What I think I will look like on this Amazon canoe vacation:
Right Now: Hopefully somewhere offline not being eaten by anything on the Amazon, looking for giant otters and happy toucans. This post was pre-written and pre-scheduled to publish prior to Thanksgiving.
Expression of the Week: Paseo. Example: “I am working real hard to go on paseo right now.” The word translates to “walk” but means more like recreation or vacation. Additionally, sometimes if your site assignment is really amenitized (hot water, electricity, Wi-fi, personal driver) you might refer to your service as Cuerpo de Paseo, equivalent to other program slang like “Posh Corps.”
Week Twenty-Four (for the readers) is a virtual visit to my host-family followed by some non-sequitured Peruvian snacks.
My host mother, Teofila “Pauly” Espinoza Navarro is 65-years-old. She is 100-kilos of dynamite in a 50-kilo sack. She has the work ethic of at least twelve, fast-moving industrious humans, an interminably positive outlook and disposition, and a matching pair of spicy humor and wicked cackle.
During weekdays Pauly works for a local Catholic-based school as the administradora, cleaning classrooms and supporting the teachers. She is an active member of her church — buying, arranging, and delivering fresh flower arrangements for the weekend services. On Friday nights she and Jenny prep several kilos of patasca (cow part soup – think phô) and masa (dough for cachangas – like fried dough) to then wake up at 4:30am to ready-set-go the Saturday restaurant.
Pauly’s family is originally from the high sierra (high-alpine mountains). She was married for 30+ years before her husband passed in 2006. She and her husband had five children together, four of which are living. She has seven grandchildren and one great grandchild (Nico.) While raising their children, the Navarro property was an active farm. They sold vegetables and ran the restaurant full-time on the corner of the farm.
Today, the large plot of land is divided into four plots, for each of the children. My host sister Jenny (age 43) and Pauly and I live in one very modern home – five bedrooms, two bathrooms – built ten years ago. They are in the process of building an additional bedroom and bathroom to surprise the Lima brood visiting for Christmas. The oldest daughter Ñomi lives in a similar modern home next door with her husband Bolo and son Andres (16). Ñomi has a business building and selling cajones, small crates to fill with rocotos (hot pepper that looks like red pepper, I don’t recommend making that mistake), exported by the truckload to Lima. The crates also make great Peace Corps volunteer furniture.
Also on the farm, the original homestead is an antiquated, uneven cement and wood low-roofed structure (more along the idea I had of my living arrangements before site exploration) where Lucho (Pauly’s eldest living son), his wife Ceci, and their one-year old son, Juan Diego, live.
On Sundays we typically have a family dinner (lunch, almuerso) in the early afternoon, harvested and cooked by Pauly. Typically (9-12 of us) have a main dish with duck, chicken or cuy (guinea pig) from the family free-range farm. Ñomi brings a refresca (typically chicha morada, a sweetened juice made from boiling purple corn and the carcass of piña) and Ceci usually brings a salad (lettuce and onion) and makes the aji (spicy salsa made from rocotto, the afore-mentioned wonderful hot pepper common in Oxapampa.)
When I explained “El Dia de Accion de Gracias” (Thanksgiving) to Pauly I said “In the U.S. Thanksgiving happens once a year. We cook a lot of food and sit down and have a meal with friends and family together. You know, basically every Sunday in your house.”
Last weekend, after having Thanksgiving Sunday escabeche de pollo, Pauly taught myself, Site-mate B, and her grandson Andres how to make picarones, fried donuts made out of a squash that maybe could be best friends with a pumpkin and sweet potato. It was also explained to us this skill is essential to finding a mate. (Did I mention she tried to sell me “to-go” at the restaurant to a not-unhandsome security guard?) (Did I mention Pauly’s sense of pica humor.)
It is now clear why the English Internet version says prep time is four hours. First you boil the veggies (one camote y one quarter of a zapaya), add flour, sugar, levadura (yeast) and a hot tea made from anise all mixed together until you have the Pauly-approved consistency of dough. Then you go take a nap for a couple hours. The pumpkin-colored dough rises.
Then Pauly fires up the industrial wood stove oven in the restaurant, pulls out the cast iron wok-shaped pan, and heats the oil over fire. You take a small amount dough, like the size of baby cuy, and attempt to form a donut. The dough is quite wet and sticky and you are going to feel even more like an idiot trying to spin the temporal donut like an Ultimate Frisbee toss into the fry bath. It was explained to me this is a two-person job and reminded if I was successful I will be worthy of a husband.
The anise (herb seeds like licorice) and sugar will be melted together to make the syrup. The recipe makes 10,000 picarones and possibly an accelerated onset of Diabetes.
Final verdict: Delicious. Also, outlook almost good – according to the picarone batter “tea leaves” it appears with practice I may be worthy of a couple of lumpy, misshapen but damn tasty partners. Let’s see what I bring home from the Amazon.
Postscript: Since we are approaching the six-months of service mark when volunteers can choose to move out, Pauly asked me this morning how I felt about my host-family. Pauly understands maybe 10% of what I say to her. I shouted: YOU BEST THING IN PERU. IF ME LEAVE, I MAKE TENT IN YOU YARD. GOOD LUCK TRY ME GO.
Vamos a ver, amigos.
A Parting Shot
[Been trying for hours to upload this 26-second video. This may not happen. Ever.]
Two hours into site visit presentation: Does my face make me look more awkward that I already feel?
Hermana Jessica Rice, Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado NO. 120 SERPOST La Merced
La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, PERU
Please note: 1) This mailbox is two hours away 2) It costs a lot of money to send me stuff – (like $23 for $5 of candy) and only send through USPS to SERPOST 3) Keep packages under 1lb (or to not appear worth $100) or they get sent to Customs Jail in Lima. 4) Customs Jail is as arbitrary and random as my blog posts, so don’t send me anything that you’ll be sad goes missing. 5) The last numbers are my Peru cell phone and they will call me if it gets lost. Place them in the spot you would look if you were lost.