Living in Lima, Peru for the fall of 2019, I stayed with a host family – la familia Saco-Vertiz – in the district of Miraflores. Living in the apartment were Maritza (my madre anfitriona), her brother Miguel, her adult son Alejandro, and Gumer, their cocinera, who felt much more like another member of the family.
In the first week of living in the Saco-Vertiz household, I felt nervous that I might be hungry in the morning for the months to come – I discovered the hard way the cultural differences between Peru and the United States when it comes to breakfast. Anxious and unsure if it would be appropriate to ask for something more / something different to eat, that week I settled for the jugo and pan francés with butter that Gumer set out for me in the mornings. But I knew I could not persist with just that bread and juice for breakfast every day – one day the next week, I finally braved up to say something.
“¿Qué cosa, William?”
“Es que… todavía me queda un poco de hambre.“
“¡Uyy, tienes hambre! Hay que preparar unos huevos revueltos.”
And so it began, that every breakfast from then on included two scrambled eggs to go along with my french bread, juice, and coffee. Eventually, I asked Gumer if I could scramble the eggs myself in the skillet – I spent one of my summers working at Waffle House, and this is one of my personal joys. She agreed to this, but of course still set the eggs, pan, and spatula out, ready to cook. Perhaps a more important development than these eggs, though, was the close relationship that I developed with Gumer after those conversations. Usually the first two awake, we chatted and chatted while we prepared and ate our breakfast each morning. I always asked her how she slept and what she watched on TV the night before (or early that morning – she told me she is somewhat of an insomniac). Usually it was soccer, a cooking show or the toros (bulls). Sometimes she would talk for half an hour about the chef she was watching and the recipes or techniques she saw on the show.
Relatos de sobremesa
A plate from a stall in the public market of Arequipa: ceviche del río, rocoto relleno, pastel de papa.
During our talks, I usually would just tell Gumer which classes I would be going to that day, and what we might be learning about. Of course, she would always inquire as to what time I would be getting home to eat – in Peru the main meal of the day is their lunch (almuerzo), so she always saved my plate in the
refrigerator for later. But my favorite days were the Mondays after I returned from each of my excursions to different parts of the country. On these mornings, I quite often arrived late to my first class because I was having so much fun showing all of my photos to Gumer, giving her a play-by-play of the trip, and hearing her stories about her visits to some of those places. I made sure to take as many pictures as possible of the food I ate, so that I could show her all of the interesting things I tried during my travels.
She always appreciated these stories about going to local markets in places like Cusco, Arequipa, and Iquitos, where I found so many new and delicious foods and beverages. I learned that her father was a butcher, and taught her how to distinguish and assess the quality of all different sorts of meat and fish. She can always tell when some stall owner is trying to con her with a low-grade cut!
“Déjala, no más!”
When at home with my family in the United States, I always make sure to clean my plate and put it in the sink after a meal. The first time I tried to do this under Gumer’s watch, she swooped in like a puma and grabbed my plate from me. I quickly learned that no one cleans their own plate while Gumer is around. Still, I tried my best to aid in the process – when she wasn’t looking, I could usually get through the kitchen doorway with my plate and utensils before I heard the “¡déjala, no más!” coming from her bedroom, insisting that I just leave it on the counter.
Gumer takes so much joy in making sure everyone in her household is happy (and well-fed), and I am so grateful that she was a part of my life for that semester. Largely due to our relationship, I strongly feel that the family homestay was, by far, the most important part of my study-abroad experience, a semester which also included adventures to Machu Picchu, the high Andes mountains, and the Amazon jungle. I grew so much in my fluency and confidence speaking in Spanish as a result of interacting with Gumer every day, because I was so motivated to understand everything she told me and open myself up to her, as well.
All of those mañanas con Gumer gave me a great appreciation for her way of life, motivated me to make the most of my travels, and made my semester in Peru a time that I will never forget!
Will Smith is an Economics major at Davidson College and studied abroad with IFSA at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Fall 2019.