountain prison, lasted less than 24 hours. Poor kid. I could see him whispering sweet nothings to his cell phone, telling it everything would be ok. But after two more visits from his mom, many changes in the plan, and much, pero much, hand-wringing by all, Big Jose is finally enrolled in the reputable high school right here in my site, and in the family! That means that not only is he my student now, I’m also no longer the newbie! People ask me for gossip about him, and ask me if I think he’ll ever acostumbrar! I get to share my accumulated sacred knowledge: how to drink clean water cheaply, which hills get good cell reception, how to politely turn down seconds, how to scrunch up regular paper a lot of times until its soft enough to be toilet paper. The only downside is that since Big Jose is sleeping in my host sister’s room, my host sister and her kids are sleeping in my host mom and dad’s room, and they are sleeping in the hall, or The Room I Sometimes Pee In.  Also I can’t understand a word Big Jose says, because his Lima-Spanish is at hyperspeed compared with the Spanish spoken here in the hinterland Also also, the drama quotient, already pretty high around these parts, has gone through the roof with Big Jose and his mom around. Let’s just say Spanish-Speaking Dr. Laura is a role I’ve slipped into a little too easily. Nonetheless, Big Jose’s mom is a rather good cook, Big Jose’s antics take the spotlight off the crazy things I do like run and make my own breakfast, and  I am as interested as everyone else to sit back and watch if he acostumbrars.

What I Do All Day

21 Apr

First an apology.

Sorry I haven’t written in a while. The last time I wrote, I believe I was still washing my face regularly and emptying my pee-pot when necessary, before creatures had time to both be born and die in it. I’ve gotten so busy recently, I’ve had to give up those frivolous pastimes. Now, I just roll straight out of bed and into a classroom, where I teach children about personal hygiene. It’s gotten so bad, I’ve even contaminated my room with my aura of chaos. Of course, since my floor is dirt, I’ve had to invent a brand-new way of being messy, consisting of tightly concentrated pockets of mess limited to my rug, desk, and bed, so that nothing is actually touching the floor. It would make an interesting installation. But since I took an accidental 2 hour nap this afternoon, I’m finding it difficult to fall asleep at my customary 8:30, and so it’s finally time to write! Apology over.

Some of you, my widespread readership (my mom, dad, and Beefy) may be wondering: “just what is that girl doing down there anyway?” I know this because you have asked me. I appreciate the curiosity, but isn’t it obvious? Why, I’m developing the youth, of course.

I understand that it may be less obvious to the uninitiated who haven’t spent hundreds of hours figuring out what exactly that means, through the incredibly efficient learning technique of playing Chicken in the Henhouse and doing Trust Falls. Actually, these techniques seem to have done the trick, because, 10 months ago, I wouldn’t be able to tell “Youth Development” from a hole in the ground, and now I develop the youth daily! The youth here are developing at an alarming pace! So much development is happening, youth-wise. Nope, still no clue what it means.

So I thought, instead of sticking a label on it, or going through the “Peace Corps is an agency of the gobierno of the Estados Unidos que se dedica a sustainable development. Tenemos three goals…” shtick that I slog through about 5 times a day and could (and have) reel off in my sleep in a variety of languages (still working on the Quechua version, which is difficult, since I’m finding it impossible to count past two in Quechua) I would tell you what I’m actually up to, work-wise. 8 months into site, I’m finally getting pretty busy, and I actually just got a solicitud (a fancy document that, when given to you, is quite official and important, but when given by you, means absolutely nothing, and may be used as toilet paper later) from the mayor and the school teachers asking me to do something! I still spend most of my time bugging people, but I think we’ve reached a point where they fear my bugging, and if they can’t hide before I show up, will just have to work with me. I’m pretty proud of this development.

So here is what I do all day! Disclaimer: I do not do this all in one day. What with eating snacks, running in the rain, tickling my host sisters, finagling rides up the hill on things that are not motorcycles (but can be giant tractors, or flat-bed moto-taxis full of buckets of rice pudding), and making noises at babies, there just isn’t enough daylight!

Talk to teenagers about sex: I do this a lot, though not as much as I wish. I hope to ramp up the sex-talk soon, though, and make it a full-time thing around here. With my Youth Health Promoters group starting next week, I see myself talking about sex to teenagers for at least 7 hours weekly. The Youth Health Promoters are a group of 3rd, 4th, and 5th year secondary school students, hand-selected by their teachers as leaders for their peers, and top-of-the-class sex talkers. I hope to soon have them talking about sex professionally, models for their classmates and community of only the highest quality of sex-related talking. But this is a serious issue, talking about sex being something so fraught with verguenza (shame) here that even mothers will giggle at the mention of “pregnancy,” as in the phrase “20% of the pregnancies last year were of girls under 18.” Clearly, someone should be talking to the teenagers about sex, and it should not be the man who told me that condoms have a liquid in them that stings your “pee-pee like a pepper.” While I never imagined myself as a prophet of safe sex, it’s obviously an incredibly pressing issue here, not only to lower teen pregnancy and STDs, but to just give the teens someone to talk to, and ask their gross questions to. Yuck. Besides the Youth Health Promoters, I’m currently talking about sex to 5 different classes in two different high schools, during their tutoria class (think homeroom + health class + study hall + time for the teacher to leave and eat snacks).

Talk to teenagers about life/work: Related to talking about sex, but with many more team-building exercises. I’ve just started a half-baked Vocational Orientation course with 4 classes, to hopefully touch on goal-setting, decision-making, team-work, resume-writing, and all sorts of other buzzwords. I’m excited about it, especially the part next week where we get to the play the Marshmallow Challenge game. Beyond that, the plan is fuzzy.

Read with small children: I read with my cadre of children aged 3-9 ½ every Friday. This age group, especially in the small boy category, is the source of my very most devoted fans. An elite platoon of 8-year old boys participates in just about every afterschool activity I run. This is just only slightly frustrating, because the official “Youth” ages are 10-24, but since I myself fall squarely within this range, I’ve decided to go ahead with the 8-year-olds and just count myself as an effected youth. The reading is something else I’d really like to focus on, since I heard a rumor that reading comprehension is crazily low, a rumor confirmed whenever my host brother reads for me, and speedily reads things like “We sat together on the duckling,” or “they brought the enchanted boy to the notebook,” without batting an eye.  Also, after months of begging and whining and freezing my butt to the chair at boring meetings, I’ve managed to get my clammy hands on the keys to the library here, which has been closed since it was invented, mostly because the majority books inside are Readers Digests from the 50s. It’s an awesome place, and I can’t get enough of the looks on the littlest kids’ faces when we read fun picture books, something they never do at home, and rarely at school. I hope to, very slowly, get people other than the 8-year-olds into the library, and get someone else to open it a couple days a week, and books donated, and stuff.

Talk Moms into Talking to their Daughters: I’ve just started a new project (“just” being a relative term. I think I started it in February. Also the term “new,” is misleading. It’s my first project. Also the word “project” is a good descriptor. Oh well), aimed at improving communication between mothers and their adolescent daughters. I’ve only had two preliminary meetings, but they went pretty well! It should be a fun thing, we’re planning mother-daughter activities like cooking and yoga and crafts, ideally all at once. My aim is to make it as adorable as possible. We’ll also be talking to the mothers about sex, of course.

Teach English: Although I teach English 6 hours a week, I like to think of it as a secondary project; but it really is the most requested service. Ever since I took the advice of my incredibly wise site-mates, and separated the classes by age and gender (I had to re-separate the 8-year-old boys class into 2 classes, since there were 10 of them), teaching English has become a way more pleasant experience. It’s pretty fun. So far, my kids can say they are good, tell you their favorite color and count to a trillion. I’d say, they’re ready to go.

Busy Myself with Assorted Odds and Ends: Including but not limited to: planning and hopefully running training events for the teachers, trainings and meetings for the Community Health Promoters, helping to hand out foodstuffs at many food-stuffs-handing-out-events, running school events for special days like Earth Day, helping out at Escuela de Padres get-togethers, Ultimate Frisbee, movie watching on Friday afternoons (this started out being held in my bed, with a participation count of me, but today we had 7 small children and word is getting out) and a pen-pal project with kids from the states. Plus, I actually got some of the teachers I’m working with to want to help plan lessons, so there’s that too. WHEW.

OK, so that’s what I do! Sort of, minus the tying of corn-husks into fun little bows, the bringing of hard-candy gifts to the municipality workers, and the other stuff. But after months of very purposeful wanderings, and getting deeply hurt when people in my site would innocently ask/tell me if I was just “pasear”ing (“NO. I’m very busy and important.”) its nice to be busy.

Exciting Bonus Feature!

To fill you in somewhat more on my thoughts and happenings during the 2 or so months of my radio silence, I’d like to share some of the more topical entries I’ve found in my journal. It’ll be fun!

March 1: Ate about a tazon full of Israeli salad because I made it, it was delicious, and no one else even pretended to like it. When I told Cashi (my host mom) that my dad eats Israeli salad every night she said, “so that’s why he’s so fat.”

March 4: The fact that the herbs in the tea tonight were named “Cola de Caballo Macho” (Tail of a Male Horse) and “Pata de Perro” (Dog’s Paw) didn’t make dinner any more pleasant. On the plus side, I’ve just invented the Peanut Butter Cinnamon
Sandwich.

March 5: Just a thought: I don’t think I’ve seen a bathtub in 9 months. On a related note, I think I have fleas again.

March 11: The best thing that happened to me yesterday was I found out that the two horrible awful white terrier devil dogs are dead! I feel released from a curse, and also, like I’m turning into a psychopath.

March 14: Virginia (my host sister) got mad at the school principal on my behalf today because she thinks I shouldn’t be made to cry in a foreign country. While I appreciate the sentiment, I think that crying in a foreign country may secretly be Peace Corps Goal number 4.

March 20: One thing I learned from watching Olympic Gymnastics is you can, and should, do anything on an ankle if you tape it up forcefully. So I ran a really fast 3 miles today.

March 23: Dear Smug Peruvian Man: I have diarrhea and a swollen ankle. Today is not the day to tell me I’m running slowly.

April 17: Finally won an argument with the school principal, just by sticking to my guns, and not crying! But then, I did have the upper hand, because she was wearing a slanket. Then, she chewed me out in front of my class, but I couldn’t take her seriously because, again, the slanket.

April 19: Soli lost her first tooth today and I explained about the tooth fairy. She asked me if the tooth fairy came from Brazil, and if she ever gave fake coins. Yes, and yes.

Cosmo for the Campo

25 Feb

Those who know me, or even more so, those who have been adventurous enough to have me as a room/apartment mate, will tell you I’ve never qualified as Miss Hygiene 2012. I suppose I’ve been known to not wash a vegetable here or there, let mice have the run of my kitchen, and not shower every time I’ve sweat. I may have led at least 2 vacuum cleaners to their deaths on my art-scrap-strewn carpet, and there was that period between ages 11 and 14 where I combed my chlorine-soaked hair for weddings and bar mitzvahs (mainly my own) only. But those are nothing compared to the level of grime to which I’ve sunk after a mere 6 months in the campo (roughly translated as: rural area, farm, outback, East-Jesus-Nowhere). Some would argue that these transgressions, and the attitude that allows me to live with myself after committing them, are in fact skills that are allowing me to survive the radically different world of campo living with a smile and few complaints. That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that I am disgusting, and should never be allowed back into the States.

Another filthy habit I’ve acquired in Peru is reading magazines; something about the glossy pictures, the ridiculous pop-culture content, and the fact that they’re in English makes them irresistible. Also, they usually have lots of pictures of food. So since magazines are my current media of choice, I’ve decided to put together my new fashion, health, and wellness tips into this inaugural issue of Cosmo for the Campo, soon to hit check-out lines everywhere. Enjoy.

Hand-Washing: A Fashion Tip

Yes, your jeans are stone-washed and color-washed and bleach-washed, but are they hand-washed? Nothing says classy campo lady like that baggy, saggy, threadbare, partially-clean look only attainted by hand-washing. And, unlike many fashion fads, it’s so easy! Just grab a bucket, a scrub brush and a plank of wood, a bar of soap, and 4 to 5 hours of your precious time and get scrubbing! Hand-washing is the only proven way to stretch your clothing out at the exact same rate of potato-based weight gain. If you wondered if there was a way to wear out the butt of your pants while not even wearing them, if you wanted your V-neck t-shirts to show just a bit more sternum and navel, if you’ve always wanted your clothes a nice, uniform shade of translucent, if you wanted all your socks to require a stiff massage to soften before wearing, then hand-washing is surely for you! Added Bonus: Have a special Peruvian you’d like to impress? Nothing, short of actually having a butt and boobies, says “I have a butt and boobies” quite as subtly as hanging your underthings in a veritable underthings bunting right there in public for all to admire! Try it and you won’t be sorry!

Washing Your Hands: A Health Myth-Buster

Not to be confused with Hand-Washing, a hot new fashion trend, washing your hands has recently been revealed as yet another lie spewed to us by health and hygiene quacks. Unlike boiling your water and avoiding any food that has been stewed in a ditch or sun-dried on the roof, washing your hands is not actually proven to save you from any digestional distress. Feel free to wash your hands after holding a humedo baby, petting the neighbor’s cow, emptying your pee-pot, or having a vicious water-fight with acequia (run-off ditch) water, but just be aware that the lovely women who is currently hand-feeding you a piece of very-recently-alive pig meat probably did not. So save yourself the trouble of rubbing sand out of the soap, and enjoy life a little.

Face Time with Campo Keren: Skin Care

Your face is your calling card to the world, and home to the most sensitive skin on your body; it’s time to protect it! If you, like me, worry about the health of your face-skin, you might be falling into the trap of over washing and doing more harm than good. To truly treat your sensitive face correctly, it should not be washed more than once a week; every 10 days is actually ideal. A refreshing splash of freezing, 9,300 ft above sea-level water is the perfect way to open the pores of the face. Use a bar of laundry-strength soap (Bolivar is an excellent brand, but Patito is an acceptable substitute), rubbed into a lather on your hands, and then gently applied to the face. Rinse, blow your nose, and pat dry with a quick-dry towel (those of us who care about our faces may be tempted to occasionally wash our towel, but this should be avoided. The bacteria on a truly rancid quick-dry towel supplement the natural bacteria of the face. In a good way.) To add a natural glow to your face, and natural peeled-papa look to your nose, avoid that sunscreen!

Taming the Mane: Hair Maintenance in the Campo

 If you plan to not shave all your hair off, you must take two vital hair care steps to retain a professional appearance in the campo: invest in a solid collection of wide headbands or bandannas, and learn how to say “messy hair” in Quechua. When your showers seem to only happen on the first day of every month, and every afternoon features a soaking by either the rain or a wily band of homemade-water-gun-wielding-boys, hiding your hair in a ponytail or under a chullo (ear-flap hat) become your only options. Of course, the oil and insulation-texture- friction that build up after 8 or so days can add many options to your styling repertoire! Using natural head-grease alone, you could be the Jackie O of the campo in the time it takes to drag a comb through your rats-nest head; and thinning your hair is so easy when half of it stays stubbornly and painfully in the brush!

 Fleas: The Other Pet That Fits in Your Purse

Fleas, once considered a repulsive infestation suffered only by people who allow ash-covered cats to sneak into their rooms to sleep in their beds and read their books, or who maybe have plants growing up through their dirt floor (wheat, if you want to know, and it’s almost ready for harvest!), are now making their way into the fashion pet pantheon inhabited by nasty Chihuahuas and creepy ferrets. A flea invasion can even help you lose weight through blood and sleep loss. But how to invite a flea population into your life, you ask? Try keeping rats in your ceiling and kittens in your bosom. Worked for me.

Author’s Confession: Ode to my Pee Pot

 I’m not saying I would be a happy person without my pee-pot, but it is the basis of many of my most disgusting habits, not to mention some complicated biological experiments I’ve been running. I bought it because my host family’s latrine is outside (where a latrine should be), and while not terribly far away (like the old latrine, the one that caused me, in a panic during site visit, to poop on the side of the path in my family’s yard/field, and then, in a fit of guilt, pick it up with a plastic baggy like a dog’s) it is far away enough to stir my fear of the dark, of rabid dogs, of murderers, of duendes, of Shining Path terrorists, and of old men with holes in their chests (the likes of which my host family claims are common in our garden). Also, there are some pigs that guard it, and, more recently, sheep. The plan was to use the pot at night, but then I realized that my room smelled less bad then the latrine during the hot afternoons, and I started using the pot at every opportunity and so this is really no longer true. That being said, the potty is pretty darn convenient, because since coming to Peru I have lost any bladder control I may once have had, and before the pot’s entrance in my life, had to pee in the room outside of my room for emergencies (it has a dirt floor, like my room, so I feel little guilt, though peeing indoors on the floor is exhilarating). Having had the foresight to buy the large-capacity potty has also led to some interesting scientific discoveries about the chemical nature of urine and its smells, colors, and textures over time, which I won’t go into here. My tendency to take advantage of the extra capacity has also led to a phantom (or possibly not phantom) pee smell that follows me everywhere I go. Ali says daily pot cleanings are helpful, but I’ve recently taken to adding a small amount of lemon-flavored LimpiaTodo (I just happened to have some on hand- I didn’t buy it just for potty cleaning) to the potty. Now my room smells less like a public bathroom and more like a public port-a-potty. Baby steps. In any case, the pee pot is definitely my best purchase and my foulest habit in Peru so far.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.