Now almost seven months into my new life in Lima, the one thing that I simply can not adjust to is eating a big lunch. I can't do it. I have tried and tired and tired. It's customary to eat a large lunch (think American dinner) anywhere from 1-3pm and then to have a light dinner later in the evening sometime around 9pm. The first few months that I was here, I tried to eat large lunches with Alvaro's family. Big meals consisting of meat, veggies and rice or potatoes (but sometimes rice and potatoes) were put in front of me. I was polite and grateful for my new hosts, so I ate. Even though I had a huge lunch, when 7pm rolled around a little voice in my head said, "Ok, Meghan, time for dinner."
When I started my new job a month ago, the first question Alvaro's mom asked me was "What will you be eating for lunch?" I told her that the school offered lunch for all the teachers and she exclaimed that this was, "So wonderful! That's fantastic! You need to eat those big lunches because you are going to be working a lot now and certainly need your strength."
I neglected to tell her that I wasn't planning on eating those lunches, but instead was planning on bringing my own food. The thing is, when lunch rolls around, I crave a salad or fruit and a sandwich. Not a plate full of meat and rice. Nearly every time I see Alvaro's mom or aunts, the conversation somehow leads to my nutritional intake and what kinds of food I am eating and when. On a few occasions, when asked what I had for the meal in question, I have told the truth and been bombarded by four very concerned women fawning over my health.
It's an interesting cultural moment because I can't remember the last time my parents were so interested in the details of my diet. I moved into the college dorm when I was 18 and from that moment on, I was solely responsible for my own nutrition. When I wasn't eating in the university cafeteria, I was cooking my own meals. Admittedly, they were not always the healthiest, but when you live in a dorm with only a microwave as stove, you make some sacrifices. I ate one too many helpings of EasyMac, but I"m around to talk about it so I wasn't harmed too much. Believe it or not, I can feed myself.
In Lima, most children live at home until they are married. The average age for marriage seems to be closer to 30, not in the early 20s like most of my university peers back home. Because of this, parents are more intimately involved in their children's care and nutrition for much longer. I value this and appreciate the family ties it helps to create. However, there's a small part of my independent American self that struggles to fit into this mold.
I have found that my solution is to simply smile and agree. I tell his mom and aunts that somedays I eat at school, even though those days haven't come yet. I reassure them that I am taking my vitamins and eating my protein, all while remembering to drink milk with breakfast. I am doing my best to let them take care of me, while still holding onto me.