Saturday, July 30, 2011

Learning to get along with the borrachitos

Often, partially to try to make sense of such an overwhelming experience and partially because of a long love of trashy romance novels and chick flick movies, I compare my tenure in Musho to falling in love. It may seem bizarre or unusual to make this comparison—Musho is a place, not a person, to state the extremely obvious. Even so, the metaphor works better than anything else I might invent.

Like any loved one, Musho is not always perfect. In fact, we often fight and grate on each other. There are many personality quirks that drive me to stuff a change of clothes and my laptop into a backpack and almost run down the hill to Huaraz. The strange thing is, though, that we´ve worked through almost all these quirks. The past tense—drove—might be more appropriate. Through exposure and a little bit of learned patience, I tolerate Musho´s worst habits—and some even bring a smile, as if at an adored one´s antics. While I had, through my chronicling of my love affair, noted this change, it was presented to me strikingly last weekend.

As some of you may know, Peru beat Venezuela 4-1 to win 3rd place in the Copa de las Americas last Saturday. I didn´t watch the game—we didn´t have the channel and I spent the day in my usual weekend relaxation, some house visits, some walking, some lesson-planning, and an hour in the late afternoon, reading in the cemetery. On my way home, I went to buy flour and other necessities at one of the local stores. Walking in, the owner and one of my neighbor´s declared, “We have been drinking soda, señorita!” in a way that assured me they had actually been drinking beer.

When I first came to Musho—to back track—the sight of grown men publically drunk in daylight startled and disgusted me. I would do anything—walk hours out of my way or out of town—to avoid the encounter. On Saturday, though, I just smiled to myself and asked for flour. In his tipsy state, the owner measured, weighed and dispatched the flour far slower than usual so we had time for a long conversation, including the following exchange:

DRUNK NEIGHBOR: Señorita, I have a question

ME: Sure, what? laughing slightly

DRUNK NEIGHBOR: I think you are a spy.

ME: obviously this was not a question, so I ignored it

DRUNK NEIGHBOR: Do you know what a spy is?

ME: Yes, and I am one.

DRUNK NEIGHBOR: bafflement

ME: I count all the cows, chickens and guinea pigs that you have and tell the CIA. It´s a big concern of President Obama´s.

STORE OWNER: catching on Yes, she also registers all the borrachitos (little drunks) and tells the US government about it.

DRUNK NEIGHBOR: believing, stupefied.

With that, I escaped, laughing, and it didn´t occur to me until later that I had actually had an exchange with two drunk men in my community free of judgment, embarrassment or discomfort. Rather it had been enjoyable and sort of a highlight. I´m not sure what I owe my change in perspective to—perhaps learned patience or slightly lessened self-centeredness. After so many months in Musho, I´ve realized that when you set out on any errand, you will probably be waylaid, whether by a friendly neighbor wanting to chat, a grandmother needing help with her burro, school kids asking for English help or someone inviting you to a bowl of soup. Of course, you can rudely press on, but it´s usually not necessary. In the states, I was used to getting things done and being efficient, that I had to learn the value in wasting time. Maybe I go out to do house visits and end up sitting for an hour chatting at the first house. That´s okay. There is another day to finish the houses. It´s taken me a long time to learn this, but the lesson serves me well. Let´s hope this learned serenity lasts me through the August fiestas.

Here are a few scenes from walking around and also teaching:

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