Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ode to Paneton

For those of you in the States, Paneton is this strange sweet bread with little pieces of gelatinous fruit thingies littered throughout.  Peruvians go nuts for it and it’s a Christmas tradition to eat it here. It’s special because it’s kinda expensive. Nothing at home compares to Paneton. I wrote this mostly for my other Peace Corps friends because they’ll get it. The Paneton experience can only really be expressed through spoken word. Find the cadence in my poem.

Paneton, oh Paneton
Packed in your shiny red box
Your marketing pleasing
Presentation appealing
Too bad you’re kept under locks

Paneton, oh Paneton
How rico you much taste
With your cylindrical form
And dried fruit a-swarm
There will be not a crumb left to waste

Paneton, oh Paneton
You look so moist and fresh
When will it be time
To savor the sublime?
My patience is a daunting request

Paneton, oh Paneton
A thick slice on my plate
The mound has been shared
I’m mentally prepared
Entiendo this moment has weight

Paneton, MY Paneton
My teeth grind the virgin bite
But it’s dry and disgusting
My tongue forward thrusting
This shit far out of my site

Paneton, my Paneton
Bereft of anything good
I was under the guise
There would be no surprise
But the bread has the texture of wood

Paneton, my Paneton
Seriously, what the fuck?
I mean the fruit pieces reveal
More than they conceal
They’re jellied chunks which suck

Paneton, fucking Paneton
Your mocking is harsh and crude
But I have to eat more
Cuz my family adores
You and Lord knows I can’t be rude

Paneton, my Paneton
I trudge on like a champ
I consume piece after piece
But try not to release
The notion of a tradition revamp

Paneton, shitty Paneton
There’s an Xmas party in my boca
But everyone’s throwing up
New guests showing up
That perhaps will make me choke-a

Paneton, oh Paneton
Perhaps no one is enchanted
It’s just what we do
But we don’t have a clue
A custom we all take for granted

Paneton, my Paneton
Something strange is occurring
The more I indulge
The less of a grudge
I hold- the cultural lines are now blurring

Paneton, my Paneton
I don’t believe I’m not a hater
The crap in my grill
Now feels like a thrill
I wanna save some for later

Paneton, dear Paneton
Can this be a new obsession?
Is it true? ¿Acostumbr√©?
I was lead violently astray
To not wish you in my possession

Paneton, sweet Paneton
Can you be an acquired taste?
I don’t want to gloat
But it’s worthy to note
Next Xmas had better make haste

Dirt So Good

Of all the improvements made to my room, I really wanted a cement floor done first.  My family, however, had different plans. The floor will be cemented in January.  This had given me much time to think about the merits of having a dirt floor.
    First of all, know that game you played as kids where you had to jump from thing to thing because the ground was lava?  Yeah, well, I play that all day long.  One had to be mindful about where one puts one’s feet when one gets up in the middle of the night to pee when one had a dirt floor.  Otherwise you track that shit back under your fort of blankets.  Looks like I’m reliving at least two childhood games.  Sometimes my blankets graze the dirt when I turn over during the night. It wouldn’t be so bad except that heavy wool blankets are a bitch to wash by hand and take days to dry when it rains every day.  Ok. I’m comfortable being a bit dirty when I sleep.  I think I can get used to this.
    I used to brush my teeth in the kitchen after dinner. I thought maybe I’d set a good example to my family and they’d use the toothbrushes they have. But one day, I accidentally knocked the half plastic bottle the toothbrushes were kept in onto the dirt ground and the toothbrushes fell all over the place. I was horrified because hell if I’d put a toothbrush back into my mouth EVER after it touched the ground (the ground is lava, right?).  My panicked look didn’t seem to convey the gravity I felt toward the situation. My mom sorta laughed and said ‘Don’t worry, Julieta!’ which makes me think they use them about as little as the aesthetics of their mouths portray.  My six year old sister has a toothache so bad that it wakes her up in pain more than once a night. Well, her teeth are rotting out of her head. Every kid around here had rotted baby teeth. This surprises me because I don’t even see them eating many sweets or soda. That makes me think they just hardly brush their teeth. I got some work to do with the kids.  Anyway, I started brushing my teeth in my room for no particular reason except that maybe if someone accidentally knocked over my toothbrush onto the dirt, they’d apply the five second rule and move on with life and see no reason to confess to me.  But, because I have a dirt floor, I spit on my floor. Well, the big spit goes into my piss bucket. I’ve learned the lesson and now release the toothpaste suds from a safe distance of about 5’5’’.  However, the rinse off goes right on my floor. It’s really, really fun to spit on the floor in your room.
    About that piss bucket. When the cement finally arrives, it will actually matter how good my aim is.  This concerns me. I mean, it’s a skill to pee in a gallon bucket for a girl and by all means I have been improving. However, the flow pattern isn’t 100% predictable.  I mean it’s not like I miss and entire trip to the bucket. I might miss the first 7% or something. Sometimes my room smells a little like an old cat lady’s house but I’m sure the dirt absorbs most of the ammonia. Cement absorbs fuck all.  Allegedly, my family is building a latrine closer to the house (and I must say that my Catholic Peruvian family uses pages of the bible to wipe their ass. I’ve seen it with my own eyes in the darkness of the latrine hole)… but in Peruvian time… I’m sure anyone who visits me will be learning to aim for a gallon bucket.  So, I think I will miss the dirt floor.  I hope I miss the cement…
    And on the subject of using my room for a bathroom, I bathe here too. Not often, mind you.  I can’t tell if it’s cold and rainy enough here that I just don’t smell or I’m comparing myself to folks who bathe less often than I do.  At any rate, once a week or so, I take a bucket bath in my room.  And as careful as I am, water gets on my dirt floor.  How do you remove water from cement?  I’ll need to actually buy cleaning products or something. 
    And about cleaning a dirt floor. It is, in fact, possible. I swear there is merit in sweeping a dirt floor. You wouldn’t want rocks getting all mixed up with dirt, would you? When you have a dirt floor, rocks are new dirt.  You gotta get that shit outta there. Also, I know this sounds crazy, but you sprinkle water on a dirt floor to clean it. Seriously.  You find that sweet threshold before it becomes hardcore mud. But just the right amount settles the dust but doesn’t not create a wrestling arena.
    I think I’m gonna keep the dirt. I’ll get a rug.


    When humans were migrating around the world a few million years ago, they found only two domesticate-able animals in Peru.  One, the llama (and llama-esque creatures) and two, the guinea pig (cuy in Spanish).  Llamas apparently taste like shit.  That leaves cuy to eat.  Mom, thanks for hating animals and never getting me a guinea pig for a pet.  For that, I am grateful for two reasons: 1) they’re stupid pets and 2) it made watching their slaughter and then sucking delicious meat off their bones doable.
    I got word yesterday that today was cuy-killing time.  I asked my dad if I could participate and I think he thought watching a gringa watch cuy-killing was as novel and I thought the whole thing was too.  We were on the same page.  Awesome.  I found it hard to sleep.  But not that hard for there is not much happening in the campo on a Saturday night. I tucked in around 8pm with two layers of everything except pants because I peed all over one pair on accident. I’ve decided the bucket, after exploring so many other options, is, in fact, the best method.  Anyway, I manage to fall asleep by watching Dexter for the millionth time (I only have that show on my computer) and counting cuy jump over a fence or whatever.
    And by the way, I think they call them cuy because that’s exactly the sound they make.  However, when they’re chilling in their ‘death bag’, they’re surprisingly quiet.  Pensive little fellows.  I sit on a tiny chair in my kitchen with my mom. There’s a little bowl between us and a bag of five cuy beside her.  She pulls one out of the death bag, holding it around the neck.  You can see the two little rodent teeth and a furry belly. It doesn’t make a noise.  I watch intensely as she drags the knife- well actually it’s the dullest knife on the planet so I’m going to use the verb to saw- saws the knife across the throat and quickly bends the gullet over the bowl and bleeds it out.  I’ve never seen an animal slaughtered before. My heart is racing but I’m not grossed out. I’m looking at it like a scientist.  I’m wondering how many milliliters of blood run through a cuy. It can’t be much. We’re saving it to cook up.  Then, the lifeless American pet gets tossed aside and the ritual happens to cuy number two. 
    After two are killed and drained, we put them in a plastic bowl and pour boiling water over them and beat their little bodies a bit.  This helps get the fur loose to pull off.  Then I held one up by the back feet and started peeling fur off the creature.  If you’re into picking zits, dry skin off feet and/or removing wallpaper, you’d be into this.  It was fun- but you had to make sure you get all the fur from the ears and around the eyes off which was challenging.  As my mom and I were working on numbers 3 and 4, my little sister picked one naked cuy corpse and started making it dance and sing a song as a really morbid puppet.  Its head was bobbing back and forth since it was really only attached by the nape of the neck. It’s hard to peel skin and fur off when you’re laughing hysterically.  My little sister, who is six, is awesome for so many reasons. This is just one of them. When she’s done playing with our lunch, she took off and mom had to ask, “Sarita, do you need to wash your hands? Is there cuy blood on them?” And of course there was.  I was trying to think of any time in my childhood my mom had to ask me that. Nope. Nunca.
    Then mom roasted them over the fire on the stove to get the remaining fur off.  This scorches the skin.  Now they don’t look like potential pets anymore. They’re crispy, naked rodents.  Next, we take them to the only working sink in Chuyas, next to the latrine.  There, I watch my mom gut them.  She’s careful to keep the intestines aside to wash out and cook up later. We only throw away the alfalfa not swallowed in their mouths and these little sacs of something orange-ish. I’m not sure if all mammals have them or not. The dog ate them.  After this part, I realized I really had to get some Spanish work done.   I retired to the house.
    When I was retrieved for lunch, the little legs and ribs were all cooked up.  There was an additional bowl of guts all cooked up.  Liver from a cuy tastes way better than liver from a chicken.  I think it’s just because it’s smaller and there’s a higher ratio of surface area that touched oil in the pan to weird liver texture.  The small intestines fried up like little delicious tubes of iron.  I had a side of cuy for lunch with this spicy red sauce.  Those little fuckers don’t have much meat on them, but goddamn they sure are tastey. The skin’s really thick and actually hard to bite through with human teeth, but the juicy meat around the spine and ribs was sooo good.  I yanked at the little scorched feet until the socket at the hip broke and I could excavate the thigh meat.  Mmmmm.  I never would have thought a year ago I would be saying, “Hey mama, can you hook me up with some more fried intestine cuy tubelettes?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ah-ha! I´m connected!

Hey everyone. It´s taken approximately 17 minutes to get this page open. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I have some funny blogs ready but my USB won´t read on this computer. Balls. Look forward to them in the future. All in all, all is well. I´m healthy but filthy. I´m happy yet frustrated. I´m thirsty for friendship but can´t get enough alone time. My family´s great but I´m sick of the extra attention. I am, quite literally, the biggest thing to hit Chuyas in a while. My head almost hits the ceiling in my treehouse when I stand up.  It´s super chill here though. Days go by fast but sometimes I can´t wait for bed (which happens around 8 in the campo).  It´s a chance for me to stop engaging and thinking and speaking in spanish. My mom´s pretty overbearing, which I´ve never experienced before in life. She´s only like 12 years older than me but tells to change out of wet clothes, to eat more, that I can´t go to that party because people will be drinking there, etc. It must be my intermediate spanish that makes me sound like a child because I´ve been treated like one. Hop√®fully that´ll wear off the longer I´m here and the stonger my vocabulary becomes. It´s definitely getting better but it´s not strong enough for people to think I´m smart yet.  My little sister is still pretty fun but the longer I´m here, I´ve noticed her fun-ness comes at a cost. She´s also kinda bratty and whiny. If you´re not paying attention to her, she´ll try her best to make you. But I still like her. My favorite family member is my 13 year old brother, Santiago. He´s really smart and I taught him to play cribbage and he beat me yesterday. He´s into science and art.  Anyway, my hour´s almost up. I can´t believe it´s winter, let alone almost Christmas. Weird.

My address is:
PCV Juliet Massie
Serpost, Pomabamba
Amcash, Peru
South America

I´ll write when I can!!!! Love you.