From Peru to the United States

March 30, 2009

When Mary arrived on time at the mommies house, Sylvie, the world’s most extroverted and friendly cat, came out to greet her. I worried if the guests might be allergic to cats or phobic about cats. Mary petted Sylvie and scratched her under her chin and Sylvie purred. Not to worry, I thought.

Mary speaks English well, but she speaks slowly and thoughtfully. It seems obvious to me that she is translating from English to Spanish and back as she converses.

The first thing that had gone wrong in my careful plans became apparent. I had checked with Mary on her food preferences. She had said that she ate almost everything, but she didn’t like broccoli. I conveyed the information to Mommy and Mama.

Somehow the message became garbled. My daughter, concentrating on preparing a vegetarian-friendly meal for my other guests, S and F from Romania, prepared a quiche with broccoli and onions.

Fortunately, RD made the quiche half onion and half broccoli.

The second thing that went wrong was that after half an hour there was no sign of S and F from Romania. We decided to serve brunch. My daughter asked Mary if she would like a broccoli slice of quiche or an onion slice? Mary, polite as always, asked for onion quiche. Whether she was thinking This must be another strange American custom; whatever you ask not to be served they offer you anyway I could not tell on her impassive Inca face.

Soon we were deep in conversation. Everyone in my family listened in fascination as Mary talked about her childhood in Lima. In past conversations with Mary, she struck me as portraying Peru in a slightly rosy glow, though my policy is never to tell people from other countries about their own countries. In any case, she talked about a time when rebellion and terrorism and conflict wracked Peru.

When she was a small child her two older siblings (a brother and a sister) attended public school. Each morning and each evening Mary’s mother was terrified that they would be shot, or blown up, or kidnapped on the way to and from school.

Mary began to talk about her time in the United States. When she started graduate school, to support herself she worked nights at an assisting living center. Many of the people she assisted suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. My wife has been volunteering at a senior center. The main part of her volunteer activities has been relieving caretakers of caretakers of elderly people including those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Everyone was fascinated as Mary’s discussed her experiences and observations. Random Granddaughter was listening very quietly. What she was making of the conversation I could not tell, but she was listening intently.

The food was very good. Besides the quiche, the mommies prepared some giant muffins of various flavors ranging from hot pepper to mild. My wife had created a lemon braided twist bread which is renowned in our family. RG, as usual at a formal meal, ate a few bites but mostly regarded the food as if it came from a not very interesting alien planet.

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3 Responses to “From Peru to the United States”


  1. That’s quite funny about the quiche debacle. Did your other guests ever show up?

    It’s always quite sobering to hear about life in other countries, even with the rosy glow … my friend Luciana is half-Brazilian, and tells some amazing stories about growing up in a military-ruled third-world country. Like Mary, though, she casts a glow of romance over her past … and I think, in a way, it’s an honest glow. Things may be worse there, but they’re also more alive, I guess the word would be.

  2. woo Says:

    I spent three years working for the Alzheimer’s Association, the UK’s research and support charity for people with dementia and their carers, and it was a HUGE eye-opener. Especially since my own beloved grandmother developed the disease shortly afterwards and eventually died of it 7 years later. Horrific doesn’t even remotely cover it.

    I hope RG wasn’t traumatised.

    The quiche and bread sound yummy though. Any left-overs??

  3. modestypress Says:

    David, as usual, I think you have nailed it.

    Woo, I don’t know if RG was taumatised. However, she is fairly forthright, and seems to follow a principle of traumatise someone else before he or she can traumatise you.

    I doubt there are any leftovers left or right.


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