Tiendas y Hornos Calientes (Shops and hot ovens)

Learning another language in the immersive environment of a foreign country is one of the hardest things I have ever done. After preparing for my English classes, studying Spanish and constantly trying to think in two languages (along with the endless questions that come with learning) I tend to have little energy for other serious endeavors. I usually go for a book or a movie before sitting down to write for the blog and given that, it is updated a lot less than I’d like it to be. Below is a bit about what has been going on here and what I’ve been thinking about.

A typical shop. I like this for the Inca imagery on the poster which is very popular around here. I'd love to know more about that - while it is often used to sell things (the poster is for Inca Cola), people still seem proud of the heritage and legacy of the Incas. I also like the sign Se Vende Miel - This is the construction in Spanish that means one does something: one sells honey. While exact, a more accurate translation is probably We sell honey. It's not uncommon to find these messages scrawled or spray painted all over doorways in the area that vary depending on the item.

Things that still fascinate me about Urubamba and the surrounding region:

  • Most people live in the rooms behind or above their shops. To those of you who fight traffic every day on your way to work, whether it’s 20 minutes (given my intense dislike of driving even this had me cursing) to an hour or more – just think of the ‘commute’ from the back rooms of your living area to the front room of your shop. It’s not uncommon for people to close an hour or so in the afternoon for lunch. In addition, they often take advantage of the close proximity by doing chores or cooking in the back rooms while open – a ‘senora’ or ‘senor’ gets their attention so you can buy what you need. I wonder a lot about the economics behind this and how it impacts culture.
  • I’ve come to theorize that an oven is a luxury item here. I’m not exactly sure what the standard of living is for the average Peruvian in my area though I’m pretty sure it’s nothing like I’m used to. I’m not even sure how many people have access to electricity given how dark many of homes are (‘rooms’ is actually more accurate). But when it dawned on me that there were public ovens that one could bring things to get baked for payment I was stunned. I’m still amazed by this and given we don’t have one I fully intend to partake in the experience of getting something baked. In addition, they aren’t the ovens we are familiar with but rather more like large bread or pizza ovens. People manage them and you leave your item with the specific time – something that seems iffy to me as I’m thinking they’re probably much more powerful.

Horno Caliente - Hot oven 24 hours

Below are various stories about my time here:

  • Shortly after my return to Peru in January another scorpion made an appearance. Insects seem to like our outside door jam. Upon leaving the house for dinner, I slammed the door and noticed something dangling – a scorpion by its leg above my head. I kicked open the door (sound familiar?) and let it drop to the ground. A shout brought my new housemate running. At first I was going to stomp on it but figured distance was the best option and ran for the broom. Despite returning and charging in like Rambo, my housemate informed me that the scorpion had ensconced itself neatly under a ledge, just out of reach. In a wildly counter-intuitive move, I jabbed at it with the bristled side of the broom to the point that we could no longer see it at all. Resigned to being unable to kill the thing, we agreed to keep an eye out for it and I left the broom in the hall. I felt very silly, having taken charge of the situation only for it to result in a poisonous insect having free roam of the house. On returning from dinner I kicked open the door (a common theme) and did a careful inspection before entering. Barely visible, it had wedged itself into the molding behind the door. This time I completed my charge, not allowing myself to think about its VERY spider-like characteristics as I went for the kill. Note: In the past week scorpions three and four have made an appearance.
  • Sometimes things go very, very wrong. In November we had planned a camping trip to Lares, hot springs about 2 hours North of Urubamba. I had just gotten a cold that week and I am currently in this years-long phase where colds make me feel like I’ve been physically hit by a truck. This one was no exception, but I was really excited about the trip and I had been talked into going. Two days of soaking in hot baths actually made me feel great – almost as if I wasn’t sick at all. By Sunday I felt well on my way to recovery. I had gone camping with a very bad cold and contrary to what I had anticipated it actually worked in my favor! Well, not quite. It seems I had to pay for brazenly taking such a chance.As we were packing up to leave it became cloudy and began to pour. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as warm rain here – when it’s cloudy, it’s cold and when it rains it’s colder.

    We got in the combi (public transportation van) and I couldn’t figure out why it was SO COLD!!! I shivered for two hours, only realizing halfway through that I was sitting next to a broken window. By the time I got home I had a chill I couldn’t shake. A shower and hot tea would be just the thing. I generally don’t have a reliable shower in terms of temperature (….which means I go for longer stretches unshowered than I would ever permit myself otherwise….) but for some reason the water was wavering between hot and cold more than usual. I had put the electric tea kettle on so it would be ready when I got out. Well, we lost power in the middle of my shower – showers here rely on electricity to warm up – so this left me fumbling in the dark to turn off the water as it became numbingly cold. If I had a chill before, I really had a chill now and it was pitch black besides. I huddled under my blankets with wet hair and ‘waited’ for the power to come back on. Five hours later, at 1am, the lights woke me up. Relieved that I could finally do something about getting warm, I went to boil the water – except – it seems the loss of power shorted out the electric kettle. In desperation I put on two more layers of clothing and went back to bed in my hat and scarf in an effort to ward off the chill. The next morning I awoke with my cold as bad as ever and was sick for another two weeks. In spite of all this, I still loved being in Peru. If anything I got a funny story out of it and confirmation that I had made the right decision about coming here.

  • It is currently carnaval season. I was disappointed to find out that carnaval isn’t celebrated as much in the Cusco region as in other areas in Peru. The surrounding towns celebrated this past Sunday. I have no pictures and I regret this. A major feature of carnaval is that people carry around buckets of water and randomly soak people. Silly string and shaving cream are also very popular and I spied huge sacks of brightly colored powder in Cusco. I was torn between worry for my camera and the desire to document. I did get shaving creamed by some laughing teen boys, and when I got over my surprise I turned around to go at them with the intent of smearing it on their faces. Marc held me back, which was probably smart considering they had two cans of the stuff and I had…. well, not much. Not something I was considering in the heat of the moment.

Typical shopfronts

The devil is in the details

Aside

The photos and random pieces of writing keep piling up, I just need to synthesize them into something presentable. Always the most difficult part. Being a painfully slow writer anyway, learning another language just seems to complicate matters. My brain doesn’t enjoy grappling with English after grappling with Spanish. This is my favorite photo from the week:

corn girl

A little girl in Urubamba's outdoor market.

Letter to the Editor: Re: Obama contraception rule goes too far

Domestic workers march in the Pro-Democracy parade on Hong Kong's anniversary of independence.

Re: Obama contraception rule goes too far

As a 28 year old graduate student I spent time in Hong Kong as a legal advocate for Filipina domestic workers. The majority of them, younger than I and with multiple children, were separated from their families for years in order to support them. When I read about sparing the Catholic Church a “crisis of conscience” I wonder when they will suffer one for their part in contributing to the poverty of Catholic developing countries where there is no access to birth control. I find it disingenuous to laud their work with the sick and the poor when their stance on contraception promotes poverty in the developing world.

99% of women in the United States have used some method of birth control. 98% of Catholic women in the United States use birth control. This isn’t about a government mandate that goes too far but rather about an archaic, impractical policy on the part of a church whose leadership is comprised of men who have never had to navigate the complexities of marriage and family life. It’s time for the Catholic church to enter the 21st century and amend its damaging stance on contraception.

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