By Bryan Goldfinger, KF9 Peru
After my first blog post and the various emails and comments I received in response, I felt an obligation to at least provide somewhat of an update on the “Guinea Pig Situation” here in Peru. Ironically, after dubbing myself “the Guinea Pig” there seems to be some sort of astrological connection, an alignment of planets, which has been steering me in the direction of various guinea pig interactions (my own curiosity may also have had something to do with this).
One week into my fellowship I randomly selected (I promise it was random) the five borrowers I would verify at my second MFI, Microfinanzas Prisma, in Huancayo. Haphazardly reviewing the occupations of the borrowers selected, I noticed that I would be visiting Jesús, whose primary source of income is a guinea pig farm. That same night, I was chatting on the internet with Suzy, a fellow who completed her first fellowship in Ayacucho (relatively near Huancayo in the Peruvian Central Highlands). She mentioned that Huancayo was basically the “home of the authentic cuy” and that this would be as good a place as any to try it.
For those of you who have not experienced or heard of the custom in Peru, Wikipedia defines cuy as “the animal and the meat of a guinea pig in the Andean regions of South America, a traditional food of Peruvian, Colombian, and Ecuadorian Andean people. “ There are numerous preparations and presentations that one can try, and I had told myself and friends that if I were to eat cuy on this trip it would be the authentic way.
My first day with Microfinanzas Prisma in Huancayo, the topic of cuy came up, likely because of the borrower we would be visiting later that week. Katia and Roxana (employees of Prisma) were lightly poking fun at American culture, noting that the only reason we don’t eat cuy is because we have guinea pigs as pets. The conversation evolved to what kind of pets people have in Peru, and they divulged that they have hamsters (which, in my mind, are long lost siblings of the guinea pig). When I asked if they eat hamsters in Peru, the simultaneous response from both women was “no way! We have them as pets!” I thought it slightly ironic.
Knowing that I would visit a cuy farm in the coming days, I figured if I did in fact want to eat it at some point during my time in Peru, it was “go time.” I did not think I would be able to in good conscious make a meal of one of the furry critters after witnessing them in action. I got a restaurant recommendation from Katia, but couldn’t convince anyone to join me for lunch. So I sought out on a solo mission for cuy. I won’t include the details here, but the mission was successful, and my overall assessment was that cuy, in all honesty, and at the risk of sounding taboo, tastes just like chicken. The only difference was in the presentation of the dish, but I imagine if they served chicken with all of its extremities intact, people may think twice there as well. I do not have aspirations of becoming a cuy connoisseur, but I would recommend that others try it, if anything, at least for the experience.
Cuy mission accomplished, I was ready to seek out Jesús, the cuy farmer. Roxana had warned me that it would be an early morning and a long haul to get to Patarcocha, where Jesús lived, and hopefully we would arrive before he left for the day to tend to his crops. We set out at 6:15 am, took a “combi” (essentially a public minivan) to another combi to a taxi, then walked to Jesús’ house and arrived at 8:15. After knocking on both his door and side gate for several minutes a neighbor came out to inform us that he had left, but would be back soon. Patarcocha has fresh air, a beautiful view of the city below and uncannily friendly dogs, so we didn’t mind passing some time in wait for Jesús. About an hour later, someone carrying a bag of goods approached the door of Jesús’ house, knocked once, and his wife opened the door immediately. Mind you, nobody had come or gone from the house in the hour we had been waiting…maybe there is some special code knock for Patarcocha residence only? After accepting the delivery, Jesús’ wife told us with a smile that he would not be returning until the end of the day, but that if we came back early Friday, she would tell him to wait for us. Unsuccessful, but not disappointed at the thought of returning to Patarcocha, Roxana and I began the long trek back to Huancayo.
Two days later Roxana showed up at my hotel at 6 am with a smile on her face and ready to embark (one of many testaments I witnessed to the incredible work ethic of the loan officers and Kiva Coordinators, more on this in another blog). Trying a different route than the time before, we arrived at Jesús’ door at 7:15am. After knocking on his door and gate for (no joke) 10 minutes, my hopes were beginning to slip away when the same neighbor from two days earlier came out of his house and informed us, “he’s there this time…just keep knocking!” Several minutes later Jesús opened the door with a smile on his face and a baby in his arms.
In the ensuing interview with Jesús (to see the video click here and scroll down), he proceeded to explain how he had begun raising cuy in order to diversify his businesses because he knew his crops could not provide year-round income. He had also recently opened a general store in the front room of his house, which his wife manages. He explained the different controls they had implemented to ensure their businesses run smoothly and safely. He had engineers come and train him on proper methods of raising cuy, and how to responsibly expand his facilities. Jesús was extremely proud to show us the three first place awards he had won at a recent agricultural competition for the size and quality of his cuy. What struck me most about Jesús was his extraordinary drive, ambition and pure excitement for the future. It was an inspiration to say the least, and made every minute crammed into minivans, taxis and walking on dirt roads in the heat worthwhile. Just another day in the life of a roaming borrower verification fellow…/>