It happened on Saturday, January 12, in Huaraz, Peru, in a dark, blood-spattered little shop, with at least a dozen animal carcasses hanging in the doorway. Yours truly stretched our her hand, took the blood money, and then looked for the quickest and safest place to launder that dirty cash.
The money needed to be laundered, and quickly, because it was was covered in chicken blood. I had just paid for this week’s wingless bird (more about that in a minute) with a large bill, 100 soles, which equals exactly $29.85 at today’s exchange rate. It’s risky business going to the market with a 100 sol bill, because not too many vendors are willing to break it for small purchases, like 3 soles of green beans or 5 soles of apples. So I usually have to plan to buy my more expensive items first, like chicken, which costs around 20 soles. Breaking my 100 on chicken, however, meant that I would get several bills in change, and since Walter, my “chicken man,” does all of the killing, plucking, and selling himself (without washing his hands in between), I inevitably get several bills of change covered in chicken blood.
So this past Saturday, I took the blood money from Walter and tried to clean it up a bit by purchasing a kilo of ground beef for lasagna. I pawned off a 50 sol bill, but the change I got back from my “beef lady” Ida included a few stained paper bills and some coins with clumps of bloody beef clinging to them. I took those upstairs to the vegetable section, where my “vegetable lady” has the best selection in the market, due to the fact that she supplies several of the authentic Chinese restaurants in town. The Chinese cooks like the variety she brings, and so do I, since I can always find fresh asparagus, snow peas, mushrooms, purple cabbage and several varieties of baby vegetables. The Chinese cooks are also the reason that I had to buy a wingless chicken; I had arrived a bit late at the market on Saturday, and they had already purchased all the chicken wings in Walter’s shop! But while I was tempted to be irritated at having to settle for a chicken without wings, the fact that our vegetable lady brings such an amazing variety of produce thanks to the Chinese cooks kept my bad attitude at bay. Besides, I was able to spend the rest of my blood money at the vegetable stand, so everything worked out just fine in the end.
I was thinking about Saturday’s blood money this morning when I had to make a quick trip to the market to buy a few things at our equivalent of a Mom & Pops grocery store. That store accepts credit cards, which circumvents the possibility of dealing in blood money, so I always stock up on “dry goods” when I shop there. This morning after paying with my smooth, clean credit card and happily not having to take any change, I pushed my loaded cart into the street and quickly realized my mistake. Several roads had been blocked off for repair, and there was not a taxi in sight. There was no other option but to shoulder my shopping bags bulging with liters of milk and cleaning supplies, and walk several blocks to where I could find a taxi. Walking a few blocks is usually not a problem for me, but the heavy bags didn’t help, and the fact that I had worn sandals was my downfall. There was suspicious water flowing down the street, and it was splashing up on my bare skin!
Now, anyone who has spent any time with me here in Huaraz knows that I have added an 11th commandment to my list of Very Important Rules:
Do NOT step in water in the street.
Especially if it stinks. Even if it’s raining, because it might be coming from an overflowing sewage drain. And if you do happen to step in suspicious water, you MUST remove your shoes before coming into the house. You might even need to disinfect them.
So, I was able to avoid the blood money this morning, but I didn’t quite manage to follow my 11th commandment. I’ll admit that wearing the sandals bordered on the edge of vanity; they looked cute with my outfit and I didn’t want to wear tennis shoes, which I usually choose when I’m planning to go to the market. But I really thought that I’d be able to jump into a taxi right outside the door of the store. (I should know after 20 years of living here, however, that pretty much nothing happens the way we plan!)
There really isn’t a “moral to this story;” it’s just a picture of life in Huaraz, Peru. You can read this and be thankful for your Krogers and Trader Joe’s and even Aldis; I’m sure you never have to deal in blood money there! And I’ll admit that sometimes I’m jealous of those clean, pleasant, and decent-smelling shopping experiences, where there are no suspicious puddles to wade through on the way home. But here in our market, I know that the produce is top-quality and comes directly from the farmers’ fields and orchards. And there’s no doubt that the meat I buy is as fresh as possible. How do I know? Because the blood on my blood money is still warm!