Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Woman's Place is in the Home & Money Can't Buy Me Love

August 9, 2011 – Money Can’t Buy Me Love
Katrina is offering a Film Culture Class to her students. She invites me to join in. On Saturday after a lazy morning and a bunch of phone calls to friends and family, I look up at the clock and realize if I don’t leave that instant I won’t make it to the class on time. I’m afraid I’m succumbing somewhat to the Peruvian habit of lateness, but I haven’t quite fallen completely. “She used to be so punctual,” I imagine my friends saying over my grave. “How the mighty have fallen.”
I grab my things and hastily run down the road and Callooh! Callay! right as I puff up to the bus stop the bus I need trundles along. Better yet, there’s a seat available.

I lean my head up against the window and close my eyes. But not for long. My thoughts plague me awake. Blast them. I have to write something down in my notebook as usual. When I’m done scribbling I stare out the window. The bus pulls over to the side of the dusty road and a woman and a younger girl get on. There are no more seats open. As the two head to the back of the bus to stand in the aisle, the Cobrador reaches forward and grabs the girl by the arm. He pulls her up to the front to sit in the space between the driver and the front passenger seat.
I don’t try and compare Peru with the United States very often. But sometimes the contrasts are rather refreshing. If someone had grabbed a child’s arm like that in the States I can just imagine the uptight mother screaming with a crazed stream of expletives, “Get your hands off my child!” The panicked frenzy that would have followed and perhaps a lawsuit. We people-phobic Americans forget that touch isn’t always a bad thing.

The woman stands over me, her hand on the overhead bar. She adjusts her bags and sets her feet for stability.

“Te ayudo (Can I help you?)” I ask her offering my hand to take one of the bags. She hands it over with a thank you and I stick it in my lap.
I mentally pat myself on the back, “Look at me, I’m paying it forward.” Many bus rides ago someone had held one of my bags while I stood in the aisle. But then I chastise myself. Why should I have to pay things forward? Why not just do for the sake of doing? Why not just help someone out without any expectation of things to come? Why do we always feel we need a reward? I’m glad to hold that bag, just because.
A seat opens up and the woman takes her bag and calls the girl to sit in her lap. When we get to Salaverry  Street I stand, go up near the door, and wait for the bus to stop. I get off and hoof it to Katrina’s house. I’m only one minute late. I wipe the sweat from my brow as I ring the doorbell.

One of the students, Diego, is already there. We’re waiting on Lorena. She, in perfect Peruvian style, is running at least half an hour late. Eventually there will be more students, but today that’s the class.
Diego and I had met before when I stayed at Katrina’s and he came over for a class. We kiss cheek to cheek and ask after each other’s health.

“Okay,” I tell him while Katrina is in the kitchen making coffee. “Spanish lesson time. If someone says ‘Me da cuenta,’ what do they mean?” Geraldine had used that phrase several times the other night when we were talking about her quitting her job at Casa Del Gringo and gossiping about Walter and I hadn’t had a chance to look it up myself.
“It means I realize,” Diego says.

“Thanks,” I tell him. And a piece of two of the Geraldine conversation falls into place in my mind. She’d realized that it wasn’t good for her to stay any longer working here. She’d realized that she’d rather leave now than wait until she hated Walter. She realized that some things would never change.

“I have a hard time understanding you,” Diego tells me. “You sound a lot different from Katrina.” Which seems funny to me because most of the time (except when some of my Texan leaks out) my accent is more neutral than Katrina’s Minnesota one. “O yah, you betcha.”

After Lorena arrives, Katrina gives a brief introduction and starts Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
It’s a movie based on Truman Capote’s novella by the same name. The main premise is basically prostitution shown in non-traditional manners. It’s more subtle. Less black and white. At one point the main character played by a brilliant Audrey Hepburn says, “I’ll do whatever I have to do to get money.”

Whatever she has to do to get money. Money. Earlier in the day I had posted this on Facebook, “My right palm was itching. I can’t remember if this means it’s going to rain, I’m going to have company, or I’m about to come into money.” Now I think the correct answer for the little superstition is money, but I was surprised at the strength of responses I got that advocated money as the best of all the choices. Americans (especially) will do whatever they have to do to get money

We prostitute ourselves out to our jobs in order to increase our wealth and thus increase our status. And what do we gain? It’s so strange how we’ve made our world work. We sing along to, “Money can’t buy me love,” and such things but in our hearts somehow we’ve come to believe that money is the end goal. Can’t we break away from that? I’ve never wanted to be Madonna’s Material Girl living in a Material World. I’m more of a coconut girl in a high fashion world as another song says. Which is probably why I am where I am. I don’t want my worth being counted in dollars or soles. I don’t want to be money-centered anymore.

(Songs about money:

I bring myself back from my rant to the movie. Every now and then Katrina stops the film to explain a bit of jargon like, “Tough beans,” and “Poor slob,” and “She just plumb broke our hearts,” and what a briar patch is and the difference between a Hillbilly and an Okie.

Katrina stops the film so that we’ll have time to discuss before the class ends. We talk about High Society, the rich and poor, social status, fashion, characterization, acting, rights, racism, and then we toddle on to genders roles. Diego finds it awful that none of us three girls really want to stay at home and cook and clean for our future husbands.
“My mom,” he tells us, “truly likes washing our clothes and ironing them.”

All of us girls exchange looks. Now, Katrina, Lorena and I aren’t against cooking or cleaning or staying home for that matter, but we’re the independent class of females who go for that thing called Equality.

“No, really,” he says.
Katrina and Lorena both jump in headfirst. They give Diego the what for. “The biggest problem,” Katrina says, “are the Latin guys who don’t even know how to wash their own clothes or make their own food or clean up after themselves. They can’t expect to be served.”

“They’re not being served,” Diego protests. “But if the woman is good at it—“

For a while there is something akin to mild pandemonium in the room. I sit back and smile. For a bit I just listen. Cultural and gender differences swirl like tornadoes in the air. The talk is opinionated but not completely hostile. In between the dust devils we talk about how many mothers get their validation from serving their families and how that’s not wrong and not necessarily right either.

“I know what you mean,” Diego concedes. After being flayed alive, he can still talk. “When my brother came back from Canada, he told my mother to make him breakfast in the mornings before he left the house. I told him this was bad since she would have to get up earlier since she still had to get ready to go to work herself. But he told me, ‘She likes to do it.’ And then I looked over when my mom was cooking his breakfast and saw just how happy she was.”
Katrina has a few things to say about that still and she does. We try to convince Diego that it’s no longer just a woman’s role to care for the household.

“I think the best working relationships,” I say, “are the ones where both people pitch in to do the household work. One week the girl cooks and the guy cleans the bathroom, the next week they switch. You know, something like that.”
Diego gets a look of incomprehension and it’s not because of a language barrier. “But I feel that if someone has a good talent, like cooking, then they should do that thing all the time.”

I give him my “boy please” look and tell him, “Anyone can learn to do something.”

“Well, for example,” he says, “let’s say you and I are in a relationship and you are a good cook and maybe I’m a terrible cook—“

“Then on the nights you’re supposed to cook,” I retort. “We’ll order out.”

After class Katrina and I split some pea soup and then talk late into the night. When we’re both yawning we say, “Hasta mañana.” She goes to her room and I curl up on the couch and say goodbye to another day in Peru.


  1. Stereotypes and we've always done it that way can really kill the excitement of learning to appreciate the life that God puts before you. Especially when somebody else decides what you should do or be. Life is meant to be rich and full, difficult and joyful, angry and exciting. All combine to make us for like Him. If we let Him lead!