Hey Little Mama

Sometimes I like to translate Spanish slang and Peruvian jargon into English in my head, and often, it's pretty funny. 



For example, Gringita and Mamita is a word I hear quite often. My great aunt, or grandmother, or aunt, I'm still not sure, is a very old woman who only speaks Quechua (a language I don't understand besides the word "siki" which means butt, which comes in surprisingly handy on a daily basis). She calls me Gringita and/or Mamita, mostly because she can never remember my real name, also, it really doesn't matter to her. I also often hear it in the streets too, in a less fine way, spoken by middle aged men, trying to get my attention or seduce me. Surprisingly, it hasn't worked thus far. Gringita and/or mamita in this case is usually accompanied with kissing noises you would make at a dog, clucking noises you'd make at a dumb chicken and a wink, and sometimes, with the considerate ones, even a hello or, slightly less considerate: "oye" (meaning "listen to me"). 


Normally I am repulsed by this. But the other day I realized how funny it would be if say, I were walking down a street in Goshen and a round, middle aged man passed me and said, "Well hey there, little white thing!" (Gringita) or a low, sexual, "Hey little mama" ;) 


The other less pleasant game I play is "Penis or Something Else Pokey?" It's a game perfect for crowded buses. The answer usually is, yep, that's definitely a penis. At which point the object of the game changes from guessing, to sprinting. 


The funny thing is, I do feel incredibly safe in Ayacucho. I've never felt this safe in a large city, to be honest. I run into at least one person I know every day as I walk. Strangers are helpful and people look out for each other here. 


However, it's a good thing I now have less than two weeks in this city, because my patience is wearing thin. The next nasty man who cat calls me is going to get a piece of my mind, in English, of course. 

We Ate Our Pet Rabbit

We ate our pet rabbit. Not the cuy (Guinea pig), I mean, we ate that too but that wasn't a pet. 


My mother came home from work last Thursday night and went straight to the roof, as she usually does, to coo at and feed her fluffy gaggle of bunnies.  Instead of the usual baby talk, I heard a wail. She came down to the kitchen to explain to me, in lots of Spanish words I didn't understand, that one of the bunnies was sick (I eventually came to understand). She drew a line across her neck, insinuating what was to happy next. She almost cried. 


She called for Javie, my eleven year old brother, ten times before he answered, as usual. 

"Help me," she said. "We gotta do the deed" (not an exact translation). 

"Bumsquats" said Javie (not an exact translation). 


I went to bed and played Two Dope Queens (great podcast, highly recommend it) loudly to cover up the sound of scrambling, pots clanging, and maybe a bit of crying. 


The next morning I woke up to the sound of meat frying. 


Pet bunnies are yummier than cuy, turns out, and not that unlike chicken. 


Several days later I was washing my clothes in the kitchen sink, as I normally do once a week. I went to hang up my sopping undies when I ran into a pair of bunny ears, dangling on the line casually, like a fluffy off white blouse. Surprised, I tried not to shudder. I instead patted it on its nonexistent head, remnants of its jaw still attached to the skin and whispered, "hey there, old friend." 

Facial Paralysis

Facial Paralysis


The nice thing about Facial Paralysis is that it makes everything else seem peachy. 


Shoot, it's raining and I don't have a coat? Well, it's not facial paralysis! 


Little girl at the kindergarten peed while sitting on my lap? At least I can move my face! 


Diarrhea for the seventh day in a row? Not facial paralysis! 


Stranger touches me in the street? At least I can feel touch! 


When in a small town near Cusco called Ollantetambo, the day before my group and I were going to go visit the amazing Macchu Pichu, I got hit with food poisoning, bad. Really. Bad. 

Can I stress how bad it was? 

Within an hour I was puking, pooping, and trembling, with feverish shakes. 

Within two hours I was having a hard time breathing. Trying to stay calm, I sat up from my fetal position. Soon my hands looked like crab claws, cramped and unable to move. My feet went next, then legs. Soon my abdomen was tingling with loss of feeling. 

And last, but not least, I couldn't feel my face. By the time my director arrived, I couldn't even say "I can't breath" because my mouth was fixated in a frozen kissy lip fish face, tongue stuck. 

My poor friend Anya, had the pleasure of watching the whole thing occur, while also sick herself. 

"Maddie, you're going to be fine," she said, looking me right in my eyes that were screaming, "I think I'm going to die."

Two days later, I climbed a mountain. Five other people got the food poisoning and one other the same visit to Happy Time with Facial Paralysis! 

Thanks to facial paralysis though, everything in life seems so, so good. 

Thanks, frozen face disease! 

Week in Quinua




On the drive to Quinua we rode along cliffs and below I could see a dark river twinkling in the strong Andean sunlight, cutting though small chacras of corn and potatoes. A strikingly narrow valley out of which mountains sharply rise. We passed mud brick houses with drying corn on the roof and a woman heading her shaggy sheep along the road. At one corner Rodolfo stopped his pick up and in climbed six more people. One woman had a baby strapped to her back in colorful cloth, and sat on the edge of truck bed, her baby's feet dangling over the asphalt below as we jostled up the mountain towards the pueblo. 





Quinua is small and humble but clean and old. The roads are paved with large stones and the houses that line them are whitewashed with red roofs and boarded windows. Every other house says "artesanos" and the family name. 


My family's house is like a circular compound with chickens, the garbage pile, the ceramics gallery, kiln and fire pit in the center. 


The market happens only on Sundays and the entire town seems to gather on a cement slab to sell their homegrown goods. There was chicken and fish dangling from hooks in the open, but it didn't smell nearly as bad as the markets in Lima. 





My two year old sister follows me everywhere. She hands me her toys, one at a time, all six of them. A melange of baby dolls, Barbies, stuffed bears and plastic pistols, all covered in chicken shit and dirt. She smiles at me with her dark almond eyes and chapped red cheeks. Once I am holding all her toys she goes for the kitten, or the chicks, picking them up by the neck and dragging their poor, delicate bodies to my lap. When I tell her "no quiero, gracias," because the animal is clearly diseased, she shoves it towards me with the persistent chutzpah that only two year olds have. When she isn't looking I put the poor, small animals down on the packed dirt floor of the compound and tell it to run for its life. When she returns she screams, "se cayo?!" (It fell?!). I nod my head, solemnly, yes. She runs to capture the poor baby animal again. 




Rodolfo and my host dad, Marino, are out drinking because Peru is playing tonight. I only have a small brick to keep my door shut. At night I can hear the borrachos wandering, sometimes fighting, somethings singing and every once in a while, weeping. I draw abstract interpretations of vaginas to compensate my fear. 





I tried convincing my mother that I am capable of walking alone. 

"I walked everywhere alone in Lima," I told her. 

"Yes," she said, then raised an eyebrow, "and now you get to walk everywhere with me." She gave me a crooked smile.


I didn't push it, although inside, I wanted to scream. 





There's no peachy way to wrap up this blog post, or my time in Quinua. I've since moved to Ayacucho with a new host family and work in a kindergarten. I am in love with Ayacucho and this city's flavor, my students, family and co-workers. I've gone to visit Quinua twice now for exploration, and to visit Anya, my fellow traveler. I certainly miss my two year old play mate, but am happy to have more work to do and freedom here in Ayacucho. 


Abuelita en Lucre, Peru




I stayed in Lucre for two nights: a town as big as one square block. Lucre is 50 minutes from Cuzco by bus. The roads are full of sheep and cattle and donkeys and stray dogs. Lucre is nestled between mountain ridges and walking distance from Huacarpi, a town even smaller than Lucre. 


Her hands were dark and wrinkled from years

Of working in the highland sun. Years of threading

Reed, dishwashing, cooking over open flame, red

Brick building and I can only imagine what else

That might come from her hands. 

Red clay flows from this mountain. 


She wears a fully pleated skirt that fans 

Out mid shin and a pale apron. 

Her socks are navy, tall and thick. 

A purple alpaca sweater covered in red florets 

Rests on hunched shoulders. Her shoulders

That softly slope, broad and strong. 


Her graying hair is braided in two

And interwoven with black wool, tied in the center

Of her spine, like a kiss. 


She wears a an offwhite top hat tied with turquoise ribbon and held

in place with a dangerously large hat pin. 



She speaks Quechua with both ease and ferocious 

gumption and I don't understand a word besides 

"Come, come, mamita." 

She gestures with those old hands to a wooden bench 

and I sit and I eat my pancito and coca tea. 

Prayers, Dogs and TV




Jimena, Maria, Rosario and I are finding out seats around the dinner table where Rosario has set each of our respective meals. Jimena ask ways gets the seat with the Mickey Mouse placemat and the fork with the plastic handle. Maria shifts the TV in our direction so that we can see from the table the violent detective movie from the 80s, with careless Spanish dubbing. Rosario hands me the deck of cards. 


The deck of cards are not playing cards - they are Catholic prayer cards called Pan Bendecidos and are covered in stretched photos of pink flowers, celestial skies and white prayerful hands. On each card is a bible verse and a blessing. Rosario nudges the deck towards me, encouragingly every night. The family suffers with silent smiles through my stumbling Spanish prayer. I try to focus on my pronunciation over the noise of gunshots, moans, passionate sex or punches emanating from the TV. 



Yesterday I came home to find Theodoro, the fluffy pint sized family dog with three inch legs, uncontrollable snorting and a myriad of baby nicknames, dressed in a Cusceñan  alpaca sweater. He looked like a hairy baby pretending to be a full grown Cuzco caballero. The sweater was nearly rolled up to his knees, so his paws would be free to do whatever the hell a tiny dog needs to do with his paws. 


I laughed. 


Enter Rosario. "What's so funny?" She asks me. 

What's not funny about a dog dressed as a human? 


"Why is he wearing a chompa?" I asked 

"He was cold!" 

It was 75 degrees out.