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…
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.
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.
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.
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.