Now, I know that North Americans think some pretty weird things and probably act in equally strange ways at times. However, let me indulge in a common Peruvian belief that I, frankly, find laughable. Peruvians in Quillabamba are utterly, completely, and deathly afraid of the cold. They believe the cold to be some lurking, boogeyman, who comes out at night and who will bite anyone who isn’t covered in eight wool blankets. Cold is the root of all evils. Your toe is swollen? You have a crink in your neck? Your stomach hurts? Your pants are falling off? It is clearly because of the cold. When JP suffered from altitude sickness, the Peruvians immediately covered him in two blankets, one of them being the kind you only use when it is -40 outside. As long as he keeps warm (read: boiling hot), he will be okay. Another student shares her bedroom with her host family, and she is not allowed to open the window at night (which, incidentally, is the best time to open the windows here and let the cool air filter in!) because her family told her that the treacherous cold could wipe them all out. Another student was suffering from diarrhea at the beginning of the program, and all he wanted was some cold water, but no, the family told him that cold beverages can be destructive to the system. This is why everyone drinks water at room temperature. Once, Yannick brought an ice-cold Coca-Cola to a family he was visiting, and they put the soft drink on the counter and only drank it when it was nice and warm.
Just today, a student came over early in the morning, due to stomach pains. Her host mother told us that she is sick probably due to being in a wet bathing suit yesterday. Of course, being in a damp bathing suit in the sun at 27 degrees is the perfect recipe for frostbite!
With all this fear about the cold, you would think that nothing cold would be accepted here. Well, Peruvians do love their ice cream and their swimming pools. While it is true that you can avoid both of these things, it is impossible (let us hope) to avoid bathing yourself. And when you take a shower here, there is only one option: cold. Cold showers and warm drinks. I can’t think of anything better. Except maybe peanut butter.