January 13, 2013 by jiejie768
As Meg and I finally have returned to Ayacucho and have time on our hands, we are updating our blog with tales from when Meg’s family and the Collinses came to visit over the Christmas holidays (Dec. 22-Jan. 5). So far, we’ve told of the gift-giving trip to Chiara with Ty, Tom and Lolo in tow, and of the night of food and football that followed. Today we’ll start with Part I of our Christmas Eve adventures.
Christmas Eve, Part I: Acquiring (some of) the Food
The next morning brought Meg and I a rare opportunity during this stretch of visitors and travel: the chance to sleep in a bit. We didn’t overdo it or anything, but staying in bed until 8:30 or so was a rare treat during a trip that saw an average wake-up time of around 7 a.m., and often much earlier (4:00 a.m. anyone?).
Feeling rested and ready for the day, Meg and I emerged from our room to something we weren’t quite used to or ready for: a full, and bustling household. Kathy and Katie had already been up for a while and were busy preparing various treats in the kitchen, while much of Meg’s family was waking and our little dining room was filled with more people than it knew what to do with. I have to admit, I wasn’t really ready for all this activity in my usually calm living quarters. It was a wonderful treat to have so many loved ones around, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was often stressed or overwhelmed at the state of the kitchen, and especially my beloved boiled-water reserves, during those four days in Ayacucho. Nevertheless, any misgivings I may have had were significantly outweighed by the sheer joy and excitement of having friends and family so near for the first time in a long while (not to discount Aunt GeGe, her presence here in Ayacucho is as important to us as it is to the many children of KATC, without her to share in our fish-out-of-water experiences, we would be lost).
Our regular readers will not be in the least bit surprised to hear that breakfast consisted of waffles. But, Kathy’s adventures in the market the day before also yielded a wonderful fruit plate that was a welcome change of pace when added to the butter, carbs and syrup breakfast Meg and I do so well. After breakfast, attention turned to the big event of the day: the KATC Christmas Party.
Before heading over to GeGe’s for the party’s start (1 p.m. for the kids, about noon for most of the employees who arrived early to prepare food and the like), our traveling party split into two groups. The majority went with Meg into downtown Ayacucho to pick up a few things for GeGe and to do some last minute Christmas shopping of their own. Tom and I, meanwhile, met up with our neighbor, and KATC teacher, Percy and headed off to Granja Quispe (Quispe Farms) to pick up 20 roast chickens for the Christmas Party and, hopefully, a frozen turkey to prepare for our own Christmas dinner the following day.
The three of us caught a bus down there, allowing Tom to enjoy the unique experience that is the Ayacucho bus system. Though, I must say, it was a rather tame version as he was able to sit down the whole ride, and my armpit wasn’t anywhere near a Peruvian’s face while I clung to the handrail in a decidedly empty aisle (by Ayacuchano bus standards).
GeGe had made the order for the roasted chickens (pollo a la brasa) the previous week, and we arrived precisely at noon, the arranged time for pick-up. Somewhat surprisingly, all the chickens were ready, our receipt was accepted without question, and we were ready to head back up to the school not 10 minutes after arriving … except Tom and I still needed a turkey. Meg and I had attempted on twice the previous week to get a turkey, but none had been ready. On one such attempt, we were told to come back a few hours later (we couldn’t due to school) and frozen turkeys would be ready. As we left the premises, a truck full of live turkeys pulled into the compound leaving us to assume those were the very turkeys we would be able to select from later.
Given how smoothly the chicken order went, I should have known the acquisition of a turkey would be a fiasco. Upon arrival, Tom had volunteered to go stand in the rather long turkey line while Percy and I handled the chicken order. After said chickens were in hand, I walked across the complex to meet up with Tom while Percy waited by the door with our (clean) trash can full of chickens. I asked Tom how the line had been moving in the 10 or so minutes he was there and he merely chuckled and told me, “not at all.” This was not the last time a turkey-related inquiry would be met with laughter during our visit to Granja Quispe.
There were probably about 100 or so people in line (only two gringos, though) and we were near the back. I went to the front of the line and noticed, ominously, that there were not in fact any frozen turkeys there. I asked the cashier when the turkeys would arrive and was told 30 minutes (that means at least 2 hours in Peruvian). I then asked whether there’d be enough for everyone and was assured that there would be. As I turned around to go back to my place in line, the three employees behind the counter started laughing uproariously, giving me the distinct impression that their responses were less than accurate.
It was, by then, about 12:15 or later and I knew that GeGe needed the chickens at the school ASAP, so I ran back to Percy and helped him into a cab so he could get the kids their food, while Tom and I attempted to figure out our own family dinner situation. We waited, under a rather hot sun, for the promised 30 minutes without any sign of turkeys arriving or the line moving. We took it as a fairly bad sign that Quispe employees were now passing out free sandwiches and sodas to everyone in line (we refused) as it seemed to indicate a rather lengthy wait. I investigated the prospect of purchasing a live turkey to be butchered on the spot, but was unable to understand the details of the deal well enough to be comfortable making it. I wasn’t entirely sure if we’d have to butcher it, they’d butcher, would there be guts?
It was becoming clear that, as this was not a simple matter of order a turkey, pay for a turkey, bring the turkey home, that I was, perhaps, not the best member of the party to have undertaken said mission. My Spanish is strong, and I don’t have much trouble getting my point across in any situation. Likewise, I can read and write at a pretty high level. But when it comes to understanding what’s being said to me, rapid-fire, in an unfamiliar situation, I tend to freeze up. Nonetheless, I returned the line, informed Tom of my failure, and we began to formulate alternative plans for Christmas dinner. At about this time, Tom also noted that there were actually three lines all leading to the same cashier, and wondered what it indicated that we were in the middle line. I told him that “lines” are something of a vague concept to Peruvians and that, if/when turkeys showed up, it would be more shoving match than orderly queue to determine who received which bird and when.
Sure enough a few minutes later, though frozen turkeys had yet to make an appearance, some announcement at the front of the line indicated things were moving forward, and the previous formation of three lines became one mosh-pit-like body surging toward the cashier. Being a veteran of both the Peruvian waiting game and mosh pits, I left Tom to spectate while I waded in trying to get closer to the front. I actually managed to carve out a pretty decent place in the scrum before I noticed that, unlike myself, my fellow moshers all had a stamped ticket indicating the size of their turkey and the fact that they had already paid for it. This was disheartening to say the least. I asked a nearby lady what the tickets were, and she said I think, (remember I don’t understand too good) that I could pay for a turkey at some other cash register, the location of which I was unable to determine during our brief interaction.
At this point, I was done. We were punting the turkey concept in favor of the same roast chickens GeGe had gotten for the KATC party. Figuring she had shown solid foresight in ordering ahead, and knowing that many a family enjoyed a Christmas meal of pollo a la brasa, I figured it prudent to place our order before we left and return the following day to retrieve them. Step one of the process went well as the woman at the cash register told me that would be no problem and to wait in an adjoining room for someone to come take my order. That someone, however, appeared shortly thereafter and seemed extremely disinterested in taking said order. He basically told I didn’t need to pre-order and to come back whenever I wanted the next day (Christmas), and the chickens would be ready. I was skeptical, to say the least, but decided I was not linguistically equipped to press the matter and left. Thus, Tom and I arrived, turkeyless to the KATC Christmas party just minutes before it started.
As GeGe was making a few last-minute preparations, we got out of her hair and took the Andersons and Collinses on a tour of the Mirador just up the hill from GeGe’s. The Mirador (literally viewpoint) offers a spectacular 360-degree view of Ayacucho, and we had a good time pointing out our house and various other local landmarks to our family. Then we all posed for the requisite family photos (see above) and headed back down for the party.
Click the links below for parts II and III:
Christmas Eve, Part II: The KATC Christmas Party
Christmas Eve, Part III: Mass, Socks and Fireworkds (Oh My!)