“Something I just do not like is people sharing the same glass,” insisted an intense woman and nurse who had just returned from the annual fiesta in her native town of Coya and would soon be returning to Lima.
We sat around the table at a family Sunday lunch high on the slopes above Cuzco in a new neighborhood. Many homes were simple squares of wood or piles of bricks with no cement yet. From a bit away we could hear the bouncing music of a parrillada, a grill set up to celebrate the community’s anniversary, I think it was the second one. Proceeds, if I remember correctly, were to go toward bringing electricity and running water to the people.
Everyone in the association was obliged by the organization to participate in the event. The father of this family had gone early to set poles and show his support and presence. Already we had talked about one man who had without forethought come in and bulldozed the slope below to make room for his construction. He had not planned well and had destabilized the slope causing one house to collapse already.
The rains that will be here in a couple of months cause some worry. The association, I am told, as ordered him to build a retaining wall immediately. If he does not, they say they will take his land, return his purchase money, and get the wall built for the benefit of homes already there up slope.
The family planned to incorporate the grilled meat into the meal to honor the visit of the husband’s brother, sister-in-law, and nephew from the capital, as well as my visit to Cuzco. But the lines were long. As a result, we sat around the table enjoying a couple of bowls of delicately perfumed yet robust vegetable soup to which we added spoonfulls of a hand ground hot sauce made from hot peppers, peanuts, tamarillos, onion, and garlic with its color and perfume coming from a local herb, huacatay, called black mint in English.
The woman had previously told us about how her large set of siblings who had not gotten together for more than a decade had arranged to meet in Coya for this feast day. They had rented a whole large restaurant which served scrumptious chicharron, deep fried chunks of pork. Her husband, the man’s brother, now said. “We were all sitting at the tables eating and talking, as well as laughing. We had a great time laughing. It made us all very happy. That is what dinners are about.
“You know different places have different customs.”
His brother chimed in. “It is like when we visited native people just over the border in Brazil. They served us a whole fried fish that they had not cleaned of its guts first. You had to eat it. If you did not you would offend them and they could respond negatively. You would not be invited back and if they felt strong enough about it they could even kill you.”
“You can imagine what it was like,” added the brother from Lima amidst laughter. “We had to squeeze the fish carefully to get all its shit out before we could eat it.”
“I still do not like people sharing the same glass. It is just bad. I guess I just will tolerate up to the customs of Coya, but nothing beyond”, the woman affirmed amidst laughter and teasing.
“It’s the custom in much of Bolivia to share a single glass”, I said telling of my experience in Aymara speaking Bolivia where someone would pour from a bottle of soda, beer, or alcohol, give you the glass and then wait while you chug-a-lugged it after pouring a bit to the earth. Then you poured out the last of the foam to the ground and returned the glass to them. They filled it again and handed it to the next person in the group. This is how everyone was served.
“It is also the custom here” I continued. “I mean like after people play football they will buy a beer or a two liter bottle of soda and a plastic glass. The person with the bottle will fill the glass and pass the bottle to the next person while he drinks the glass, after honoring the earth. Then he passes the glass to the person who has the bottle and so on until the bottle is empty and every one has drunk several glasses.
“In Copacabana, Bolivia I have heard this called ‘a la peruana’ (in the Peruvian style).”
While others were corroborating what I had said the woman responded “I still do not like it; it is un-hygenic. If one person has something everyone gets it. Like herpes. If one person has a cold sore then everyone will have one. There is no cure for that.”
“You cannot turn people down” responded her niece. “It will offend them. If they offer you something you have to consume it.”
“Yes”, said her brother-in-law. “My wife and I get invited to a lot of wedding and in every community they are different. We went to one in one community where they served your food on a lliqlla, a hand woven carrying cloth. They had killed a whole beef and grilled it. They brought large chunks and placed them on the cloth for you to eat. It was different.
“The men also had to dance with a doll in a carrying cloth on their backs. It was required. Only afterwards could you give your gift of money.”
As everyone laughed at the image of men dancing like women with babies on their backs, he continued “even I danced with a doll on my back. It was their custom and you had to follow it or they would be offended.”