I wrote this a few days ago, on Monday.
It’s been over a week since I wrote, but in that time I managed to get sick and was only lying in bed for 3 days or so. I’ve just now worked up the motivation to write again.
Last weekend, I went camping with some friends at Pumumarca, which are the Incan ruins that I hiked to a few weeks ago. We hiked up late afternoon, ate, and then just hung out the rest of the evening before sleeping and then hiking back in the morning. It’s cool to be able to camp pretty much anywhere here. We just put up our tents inside the ruins and had no problems. At night, there was a massive amount of stars in the sky. There were also a lot of shooting stars, which I had never seen so many before. I ended up getting sick that night (not sure if it was from something I ate) and then wasn’t able to do much until Wednesday. Luckily the next day I was able to hike back fine before feeling much worse after arriving.
I’ve decided to move out of my homestay after the first full month, which this Tuesday. I’ll be moving to the volunteer house, which has 5 rooms in it along with a kitchen. I’ll have my own bedroom and will have internet access so I’ll be able to keep in touch much better. I’ll be paying $110 per month including everything, compared to the $270 per month I am paying in the homestay (but includes 3 meals per day). But since food is cheap here, it will be cheaper to live in the volunteer house and I’ll have much more freedom.
I’ve enjoyed living with the family, but the lack of freedom and independence has gotten to me. I usually have to eat at a certain time of the day even if I am out doing something, so I have to come back home for each meal at the certain time. I don’t really have the ability to take meals to go if I am going somewhere for the day, so that means I’d miss out on a meal if I were to go somewhere. After living on my own for so long, it’s also difficult to have to tell someone where I am going each time I leave. Because of these things, I feel restricted and probably don’t do as much I would if I lived alone. I’m looking forward to moving out on Tuesday, and hopefully I’ll still keep in touch with the family afterwards. The mother did say that I am welcome to come over for lunch or dinner sometimes, so I’ll definitely be doing that.
I haven’t talked much about the specifics of the lifestyle of the family I have been staying with. Let me just say that the lifestyle here is so different compared to life in the US and Europe. Family life here seems to be the number one priority. The only person not living in this area is the daughter who is in Italy. For the family living close, they come back as much as possible. The son and his girlfriend have their own house, but if it’s between 7am and 10pm and they’re not working, they’re probably at the house of the parents. The kids living in Cusco come home every weekend to visit. This is very different from the norm in the US when college students might come home once per month or less.
It seems like the stereotypical male and female roles are very strong still in Peru (at least from what I can see). The male has the job outside the house and the mother (whether working or not) will always have the kids with her, will cook, and do the other “traditional” female roles. It seems that a lot of the stores in Ollantaytambo are run out of the owner’s own house. For example, many of the small convenience stores have small tvs in them, and if you go in a night you’ll see the family huddled around watching. Doubling your house as a store allows you to always have your family and kids close by at all times while also earning an income.
It’s funny how some things can be absolutely normal here, but in the US would be absurd. The dirtiness of everything is the first thing that comes to mind. If you found a lot of the stores here in the US, you’d never go in. You walk into this very dimly lit room which might have a dirt floor or stone, behind the counter will be a woman (and probably holding her baby), there could be 3 people huddled around the tv drinking chicha, the place seems to be completely unorganized, and nothing has prices marked. I’d say a majority of the stores here are at least a bit similar to this.
Another thing with the cleanliness is the lack of personal cleanliness. When the construction workers come into my homestay to eat lunch, they’ll come in and rinse their hands with water and never use soap. The other day, I was having lunch with a few of the family members, and the grandson goes to the stairs outside (in the middle part of the house), pulls down his pants, and starts peeing. The host mother just watched and laughed as I tried not to throw up my lunch. Since everything is already very rugged (there doesn’t seem to be carpet anywhere here, and the floors are usually made of stone or rugged concrete), nothing really needs to be spickety clean. When the grandson is eating, he might drop some food on the ground. No one really picks it up right away; I assume either the dogs/cats eat it or they will sweep the floor once in a while. When the family drinks something out of a glass (juice, beer, whatever), they’ll usually have just that little bit left at the end (a few drops). They’ll usually just throw that part on the ground (whether in the kitchen or dining room or wherever). This is just an interesting concept compared to how much of clean freaks we are in the US. I’m not sure how often people typically shower around here, but I’ve slowed down my showering to once every 3 or 4 days. That’s the good thing about the dirtiness of everything; you can be dirtier than you’ve ever been in your life and you won’t look a bit out of place. One of the reasons I don’t shower as much is the colder water. They call it warm water, but it’s much colder than I would ever take normally. Typically I suffer through a shower and afterwards am happy it’ll be a few days before having to take another.
Another thing worth mentioning is the way meals are ate here. The food is always served on a plate in the kitchen (which is away from the dining room). The mother starts bringing out the plates while calling people to dinner. Usually, whoever sits down starts eating first and doesn’t wait. When someone finishes their plate, the mother asks if they want more. If yes, the mother will take the plate to the kitchen and fill it up again. If another person had finished, she’ll ask the same and take it back individually. I thought it was worth mentioning since it is very different than anywhere I’ve seen.
Hard to believe I’ve already been here a month (when I’ll only be staying for 5 months). Looking back at my month, it’s been very relaxing. I’ve studied a lot of Spanish and am not really happy with my lack of progression in speaking and understanding. It’s definitely a challenge to learn a language. My main problem is that I haven’t been using it as much as I need to in order to learn it. Even though I have been living with the family, I do much more listening than talking so I can understand more than I can say. Whenever I talk, it’s usually a bunch of words jumbled together and I hope that they understand me. I plan to start teaching a computer class to kids, and that would be 3 days per week for 5 hours each day. That would force me to start speaking more and hopefully would learn more that way. It’s been tough getting used to a small town again, since there just aren’t as many things to do here as there was in Prague. It’s not possible to find something new to do on any given day or night, which is tough after living in Prague. The language barrier makes it very difficult to meet new people, so that is something very restricting to me. Since I met so many new people in Prague, this is a change that has been tough to adjust to. Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time here. It’s been a great change of pace from the working world, and I’ve really liked having free time to do what I want. Now that I will be living on my own, I am going to start traveling more. Looking forward to see what else it out there in Peru.