This article has been a long time coming. I finally got motivated to write it after hearing my mother-in-law screaming at my wife not to serve my son an apple because it had been in the refrigerator. It was cold.
Peruvians have this irrational fear of cold. Above all, cold beverages. If you drink that cold drink you’re going to get sick, they say.
The apple was an extreme example of my mother-in-law being an extremely overprotective pain in the ass, but it did happen and this irrational fear of cold is a very real quirk in Peru.
Before it was always a minor nuisance to be ignored. But then I had children, and I have to suffer Peruvians’ ideas of how to care for them. I bring the mother-in-law from Arequipa to live with us in Lima for a month at a time to help. And the cold wars never end.
Every time I want to serve the two-year-old a sippy cup of milk, my mother-in-law will make a big fuss about microwaving it first. Even in the summer, which in Lima is a sweltering summer.
Hot milk on a hot, humid day. I feel bad for the kid. Almost pisses me off. Someday I’m going to force her to microwave all her drinks in the summer. See how she likes her chicha morada and beer served hot on a sweltering day.
I wonder what they did when Peruvians didn’t have microwaves. Did they make their crying babies and children wait 20 minutes while they heated the milk up on the stove?
I carried out an intervention last March. I was drinking on the roof with a buddy who has a boy who is my son’s age. They play while we drink. And on this particular night, a sweltering hot night since Lima is a humid heat, I gave the boys water guns.
At some point my mother-in-law confiscated the water guns from the boys and hid them from us for the rest of the night. I didn’t let it ruin the drinking, but I held an intervention the next morning.
I make the rules. You are a guest in my house. You don’t overrule me. You need to understand your new role. You’re a grandmother now. It’s time to assume an assisting role. NOT a managerial or directing role.
That’s how it went. She raised no objections at the time.
However the cold-drink Prohibition has come up again. It’s not worth another intervention. I’m just going to rant on my blog.
But seriously, how do you get past this?
My wife is torn. She grew up in the same family with the same indigenous beliefs, but she also spent over a year in the United States, where any beverage you order in any restaurant will be served with ice. Loads of it. That a country with a population of 300 million in a land which is mostly colder than Lima’s could consume as much cold liquid as it does without an epidemic on the scale of the plague should serve as an example to drop the superstition.
However the matriarchs in her family reinforce it daily. So she’s just torn. Sometimes she insists on heating up the milk. But she’s OK with feeding the boy ice cream and marcianos. In the summer anyway.
My last idea, born out of anger and not logic, was to call all of this cold business “medicina folklorica.” When Peruvians hear “folklorica,” they think of the folk music the Quechua Indians listen to. So there is the implication this is an Indian belief, which it surely is.
Like many in Peru’s middle class, my in-laws hate Indian culture. They like to think of themselves as descendents of the aristocratic Spaniards who transformed Peru from a continental symbol of opulence into a continental shithole over about 400 years. They have one of the oldest last names in Arequipa, and they’re proud of being descended from one of the original robber baron caudillos in the colony’s second province.
Hence, connecting their idea of home healthcare with the Indians might appeal to their sense of racial superiority.
But probably not. I think it will just piss them off. Latinos suffer from a fierce pride, and they’ll stick by their ideas out of spite, just to claim their sovereignty.
We gringos tread a fine line in trying to effect change. If you cite first-world superiority in medicine and science while insisting they do things your way, you may not win the argument. Gringos have been coming down here for centuries telling Latin Americans how to do things, that they’re backwards, etc. But after all these years, they’re still backwards. So in short, it doesn’t work.
And, like with family, you have to be careful with your in-laws. You can’t drop them so easily. They’ll still be your in-laws in 10 or 30 years.
I am still pressed for a solution though, short of bringing the lot of them to the United States for an extended vacation. The cold Prohibition is not only annoying, it carries a health risk. We had to go to the hospital once after we brought my wife’s aunt / godmother in to help.
It was summer and the boy went to sleep in his room. Summer in Lima is 80 degrees Fahrenheit with 90% humidity. I’m not just guessing 90% to imply it’s humid. It’s 90% all year round. Clothes don’t dry if you hang them up indoors. Only in the sun. That’s how humid Lima is. More so than New Orleans.
I would normally open the window to get a little ventilation. However the fickle wife had just rearranged the furniture so the boy’s bed was directly next to the window. Given he is prone to jumping on the bed, albeit not after going to bed, I set the rule that the window stays closed until she decides to move the bed back away from the window.
So I turned on the fan. Then I left the door cracked and went about my evening.
A couple hours later the boy woke, drenched in sweat, and wheezing. We had to rush him off to the hospital.
The aunt had turned off the fan, so he wouldn’t catch a chill, and closed the door. So the 30-pound boy was in his bedroom with zero ventilation on a 80-degree night with steam-room humidity.
On the way to the hospital I told my wife how a baby or two die every summer in the United States, including in St. Louis, when their parents leave them in the car to do their grocery shopping or whatever. That gave her a scare.
But my point was that, in Lima, the heat is a much graver danger than the cold.
There are many parts of Peru where cold is a danger. Children die in the highlands of Puno every winter. But the irrational fear of the cold is everywhere. I met a gringo who lives in Trujillo, in Peru’s hot north where the beaches are open year round, and he said his in-laws have the same superstition.
How do I get them to drop it?
My old gringo superstition
We gringos are not immune from absurd beliefs. Here’s one from our over-sterilized culture.
Growing up in the States, unless maybe on a farm, you would reasonably come to believe that eggs must be kept cold at all times. They are sold from the refrigerator at the store, and they must be put in the home refrigerator immediately upon returning with the groceries. In fact you shouldn’t go catch a movie or go out drinking in between buying eggs and transferring them to your home refrigerator because they may spoil, so says the gringo logic.
So imagine every gringo’s surprise upon arriving in Latin America when they see eggs sold from a dry shelf. Eggs are only sold from a dry shelf. Eggs are never refrigerated.
In fact, the only eggs I have ever seen refrigerated are the ones in my own house. And I only refrigerate them because I often eat them raw. Something about my old gringo superstition maybe, I can leave them out of the refrigerator … only if I am going to cook them. The ones I drink for protein must be stored cold.
But of course I have run out of refrigerated eggs and drank lukewarm egg. Nothing happened. I was fine.
I dropped my fallacious superstition. Peruvians, it’s your turn.