Discussions of sex and love in a Peruvian kitchen

Whether it is considered a woman’s place, a women’s space, or a completely oppressive location, the kitchen often serves a center of conversation for women. I’ve found this in my own household, even though the men in my family all cook as well. This especially happens when we hold parties and all the women gather in the kitchen while the men stay in the living room or by the grill.

My host sister, Gladis, cooking almuerzo (lunch). She's wearing an apron that a previous volunteer gave her. It says, in English, "I'm not easy, but I can be tricked."

I also found this in my semester in Peru. I lived with a host family and everyone would come home for siesta around 1 in the afternoon. My host mom and sister would always be in the kitchen when I came home, with lunch almost ready. They would always be leaning over boiling potatoes and corn, rice, and some form of soup. There was always soup. I would always ask if I could help with anything and they, as always, asked me to set the table and then wouldn’t let me do anything else.

My host dad and brothers would arrive soon after and they would sit down at the table and wait. Then my host mom and sister would serve me and the men. My host dad and I almost always sat at opposite heads of the table. Sometimes the women would sit down with us as well, but often there wasn’t enough room for them to sit so they ate in a second shift. I always stuck around for them to eat as well.

From left to right: My host brother, me, my host sister, and host mother on my birthday

All of the talking between my host family and me happened in the kitchen. We never ever went into the living room and I always felt strange going into their rooms where they watched TV. Between my Spanish, my Americaness, and my newness, it took a while for me to be able to have conversations with my family, and for these conversations to turn into meaningful, personal conversations. When it did, I felt so proud of my Spanish and so close and trusted by my family.

Late in my Peruvian semester, I was hanging around after lunch and just my host mom was around. We were sharing some tea and bread, the thing we ate every day after our stuffing lunches mostly consisting of heaps of rice. I don’t remember how it came up – I think we were talking about my boyfriend – but she started complaining about her husband. It was clear this was not a typical thing for her to talk about. Her eyes were wide and they seemed to dart around in nervousness. I had a feeling what we were discussing was a pretty taboo subject – to complain about one’s husband.
She explained how they don’t get along well anymore. He’s a ‘silly’ man and only cares about his chickens and his school. She confessed how she doesn’t feel anything for him anymore. She doesn’t love him and she isn’t attracted to him. She hasn’t had sex with him in years. In fact, she let him keep the master bedroom with the large bed, and she sleeps in a second bed in her eleven-year-old son’s room. It doesn’t help that he snores. Meanwhile, her daughter shares her own small room with her fiancé and their two-year-old son. The three of them sleep in the same twin bed. I asked why my host dad couldn’t give his daughter and her family the bigger room and bed and my host mom said he simply refused.

I asked my host mom if she is sad that the relationship turned out this way. She said she’s not surprised. She’s pretty happy with her life. She doesn’t need him. She has her beautiful sons, daughter, and grandson. But she’s sad constantly missing her oldest son who lives in Lima. She hadn’t seen him in over a year.
What I learned a different time while sitting in the all-women kitchen was that there was an affair that complicated the entire dilemma. When my host mom was younger she became involved with a man and had a child (her oldest son) with him. Soon after that, she married my host dad and they took care of her son, Eric, together. But apparently the ‘illegitimate’ son was always a contentious issue between her and my host dad.

From left, my host mom, host brother, host dad, and host nephew eating the soup we always ate before the main meal of lunch

It’s funny how all of the important conversations seem to happen in the kitchen over food. That’s how it was in Peru, my family, the co-op, and even the times I spent around round tables with my friends in my underclassmen years. There’s something about food that seems to open people up to the idea about talking about typically taboo subjects.


the lingerie party

A couple weeks ago my friends hosted a lingerie party in their Babbit suite. It was a ladies-only birthday party for my friend Glenn and we were all supposed to wear our sexiest underwear and enjoy an evening of dinner and wine together. When I arrived, everyone was wearing lacy or silk underwear and bras and, for most, these were the only pieces of clothing with the exception of heels. I slid off the satin purple robe that I had worn over and wore my black lace bikini underwear with a purple lace bra that matched my purple heels I bought at Salvo for $1.50. Other girls looked more scandalous wearing thongs and having more to be exposed on top. Everyone looked great. It’s amazing how freeing wearing so little can be. How often do women flaunt their sexiness without the intention of pleasing a man? This was the first time any of us had done anything like this before. In fact, though I often hang out in my room alone naked, I almost never wear my sexy clothes alone.

The remains of a burrito, with a bit of hot sauce

The eleven of us sat down to the table with our lacy breasts hovering over the top of the table. The dinner theme was phallic foods. The main course was soft tacos rolled up with vegetables, chicken, salsa, and sour cream. It was a messy, hands-on affair. You had to tilt your head back to prevent the taco from spilling out when you took a bite. There were no napkins or forks – we all used and licked our hands. In many ways it was very sophisticated feeling and in others it seemed completely barbaric.

Next came the dessert: whole bananas dipped in chocolate. This, too, was messy and all of our faces ended up with chocolate smeared over them.

Yep, that's me eating a chocolate covered banana (for this I used a fork)

The stereotype is typically that men enjoy watching women eat phallic foods. But here, we were women enjoying eating these foods, and definitely getting into the fact that they were phallic, in front of women. I definitely was not a man-hating atmosphere but it also wasn’t a “oh, wouldn’t this please a man” affair. It pleased us to eat these foods while looking sexy. The feeling, I guess, was about being strong beautiful women and the eating the delicious food was a symbol of taking the initiative and, for some, enjoying dominating the penis during sex. From among the pile of unworn clothing someone produced a black dildo. Everyone had a good time with that, putting it on their groin area and wiggling it around, wondering what having that attached to her legs would be like. The dildo eventually ended up being suctioned to the large dark-side windows so it stared right at us.

We felt freer than we have at most other clothed parties. Many pictures were taken – pictures that will never go on Facebook but that we will all treasure. Everyone looked awesome. We washed the dishes, singing and moving our hips to the music. Then we danced a lot. We danced on the couch, the table, and the bar. As time went on we all began to feel more and more free: happy with our bodies, happy with how sexy we felt, happy to feel sexy for the sake of feeling sexy. I now believe that everyone should do this with the women the feel most comfortable. It’s invigorating.

When 9pm approached and we knew that other guests were going to arrive, we all changed into actual clothes. Everyone was sad. We felt suddenly restrained. No short, low cut dress could make anyone feel the way they had felt in the lingerie. But all was not lost. Our confidence had grown. Those of us who are usually hesitant to attempt to look and act sexy were not that night. Everyone felt better about life after the phallic foods and lingerie party.