Wednesday June 30, 2010
Well. Teodoro wasn't kidding when he said his family was coming to visit. After a week and a half of quiet days of work broken up by quiet meals, the two of us seated opposite each other in the quiet kitchen on a quiet mountain, residents at the Casa del Cafe now total thirteen. Nothing is quiet; not breakfast-time, not work-time, not descanso-time, not lunch-time, not chupa-time, not dinner-time, not bed-time, not middle-of-the-night-time, nor four-o'clock-in-the-morning-time. It's absolutely divine. Our clan has expanded by three middle-aged adults (Dalila, Cooper, and Afra), seven kids aged 6 to 18 years (youngest to oldest: Richar, Claudia, Heidi, Cristian, Pamela, Carola, and Fabián), and one four-foot-tall grandmother (known affectionately as Abuelita, “little grandmother”).
This morning breakfast was a series of hilarious and fascinating exchanges between these twelve wonderful people and the Gringa. “I want you to take me back to the States with you.” Announced Afra through a beaming smile, mere seconds after we had met. Really? You want to go? Yes. To the U.S.? Absolutely! You're sure. Yep. Right now? Yes! Let's go, right now. Okay. I ran to my room and returned with my large green backpack. This should do...get in! The room erupted in laughter as a plump, four-and-a-half-foot-tall Afra hiked up her skirts and lifted a leg into my pack.
This boisterousness was followed by my introduction to pito. Teodoro's family is from Oruro, Bolivia, where the main agricultural crop is quinoa. That morning I had entered the kitchen to find the tiled island full of mugs of cocoa and five or six plates brimming with a light brown powder that looked like flour. What are we baking today, without an oven, I wondered. To my astonishment, however, everyone was tossing tablespoonfuls of the powder into their mouth with sips of cocoa and looking happy. Well, clearly it can't be flour...I decided. Having already dined on a meager ration of my dwindling supply of granola and walnuts I was perhaps not chomping at the bit to try this culinary curiosity, but before I knew it, no less than six people were insisting I try the deliciousness that is pito de quinoa. Orders were barked from all directions while Dalila assured me it was a dietary necessity (pito de keeeeeeenwa, es muy sano para la Catareeeen). I watched little legs run to the dish drainer to grab a plate that then bobbed down the assembly line, passing through at least 8 pairs of eager hands before reaching the floor and Abuelita, whose hands had already located and reached into a large black plastic bag that sat amongst the pile of provisions to her left. She threw handful after handful of the powder onto the plate as I unsuccessfully tried to assure her that I just wanted un poquiiiiito. I carried the heaping plate back to my seat at the far end of the kitchen with a cup of plain mate (said status causing something of a ruckus....You sure you don't want sugar with that...? Here, have some sugar. No sugar? Really?? What? She's drinking tea with no sugar...? Do all Americans take their tea without sugar? Wait, did you say no sugar...? Impossible. Teo, does she always drink her tea without sugar?? How can she drink it with no sugar? You sure you don't just want a little bit of sugar...?) Here goes nothing, I thought, as I tossed a heaping spoonful of pito into my mouth the way I had seen everyone else do it.
Well. It would appear that my initial impression was spot on; flour indeed. My eyes widened and I nearly choked as any moisture in my mouth suddenly disappeared, leaving behind a delightfully tenacious retainer of goo. I frantically reached for my tea but it was too late...not only did I promptly burn any epithelial surface that was not coated in pito, but the scalding liquid failed to weaken the impenetrable wall one bit. Hoping to assuage the pasty assault on my palate before I had to speak again, I quietly exited the kitchen and ran to my room for backup. I poured copious amounts of bottled water down my throat to no avail before enlisting the scraping services of my index finger and several rounds of floss. After swishing, scraping, suctioning, and struggling for the better part of five minutes, I finally emerged victorious. Phew. One spoonful down, one heaping plate to go...
The plot thickened surrounding my kind-hearted but enigmatic companion Teodoro when Cooper happened to mention that this was their first trip to visit Teodoro at the Casa del Cafe. Knowing that Teo had been living there for more than twenty years, I suppose the look of surprise on my face was apparent because he then continued, saying that one day thirty-five years ago Teodoro had up and disappeared for thirty-four years. Until a year ago they had had no idea whether he was dead or alive. Fancy that.
The next two days were filled with all manner of games, fun, and learning. The kids are fantastic language teachers and their games are inventive and entertaining. All seven of them find it necessary to explain (at the same time, in rapid Spanish) the rules of whatever game we're about to play; more than once I decided that rather than admit ignorance at whatever it was they were trying to tell me, I would just watch what everyone else did and imitate. This strategy works unless you're the first person called upon to do whatever the game demands, which I invariably was nearly every time. Fail. The loser(s) of each game are always forced to endure some sort of penalty for the loss, the favorite of which is the dreaded siete cruzes (seven crosses). In this penalty, the penalized is forced to kiss the crux of each of seven crosses that the punishment enforcer draws with his finger. Common places for such crosses to be drawn are on the wall, on the floor, on someone's shoes, and the most common of all, on the Gringa.
Sadly, my camera battery needs a recharge and I have no way of doing so until I get back to La Paz. No photos of the kids! Boo.