Terraced gardens in Peru

An American in Peru

Being a housewife here in Peru is easy when you have a maid who comes once a week.  This is a social norm among the upper and middle class.  She cleans the house, does the laundry, irons, can run errands with me (or on her own), and as I was told by another Peruvian woman “when you husband is working and you are preparing his dinner, she can make the rice.”

Gloria came for the first time Thursday (my second day in Peru).  Charlie thought it best that she start immediately so that I would have someone to practice my Spanish with and so I’m not alone when he’s working at the mine.  Hesitant about having help I didn’t feel I needed and nervous about having a stranger in my house, I called Charlie at the mine 10 minutes before Gloria arrived and told him to cancel her.  He refused and tried to convince me it would be good for me.  What a butthead.

Gloria is a middle-aged, friendly Peruvian woman who speaks Spanish slowly and clearly and loves Brandy.  When I showed her how my dog can speak Spanish by telling Brandy to sit, Gloria was overjoyed.  In preparation for Gloria, Charlie had attempted to buy cleaning supplies, but he bought fabric softener instead of laundry detergent and dishwasher liquid instead of floor cleaner (we don’t have a dishwasher)…oops!  So Gloria and I walked to the store and bought the supplies she needed.  She unpacked most of my belongings, washed an ironed all of our laundry, and cleaned the apartment thoroughly.  For 50 Soles (around $17), she came at 8AM and left around 7PM!  I’m thinking about asking her to come twice a week.

Another thing that makes it fun to be a housewife in Peru is incredible food. There are fresh produce stands on almost every city block and a market in walking distance from the apartment with lots of fruit, veggie, meat, and fish stands.  Peruvians are great gardeners, known for their terraced gardens at high altitudes, and their potatoes, which originated here.  Worldwide there are 5,000 varieties of potatoes, 3,000 of which are grown in this country (I’m pretty sure those numbers include hybrids).  Your standard Lima grocery store has approximately 20 different types…all different colors, sizes, shapes.  Some are to be used for soup, some for frying, some for mashing, some for dessert, etc.  Living here is already forcing me to become a better cook as there are far less prepared foods.  If a recipe calls for red kidney beans, in the states, I just buy them canned.  Here, you can only buy beans dried in a bag, adding far more planning to a meal as they need to be soaked in water overnight to soften.

I’ve been experimenting with cooking all sorts of new things and am really enjoying it (despite several failures where things did not turn out as planned).  My best dish so far was something I tried in a restaurant, then replicated at home.  I’m not sure what it’s called here, but begins with puréed potatoes spiced with yellow ahi (a spicy pepper used frequently to season food here), followed by a layer of fresh avocados, then a layer of tuna fish, finished with another layer of the potato purée.  The meal is presented in two or three small piles, so you can see all of the layers, and garnished with thin sliced olives.  Yum.

My addiction to one of the only prepared foods, tamales, has grown so strong that I require one a day and have begun to devour them for breakfast.  I’m also a mango addict.  You can buy two or three of them for less than a dollar and eating one here can only be described as an experience.  I have never tasted a better combination of sweet an juicy.

Unfortunately, if I spent every day cooking and eating, I would soon become gordita (Gloria told me that).  I’m slowly getting back into my running routine by running around the golf course, two blocks from the apartment.  The golf course is fenced-in, so you can run around the outside, not haveing to cross any streets.  You have to go at the right time when traffic is not bad to avoid drinking diesel.  For Charlie, it’s 5:30 in the morning before rush hour.  For me, it’s between 10 and 11 (after rush hour, before lunch time).

After a week here, I’m finding it still takes an hour-and-a-half of preparation for me to leave the apartment.  First, I have to figure out where I’m going and commit my route to memory.  For safety sake, getting lost is not an option.  Next, I try to imagine any possible question I might need to ask in Spanish.  I have theoretical conversations with Brandy to prepare.  “Brandy, estoy buscando el supermercado Vivanda.  Sabes donde esta?” I translate grocery lists to Spanish so I can ask people in the store where items are. I review commonly used phrases and stretch in preparation for the acrobatics of acting-out words I don’t know (like power strip).  Then it’s time to figure out what to wear that will best help me fit in (an impossible task).  I mentally prepare to keep my head straight and continue walking briskly when men drive by and honk, slow down, sometimes drive alongside me, and say things like “rubia bonita”  (beautiful blonde) or the more crude “rubia puta”  (blonde slut).  Finally, I procrastinate for at least 10 more minutes, take a deep breath, grab my keys and sunglasses and leave quickly before the anxiety reaches its peak and I chicken-out.  “Don’t worry,” I tell myself, “this will get easier.”

Posted by Danielle L. Krautmann, 18 January 2010