It’s never “Just Lunch”

Let me take you back to Tuesday. After a weekend of celebrations for Carnaval and 9 ½ hours on Monday in a rickety combi to get back to site, Tuesday was the day of the walking dead. Allie and I still had classes to teach, so as tired as we were we still showered and became presentable before heading into a classroom of twenty-five hyper 7 year olds. Dreams of an all-afternoon nap were the motivating forces behind getting out of bed that morning!

Walking uphill to the school took all of the energy I could muster, but when I entered the building all of the negative feelings fell to the side. I was bombarded by a pack of kids running full force to greet me with hugs and cheek kisses. Then I was walked to the classroom by about six girls all trying to hold my hand but settling for a part of my arm when they realized all the hand space was occupied.

Peace Corps Peru Volunteer with students

Before I started the class the Secretary who wanted to invite us to a birthday lunch for the father of the Director pulled me outside. Allie was standing beside her, looking extremely tired, and I was told that Allie would only go if I wanted to go. Feeling the contagious energy of the kids I happily agreed! I mean… number one free lunch, and number two I have a few projects I am hoping to get started with this school in March so there is no harm in brownnosing a bit.

The class ended at noon and all of the kids were sent home an hour early, because it turns out all of the teachers were invited to the birthday lunch. As the last of the kids filed out, a combi pulled up and all of the teachers started piling in. Sign number one that it’s not just going to be lunch… when you have to get in a combi to get where you’re going.

Old Combi in Peru Old Combi in Cajamarca, Peru

I entered the combi, or rather ancient van that looks like it’s hay day was at least 50 years ago, and sat next to one of the 3rd grade teachers and a can of gasoline placed right next to the searing hot motor. As we headed out I learned that the Director’s father lived in a campo house in Mitopampa about 45 minutes outside of Santa Cruz. Winding down dirt roads I fell in love with the Cajamarca countryside all over again!

Cajamarca Andes Mountains Peru

Feeling light headed from lack of sleep and the strong smell of gasoline I barely noticed when the hum of the engine stopped and the driver pried the door open. We parked next to a potato patch topped with heavenly white flowers and started walking towards a house next to the road. Just before reaching the house our guide veered off the road and onto a little dirt path… sign number two. We continued to hike down the mountainside for about 15 minutes before the sound of firecrackers nearby told me we were close.

Campo house in Andes Mountains Peru

Peace Corps Peru Volunteer hike

As we exited a thick patch of trees an adobe house appeared, complete with a futbolito (little soccer) field. To the left of the house sat a tree with presents hanging from every limb and seven cajas of beer sitting underneath, a yunza. Sign number three; the biggest of all, that this was not “just lunch”.

Campo House Peace Corps Peru

When Allie and I walked into sight all of the festivities paused while about 20 people all took in the sight of the gringas, probably the first and only time in their lives that they will see people who aren’t Peruvian. Our group was ushered around to the back of the house and we kissed the cheeks of everyone who was already gathered. Then they brought out the 80-year-old birthday boy and his wife so they could take pictures with the gringas. If that wasn’t enough, every family proceeded to gather their members for a recuerdo with the gringas.

Gringa photo in Peru Peace Corps Peru Yunza

After a good while of pleasantries we were all led to a table in the kitchen that was set for our party of 12 and were fed a delicious soup with yucca. The kitchen was an image lost in time, the walls were stuffed with straw and a fire stove built of adobe bricks sat in the corner surrounded by women peeling veggies and stirring giant pots. Animal intestines hung from the ceiling drying and babies chased after dogs waiting around for a scrap of meat.

Campo House Andes Peru Adobe Kitchen Cajamarca, Peru

Everyone was offered seconds and thirds until there was not room for a single bite more. We gave compliments to chefs and kissed more cheeks to say thank you. Afterwards our group was ushered outside to watch the futbol games. All of the women were given seats on benches that were moved into the field and the men stood around or lay in the grass. It wasn’t long before the men were passing around a water bottle full of clear homemade aguardiente. (Essentially a Peruvian version of moonshine made from sugar cane.)

futbolito Cajamarca, Peru Peace Corps

The games started around 4pm and teams of five showed up in mismatch uniforms while fireworks went off announcing the start of the mini tournament. Fireworks in Peru aren’t like the ones we use in the states with bright colors and designs; they just make a really loud bang and leave a little cloud of smoke in the air. Apparently the announcement worked because little by little families from surrounding campo houses began to show up to join the festivities.

Women playing futbol in Peru Playing futbol in Peru

One of the professors who came with us was the PE teacher, so he was recruited to referee. It was quite comical to watch because every five seconds the ball was flying out of bounds, which meant flying down the side of the mountain into fields of tall grass and crops. I think the players spent more time retrieving the ball than actually playing soccer. After two games with teams of men, the women started forming to groups and pleaded with the PE teacher to play a game. Switching uniforms with the men, the women played a full game and everyone cheered and jeered as they slipped down the side of the mountain retrieving the ball.

Cheering for women in Peru

After the tournament we were moved down to the field, benches and all, and a band of three Andean flutes, a snare drum, bass drum, and cymbals appeared out of nowhere. (I later found out they were contracted from a small town nearby to play for the party.) Ya… haha, this was definitely never “just lunch”. The Huayno music began and of course Allie and I were pulled from our comfortable bench seats to dance in the center of the circle. By dance I mean move our feet to the beat, because Huayno dancing includes a form of super human foot movements that I have yet to master.

Huayno Dancing in Peru Peace Corps Peru Volunteer dancing

The sun started to set and then band stopped while the 80-year-old birthday boy welcomed all his guests and kicked off the yunza ceremony. I will explain the entire process and tradition that is a yunza in my next post.

Yunza in Cajamarca, Peru

As the total darkness of a night without a moon began to envelope the countryside, the now group of almost fifty people were ushered to the back patio again. A single light bulb lit the dirt clearing and enough benches were brought out for everyone to have a seat. Allie and I thought this was the final hang out and then say goodbye part of the night, but one by one giant plates of food were brought out for every person. The plate was piled high with rice and yucca, and topped with a piece of chicharron (pig) and cabrito (baby goat).

Campo Patio in Peru

Approaching 8:30pm I was starving and quickly finished my entire plate. Eating fast is the trick to finishing a plate here, because not finishing a plate is the equivalent of slapping your host in the face. Not finishing your plate is probably the rudest thing you could do in Peru, especially when a humble family who clearly saved a year for this meal is inviting you.

After dinner the band squeezed into the patio and the dance continued. At this point Allie and I were elated to have been a part of such a culturally rich experience, but with a food coma setting in and the lack of sleep catching up with us it was time to round up the troops. One by one with convinced all the teachers we came with that it was time to go, because we all had classes bright and early the next day!

Dancing in Peru

Since the plan was “just lunch” no one was prepared to walk back up the mountain in the dark. Like a troop of scouts we lined up single file and everyone used the small lights on their cellphones to light the faint path up the mountainside. We were a sight to be seen… all the “city folk” teachers still in their work clothes trudging through muddy fields in the dark! Finally we reached the potato field beside the road and piled into the combi.

Inching our way back to Santa Cruz in the rusty heap of metal, we finally made it back about an hour later. One by one we got dropped off at our houses and I quickly said my goodbyes and crashed in my bed. Not even caring to check for spiders before crawling under my comforter and passing out.

Sunset in the Peruvian Andes

Moral of the story: There is no such thing as “just lunch”, but saying yes to invitations is always the right thing to do. Also… I can sleep when I’m dead, or in 18 months when I’m done with my service.