Sunday, May 23, 2010

Picante de Cuy

After site assignments, way back in November (incidentally we are celebrating 6 months in site right now!!), before arriving at our new communities, we Ancash volunteers had a Community Partner Day: a day-long meeting where community members, likely work partners, came to learn about Peace Corps, socialize, and, at the end of the day, bring the volunteer back to meet their new community. One of the first activities was a simple icebreaker: break into pairs, interview your partner, and present them to the group. The questions were simple, so as not to startle newbie volunteers or shy campo-folk. One was "what is your favorite food?" Every Ancashino present said "picante de cuy," a plate that was foreign to the gringos in November but is now as well-known as Waffle House to an Atlanta native. The ever-generous mothers in my community allowed me to photograph and question the process last week so, finally, I bring this delight to the palates of the northern hemisphere:
Start by getting your fire going. Before you kill your guinea pig, you'll want to have a pot of boiling water ready. While you attend to the wood, feel free to leave the guinea pigs inside your market bag, but be careful to keep a close watch-- once they squirm out of the bag, it's a pain to chase them down . You'll also want to put your potatoes-- whole, peeled-- on to cook. Just estimate about 5-10 per person.
Once you have boiling water, cut the guinea pigs' throat and drop him in, just to scald the skin and take off the fur. Remove him from the water and use a knife or razor to shave off any remaining hair.

Next, slit your guinea pig open and remove the guts. Don't throw these away!! Once carefully cleaned, they can be boiled and fried, becoming (I'm told) a very tasty treat. Also, don't set them down next to the river as you wash the guinea pig-- it will attract all the neighborhood dogs.
Once you've removed the guts, your guinea pig is ready to cook!! Look for some sharpened sticks (bamboo works well; thank the lord for invasive species), and stick one through the length of the guinea pig.
By now your fire should have created some nice coals, and you can roast the guinea pig over the coals, rotating and adding oil as necessary. It's a smokey job, but one capable woman can manage up to ten of the little critters.
Once the guinea pig is brown and toasted all over, you might think it is ready to eat. Wrong.
First, you'll need to make your sauce. If you're prepared, you'll have ground your dried hot pepper and fresh garlic beforehand. Cook this, with some oil and water, until it forms a thick sauce.
Meanwhile (you will need assistants or several hands), take the guinea pigs off their stakes, heat plenty of oil, split them down the middle, and fry them. Make sure they get crunchy because (I'm told) the skin can be tough otherwise.
Coat both the guinea pig and the potatoes in the sauce, heap onto plates, and serve, in mass, to very hungry Peruvians and gringos.

Monday, May 17, 2010

CJL, with a side of quechwa

Home sweet home. After a week of travel, I am sitting in sleeping bag and liner (flea free after some heavy chemical application!!), wrapped in my alpaca sweater, listening to music and in bed at 8 pm (with full intention of productivity but expectation of getting sleepy and shutting my eyes early). Last Monday I traveled to Lima with a community partner for a project design workshop—a semi-frustrating, though educational, endeavor to plan, execute and evaluation health interventions—and then on Friday traveled, with two teen girls from my community, to ALMA, a very different sort of workshop, for the weekend. ALMA (Actividades de Liderazgo para Mujeres Adolescentes, leadership activities for adolescent women), is a Peace Corps project in which all the volunteers from a region bring select girls from their community to a 3 day “camp” for workshops, crafts, sex education, theater, rope courses—really, anything. Before leaving, Ellen commented that it sounded like a Peruvian CJL. That’s not far off.
As a teen girl myself, my 2 summers as a CIT (not to mention the previous years) at CJL were wonderful experiences. I made best friends, I learned about myself and how to be leader, and I will never forget them or the amazing women who taught me. The effect that this three day workshop had on our girls is similar, only maybe 1000 times more powerful. Out of the 32 teenage participants, most had never traveled without their parents. Some do not own pants or jeans and arrived in pollera and traditional quechwa costume; others live in bigger towns and arrived wearing jean shorts and sandals. Two girls are the only (and first) two students who will graduate from their village’s high school. All of these girls tie-dyed t-shirts, participated in a condom race, discussed gender stereotypes and how to help their communities, interviewed female professionals, and asked questions about sexual health.
We were lucky enough to find a small hotel nearby to host us. The family was fascinated by our strange menu requests (all vegetarian) and activities. One afternoon, I walked into the kitchen to ask for toilet paper, and ended up, first, teaching them how to make garlic bread and American-style tomato sauce, and, second, explaining why we had just had a condom race on their front lawn and what we were doing. 45 minutes later, I walked out with two new friends and fans of Peace Corps (though no toilet paper).
The weekend, and the more formal project design workshop, made me consider what success as a volunteer means, or, what it will mean for me. Before ALMA, I was skeptical about the impact a few days could have on these girls, whether the camp justified the grant a fellow volunteer received from USAID. “Wouldn’t the money be better spent on a project of latrines or improved stoves?,” I couldn’t help but think. However, latrines fill, and stoves break. These infrastructure projects are flashly and popular, but won’t really have a continuous effect. However, if you can inspire—not teach, not lecture, not convince, but inspire—the youth of a community to be better-educated, healthier and more willing to look for new ideas and opportunities—the community has it made.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Today we celebrate, both in the US and Peru, Mother’s Day. Despite the grumbles about Hallmark and hyper-consumerism, it’s a generally agreed upon worthy reason to celebrate. One of the many daily inquiries I receive is whether I’m sad or not—mostly whether I miss my mom. Both children and adults will wonder if I even have a living mother, so strange it seems that I would be allowed to stray so far from home. (This blog is about Peru, not the United States, so I won’t go into the many things I miss about my mother. Let me say, though, that, more than ever before, I appreciate my mother: her wit, wisdom, goodness and so many other qualities that I haven’t found in anyone else.) Mothers are universally understood, even though the roles they fill, here and in the States, are completely different.
Here, in the countryside, pregnancy and motherhood is an expected and constant part of life. Mothers Day is, to an extent, a universal celebration of women because, as my host dad explained to me yesterday, all women will be mothers, sooner or later. Sure, I do hope to be a mother one day, but I see it as a choice that I will one day make, considering my career hopes, plans and general situation at the time. Here, becoming a mother, while, on one hand a drastic change, is not considered the determining factor in a woman’s lifestyle. An expectant or nursing mother is expected to continue with her usual work, even heavy field labor. If she has a young child (up to 4 years old), she carries him in a “jik-ja” or manta, a blanket-sling for the baby. Thus, as she goes about working, she can swing the baby around to the other side, nurse, and get back on the job. Precious few women leave the community to study, so the idea of waiting to have children to finish a degree is foreign.
Mothers are not a simple casual interest for me right now; they are the target population for most of our program goals. Who should be learning about nutrition and prevention of parasites? Moms. Who should wash their hands? Moms. Who should plant vegetable gardens, build latrines and install chimneys? Moms (a lot of pressure). For this reason, I spend a lot of time in the health post, talking to mothers and visiting them in their houses. We have meetings of mothers with children under 5 once a month, to talk about a health topic (last week we made “tipi-taps” a hand washing station out of a recycled 2 L soda bottle). In these meetings, most women are my age, or younger, and arrive with their child on their back like an accessory. It isn’t that these women didn’t want to become mothers, but I don’t think that they ever thought about the alternative. Just like getting your period or, maybe, your first kiss, at a certain age, you have a baby. The explanation I give for my single state is that I don’t want to have to work, to cook, clean and be tied to a house and husband, just yet. Women laugh, but few understand.
Motherhood is a wonderful, beautiful thing. I am thankful on a daily basis for the sacrifices that my mother made for me—not least of which would be allowing me to go to a tiny rural town in Peru for two years. The sacrifices that women make here are amazing: for example, spending days harvesting chile pepper, then selling it at 3 am in a nearby town, just to buy school supplies. I wish, though, that my moms here would realize that this is a choice, that there are alternatives—school, work, travel—before they swing into their jik-ja.

And, for a little treat, our mother’s day dinner recipe, prepared with my siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins:
Pachamanca (quechwa for “earth pot,” this is traditionally made by digging a hole in the ground, filling it with hot rocks, and cooking it that way) a la olla (in a real pot)
*All notes in blue are the Cashpa family/Kaitlyn personal modifactions
2 kilos sweet potato
3 kilos potato
1 kilo “haba,” a type of large fresh bean
1 kilo green pea
1 chicken, about 2 kilos, preferably freshly killed by your host grandma, bled, plucked, and with it’s intestines removed
lots of cilantro
1 head garlic
lots of “chinco” (I think this does not have another name in English)
several ears fresh corn

1. Wash all tubers well (preferably at an outside faucet, over a rock, shoo-ing away all ducks and chickens who come to investigate)
2. Grind cilantro, chinco and garlic with a little water. You should end up with about 1 L of this sauce. Add salt (and MSG, sorry stomach lining) to taste; it should be a little salty. (this can be done in a blender or, again, outside, between 2 rocks).
3. Wash chicken well and cut into portions (Edita did this, but I think you try to do legs, wings, breast, you know).
4. Take the chicken and coat it in part of the sauce, and then arrange it in the bottom of a large pot.
5. Cut slits into each potato, fill with a spoonful of sauce, and then arrange on top of your chicken in the pot.
6. Next, coat each sweet potato with sauce and arrange on top of potatoes, next the habas, green peas (in their shells) and corn, shucked, dipping each in lots of sauce first.
7. Pour remaining sauce on top of the layered mixture, then top with 2-3 plastic bags (you could probably use saran wrap), cut open and tucked around the mixture so that no steam escapes. (Try not to listen when your uncle says that the bag is from the chemical fertilizer they just bought).
8. Put the lid on the pot and cook over low heat (in our case, coals left from cooking lunch) for 30-40 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender (this you test through the plastic bag, not letting steam escape!!)
9. Serve over rice, with lots of the sauce, and eat partially with your hands. (you should get messy and have a plate for peels and pea shells).
10. Afterwards you should have the same way-too-full feeling that you have after eating thanksgiving dinner and, if you’re lucky, will have a 30 minute walk home in the dark with your host family to feel normal again.