Amor en Peru
Alibi’s Ilene Style reports from her volunteer mission in South America
In Villa el Salvador, a shantytown which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Lima, there are hostels, or hostals as they are called, everywhere. Naturally, there are hostels all over Peru for travelers and tourists, but it struck me odd that there were so many in Villa el Salvador. I mean, how many touristas would want to stay in one of the worst parts of a city, where it is dangerous to go out after dark? When I inquired about this, I was told that the ubiquitous hostals in Villa el Salvador are not actually hotels as we know them, but places where men and women go “to have a private moment." Ah ... comprendo. All of these hostals have signs in their windows advertising their prices, which I now understand are hourly, not nightly, rates.
Hermana Jacci explained to me that there are two reasons for the success of these numerous hostals. There are sometimes so many people living in a home in Villa el Salvador, often in only one or two rooms, that married (or unmarried) couples have no private place to go to be together. The hostal serves as their private place. The other reason for the hostals is they provide a place for married men to take their amante, or lover. Peruvian men, she noted, are not known for their fidelity, much to the chagrin of their wives. Unfortunately, unfaithfulness among married men here men is so common that wives have practically come to expect it. Peruvian men themselves have confirmed that this is true, but have assured me that the “chauvinistic” society here is improving. I'm glad to hear that, although I'm sure it will take a while to change social mores that have been around for so long.
But that's not to say that married men with a wandering eye have cornered the market on amorousness in Peru. ¡Al contrario! Peruvians are the most affectionate people I've ever met. Public displays of affection are readily exhibited and highly encouraged here. Even the statues love a little PDA (see photo). Couples walk hand in hand, arm in arm, down the street, nuzzling each other on street corners, on buses, in movie theaters, and at the supermercado, oblivious to their surroundings. (At least now we know there's a hostal available for them in Villa el Salvador, should they need a room.) Even friends display more affection toward each other than I am used to.
Which brings me to one of my favorite things about Peru. When Peruvians greet each other, it is always with a kiss on the cheek, a hug and a greeting of "Buenos dias,” “Buenas tardes,” or “Buenas noches,” depending on the time of day. This ritual applies not only to good friends, but also to people who have never met before. When I first arrived here, this custom surprised me, as I was not used to kissing, or being kissed by, people I didn't even know. What happened to the polite all-purpose handshake? But in about no time flat my surprise turned into delight, as that sort of affection makes you feel immediately welcome, especially when you are clearly an outsider like myself. I have kissed and hugged more people than I can count since I've been here. (Kissing 100 abuelos hello and goodbye three days a week is practically a full time job in and of itself!)
This tradition is yet another thing that makes Peru so special. As far as I'm concerned, every country should adopt it.