Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Feliz Navidad, Feliz Año, Feliz Cumple

I can’t remember the last time I posted to my blog so it must be time for an update.  As many of you probably know, I was back in the US for Christmas.  It was an interesting experience but not as weird as I thought it would be.   I got a lot of general questions about how I like Peru or what it’s like that were hard to answer in a few words – I hadn’t really thought about how to respond to those yet and it’s hard to give a straight answer about how I feel about the past year.  I mean, like any other year of my life I’ve had my ups and downs, although they’ve been more extreme here.  I’ve even gone from waking up and hating the fact that I’m still here to having such a great moment with friends and counterparts I wonder why I would ever want to do anything else, all in the same day.  It’s really hard to put that into words, much less generalize whether I’ve felt “good” or “bad” or any other succinctly packaged emotion about the whole thing.

Another question I got a lot was what we eat here.   I didn’t realize I’ve never really written much about the food!  And this week’s adventures in the kitchen are a perfect opportunity to tell you about it.  I called my host mom when I got back to Piura and found out that she and my abuela aren’t going to come back for at least a week, maybe until the end of the month, from their trip to visit family in Lima and Arequipa.  So thinking I would cook a few meals for myself I bought salad vegetables and granola while I was still in the city.  Then I got home and told this to my abuelo and invited him to share my dinner salad, and he said “why don’t you just cook for now?”.  Meaning for both of us.  Knowing it would be impossible to cook what I wanted if I was cooking for him too, I tried to think of an excuse to cook just for me, but I couldn’t.  Instead I tried to scare him off with my weird American food the next day with granola and fruit for breakfast (which he wouldn’t put milk on even though there was plenty of milk that I ended up giving to the pig), but he was not deterred.  Instead he started sort of forcefully suggesting I make more Peruvian fare.  The next morning he picked up a can of anchovy meal stuff (which looks like dog food and is one of my least favorites) and asked if I could make that with rice and vegetables.  I didn’t really object because I also didn’t have enough granola to feed both of us again or any idea of what else to make. 

It turned out pretty well – I was pretty proud of my Peruvian-style rice, except for the lack of salt and garlic flavor since I’ve never cooked with fresh garlic and didn’t realize I had to crush it.  Last night I made some mean chifles (fried bananas) with the leftover anchovy stuff, and today I made just normal rice with salad of some leaf that they call cabbage but isn’t and my abuelo made guineos (boiled bananas).  He also instructed me in how to marinate some chicken for tomorrow – another adventure using half a chicken with skin and bones and organs and all.  Last time I touched a whole chicken I went vegetarian within a week, but I’ve gotten over eating animals during my travels.

So all in all cooking hasn’t been too terrible – the biggest problem is getting the darn fire started every time.  Since we’re eating lunch elsewhere the stove gets too cold between breakfast and dinner to be easily started.  I’ve started it once from hot coals before, but this week I’ve only managed to light one little branch and then accidentally blow it out trying to fan the flame.  So I guess if I’m going to cook anything at all I’m going to have to share it with my abuelo because he has to be there to start the fire.  We do have a gas stove, rice cooker, electric oven, and blender, which would greatly expand my abilities and options, but unfortunately my host mom locked them all up in her room before she left and forgot to leave a spare key, so it’s wood stove or nothing.  I’ve never regretted my decision not to buy a water boiler more than this week!

Well aside from that there’s not much to tell.  Getting back in the swing of things is proving difficult since I got back from not just a vacation, but a vacation to the States, and I also got hooked on a Kindle book which I have to read on my laptop – it is just way too tempting not to open it up!  So that’s all for now.  Nos estamos viendo.

Success!  I got a “todo era muy rico” for dinner tonight!  I made noodles, fried chicken, and salad.  I must say it was pretty good.  In other news, the mayor has taken a sudden and belated interest in my nutrition project and wants to attend the charla I’m going to give tomorrow, which has given me the motivation I need to actually do the charla well.  Finally it seems like someone cares about what I’m doing!

Well the alcalde did not come to my charla, nor has he even been back from Piura since then.  However, I’ve gotten good feedback from the health professionals, so my motivation is still up.  Also, the nutrition project as recovered 6 kids to normal growth status!  It doesn’t sound like much, but many of these kids were so far behind it’s just helpful that they grew at all.  One little girl who is malnourished has a brother 8 months younger than her who has normal growth status and they weigh the same and have only a 2 cm difference in height!

In other oddities, the Municipality has arranged a Maternal and Child Health Center in Sicchez, which is really cool, but poorly placed.  In fact directly in the documentation for the center it says it shouldn’t  be placed near a similar institution, like the Ludoteca we already have that does essentially the same thing, and should be somewhere with abundant children under 3 and pregnant women, like Oxahuay and not Sicchez.  Silly people.  Furthermore they selected a different health promoter to work in the new center than the 2 they just trained through my project for silly political reasons.  There is a lot of politics going around lately – it seems to me that this municipality is relatively strict about knowing where their money goes even if it’s not to the thing it was budgeted for, but apparently cronyism is ok.  And as with all things Peruvian government, who cares as long as the pictures look nice?

One last anecdote: the kitchen is being invaded by ants (again) which seem to have set up their “cave”, as my abuelo calls it, in a pot of spoiling sugar that was on the table.  The funny and not so gross thing about this is that when he catches the ants he throws them in the fire and says “bundle up in there, you!”

Big change of scenery!  I’m in Trujillo for the 53rd National Marinera Festival with some other friends from Peace Corps.  I can’t upload my photos right now because I don’t have the card adapter, but let me assure you it’s really cool.  Marinera is a traditional dance in northern Peru, which I think I’ve mentioned before because the doctor and one of the teachers in Oxahuay dance Marinera at our anniversaries.  We went yesterday to the festival and saw some of the little kids and some adults dance, but missed the really little kids.  It’s a little overwhelming because they dance 4 couples at a time for the competition, at least now in the early days, but the dresses are so beautiful and the dancers are so good!  I’ll post videos/pictures next time.  This morning we took a Marinera lesson at a dance studio down the street from our hotel – it really makes you appreciate how difficult it is to get all the frills together!  I’ve even decided to take the overnight bus back to Piura so I can stay with Jennifer and go see some more dancing tonight.  The masters are supposed to start competing tonight, so it should be really good.

In other news, I had a great birthday on Saturday with cake and volley and everything thanks to some good friends here.  Being on the other side of 25 makes me start feeling more like an adult, although I still feel just as naïve as I did last week. J


  1. 1) How do you say "bundle up" in Spanish?
    2) Omg, I totally hear you about the politics thing (re your health promoters). I applied for a grant with our Junta de Vecinos to build improved cookstoves, but now there's a power struggle for the presidency. We actually have a usurper. Do I work with the president who was ousted, or the usurper? Why can't we just build stoves together and be friends???

  2. 1) He says "Abrigate alli!"
    2) I can't even think of the word for compromise right now, but I feel like I would just get a lot of blank stares if I ever used it.