Time has finally begun to speed up for me. I expect the first few weeks in any place to feel slow, but not this slow. I feel like I’ve lived here for months already. Why? I don’t really know. I think I can attribute much of it to the rich newness of this place – the “nothing here is familiar” feeling that I have just about every moment. I think I can attribute much of it to the slower pace of life here (and yes, life is slow even if the crazy transportation system and rapid cadence of the language is not!) The mindset of a Peruvian, especially in terms of punctuality, is vastly different from the mindset of an American. I’ve learned, for instance, if Yrma says she’ll be at the house at 9, she really means anytime between 9 and 10:30. Last week when a government official said he would meet with us at 10, he showed up after 11. When the carpenters told us they’d build walls in the classrooms at 10 am on Tuesday, they drove up at 5 pm on Wednesday (and stayed until 11 pm!). Punctuality doesn’t matter. I’m not sure why, to be honest. I think that difficulties in traveling, even to the market down the road, and the simplicity of living here makes the exactness of time unimportant. People don’t even wear watches, which makes operating on a somewhat normal class schedule impossible. For the past two weeks my women’s “health class”, which has really become just a walking club, has started at 9:30 instead of 9! My English classes usually start at least 30 minutes late also, but I’m learning to cope and to find beauty in company rather than schedule. Needless to say, life is different here. That is why I came.
Every Saturday morning, Yrma visits Huaycan’s market to buy food for the week. She invited me to accompany her this week and I said yes, of course, as these past weeks I have just been waiting for an invitation. I’ve driven past the market several times on buses and in motos, but such a drive only allows glimpses of the vendors through the busyness that crowds the street. One of my favorite memories from studying abroad in Italy is the open air markets in every town. I absolutely love them! They’re so fun! This market, Alejandra had warned me, is different than markets in Europe. It’s not quite as pleasant, she told me, but still worth the trip. Everyone in Huaycan (120, 000 people live here) journeys to the market each week or so, making this street of vendors a central part of Huaycan’s character. Well, Yrma and I left the house at 11:30 (I had expected to leave around 8 or 9 ) and flagged down a moto for the trip, as Yrma hates to walk. The market is only about a mile from our house, but she really hates to walk – so we drove. I do wish I had some pictures of this market to show you. Yrma wouldn’t let me take a camera with me, and mine is broken anyhow. I’ll describe the experience as best as I can! The market itself is a good half-mile to three-quarters of a mile long, and it lines on the busiest streets in Huaycan. Most of the market is covered, not by a solid roof but by plastic and canvas bags that vendors sew together and attached to tall wooden polls. The vendors and stands pile on top of each other, leaving only tiny paths for the customers to pass by. It is loud and crowded and colorful and, despite the wintry weather here (which really resembles a darker version of a Charleston winter) very hot and smelly. We started at Yrma’s favorite vendor, and I quickly learned that she always goes to the same stands and probably has her entire life. We bought dry goods first – rice and pasta and oil and cleaning supplies. First, though, we actually had to borrow some money from this vendor for the moto ride. I warned Yrma that I didn’t have change on me (the motos only take coins not bills) when she suggested that we drive, but she didn’t believe me. When we reached the market a few minutes later she asked if I had any coins and I told her no – I only had bills, which is such a problem here, as most small stores won’t have change for bills (I tried to break a 10 sole, or dollar, bill at a store today and the owner couldn’t do it!) Anyway, the vendor broke a bill for us and all was fine. In the market, and around town too, woman carry large, reusable plaid sacks. They are extremely useful, especially as there is not one-stop shopping here. We have a bread man, a fruit lady, etc. Anyway, after we bought dry goods we ventured into the cheese and meat section. Yrma introduced me to her cheese and butter lady. There exists only one type of cheese here – it’s unlike anything I’ve had before and is called “queso fresco.” It’s a white salty cheese that comes in huge blocks. After buying the cheese, we plunged into the meat section, the heart of the market, and the part that I was actually hoping to avoid. I won’t go into much detail, but every part of any animal that you could imagine was available – in bulk, swinging far too close to my body. Big cows and goats (and their heads!) and little tiny chickens and animals that I didn’t recognize nor wanted to…I think I must have lost all color in my face because several of the butchers laughed at me as I walked by. I couldn’t even form sentences in Spanish to tell Yrma to hurry up. We stopped, much to my dismay, at one butcher to buy some beef, and a dog (dogs were running rampant in the market) used the opportunity to steal a big slab of raw meat. This part of the market was difficult to stomach, for sure! I felt very out of place! From the meat section we entered the colorful vegetable section and bought potatoes and choclo (the meaty corn that I eat every day) and tomatoes and several vegetables that I didn’t recognize – many of the vegetables here are a form of squash or potato – hearty vegetables that survive the desert soil and climate. We then bought some spices and limons (some type of lime that is used in every dish) in the fruit section. The fruit here is much sweeter, in general, than fruit in the US. Papayas, soursop (like a custardy apple), lucama (an orange meaty fruit that is in many of the juices, cakes and desserts here – to my knowledge, it only exists in Peru), mangoes, the grenedilla (which is peeled and eaten like a lollipop - it’s so strange) and more. The fruit section was much less organized – piles of fruit on tables and on the dirt ground and scores of flies that ladies swatted away with strips of clothing tied to sticks. Just about every stand had a huge papaya for show – they looked like gigantic pumpkins that people would cut slices from. I’ve never seen anything like it. Well, after about an hour, both of our plaid bags were heavy and we had made all of our visits. I think Yrma had fun parading me around and around the market. Everyone kept telling her to bring me back with the other “gringas”, which was funny. We arrived home, after a second moto ride, just in time for lunch and more classes. I walked through the door to the house and Anna asked about the trip. I said, “It was great, but we better not be eating meat for lunch!” Lara and Anna started cracking up because on the table was a whole plate of chicken and potatoes. After the morning’s adventure I just couldn’t do it, so I stuck to the potatoes.
The weekend was full of classes. I was able to go to church again with the missionary family that I met. It was great – I really enjoy going. The church had a father’s day celebration, of course, which made me miss my own dad! I actually woke up on Sunday to church bells and fireworks – all sorts of celebrations all day long. Classes are going well. My favorite class is one that I teach on Sunday afternoons. It’s an English class, but my students are in their twenties and thirties. After class we usually go and play soccer with the neighborhood kids. Kelly and another one of my students, Augusto, came up to me after class on Sunday, prodding each other to tell me something in English. Finally, Augusto said, “We are going now to our house to eat. We play next week.” I was so excited. I mean – we’re making some progress here! I love that the students really try to speak with me in English – to use what we’re learning. It makes me excited to be here.
Over the weekend we also made a trip to Peru’s version of Target: the Plaza Vea. The store is such a big deal that there’s a free shuttle that runs to and from the store from Huaycan and other towns. We bought some house and school necessities, and also a pizza, which resulted in a neighborhood fiesta on Saturday. Anna also bought pretzels and peanut butter, which were both a hit. It’s hard to imagine growing up without these simple things, but the items are all so strange to Yrma’s family.
Yesterday, Monday, I taught again in Zone Z. We’re learning many verbs and good vocabulary despite the less than favorable “classroom.” It’s so loud from the traffic and small and dark. The floor is dirt and there are no tables and definitely no desks. There is a white board, though! We have fun learning, and we have fun playing too. After class, we played volleyball and soccer. The only way I could get everyone to play was to have a boy versus girl tournament. This made for a very interesting hour and a half, and I must say that the girls dominated. One thing that really struck me this trip was that the kids all called me senorita Lellie or hermana (which means sister). A few of them have called me hermana before, but I thought that they were confusing me with Anna and let it slide (anna and lara are sisters). Nope, the kids think that I’m a nun. How funny!
Today is Tuesday, and I went up to Zone R to check on Jasmine, the little girl with the burns. The infection is gone, which I just can’t believe. I was so worried because the wounds could have more easily grown worse instead of better. It’s amazing! Rosa is sending her precious daughter back to school next week, which is great. We read Green Eggs and Ham and promised to return soon. She is one of my favorites, and my heart just aches for her in this situation. Tomorrow Anna and I are going into the city to visit some catacombs and museums and be tourists for the day. Yrma is worried, of course, so she’s sending Luz with us. I’m excited to learn a little more about Lima and Peru.