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.