Cooking Campo

Valentina helping a neighbor peel potatoes after she completes a house visit.
Valentina helps a neighbor peel potatoes after a house visit.

After three hours of hiking with about two kilos of food, Escolastica and I arrived at Valentina’s house in Rayan just after sunset. She had already started preparing soup in expectation of our arrival. Valentina is one of Sacred Valley Health’s promotoras de salud (community health workers), and kindly hosts us when we visit her community. She handed us cups of muña tea and a bucket of fava beans. Escolastica and I shelled beans and caught up with Valentina. The delicious soup was filled with tomatoes, dried seaweed, potatoes from Valentina’s farm, herbs, and the fresh cheese, onions, carrots, tomatoes we brought. It was hearty and had a hint of ocean saltiness.

Promotora Fanny, Leticia, Escolastica and Mary helping in lunch preparation before a training
Promotora Fanny, Leticia, Escolastica and Mary helping in lunch preparation before a training

While volunteering with Sacred Valley Health, you learn a thing or two about how to cook like a Peruvian. During trainings for our community health workers, we usually prepare lunch whether the training is in our office or at a health center. On training days, many of us non-Peruvians become objects of ridicule by our Peruvian staff. Often the word Quechua word huaylaca is mentioned when speaking about our skills. Huaylaca translates to “a person who does not do well in the house or kitchen.” By the standards of our promotoras, we foreigners lack basic cooking skills, including skinning a potato in one peel, chopping, slicing and dicing without the use of a cutting board, and haggling over grocery prices in the market.

Becca and Ruben slicing onions for a salad during lunch preparation at a training in Patacancha.
Becca and Ruben slicing onions for a salad during lunch preparation at a training in Patacancha.

Cooking during trainings and with the promotoras has made me realize that food is universal – although we may not share the same food culture, we all need food. In my experience thus far in Peru and in life, I have found that relationships are formed and solidified around food. Particularly in Peru, recipes, cooking secrets, life lessons, and interests are all shared over peeling potatoes, shelling peas and chopping vegetables.

– Written by Courtney Coleman

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