Yes indeed, living abroad can definitely be an adventure. After five years in Ecuador though, you’d think that my husband and I would’ve already acclimated pretty completely to the cultural differences between here and the States. We thought we had — until about month ago.
You may already know that in Ecuador, as well as Peru and Bolivia, the guinea pig is a traditional delicacy to be savored. Yep, those cute, furry creatures with tiny almond eyes have been served up on tables for centuries, never considered domestic pets as they are in other countries. The “cuyes”, (pronounced “koo-wees”) as they’re called, are raised in the cooler climates of the Andes mountains and served at the finest of restaurants and at the most special of family occasions. The favorite part for locals is the head, although I’ve heard that kids love to fight over the crunchy little feet. Oh, yum…!
Our neighbor kids get a tractor ride.
Actually, they are quite tasty, especially when they are skewered and roasted with herbs over a fire pit. We had even gotten to experience roasting our own along with new friends one night, much to the delight and laughter of our Ecuadorian hosts. As you can imagine, there isn’t a whole lot of meat on the little critters and they can be a little greasy. But other than that, we can see why they’re enjoyed so well, although it’s still a little tough to get over the image of eating some child’s cute little pet guinea pig.
So, yes, we are accustomed to this cultural delight, but what we never expected is to receive one as a thank-you gift, and the hilarity of what came after. Ah, the joy of being gringo…
Our gift cuy at home on the bocce court.
We live out in the country, and for the last two years have watched the adorable family below tending their cows, their cuyes, and their crops. I say adorable, because nothing beats hearing the giggles of the little ones (ages 7, 5 and 4) helping their parents in whatever needs doing, and the joyful interactions between them that ensue. Unfortunately, we hadn’t gotten to know them personally until recently when the two oldest children came over to ask if we could charge their parents’ cell phones because their electricity had been turned off. The owner of the hacienda had left the country and they couldn’t afford to pay the commercial rate required — a tariff much steeper than a typical residential rate. Naturally, we ended up helping as much as we could, including with the recharge, and they’re now working on getting power restored.
In appreciation, Mom came to the door with two sacks in hand, one brimming with green beans, and the other, she said, was a cuy. Did my husband know how to skin it? she asked. Knowing that he’d definitely skinned other animals in his younger days, I assured her that he could, and thanked her for the very special present. When she left, I put the two sacks in the fridge.
Hours later, my husband came in to check out the gifts. “Trish”, he said in a quiet voice and a huge grin on his face as he opened the sack. “It’s alive!” Oh my word, we couldn’t believe it. We laughed until we cried. What a stupid Gringa! At least we could be consoled knowing I hadn’t killed it by freezing it to death because those cute little eyes were looking up pleadingly at us, poor thing. But now what do we do with it???
Dina keeps an eye on our cuy.
Well, we did as any typical gringos would do. My husband built it a neat little pen and set it outside to eat grass on our bocce ball court. Our dog Dina was intrigued, smelling it and getting it to scurry away each time, but not doing it any harm. So now we had a pet guinea pig. Oh, man. Should we give it back and risk insulting them? Let it go and tell them we ate it?
When the couple came up this morning, we just had to tell them the story. They were hysterical with laughter, just as we’d been. We explained how guinea pigs are normally pets to us, and that although we sincerely appreciated the thought, that maybe it was best if they took it back. Mom then took it out of the pen and felt its belly — it was pregnant with at least two babies! Can you imagine? We would’ve had a whole family to take care of! Understanding our dilemma with sincere fun and compassion, they said they’d bring us another one ready for eating. Now, how could we say no when they were so determined?
This is why we love Ecuadorians so much. We’ve experienced their sweet, gentle, and incredibly generous nature that has touched us in ways we never could’ve imagined. And now we have a family whom we adore and want to continue to help in whatever ways we can. Check out those adorable faces on the tractor ride and imagine those giggles. How can you not love that?
Trish LaPlaca is owner and manager of the expat service Aspire To Retire
Abroad (www.aspiretoretireabroad.com). She provides coaching to
prospective expats, information about living abroad and maintains a blog
of relevant information.