I've had the privilege of working with and meeting several great people since I arrived here in Lima three weeks ago. Stepping out of my comfort zone and speaking Spanish with everyone I meet tires me out by the end of the day, but has proven worthwhile nonetheless. Many of the people I have met remind me of myself; introverted at first but open and honest once the ice has been broken. Three were extroverted from the beginning though, and have been fun to get to know.
María Elena is our maid. She comes earlier in the morning on Saturday and takes great care of us. I generally have issues with someone picking up after me. Maybe it’s because it makes me feel like a child or because I’m embarrassed of the mess. Either way, when she arrived early that first Saturday, I had forgotten she was coming and immediately began to help her clean. She seemed friendly enough, and therefore a great person with whom to practice my Spanish.
Politics are never a great topic with someone you just met, but the Peruvian elections were the next week and were really contentions. I knew little about either candidate, so just jumped right in. She quickly realized that I was still just working on my Spanish, and began to speak slowly and clearly about her political opinions. I made her laugh once or twice talking about the elections in the U.S. as well. I don’t know if it was because I was actually funny or because I butchered the explanation in Spanish. Either way, she laughed.
On her way out that day, she asked if I wanted her to cook Peruvian food for us. I said yes, but that I wanted her to teach me so that I could make it for myself, and she agreed. The following Saturday after she was done cleaning, we walked down to the grocery store together and she helped me pick out all of the ingredients for Ahí de Gallina, which is a traditional spicy Peruvian dish. We returned and began to cook. I helped for a little bit, but then just felt in the way, so I decided to watch and take notes instead. When it was done, I insisted that she stayed and eat with me. All along, we spoke about our families and why I was in Perú.
We agreed to do the same thing the following week. I put my notes to work, making the dish for myself a couple of days later, once the left-overs were finished; it was good but hers was better. Practice makes perfect. This past Saturday we made Gallatines Verdes, which is a pasta dish with chicken and a spinach and basil Sauce. It looked more complicated so we’ll see if I can remake it when I run out. As we cooked (she cooked), she showed me videos of her kids at school and her singing Karaoke with her friends. She asked if I had a girlfriend and when I said no, she immediately began showing me pictures of her daughter on Facebook.
The Emzingo group is gong to Machu Picchu next week so we will skip our cooking lesson until two weeks from now. We are planning on going to a bigger market in central Lima to buy particular groceries. I think she wants to make a specific kind of Ceviche. She said it’s really easy.
My other new amigos are our doormen, Dagoberto and Carlos. I like to try to spend a few minutes each day talking to either of them. Carlos was really excited about Copa América, but then became quiet once Perú had been eliminated. He said that he was sad, but that Perú always loses, so that he wasn’t surprised. I felt very unPeruvian because I hadn’t even been watching the tournament. Dagoberto is a chatterbox in the best sort of way. He likes to practice his English with me. I felt bad because I couldn’t remember his name the 2nd time I met him. I had him spell it out for me and I wrote it on my hand, so as to not make that same mistake twice. I came up really late one night this past weekend and encountered him asleep in their makeshift bed, which is really just a lawn chair with a bunch of pillows taped to it. He jumped up to greet me and asked how dancing was. I said it was so much fun, but that I needed to rest, and told him to do the same. He Salsa danced his was back to his bed.
Then there are our co-workers at Perú Champs. They’re all very friendly and patient with my Spanish. Pamela monitors the Champ’s progress in school. We ate lunch in the kitchen together the other day. She was telling me about all of her applications for graduate school in the U.S. and about how she’s waiting for a positive response, which is always stressful. Rosio is a stick of dynamite, and I mean that in a good way. It’s as though she has a cup of sugar and a whole pot of coffee every morning for breakfast. She doesn’t drink coffee, so I can’t explain it. Fabiola and Alberto are whom we work with the most. They insist on speaking English with us, as they are both studying for the TOEFL, which is the English exam you need to pass to get into American Universities. I’ve learned that most people at Perú Champs are just like me; grad students volunteering, both because they believe in the mission of the organization, but also because it helps their CV.
Work will be less stressful going forward because I have a plan for specific deliverables for Perú Champs. I’ll be going out more and I’m sure meeting many more Peruvians. I look forward to it.