Today I ate a truly beautiful salad for lunch. It included dark leafy greens, roasted golden and purple beets, sweet red onion, small white beans and carrots, all cut into ribbons and tossed. The flavors were so refreshing and bright that I didn’t miss a dressing at all (though a little olive oil and lime would have been ideal in retrospect), and the visual effect was like summer in a bowl. To accompany the greens, there were potatoes roasted in a traditional Andean adobe oven, peeled and sprinkled with a little salt while still hot. All this while sitting in the adobe kitchen house of a family in one of the many indigenous comunidades in the mountains surrounding Cuzco, having conversations in Spanish, Quechua and Italian and feeding the potato peelings to the many cuy (guinea pigs) running around the floor.
I spent the day visiting some of Centro Yanapanakusun’s projects in the comunidades in Huancarani district, about 60km outside Cuzco proper. They are particularly involved in promoting education, so a large part of the day was spent at schools that the center has helped build and provides academic support to and at the Salas de Cultura that the center has or is building as spaces for workshops, activities and afterschool programs. The poverty is extreme out in the Sierra, but it seems that at least in the schools that Yanapakusun works with, there is some effort to maintain a certain level of instruction. The lack of materials, usable space, food and everything else you can imagine is debilitating, but children are going to school and learning, and according to the director of one school, are continuing on to secondary school. A big difficulty, also according to the director, is convincing parents that school is a better use of a child’s time than work (though something tells me that this is far from the most pressing problem the schools face). But they push on, and the kids learn and get the chance to be children and not small adults. I will get more into depth regarding Centro Yanapanakusun and its work at another time, suffice to say that it is an NGO that actually manages to reach its target population with useful and deeply contextualized services and that you should check out the website for more details. And definitely consider staying there if you happen to come to Cuzco.
On another note, I want to discuss the woman who sells tamales in the Plaza de Armas here in Cuzco. They are 80 centavos a piece, she has both dulces and salados (sweet or savory), and they are so good that I cannot walk by her without buying one. The masa (corn dough) is so light and fluffy it practically disintegrates in your mouth. The Peruvian style tamal is a little different that the Mexican version many of us are accustomed to, in that it isn’t really stuffed with meat. Instead the meat and other contents are sort of dispersed throughout the tamal, and there tends to be a low meat to dough ratio. It becomes more of a snack instead of the main dish of a meal, and a pretty ideal snack at that since you can walk and eat one at the same time (it comes in its corn husk wrapper, of course). I haven’t tried the sweet version yet because I’m too addicted to the savory, but I promise I will soon. I have no doubt that it will be just as delicious and crave-inducing. So you know, she is located just outside Gato’s Market every day, all day until she sells out. Try one, you will not be disappointed.