Posts Tagged ‘Peru’

As I mentioned in my last post, I told my immediate family and some close friends within a day of finding out I was pregnant, when I was about “4 weeks” along according to how doctor’s calculate due dates.  I did not want to tell my husband’s 8 year old brother that soon because I didn’t feel comfortable explaining a miscarriage to him, and I knew I would be the one who would have to explain it if it happened.  My “rule” was that I would tell anyone that I felt comfortable also discussing a miscarriage with, and if someone did not fall into that category, then it was too soon for them to know.

When I told my in-laws, we sent his little brother upstairs to get something so he would be out of the way.  I quickly explained that I was pregnant (yay!), that it was early, and that there was a greater risk of miscarriage until 12 weeks.   We asked them not to say anything to his little brother, they promised, and then his little brother came back downstairs.  I did not explain that I was actually at a higher risk of miscarriage than most women because of having polycystic ovarian syndrome.  I superstitiously didn’t want people thinking negative thoughts, and I figured that every woman is at risk during that same time anyway, so there was no reason to point me out as a special case.

I didn’t realize that there’s no commonly accepted “3 month” rule in Peru.  When my husband and I quickly moved from our little 1 bedroom apartment to a small house, my in-laws came over to help with the move.  They talked about my pregnancy in front of my husband’s little brother, and when my husband called them on it, they casually explained that they had told him a while before while they were shopping for baby things.  I was crushed, and had to go to the back bedroom to pull myself together.  I’m really close to my husband’s little brother, and have been in his life since he was 1.  I had been reading a lot about how to tell him so that he would still feel special and not assume that he would no longer be such a big part of our lives.  I also felt like I missed out on the chance to tell him in the special way that I was planning, and I had no idea how many people they had already told that I would not want to discuss a miscarriage with.  It felt like a huge betrayal, because we had explained how important it was to us, and they had promised, and then they had just as casually gone back on their word.  I was only 7 weeks along and still far away from the safe point.  I told my husband that the next time I get pregnant, we are not telling them until it’s safe and we don’t mind everyone knowing, because they clearly can’t respect our wishes and keep their mouths shut.

The next choice I had to make was when to tell the people I work with.  I actually told management at my office very early (at 9 weeks), because they were setting up staffing for a major project that was going to come to a head right at my due date, and they wanted to put me in a lead role.  If I waited until I was 3 months along, it would have been a huge problem to replace me, so I chose to proactively let management know much sooner than I told the rest of my office.  For most people, I would not recommend that you do that, but in my case, I think it made me look like a good employee and was actually to my benefit.

I told the rest of the people at my office at 3 months, when the risk of miscarriage dropped dramatically.  I’ve already posted a lot of tidbits from the strange things my coworkers said to me when they found out I was pregnant.  Overall, I found the experience of telling people to be mostly embarrassing or frustrating.  It was fun to tell a few of my friends, who didn’t say awkward things and who acted excited from the start.  Telling other people involved a lot more reservations on their part, or awkward comments, office politics, or out and out betrayals and fighting.  It made me consider just not telling people whenever we have our second child.  Somewhere around the 6th month they will all surely figure it out, or just assume I have a stomach tumor, right?

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A few weekends ago I was informed that we would be going to a Yunsa festival as a family in Maryland.  I’m used to Peruvian culture and the way there seems to be a festival for everything, so when my husband explained that the Yunsa festival is when everyone dances around a tree with an axe, taking turns chopping at it, until the tree falls down and everyone grabs the presents hanging on it, I took it in stride.  A few years ago I would have wondered if he was making that up, but now it seems perfectly reasonable to me.  I was also informed that last year, my father-in-law was the last person to chop down the tree, and as a result of losing what amounts to a colossal, high-stakes game of jenga that’s played with an axe, our family is responsible for providing the tree at the festival this year.

We were meeting at 1 PM at a friend’s house, where the menfolk would cut down the tree and the women would prepare lunch.  Then we were all going to caravan together to the festival.  As you can imagine, what actually ensued was several hours of waiting around for the different families to converge at one house, a hurried meal, and then a caravan that finally left for Maryland at 5:30 PM, only three and a half hours behind schedule.  [Luckily, when we got to the festival, we discovered that there were 7 trees this year, so the whole festival didn’t have to wait for us.]  We started receiving frantic phone calls from my wedding godmother’s cousin, who had left the house at 2 PM (when we were supposed to leave) to go the festival, and didn’t understand where we were.  I asked my godmother incredulously if her cousin was Peruvian, and she answered that of course she was Peruvian, which left me baffled as to (1) how her cousin was actually capable of really leaving the house at 2 PM and (2) what on earth made her think that the rest of the family would actually be on time.  I concluded that she must have been raised in America, in isolation from her Peruvian brethren.

While caravaning to the festival, I was struck by an irrational craving for ice cream, but because we were being followed by several cars and an enormous truck containing a 15 foot tree, we could not go through a drive through to get me any ice cream.  My godmother admonished us (and the 2 teenagers we were transporting) to pray that we all arrived safely with the tree intact, and I admonished everyone to pray that there was ice cream at the festival lest I perish.  Then a dorky pop song came on the radio that my godmother insists she loves, so we rolled the windows down and blasted it and she bopped along and sang while the teenagers slouched down in their seats and insisted this is why they never want to go anywhere with us.

Later these two girls explained to me that they would be marrying American men and NOT Peruvian men, thank-you-very-much, so they could escape from the endless cycle of weird festivals and get-togethers they have to attend on the weekends.  I very reasonably pointed out that if they marry an American man, they should be prepared to pay their own way on dates and to never have anyone to dance with since American men can’t dance, and they assured me that these are sacrifices that they are willing to make.

When we arrived at the festival, there was no ice cream in sight, and I was the only white American there.  I think people were concerned that I was lost.  The festival was taking place in the parking lot of a very bad urban neighborhood, which seemed an odd place to spend a tree festival celebrating the spring time, but I set off to find ice cream.

Yunsa tree

Instead, I found chicken being cooked in pots and trout being grilled, but no ice cream.  I used my GPS to locate a nearby bakery that was only 0.4 miles away, and was about to have a very serious argument with my husband about why it was inappropriate for me to walk to the bakery alone in that neighborhood, when we heard the sound of the ice cream truck.  I shoved a lady out of the way, ran out into the street, and flagged it down.  After buying 2 ice creams for me (1 for me and 1 for the baby, of course), and 1 each for the kids and teenagers, we convinced the ice cream truck to actually come into the festival, where the driver told me later he made a tremendous amount of money.  As I handed the ice cream out to the kids, I told them that God had answered our prayers and sent us our very own ice cream truck, and one child confessed to me that she hadn’t really prayed for ice cream.  In my benevolence, I let her have the ice cream anyway.

Meanwhile, the women had covered the tree in strange presents (laundry baskets, bottles of coca cola, fruit snacks, towels, etc.) and the menfolk had dug a large hole and “planted” the tree in it.   This is a picture of what our tree looked like while it was being unloaded from the truck:

The family Yunsa tree

What ensued is pretty similar to what I’m sure you are imagining.  There was a band playing live music, people wore traditional outfits, they danced around the tree using the traditional steps and taking turns swinging the axe, and everyone drank a lot of beer.  When the trees fell, the children were supposed to run forward to get the presents, but I saw a lot of brawls break out between adults over plastic balls and baseball caps and other weird prizes, so it was more  of a free for all.

Yunsa tree with dancers

After watching another family’s tree and our tree, I felt like I had pretty much seen everything there was to see, and retired to sit down for a while in the car.  My peaceful reading  was disturbed around 9:30 at night when my hysterical brother-in-law came back to the car, trailed by a pack of inebriated adults who were concerned for him.  It was hard to get close to him with all of their fussing, but once I had assured them that he was fine and I would watch him, they finally left and I was able to ask him what happened.  Apparently he was minding his own business, dancing around the tree and keeping his eye on a pack of chocolate he really wanted once the tree was chopped down, when the tree fell on him.  He was shocked, and appalled, and miraculously unhurt.  The adults were shocked and appalled as well.  Who would imagine that a tree would fall on him out of nowhere?  In a festival where people chop at the tree with axes?  I was actually just shocked that more drunk adults had not been injured by trees, and I admonished my brother-in-law to be quicker on his feet.  Really, it’s kind of embarrassing for an able-bodied 8 year old to be hit by a tree.

Around 10, when all of the teenagers were bored beyond their enduring, my brother-in-law was nursing his tree-inflicted wounds, and I was getting hungry (again), we told the rest of the family we would take the kids home with us and departed the festival.  We left the rest of the grown ups still dancing and drinking into the wee hours of the morning.

In case you are curious, my brother-in-law’s godfather ended up chopping our tree down (even though we all warned him not to take a turn because it looked like it was ready to fall), so our family is on the hook again next year for the tree as well.

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This is a really sensitive topic for a lot of people, and I want to preface this post by saying that while we chose not to do prenatal genetic testing, I in no way oppose other people doing those tests.  This is a decision that we wrestled with, which is why I want to post about it here.  A few bits of background information:

(1) Neither my husband nor myself come from ethnic backgrounds that normally flag a couple for a lot of genetic tests.

(2) I’m relatively young (26), so I was not at a high-risk for having a baby with a genetic defect.

(3) My husband is from Peru, where I’ve heard anecdotally that genetic testing is not common.

The genetic testing that we were offered (a first trimester screen or nuchal translucency test) would not have told us definitively whether our baby had an abnormality.  Rather, it would have given us a set of odds that the baby would be born with such an abnormality.  Every baby would have a certain set of odds based on the results of the tests (like 1 in 1000 or 1 in 300), so I thought that however I looked at the results, I would have a nagging feeling that my baby could have something wrong with her.  I’m prone to anxiety, and being exposed to a lot of stress is supposed to be bad for a fetus, so I thought that for our family it was not a good choice.

My husband felt strongly that regardless of whether we knew something was wrong with her, she was our baby and we were going to have her.  It was very black and white for him.  He made me feel a bit morally inferior, because even though I am opposed to most types of abortion, I wondered about bringing a baby into the world that I knew would suffer and have medical problems.  I thought that the advantage of knowing in advance about a defect was being prepared and having time to do a lot of reading and meet with a lot of specialists.  But the disadvantage would be a long period of worrying and being upset, and perhaps I would be less likely to bond with my baby/pregnancy.  My husband seemed like he could still fall in love with a pregnancy that we knew would have medical problems, but I wasn’t sure of my own fortitude in that area, so it seemed better just not to know.

I was praying a lot about the decision, wavering and debating and discussing with people, when I finally decided that primarily because of my tendency toward anxiety, I didn’t want to know.  I once I made up my mind, I felt peace about the decision, and decided that the trade-off was worth it even though if there was something wrong I wouldn’t have months to prepare and educate myself.  Then I read this beautiful post about a woman who gave birth to a daughter with down syndrome and she did not know in advance.  For me, reading her birth story reinforced the choice we made.

Most of the people I’ve talked to have opted for the test.  In fact, everyone I’ve talked to except for one person opted for it.  It was more because of my own personal struggles with anxiety that we chose not to.  If you’re reading this post because you are trying to decide what to do, I hope that you’re able to make a choice that brings you a sense of peace as well.  You should also feel free to hit people who admonish you not to worry too much while pregnant because it’s bad for the baby.  Hitting those people is probably an excellent stress reliever.

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This weekend my husband’s family had a “pollada,” which is a chicken-fundraiser.  For instance, at one pollada I’ve been to they raised money for my husband’s uncle’s cancer treatments.  The family sell plates of food and drinks (lots of beer).  The point is to try to sell delicious food that doesn’t cost much, so chicken plus some combination of rice/potatoes/corn/salad is pretty typical.  The family that hosts the pollada deducts the costs of the food (although nothing for their time and effort) and then gives the rest of the money to the needy party.  This is one way that Peruvian communities operate without much of a formal welfare system in place.  While many of these families don’t qualify for government assistance, their relatives and friends take responsibility for helping them out when they are in a difficult situation.

I like to sleep in on the weekends, but on Saturday morning I woke up at 9 AM to go help my husband’s family prepare for the pollada.  They had actually done a lot of the prepation the day before.  When I arrived at their house, the salad was already made and the potatoes had been boiled.  The chicken had been marinating overnight and the salad dressing, red chili sauce, and green salsa de huacatai were already prepared.  When I arrived, my father-in-law and my brother-in-law (who is only seven) went outside to set up the fire for the chicken, the tables for the customers, and a tarp in the back yard since it looked like rain.  I stayed inside with my mother-in-law and peeled mountains of potatoes and washed dishes.  (Peruvians don’t generally eat potato skins – they cook potatoes with the skins on and peel them afterward.)

After peeling potatoes, it was time to carry the food outside.  When I got to the backyard, I saw a giant pot on top of several bricks.  Beneath the bricks there was firewood heating up the oil, marinade, and chicken.

My father-in-law watched the pot of chicken while I stayed at the table with the food and spent the next few hours dishing out plates and handing people beer and soda.

Periodically I had to holler at whatever group of children was playing soccer at the time to stay away from the fire.  Most of their parents seemed unconcerned, but I was nervous by how many times the soccer ball ended up right next to the fire.  Some of the kids spoke English, and some of them only spoke Spanish.  I noticed that when something startles me (like a small child stumbling precariously near an open flame) that I automatically holler in English, then have to pause and remember to speak in Spanish.  Emergencies make it really obvious what your native language is.

My in-laws put on music and a steady stream of people trickled in, ate, and then left all day.  Around 5 PM I went to the English mass for palm Sunday vigil, came back, and found the party still in full swing.  We ended up leaving around 10 PM (which was early) and I was pretty wiped out after 12 hours, but when I spoke to my husband’s family today, they said people were there until 4 AM.  That’s a party!  I don’t know exactly how much money they raised, but I would guess around $800 or $1000 after deducting the expenses of the chicken and beer.

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I got an interesting comment from CM in response to my post on linguistic prejudice, below:

I think you’ve left out the fact that your native dialect of English is virtually identical with Standard English, so you’re approaching this problem as an outsider. Also, we correct kids behavior all the time based on our fear that others will judge them. I bet you don’t think twice about telling him to stand up straight or stop slouching. What if there were a community of people that identified as slouchers? And they had an army and a flag? Just like there’s nothing inherently special about Standard English, why assume that there’s something inherently special in Spanish-English or Peruvian Spanish?

I think kids his age are a little young to explain the “why” of what’s going on. Maybe you should continue to correct his English and when he becomes a teenager explain why Standard English is no more special than the language he speaks at home. At the end of the day it’s going to be up to him what language he uses at work, just like it’ll be up to him how he combs his hair or what clothes he wears in public (I notice your conscience doesn’t bother you when he wears American clothes in public instead of traditional Andean village attire).

Yes, my native dialect of English is very close to Standard, but there are several changes I make to conform to “professional” English.  I avoid ending sentences with an upward lilt because it sounds uncertain (to men?)  in the workplace.  I avoid using the word “just” or exclamation points in emails or other language that downplays my position as an authority figure.  I don’t use terminology that would identify me as young for a project manager like “sweet.”  I make several conscious changes to my natural variety (young and female) to sound more “professional” (middle-aged and male).

Additionally, my brother-in-law wouldn’t naturally wear Andean garb, but he does naturally speak a variety of Spanish-influenced English.  I’m not going to force him to be more traditionally Peruvian than he is, but there is a sense in which I am standardizing his dialect in opposition to his Peruvian heritage.  I like your point about the community of slouchers.  My background in linguistics makes me sensitive to linguistic hegemony, when in truth we crush children’s eccentricities all the time in an effort to make them more acceptable to society and more likely to succeed.   This seems more benign to me when they are behaviors that are not associated with a cultural identity, but you are correct that a cultural identity is just a set of behaviors backed up by a flag.

It is true that there isn’t much utility in talking about this issue with him now, particularly since he is bored by discussing language and the languages he speaks.  I think the most important thing is for me to refrain from poisoning his brain with ideas like, “People will think he’s poor!”  Hopefully later on we can have the meta discussion about language and the beauty of variety, and in the meantime I can refrain from filling his brain with ideas about language as a marker of socioeconomic position.

At the core of this issue is the notion that I don’t think any variety of language is superior to another and that we should not have to suppress our natural variety to succeed.  Despite believing this to be right and true and knowing that change will not happen until people are willing to speak in different varieties at work, I choose not to do so.  I also choose to standardize my brother-in-law’s dialect.  Apparently I think linguistic tolerance is an excellent idea, but not one that I’m willing to sacrifice for in order to make it a reality.

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