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The Longer You Wait MAG
Someone once told me, “The longer you wait, the tougher it will be.” In the situation that lay before me in a blue and white bowl, this quote stuck like a bee to honey. Quivers made a beeline up my spine and out every nerve until my body was covered in goose bumps and every hair was so straight that it could have joined the armed forces. The glazed eyes of the cuy (guinea pig) met mine with great hesitation as we each tried to guess the other’s next move. Its teeth showed with vengeance as though it were going to come back to life and bite me. However, that was not going to happen. It was dead and waiting, instead, in this bowl for me to take a bite of it.
Here I was, sitting in a miniature chair recalling the past week. I had lived with an indigenous family in the town of Agualongo, right outside of Otavalo, Ecuador. I had helped cook meals, watched the kids play soccer, and laughed with my family at dinner. This had been one of the best weeks of my life, and now I was about to go out with a bang by eating the oh-so-anticipated cuy.
A week ago, our bags were packed and we were ready. The truck picked us up at our hostel and we threw our bags into the truck. We packed ourselves into the back, trying to piece together our bodies like a huge jigsaw puzzle. What we forgot was that we would be in this awkward position for the next 30 minutes. I had only known these people for 18 days, yet here I was, one leg over Devin while the other was intertwined with Sophie’s arm. However, this was the Traveling School, and what better way to travel than all packed in together?
The ride was long and rigorous as we made our way up 9,000 feet, across broken streets and cobblestone roads. As we got closer, the girls began to get antsy. The roller coaster of anticipation seemed to take forever to reach the crest. With each turn of the wheel I could hear the click of the chain as it brought us one step closer. Suddenly, our truck was surrounded by faces encrusted with dirt and snot while small hands began to climb up toward us. On the side of the road were the older wrinkled faces dressed in traditional clothing, with newborn babies on their backs. They looked at us with interest.
Two days later, I decided to try to help my family make dinner. “Con permiso,” I said as I stepped into the kitchen. There was a small wooden dining table decorated with an off-white cloth. “Hola, como estas?” Soledad exclaimed as she heated up the milk her brother had collected that morning. I was told to sit down; dinner would be ready soon.
I was greeted by our host mother, Virginia, who was perched on a stump effortlessly peeling potatoes for the soup. In front of her was a fire surrounded by bricks that held the giant vat of soup. I sat on the bench beside the fire, again offering to help. She picked up a potato and handed it to me with a knife. She showed me how to hold them so I could peel without chopping my thumb off. Her rough hands covered mine as she taught me the rhythm. The minute she removed her hands, the once long and perfect strand of peel quickly fell to the floor and was soon accompanied by little chunks of peel. Looking at the pile one could see the difference between long years of practice and a gringa who was used to a vegetable peeler. During this process my audience had grown, and by the end the whole family was giggling.
When the soup was ready, Sam, Hannah, Emma, and I squeezed onto one of the benches while the rest of the family used the other bench. My dislike for cilantro was overcome by the delicious combination of broth, potatoes, corn, and other vegetables. As I tried to decipher the conversation between Sam and Virginia, I could hear the squeaks and squeals of the cuy as they scampered around the dirt floor of the kitchen. Little did I know that in a few days I would be sitting in the community center awaiting a good-bye meal of one of these fellows.
After dinner each night, Hannah, Emma and I returned to our room to study. While we were in Agualongo we had classes and discussions about various topics. At night we had homework just like regular school; however, while trying to study we would be joined by the three boys from our host family. They would quietly sneak into our room, sit beside us and look over our shoulders as we worked. Every night would end with us talking and teaching each other instead of finishing our English paper.
Getting to know the locals was my favorite part of the week. I would connect with the community the most on the last Friday during the minga, which is when a family sends one member to help with a community project. The minga we participated in was paving the walkway to the community center. The cement was brought with wheelbarrows, and we helped mix it with water and gravel. With each turn of my shovel, I felt blisters grow as my back tightened into knots. The whole process was completed before lunch, and during that time I talked to some of the community men to learn about their jobs and their daily lives. Then I was herded inside with the rest of the Traveling School girls.
The community center consisted of a room full of child-size chairs and accompanying tables. The walls were decorated with drawings by local children. Seated in the tiny chairs, we were told to wait. Then, a woman brought in a huge basket of food that she and her friends had spent the day preparing. The aroma of the cuy made its way to my end of the table.
Then the blue and white bowl was set in front of me and the glazed eyes of the freshly cooked guinea pig stared up at me. I had no choice but to go for it. I picked it up. “The longer you wait, the tougher it will be” ran through my head as I hesitantly put it into my mouth. All eyes were on me awaiting a response, which to my surprise was, “This is the best thing I have ever had!”
My friend and I started to devour the cuy and by the end felt as though we had just eaten a Thanksgiving meal. One would think that no matter how long you wait, the meal is going to taste the same. However, cuy is just the opposite: The longer I waited, the tougher its skin became. When I had finished I looked up at my friend and we burst into laughter over the bowl full of bones in front of us.