All about underpants.

August 12, 2008

It’s hard for me to believe, but I am living in a town with a Peace Corps worker assigned to it.  Unfortunately, I don’t get any of the benefits associated with that.  She won’t teach me English, and she seems reluctant to hep with the mini irrigation project I’ve started for the coconut tree growing on our patio.  But, regardless of her unwillingess to help out a fellow gringo, we invited her over for dinner last night as a friendly gesture and as a way of convincing her that my plan for getting fresh coconut for cocktails was equally as important as subsistence maize farming.

She seemed quite nice.  Very young and energetic.  I’m not really sure how she’s survived 2 years without warm water and with so many damned crickets all over the place.  But, she has, and I respect that.

About halfway through dinner, I got up to answer a knock at the door.  Upon returning to my seat, I noticed that our guest ha apparently decided that she was not going to wear any undergarments to our dinner party.  Now, I’m not the kind of person that goes around inspecting people’s britches, particularly those people that I am having dinner with.  But, it was pretty darned hard not to notice when there was a waxing moon going into the second phase sticking out from the back of the chair.

Normally this kind of thing wouldn’t particularly bother me.  On any given Friday night at Mizzou, I know there are plenty of women walking around sans underpants.  Hey, I’m cool with people not wanting to wear them on dates, when they head out to a club, even if they’re running to Blockbuster to pick up some movies for a night in.  But having dinner at someone’s house in Peru, when you’re meeting them for the first time??  This has to be crossing the line of when and where to wear your delicates.  Besides, something tells me that Jacqueline Kennedy wouldn’t have been terribly proud of the image I had of the Peace Corps while walking back to the table.  Or, was this some secret right of passage into the organization?  Did Jackie O go without?

Anyway, later that evening I went for a short stroll around the town plaza.  I wasn’t particularly sleepy, and I still was trying to fathom the thought process that leads someone to have dinner at a guest’s house and results in them going bareback.  Did she just not have any clean laundry?  Had she forgotten to pack them?  Had this been going on for two years?  While pondering the mysteries of free-balling, or whatever the equivalent is called for women, I was greeted by a collection of teenage roustabouts who were likely up to no good.

They promptly asked me if I could give them some money.  Their argument was simple: They were starving of hunger and needed food.  I decided not to ask them where they bought the cigarettes they were smoking and the Inka Kolas they were drinking.  Perhaps they were handouts from the pantyless Peace Corps.  Instead, I chose a more direct track.  I explained that I didn’t really have all that much money, that I was a student, and that I was studying archaeology.  That meant, simply, that I was probably the poorest of all students and the least likely of most students to find gainful employment, unless you consider Border’s to be gainful.

Apparently, this approach worked quite well to convince them that I was a lousy target for panhandling, because the conversation promptly turned to the standard things you ask foreigners wandering the street at 11 PM on a Sunday night:  What do you think of our country?  What do you think of our town?  What do you think of our women?

Apparently teenage Peruvians, much like teenage Americans if my memory is correct, sit around and wonder what foreigners think of the women who live in their country.  Here, I used the same answer I used for the previous two questions: “Bonita”.  But, part of me really wanted to ask them what -they- thought of the women, because here they were having a veritable sausage fest on the town square, and harassing a strange guy who was only trying to ponder the mysteries of underpants.

We briefly discussed women and politics, and why I was in Peru in the first place.  I was then asked if I had met the other gringo in town, and what I thought of her.  Sadly, I couldn’t remember how to say underwear in Spanish, and I didn’t feel like dropping trou and pointing at them, lest I really get myself in trouble.  I quickly decided that skivvies weren’t the best thing to talk about, so I lied and said that I had never met her.

Since last night, I’ve become obsessed with people’s undergarment preferences, or the lack thereof.  One of our workmen doesn’t seem to wear any.  I’ve never noticed any hanging from any clothesline I’ve seen.  And, unless twenty-something-aged women use crowbars to get into their pants here, I’m pretty sure that most of them aren’t packing either.

Perhaps I’m missing out on something.  Was there a fashion revolution that I missed?  Plaid and khaki went out a while ago, and admittedly I have yet to update my wardrobe.  But I think I would have caught a change as fundamental as only having one layer of fabric between myself and someone else’s down low.  Maybe it’s only a Peruvian thing.  Worse yet, maybe this woman inadvertently started a fashion trend.  I can see it now.  She waited until the last minute to pack her bags.  A horrible mistake was made–her underwear may still be sitting, folded neatly on the bed.  Somewhere along the line, she decided it was best not to admit the mistake, lest her host family think less of her.  And then, the unthinkable: Peru’s impressionable young children witness the same thing I saw, and go on to believe that this must be the latest pop culture movement in the U.S., one that must be imitated ad nauseum….like the macarena or the chicken dance.

Anyway, I better run.  I have to do some laundry tonight and make sure that I have enough socks and boxers to last the work week, or perhaps I’ll take the opportunity to see what I’m missing.

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