|My host parents and I standing outside the house my first month in site|
One of the first books I read on my kindle while in Peru was a completely hilarious book called, “Sh*t my dad says” by Justin Halpern. It made me cry with laughter, which was an amazing feeling to have during a tumultuous time in my beginning weeks of Peace Corps training. Now I’m in site, things have smoothed out considerably in my emotions, and I have an awesome host family with whom I feel comfortable. And I have a host dad who says (or doesn’t say) stuff that I am extremely appreciative I have the language level to understand. So here is some shit my host dad has said that may not be as funny as Halpern’s dad, but helps me with comical relief every once in awhile.
On U.S. holidays
Host dad: When is Dia del Gracias? (Thanksgiving day).
Me: The last Thursday of November.
HD: Why do you celebrate Dia del Gracias?
Me: Because when the first immigrants came to North America they didn’t know how to take care of themselves or to grow crops or hunt in the unfamiliar territory. So they almost died, but they survived because the native’s taught them how to take care of themselves. Then there was supposedly a big feast to celebrate.
HD: So they had a big party thanking them, and then started killing everybody?
Me: Something like that.
Host Dad: Do you sleep with earplugs in?
Me: I’m a light sleeper, any little thing will wake me up.
HD: So, how do you breathe?
Me: …through my mouth and nose.
HD: No, no, no. How does your brain breathe?
Me:….through my mouth and nose?
HD: Listen to me, the ears, nose, and mouth are all connected, right?
HD: When you plug your ears you feel pressure, right?
Me: I guess…
HD: So, how do you relieve that pressure? You’re creating pressure in your brain! What do you do if you sleep with your mouth closed? The pressure builds!
HD: Do you not believe me?
HD: You´re not going to shower today, are you?
HD: You don´t even want to, you just don´t care.
HD: Man, you´re getting lazy. Everyday at work I jump in the canal and rinse off. It feels great! So refreshing, I´m always clean.
Me: Sounds nice.
HD: Yeah, but you have a shower right here with hot water. Ooh! You´re lazy.
My host sister, doing her daughterly duties
[Host dad is watching TV with his feet up on another chair, and my 16-year-old host sister saddles up next to him starts clipping his toenails. I look horrified.]
Host Sister: What? Don’t you clip your dad’s toenails?
HS: Why not?? [Literally said like I’m ridiculous].
Me: Because...[fit of giggles, turns into rolling laughter, turns into me crying and unable to stop laughing]
Host dad: What’s so funny? I don’t get it.
On Religion and Creation
Peace Corps is apolitical and not a religious organization, and therefore we are not advocates in these arenas. It doesn’t mean we can’t talk about politics and religion, because these are parts of our culture and every culture in the world, it just means we aren’t supposed to persuade others to adopt our ideas and beliefs. I am always open to discuss taboo topics and challenge norms, but I live in an extremely religious culture, and being someone who challenges the ideas of religion could put me at risk of losing support in the community. So, I at least try to stay away from such topics. My host dad, however, does not. Without realizing it, he often opens up a can of worms.
HD: If God created man in his image, why are some people so ugly?
Host Brother: It’s because they aren’t followers of God.
HD: Huh? What do you think, Amanda? Why are some people so ugly? Why would God make them that way? What do you think the first people looked like?
Me: Uhhh, I, well, ugly is a strong word, and I…I believe in Science.
HD & HB: Aaahhh, Science.
HB: I believe in Creationism.
HD: Yeah, you believe in religion. So [looking at me], you don’t believe in Adam and Eve? You believe in Neanderthals and all that stuff?
Me: Yeah, I believe in evolution.
HB: Yeah, that makes more sense. A woman made from a man? The children of two people begin the entire world? That just doesn’t make sense. [Host brother exits conversation]
This may sound like a normal conversation, but in Peru this is a pretty controversial topic. We continued talking about race, skin color, different regions of the world and their people, and how Jesus was most definitely not a white guy with blue eyes, like their enormous poster in the living room.
On being sad
Lately I’ve been really busy working on my community diagnostic (the big, honkin’ presentation I talked about that is basically a research paper on my town and its strengths and weaknesses) and the only way for me to get in the groove of working and stay away from whatever crazy distractions are happening in my house is to go in my room armed with snacks and coffee, put my earbuds in, and not come out unless I’m beckoned or have to go to the bathroom. Because of this extreme shift in my time spent with my family, my host dad has decided it has less to do with my project and more to do with my emotional state. He thinks I’m very sad. He regularly checks in on me just so he can ask how sad I am, and sometimes offers a little bit of advice. It’s pretty sweet of him, but entertaining at the same time because I am not sad right now. I’m too busy to be sad. Here’s what one of our conversations looked like the other day:
HD: What’s wrong with you?
HD: What do you have?
Me: Nothing’s wrong wi—
HD: You’re sad, aren’t you?
Me: No, I’m not sad.
HD: You are so sad. Those kids at school today drove you insane, didn’t they?
Me: Well, yeah, but I’m not sad.
HD: Those little brats. They make your head hurt, and you’re already so sad. You just can’t let it get to you, okay?
Me: Okay, I won’t.
HD: What do you do in your room when you’re all by yourself?
Me: Well, I—
HD: You cry, don’t you?
Me: What? No, I—
HD: Yeah, you sit in there and cry, you think, “Oh, I miss my home, my country, my parents, my boyfriend,” and you just cry and cry and cry. [He has his hands on his face imitating tears pouring down his cheeks] You’re so sad.
Me: Really, I’m not sad. I work on projects alone in my room. Sometimes I get sad and I cry, but not often.
Host mom: What are you guys talking about?
HD: How sad Amanda is and how she sits in her room and cries.
HM: Oh, well of course she does.
My host dad does a lot of non-verbal communication. At first it kind of drove me crazy. Not once will he say, “Hey, Amanda,” to get my attention; he will do anything else. Wave his hand, nod his head, make small noises like clearing his throat, but the most common is he whistles like he’s calling an exotic bird. I will be going about my business or be sitting in my room and hear this bizarre, rhythmic whistling. He keeps doing it over and over again. If I take a particularly long time to pay attention to him he will occasionally throw in “hey!” between his whistles. First time he did it, it took me awhile to finally become annoyed enough to look at him to find out what the hell he was doing, only to realize he was trying to get my attention the whole time. I think I may have asked him why he didn’t just use his words, but it’s the way the man is, and I’m not going to change it.
I’m sitting and eating breakfast with my host dad in silence. I hear an almost inaudible noise, sounds like someone is swallowing.
I look up, my host dad is looking at me. He brings his hand up to his face and takes his thumb and forefinger and starts to make a pinching motion in front of his eye, they way you would when you were a kid and pretended like you were crushing someone’s head. He then points and looks off to his right. I nod, he nods, and we both go back to our breakfast.
He just reminded me to take a camera with me on my trip. I said I was.
Everyday is like charades, only he uses hand motions common for Peruvians. To call someone to come see you, you wave at them the same way one would to motion, “stay where you are.” This confused me for a very long time-- people waving me away, but saying, “¡Ven!” (come here!) at the same time. The hand motion someone back home would use to say, “Yeah, yeah, get on with things,” twirling their hand in a clockwise motion, he uses to say, “I’m leaving, but I’ll be back soon.”
Baby, baby, baby, oooh!
Then there are the random things my host dad does that aren’t so much conversations, but just idiosyncrasies. Like asking the same questions over and over again, no matter how many times I’ve already answered it (many times within the same conversation.)
Or constantly thinking I’ve died or am going to get killed. If I sleep in he’ll say, “I thought you died! Don’t scare me like that!”
There are also the times he sings Justin Bieber. He doesn’t know any English, but he has fun singing, “Baby, baby, baby oooh! Baby, baby, baby oooh!” at random times during the day.
My host niece who is 1 ½ years old can’t properly say my name, so she calls me “A-mama” (which went over real well with her actual mother, let me tell ya, but I think she’s getting over it). Sometimes, just because it’s so funny to him, my host dad calls me “A-mama”.
And, of course, there is his obsession with me being sad, and making observations of my everyday life in general.
“Man, you don’t eat like you did before. When you got here, woo! You ate a lot! Everything on your plate! What’s wrong with you? Are you not eating because you’re so sad?”
In Halpern’s book he says, “For as long as I’ve known him, my father has been a blunt individual... Now, as an adult, all day long I dealt with people—friends co-workers, relatives—who never really said what they were thinking. The more time I spent with my dad in those first couple months back home, the more grateful I started to feel for the mixture of honesty and insanity that characterized his comments and personality.”
Think of the level of passive, indirect communication and passive-aggressiveness you encounter on a daily basis in the U.S., and amplify it by 10 for Peru. They are the masters of distraction, of never really answering a question, of saying “yes” when they mean “no”, and of saying whatever they think you want to hear. My host dad is the only individual I’ve met who says what he thinks without whining or cowering while saying it. His candidness, while at times considered brash and confrontational by the rest of my host family, is a relief for me. For once, there is a person in Peru who is honest with me and I know where I stand with them.
I´m going to acknowledge for a short moment, the fact that this is Thanksgiving week and the first time I´m spending it away from my family. It´s a big week of ups and downs, particularly dealing with projects in site, writing a diagnostic, and knowing all of the things I´m missing back home. But, I have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, like a family that supports me in my crazy endeavors outside of our own country for 2 years and constantly sends me care packages and encouraging letters. Like the fact that the U.S., no matter what crazy politicaly crap it´s going through, is SO MUCH better off than so many other countries. I´m grateful for the opportunity to live and work in this quaint little community in Peru, and to have the opportunity to grow and learn from this experience. I´m grateful for this family that has accepted me into their home, with all of my bizarre foreign quirks and language blunders, for two whole years so that they can have more opportunities for their community. I´m glad to have such a great host family that is filled with girls and a mother who is very active in the community and constantly working to better herself and set a good example for her daughters and granddaughter. I´m also grateful I have a host dad who is probably one of the most progressive Peruvian men I´ve met and isn´t conforming to the machista lifestyle. I´m glad my host family calls me ¨daughter¨, ¨sister¨, and ¨aunt¨. And, most importantly, I´m just thankful I have someone I can count on for entertainment when, despite all of the above, I just have a crappy day.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!