This story really starts on Saturday, although, I did not realize it at the time. Please don’t judge me too much for what you are about to read. I wouldn’t say it exactly has a happy ending, but here goes….
Saturday morning, I walked into the kitchen to find a big market bag full of bloody meat. In my house, this really is not all that uncommon; we fairly often have freshly killed chickens in our sink, just waiting to be plucked and cleaned. This market bag was left by my host dad who has been working out on a fishing boat since February. Every couple weeks he stops by (usually in the middle of the night) when the ship is in port, to drop off some fish and say ‘hi’ to the family. The bag of meat in the kitchen was his gift to the family for this trip. The meat was eventually rinsed off and put in the refrigerator.
Yesterday, I got home for lunch and saw a heaping plate of meat waiting at my place at the table. I thought to myself, “Beef! We haven’t had beef in a long time!” and sat down to dig in. Before asking what it was, my host mom told me I was being served the former contents of the bloody market bag, chancho marino. I looked at her and said, “Is it a fish?”. She said that yes, it was fish, so I took a couple more bites. Up until this point, I have liked everything I have been served in Peru. This was the first dish of which I was not fond. After seeing me struggle through a couple more bites, my host mom told me that I did not have to eat it if I did not like it, phew!
That afternoon, I went into the clinic and told my co-workers that my host family finally found something I don’t like. I told them what it was and then innocently asked, “What is chancho marino?” My co-worker replied that it may be better not to know. That comment always troubles me. After a little more nudging, she pulled some pictures up on Google and said, “Well, at least you didn’t like it!”. The pictures she pulled up were of large marine mammals.
I went home last night for dinner and saw Johannes (the German volunteer) sitting at the table with my host sister, Milagros, eating chancho marino. Milagros made a comment about how much Johannes liked it and I asked if he knew what it was. The following conversations still makes me scratch my head:
Johannes: Well, it’s fish, right?
Milagros: It lives in the ocean, yes.
Cathleen: But it isn’t really fish, is it?
Milagros: Well, I guess not technically, no. But it does live in the ocean, so kind of.
Johannes: Well then, what is it?
Cathleen: My co-worker told me it was related to sea lion, is that right, Milagros?
Milagros: Some people say it is related to dolphin.
Cathleen: So, it isn’t fish, then….
Johannes happily finished his plate of porpoise and I dug into my bowl of cereal. Trust me, I feel terrible enough as it is about this situation, so no guilt trips please.