Thursday, April 12, 2012

Eating Leaves

I tried not to laugh - really, I did. But I couldn't help myself. Actually it's Villa's fault because he laughed first, then he had the nerve to tell me what he was laughing about. What other choice did I have?

After more than five hours on the river visiting villages, we landed safely back in Iquitos just in time to head off to El Bucanero for a late lunch. El Bucanero is one of my favorite places because the dining room is totally enclosed in glass and overlooks the Itaya River. The view is breathtaking. Because of the impressive scenery and most excellent cuisine, it is also a tourist hot spot. We arrived in time to get one of the tables closest to the windows situated directly on the river. Moments after we ordered, in came a large group of North Americans. A typical gringo group, they were loud, and oblivious to the fact that they were annoying the Peruvians who were trying to enjoy a tranquil meal as they competed for airtime while running back and forth from their tables to the window to take pictures of the two iguanas lounging in the tree outside.

With my back to the gringos (because I, myself, am no longer considered a gringa; according to the locals I am charapa - one of them), I was savoring my favorite Peruvian meal - tacu tacu with lomo saltado (a mix of rice and beans topped with strips of marinated beef cooked with onions, peppers, and french fries). I was gazing out across the engorged river, commenting on how early and quickly the water had risen this year, when Villa began to chuckle. I asked him what was so funny, and he leaned in and said, "That gringo is eating leaves!" Then he lost all control and proceeded to laugh so hard he could barely breathe. Not wanting to draw any more attention to us than Villa was already garnering, I resisted the urge to turn around and see this phenomenon for myself - for a few seconds anyway!

Casually turning my head to the side, as though I was searching for our waiter, I caught a glimpse of this poor, innocent, naïve gringo sawing away at the stalk of the bijao leaf that enveloped his fish. Fortunately I was no longer looking when he began to chew on the stalk, evidently with horrible (yet oh-so-funny) facial expressions which Villa described to me in vivid detail - as much as I could understand through his uniquely contagious laugh and gasps for air. It didn't take long until I was laughing hysterically too.

I honestly felt bad for this nameless North American; he had to know we were laughing at him (well, Villa was laughing at him - I was laughing at Villa). Then I wondered how many times over the years I have been the subject of onlookers' comic relief. What cultural faux pas have I committed? Without a doubt I know it has happened, probably more often than I like to believe. I feel my neck and cheeks burning hot with embarrassment at the mere thought. Then another thought - if my lack of Latino sophistication gives someone an opportunity for side-splitting, stomach-aching, soul-cleansing, perspective-changing laughter, then so be it. It is the best medicine!

Proverbs 17:22

Recommended Reading

  • The Bible
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Doing Short Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence - David A. Livermore
  • Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility - Duane Elmer
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) - Robert D. Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts-Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Shadow of the Almighty - Elizabeth Elliot
  • Messy Spirituality - Michael Yaconelli
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • Peace Child - Don Richardson
  • If God Should Choose - Kristen Stagg
  • In the Presence of My Enemies - Gracia Burnham
  • Inside Afghanistan - John Weaver
  • Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Through Gates of Splendor - Elizabeth Elliot
  • End of the Spear - Steve Saint