Not another blog post about me itching, I promise.
It's been a weird morning.
First of all, I slept the sleep of the flea-infested last night, so I did not wake up this morning particularly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Mostly I was just itchy and in need of caffeine. So I sprayed dangerous chemicals on my mattress, hung my comforter out in the sun (supposedly, this kills fleas, I'm not sure it doesn't just put the comforter in the way of more fleas), and made mental plans to wash my sheets FOR REAL THIS TIME.
And then I ate breakfast (big mistake, as I would soon find out), and went up the hill to the house of a woman, Ester, who's on the environmental commission, to see about some plots of land where we might put a "green area." It's yet unclear what constitutes a "green area," whether it will be ornamental plants or some sort of something edible. Since the land technically belongs to Vaso de Leche (a government program that gives needy children milk and avena), I think we should make an effort to plant something nutritious, radishes maybe, since it sort of jibes with the whole nutrition goal, but of course there's a tendency to just plant things that are pretty, like roses or calla lilies. I don't pretend to know anything about making stuff grow, so I'm bringing in a consultant in the form of my friend Juan. Hopefully we can come up with a compromise.
As I was leaving Ester's house, a woman I don't know beckoned me from her balcony. She invited me in, we had the normal talk about the weather and how much more pleasant it is here than in Lima, and I just kept waiting for the "regálame" shoe to drop, for her to ask me for something, but I think she was just old and lonely and wanted to talk about how miserable she was. She offered me breakfast, which I did not want even a little, but it seemed polite and like a way around participating actively in the conversation, since her accent/thought process was somewhat hard to follow. The conversation sort of reminded me of one I had once with another old campo woman I didn't know, where she was talking about her kids and how miserably ungrateful they are (a common thread among conversations with old campo people, really):
Me: How many children do you have?
Señora: Oh, I've had various.
This could have been interpreted as both a sad statement on infant mortality and a real-life application of the "it takes a village to raise a child" concept. Anyway, this woman today, Clara, served me coffee and tamales and cheese. Tamales are okay in small quantities, but when there are four on the plate looking back at you, it becomes sort of inevitable that they are tube-shaped corn glue. I ate as much as I could, giving my gag reflex a run for its money, while she expounded upon her miserableness. At one point, she started talking about how much she likes "extranjeras," and said something like this: "People who come from other countries are always so nice. Peruvians can be so snobby, some won't even shake a poor man's hand. But people from other countries go hiking and are nice to people." I found this statement somewhat odd, until I remembered that the only "extranjeros" this woman had ever met were Peace Corps Volunteers. And, it's true, we are pleasant. And generally amenable to hiking.
I guess the weirdness of this morning was really only this one moment: as I was walking down the hill, a man, the smell of sugar cane liquor on his breath, ran up to me, shouting "Gringuita! Gringuita!" I normally would have avoided this particular kind of situation, but I was far too full of corn glue to be quick on my feet. He kept welcoming me to Santo Domingo, ignoring my assertions that I have lived here for closing in on two years, and finally said something that sounded like "God Bless You." I demurred, and he persisted, finally saying something like "Do the sign of the cross" with an indicative gesture. Um, okay. So I crossed myself, adding the Latin American hand-kiss at the end. "No," he said, "Bless ME." Um...okay. So I gave him the sign of the cross, something which I feel entirely unqualified to do. Luckily he was too drunk to notice I had done it backwards (I'm guessing that when you cross someone else, you go right-left instead of left-right, but what do I know).
The last time I went to Mass was Easter, when I went to the cathedral in Cusco with my parents, where they were playing a song on the organ that sounded vaguely familiar. I looked around and saw old Cusqueña women reveling, practically in tears, singing this song. I originally thought it must be a song I remembered from going to Mass in the U.S., but then I recognized the tune: Bob Dylan's "Blowin' the Wind." I thought there must be some mistake, until I listened carefully and heard both the words for "blow" and "wind." The last time I had been to Mass before this they had also played something that sounded suspiciously like the Last Supper scene in "Jesus Christ, Superstar" (Always hoped that I'd be an apostle/Knew that I would make it if I tried...) which I now recognize to be just that, and not an old hymn that Andrew Lloyd Webber sampled, as I had originally hoped. So these two instances, along with the drunk man's demands of blessing from a gringa today, are making a lasting impression of the odd relationship between Peruvian Catholic spirituality and unwitting Americans.