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Two old white ladies came to our village late one day, just before dinnertime, at the beginning of the dry season. Everyone else ran down the riverbank to greet them. I stood at the top. I could see them fine from up there. I had better things to do than run to greet old white ladies.
It was Nonti, my mother's brother's wife's brother, who had brought them up the river. When he docked, the two women stayed in the boat. They sat and smiled. Every so often they would talk to each other in some language none of us could understand. And then they would smile some more. Only their mouths moved. The other parts of their bodies were as still as when there is no wind at all, just before a big rain comes.
Nonti told us they were called anthropologists. They looked like plain old gringos to me. One was very tall and skinny, with long yellow hair. The other one looked a little more like us, nice and fat and not tall, but her skin was a funny shade of pink. Her hair was not black enough or straight enough. It was long, but she had no bangs. They both wore no beads, no nose rings, no lip plugs, no anklets. They didn't pierce their noses or their lower lips. They didn't bind their ankles or flatten their foreheads. They did nothing to make themselves beautiful.
Elena, my mother's sister's daughter, hopped right into the boat where the two women were sitting. She pointed to the tall one's head and said, "Mapeu!" Head. They looked at each other and repeated, "Mapeu." But they said it more like "mopu." Elena clapped. "Look at them! This big tall one has hair like thatch.Can you believe it? We could cut her hair off and patch the hole in our roof!"
Everyone laughed. Even me. Elena always makes me laugh. And then the white women laughed too. But they didn't know what was funny.
"Elena, how could you jump into their boat?" I asked her when she hopped out and came back up the bank to me. "And point at their heads and talk to them? How could you do it? I wouldn't get that close to them."
"Oh, Alicia. You're such a worrier. What harm could it do?"
"You worry about nothing! Like a child!"
"You should have more fun, Alicia. That old man husband of yours will come back soon enough. Then will be the time to be worried and unhappy."
"He's not my husband. My father was drunk when he promised me. I have no husband. My father was drunk!" I hated it when anyone said I had a husband. I didn't have one. "And your old husband only brings home tiny birds when he goes out hunting," I told her. "Soon you won't be so nice and fat, if you have to eat only what he brings home."
Elena laughed and stuck her tongue out at me. Elena would always be fat. Not like meskinny, ugly me. I would never get fat. No matter how much I ate, how tight I tied my honshe, my ankle bands, how much fat medicine my mother gave me. "Skinny Alicia. Your legs look like two cotton threads hanging from your skirt." Ugly.
Elena was beautifulshort, fat, with round cheeks and a big hearty laugh. Elena laughed at everything and everybody. She made fun of people and things all the time. She did it so they would like her. It usually worked. Me, I was not so sociable.
The old ladies sat in Nonti's boat and smiled. What did they want from us?
"Do they speak anything anyone can understand?" asked Angel, our schoolteacher. Everyone laughed.
"Nawa, all nawa are the same," muttered old man Chichica. "They all eat snakes and have sex with dogs."
"They speak Spanish and something else. They came from the New York City," Nonti was saying. "And I have taken them on a trip up and down your Paro River, looking for a village to live in. They want to live here, in Poincushmana."
Live here, with us! Why would they do such a thing?
The old ladies sat and smiled.
Everyone started asking questions at once.
"Did they bring any liquor with them?"
"Did they bring pictures of their Jesus?" Swiss missionaries had brought us funny pictures of their god carrying a big, oddly formed piece of firewood, dragging it on his back up a steep hill.
"Have they come to steal our children?"
"Have they come to steal the fat from our bodies?"
"Will they kill us all while we sleep?"
Old man Ashandi roared with laughter. "They don't look like they could even take care of themselves, let alone steal our children or our lives. Look at the tall oneshe is so scrawny. You can practically see through her skin, it is so pale."
"They look weak, but they're not," Nonti said. "They ask many stupid questions. But they are not mean. They are just incredibly ignorant."
"They will stay at my house," Papaisi, the headman, announced, and told his daughters to go prepare dinner for the visitors.
The old ladies stayed in the boat, still sitting, still not moving. They just sat and smiled.
What were these old women doing here, so far away from their homes, from their parents, far from husbands and children? What could make women travel so far all by themselves? It wasn't until later that we learned the most shocking partthese two women weren't even related to each other. Not in any way. They were what they call friends, amigos in Spanish, no word in Isabo. So they were really alone. One stranger and another stranger. Two strangers. All alone.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I thought this novel was written with such great effect. It reveals how cultures and people can be different in the way they think and live their lives, but that a lot has to do with perception and your experiences. This novel is told through a natives eyes and perception, which makes sense due to where she comes from and her environment in Peru. I think this is a great example of a multicultural book that makes you see and acknowledge a different culture and way of life than yours. It was very well written and effective.
most people said this book was nasty, to much sex was mentioned, etc. i saw their point, but it wasnt nearly as bad as they implied. i enjoyed seeing our culture from another point of view, and a new culture from thier own point of view. i was able to relate to both sides in the story.