Now that I’ve got your attention with that title, let me explain. The culture of Peru is, needless to say, quite different from that of the States. Most differences are pretty easy to adapt to, but there are a few commonly found in casual conversation that are a little further removed. The first I’ll refer to as “calling it like it is.” This means whether you’re skinny, fat, tall, short, light, dark, et cetera, no one will have any problem calling you exactly that. It’s not done to make fun or single anyone out, it’s simply done. Menda remembers learning about this particular cultural phenomenon while in high school Spanish class, mentioning it to her uncle later, and him carefully informing her that even if it’s commonly done, that doesn’t mean it’s not rude and inappropriate. Can’t say I disagree, yet I’ve witnessed a sweet old man greet a teenage girl with the Spanish equivalent of, “Hey, fattie!” and the girl took no offense whatsoever. Imagine even bringing up the weight of a girl that age in the States. You simply don’t do it.
The second shocker is inviting yourself to things. No, not to parties, sporting events, or any other kind of social gathering, but to food, drinks, or whatever else may be within eyeshot. I might be walking down the street with a single piece of chocolate purchased at one of the bodegas by our house – for Menda of course, and a kid passing by would have absolutely no problem saying, “Invííítameee!” I’d actually understand... maybe... probably not... if I was walking around with a giant bag of candy with plenty to share and a kid shouted, “Gimmesooome!” but amount, anonymity, and item have zero impact. If you’re carrying something (anything, really)consumable in plain sight, expect even a perfect stranger to ask you to share. The flip side, of course, is we can invite ourselves to their stuff as well, but I’ve still not quite become comfortable with it yet.
Something else I’ve encountered in Peru (albeit only once) that I’d never seen in the States is a double banana. Don’t worry, you read that correctly. A double banana.One banana peel, two bananas inside. Don’t believe me? There’s a picture included in the linked album below.
In an effort to play a greater role in our community, and because we still understand so little of the situation regarding potable water, we recently attended a meeting in the plaza in hopes of understanding what the issues are that everyone’s always complaining about. Well, we still didn’t find out, because the meeting was focused solely on the illegal use of potable water by the construction company building the new school. First, they took attendance. They called the name of every family from the community to see who was there. Our community’s small but not that small, so we baked in the sun for a good twenty minutes or so. Then, anyone that wanted to speak had the opportunity to do so, with the head of APAFA (PTA minus the T) intervening between every comment to make some minute detail clear. From what I could tell (which wasn’t a ton, because a lot of the comments were in Quechua), everyone there had the exact same opinion, but a good portion of the people wanted to put their own particular spin on it, sometimes two or three times. After a couple hours of this, everyone agreed that the only thing they could do was to cut off the water source for the construction company and let the situation develop from there. So the whole group of people at the meeting stood up and marched to the school where they cut off the water. Of course, in Peru, that doesn’t mean flipping a switch or turning a knob, it meant digging a meter and a half down in two locations and literally cutting the water pipe. We got bored before they reached the pipes, so we didn’t get to see the climactic moments, but this whole situation is case in point one of the “main” (That one’s for you, Tessa) issues found in Peru: an extreme willingness to act but without any great consideration of the consequences. For one, if the company decides to back out of the deal, who’s going to finish the school? For two, the people working for the company are the men of the community, so carrying the water buckets from the drainage ditch to the construction site falls upon their backs. On the other hand, the company had apparently already used several thousand soles worth of water for which they weren’t intending to pay, so maybe cutting the pipes really was the only feasible solution. In the States we probably would have halted construction, taken the company to court, and five years later the school still wouldn’t be finished. But this is Peru: incredibly well-intentioned, not always able to see the big picture, but unwilling to be taken advantage of in the meantime. It has its perks; it looks like the school is going to get finished.
In other exciting news, I had a stomach ache for about two weeks straight. The pain was the only symptom, so it wasn’t a bacterial infection, but after I shoveled some poop into a jar for a lab tech, the test came back negative for a parasite. Still, they treated me for giardia, because poop tests are notoriously inconsistent, and I got better. Either that or the parasite got smarter and decided to lie low for a while.
Menda recently started teaching environmental classes in one of the caserio’s grade school, and this past Monday was Earth Day – as I’m sure you’re all aware. So after some research on what will grow at this altitude and some prep work, we dug out a space with the students for a tree nursery (vivero), and on Earth Day the kids got to plant over 150 cherry tree seeds. Having never grown cherry trees before, we’re crossing our fingers they sprout, but if not, I guess we’ll try another species.
Here are the pictures: [VIVERO AND A DOUBLE BANANA]