Surrounded by Slippers
The Boza family wears slippers; I wear socks.
I've been living inside an upper middle class home in the Pueblo Libre district of Lima for a little over a week now. I didn't really bother getting myself worked up over the situation of flying from SE Asia to enter into my pregnant girlfriend's home beforehand, but a day or two before I found myself (wearily) asking Tatiana questions on etiquette—"how should I address your parents?"—and what they'd think about some of my expected behaviors—"is it OK that I'm going to spend most of my time (working) in your room? Are they going to think me anti-social?"
I recently asked Tatiana if her family had any preconceived notions of what folks from the United States were like, and how those stereotypes aligned with the person who was staying in their home. Her reply:
Nobody here had any type of preconception because you were an American. Nobody expected you to behave a certain way—they just wanted to see if you were nice to me, and to make sure you were comfortable here. I told you no one was going to ask you any hard questions, and they haven't. Our family tends to go off people's energy, and they saw photos of you before you arrived, and they liked your energy. …Are you going to write that? People are going to think we're crazy here.
You can tell people that you're not the object of everyone's analysis—you're just another part of the family. To the kids (and dog), you're an uncle; to my siblings, you're a brother. Everyone here likes you.
Lima, and the Boza Home
Lima isn't the kind of city you desire to live in. We are here because Tatiana's family is here, and because a fraction of the money spent on public maternity care in the United States gets you a team of private physicians in Peru.
Lima looks worse than I remember it. Granted, I was here for less than a week a little over a year ago, but I couldn't help but think it reminded me of a less-brown/more-gray Cambodia when I arrived. It's practically the middle of summer here below the equator, but the temperatures have been unseasonably cold—simply put: It's freezing here.
The collection of homes in the haphazardly laid grid around her house is best described as "crumbling contemporary." They're not suppose to look modern, but the boxy, non-uniform concrete structures remind me of a contemporary design catalog—minus the sex appeal.
Lima is considered one of the more dangerous cities in South America (though substantially less than any metro in Venezuela or Brazil), and defensive home design and person fortifications reflect such things. It is a stop or starting point on the backpacker-trail, but is certainly not a place to settle for weeks on end. An example I gave to a friend:
When Tatiana says she grew up on the mean streets of Lima, she isn't kidding. During her childhood terrorists were planting bombs (she remembers drills on what do to in the event of a bombing—not unlike our abstract earthquake or A-Bomb drills as kids), and in recent years has had the windows of her taxi smashed out in an attempt to grab her purse and the such.
The Boza home is a three-story home on a rectangular, medium-width plot of land. There is space enough behind the front gate to park the car, and a small plot of grass about the size of my old college dorm room in the back. Walls practically reach to the second story in front and back, with neighbors flanking the home on each side.
Built in 1981, the construction of the home emotes an American '70s feeling. Amber-colored glass is found in the wooden cabinets of the kitchen, and elsewhere the house. Walls are concrete (as expected), but painted in warm tones. An oddly designed fireplace in the family room is simply for show—there isn't even a ventilation shaft.
Considered upper middle class by Peruvian standards, the humbleness of the home, and its occupants, is a far cry from what you'd find in the United States under the same label. There is no excess here.
The round-the-clock-chilly flooring is made of wood or tile—hence the slippers. There are six bedrooms in the house (from the second-story up), with one currently in use as a recording studio/editing room by her brother (an audio engineer), though use to be the live-in maid's room. Currently living in the Boza home are both of Tatiana's parents, two sisters, a bother, his fiancée, two children (ages two and four), the dog, and me.
There's also a housekeeper who has been with the family since Tatiana was a tot. She's a sweet, wrinkled, old woman (who Tatiana just learned can't read or write), and one of the tiniest Peruvians I think I've seen. Between Tatiana and I, I've nicknamed her Dobby.
Having a maid/housekeeper is something that rubs me the wrong way. I'm just not comfortable with the idea of outsourcing household maintenance that I'm use to doing or seeing done by a family member. Hiring someone to clean the pool? Sure. Hiring someone to clean my bathroom? Sounds nice, but throws me off when in practice. I just have a hard time getting over the class-based overtones of it all.
Hot water on demand is something of dream here. Tatiana's got her own bathroom attached to her bedroom, but the electric water heater that feeds her shower (and one other on this floor) needs to be turned on a good hour and a half before it's of a water temperature that would give off steam. The problem is the switch is in her parent's bathroom, and every day there's a song and dance about if the switch is on, if someone turned it off, if someone used up the hot water, etc. Since many don't wake up until nine or ten o'clock, not having a shower until noon or mid-afternoon is just a part of the culture in this house, and now see why Tatiana wants to buy a personal shower heater for her bathroom.
Food—My Cup Runneth Over
As predictable as pregnant Tatiana waking up starving, the availability of foodstuffs in the Boza household is unquestionable. When Tatiana explained the names for the different meals/snacks her family has throughout the day (while in SE Asia), it reminded me of a Lord of the Rings movie scene where one of the (hungry) hobbits inquires about the day's meals:
Aragorn: Gentlemen, we do not stop 'till nightfall.
Pippin: What about breakfast?
Aragorn: You've already had it.
Pippin: We've had one, yes. What about second breakfast?
[Aragorn turns and walks off in disgust]
Merry: I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.
Pippin: What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he?
Merry: I wouldn't count on it.
I'd almost forgotten about how much of a bread and cheese culture Latin America is, and how I've missed the tienda (small, corner store). There are always fresh rolls of bread on hand in the kitchen, and breakfast every day typically consists of tea and making little sandwiches out of bread, meat, and cheese—toasted in the electric sandwich press, if it's your preference. I like waking up early these days to work, but Tatiana's mid-morning slumber echoes the typically non-unified gathering for breakfast.
Lunch is the biggest and most family-orientated meal of the day, and has consistently been a pleaser. I've been taking photos of most every meal component to add to the Travelvice Compendium, when it's up and running. There's usually excess, and often lunch will double as an informal dinner. In the event that it doesn't, dinners are late in the Boza home—typically around nine or ten o'clock at night.
Bread, potatoes, and/or rice are a component of most every tasty meal. The mother is from Chile, and Tatiana tells me that bread reigns supreme among meals in her country—whereas it's traditionally limited to breakfasts in Peru (with rice picking up the slack). Today the mother told me I was "like a Chinese with blue eyes," given my inclination to enjoy healthy servings of rice. For the record, I'd take potatoes over rice or bread any day, and with over 300 varieties in the country, Peru is the place to have them.
Tatiana has access to all her favorite foods again, and has gained nearly a month's worth of weight in a week (compared against her physician-recorded weights, while traveling).
Conversationally, my Spanish was fine for the street, but seriously lacking in the vocabular robustness needed inside the home. The mother speaks Spanish to me most of the time. I'm unsure what her proficiency in English is—some of her children have teased her about (an imaginary) German accent so much that she's self-conscious (though is quite fluent in French).
The mother scares me.
"As she should," Tatiana says.
She is without a doubt the judge, jury, and executioner in this home—sort of like my mother's mom, who sports the nickname "The General." I've already watched Tatiana receive more than a handful of lectures. Walking into the kitchen the other day, I asked Tatiana what her and her mother were arguing about. "Oh, we're not arguing," she said, "we're just talking. We're Latin; we're loud."
I'm pleased to no end when Tatiana's father is outgoing enough to speak to me in the English that he knows. I'd say that that his words known in English outweigh mine known in Spanish, and am pleased when he decides to speak with me. His profession is in the field of voice-overs, and he sounds like a Latin James Earl Jones.
I need most sentences spoken by the kids translated for me. They call me tío (uncle), and communicate very well for their ages—not that I know anything about what a two and four year old should be capable of—but the vocab and half-baby-talk sentences they use keep me from translating things. Their mother is from the jungles of Peru, and doesn't speak any English—though the kids can both count to 10 with great proficiency.
Tatiana and her siblings are well educated, and speak English comfortably. They act like playing children around each other, but I love watching their interactions. The family's 12-year-old dog seems to like me, even though I don't have a propensity for liking dogs back. The woolly family member is spoiled and loved, though not with people-food. I've never seen a dog that would only drink water out of a bathroom sink faucet.
Both Travelvice and Tatiana's room have been keeping me busy this week. Technically, I'm in over my head in WordPress customization/plugins, cascading style sheets, search engine optimization, and site design. For the moment, I don't feel like writing about this stuff, but will share the fruits and findings of my labor.
Turning Tatiana's room into a room that we both can enjoy is still an ongoing task. She's happy to let me do whatever I need to do to make myself comfortable. Thus far that's involved moving electronics and furniture in her room around to create a proper workspace, hanging lights, cleaning out her closet, and cleaning off her shelf (that was heaving with so much clutter that I was afraid it was going to buckle and crash down onto my laptop—I wish I had a before image, but only have an after).
I hate clutter, and clearing out over a decade of unneeded papers, books, shoes, purses, clothes, and boxes was a priority so that we could both live in this space. It was a big task for us, but Tatiana was a trooper, and knew it had to be done.
Entertainingly, while all this was going on, the children were brought down to watch me work. The men in this household are generally considered useless for hands-on stuff (it's the women who do the heavy lifting), and their mother wanted to show me off as an example to her son!
I've now got the drawer of a chest with my clothes in it. I can't remember the last time I had clothes in a drawer… Since 2005, I gather. And added to my attire are a comfortable pair of gripped house-socks found buried in the closet.
I may not have a lot, but this Thanksgiving I'm thankful that at least I've got good food; happy, hospitable hosts; hot showers; speedy Internet access; a healthy Tatiana and child; and, of course, socks with little snowmen on them.