The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Adventures in Eating, part 2

The Mechanic and Manuel
Once a week we have been sent out for “Community Visits” in which we practice our newly acquired training as Cross Cultural Witnesses to learn about a community.  We’re sent out with a native speaker and a set of questions to ask to get people talking about their community.  Last week we went to Conception, a prosperous and proud town that we learn was the place where the Chileans were defeated in this much remembered war in the 1879-1884, also called The War of the Pacific.

Today we are in Sakiya, and once there we talk to a mototaxi mechanic, and then are invited into typical shop that carries warm cokes, DVDs, food stuffs, and several aging powderpuff girls backpacks hanging on the wall.  It takes a little getting used to drinking warm cokes, but that is how it is served here, I guessing because this whole area feels like one large walk in cooler, and really they are not that warm. 

The shop is run by Maria, but owned by her daughter who comes by later to check out what all the gringos are doing in her shop.  Sakiya is a bit of a depression place, nothing like Conception, but the daughter invites us back next week for the Festival of St. James, one of the monthly festivals that bring life to this town.  She even invites me to stay in her house--she likes my eyes—and it’s a playful give and take between the different cultures.   As late afternoon comes on and she is still telling us about the town, Maria grabs a bag of leaves, and carefully pealed orange peels and rummages around in it.  She grabs a handful of leaves and motions for me to accept.  I stick out one hand, but both Maria and her daughter make a big commotion.  “No, no, no!” the native speaker translates, “you have to accept with both hands open.”  I put both hands together, and she pours a pile of leaves in it, and then goes around to the group, offering, and each putting both hands out to accept.  We’re not really sure what is going on at this point, but wait to see where this goes.

He daughter pours some leaves in her hand, and Maria selects out one leaf and folds it carefully. She makes the sign of the cross across her chest and pops it in her mouth.  She does this with several more leaves, and then motions for me to do the same.  Are these coca leaves?  They look like they came from a ficus tree, and I recall seeing bags of them in the market.  Coca leaves are a mild stimulant that Peruvians chew for a variety of reasons.  In our previous community visit to Conception, we had met two old ladies who were chewing Coca leaves to starve off hunger; Maria explains that to Peruvians, are like a cup of coffee.

So I carefully select a leaf, fold it, make the sign of the cross, and pop it in my mouth and chew.  Several, but not all of us gringos do the same.  Then Maria grabs a small vessel and folds a leaf in half and uses it to scoop its dark and grainy substance, and pop the whole mess in her mouth.  It’s a substance of questionable linage, but she explains this is the traditional way, with the ashes of the quinoa plant and a little sugar added to soften their bitter flavor. Apparently it also increases their punch.  It’s a little bit spooky, because it looks like dirt, but I’m all in at this point, and so as we are learning about the city, we’re packing the sides of our mouths with a big wad of Coca leaves, and my cheek begins to tingle.  Now coca isn’t cocaine, anymore than grapes are wine, and after we leave her shop, each of us spit our wads out into the gutter.  

The next day it is after breakfast, and I’m enjoying a few minutes of quiet time before the day’s lectures begin.  Manuel, comes and sits next to me as I am enjoying the morning sun.  It will be the only time I am fully warm that morning.  He was with us on yesterday’s Community Visit, and wanted to know how I had enjoyed the Coca leaves.  The evangelical community, I have learned since learned, is opposed to their use, but then we’ve been drinking gallons of coca leaf hot tea since we got here, to help with the altitude sickness.   Manuel and I working without an interpreter, so there are lots of laughs, hand motions, and como?.  Eventually it the conversation is reduced to

            Coca primera?  (was this the first time you tried chewing coca?)
            Si!                    (yes)
            le gusto?          (did you like it?)
            Ok                    (it was ok)
            Otra vez?          (will you try it again?)
            No                    (no)
            Soledad uno     (this will be my only time)

And the Peruvians laughed, I’m thinking because they are happy I’ve tried something of their culture, or it could have been Soledad uno, which I later learn means the lonely one.


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