Llama: It´s What´s for Dinner

One of the more interesting aspects of my job when I travel is the food. It is customary in many cultures that as a sign of thanks, people feed you. When I arrive in teeny tiny communities high in the Andes Mountains, for example, and the village has gathered for a community meeting to thank “la gringa¬¥¬¥ for her funding and work, they bring food. This is when you must put your American culinary attitudes aside and welcome pretty much whatever they hand you with grace and humility — recognizing that your plate means someone else isn¬¥t eating.
And then you must sit, eat, smile and make a rather large production about how good it is, even if it is, say, llama. Not just any llama, but llama jerky. And this meat is so incredibly precious that you are the only one at the table with it included on your plate. The 25 pair of eyes on you, while you realize this, make you blush instantly.
And so, you smile, chew and chew and chew, and try hard not to think about the fact that your vegetarian ass is all of a sudden eating really sweet, furry, cute mountain animals that have been killed ages ago and dried in someone´s home with a ridiculous amount of salt. Instead, you simply pray that you are not going to die of foodborne illness and count your blessings. Namely Pepto, Immodium and an actual toilet to sit on when you return to your hotel, versus the pit latrine currently available behind the community meeting.
This was my day. When the meeting was over, we went for a drive (because nothing says calm stomach like a 4-hour SUV tour of the Andes on a rocky, bumpy, painful dirt road) so I could see some mountain lakes situated at a teetering 12,000 feet. To my surprise, they were full of bright pink flamingos. We were high enough in this arid area that nothing will grow. The land is scattered with flocks of sheep and the occasional group of llama that have apparently escaped the grasp of the local jerky man. These animals I expect. The flamingos were a surprising treat.
In its own way, the llama jerky was too.

36 Replies to “Llama: It¬¥s What¬¥s for Dinner”

  1. I remember seeing drying armadillo-type animals hanging from rafters in Bolivian homes. As far as I know they didn’t ever serve it to me…

  2. Have you read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver? (great book!) It describes an incident exactly like this, except it was goat (if I remember correctly). I’m glad it’s you that’s representing us ‘gringos’ and not someone who would insult them by turning down their food.

    What a cool experience for you! (the trip in general, not the sitting on the toilet) I hope you don’t get sick; being a vegetarian and eating meat can do some nasty things to your system.

    Good luck and stay safe.

  3. Although hard at times, it is indeed important to show respect by eating the food with which they honor you–good for you, Kelli, you are always so respectful of other peoples and their cultures.

    As an avid birder, I am excited that you saw flamingos in the Andes. It would be really interesting to know which species: James’or Andean Flamingos (P. jamesi and P. andinus respectively).

  4. I know just what you’re speaking of. As a social worker working with families of other cultures – my vegetarian ass has also eaten my share of “thank you dinners.”

    Good for you for making your way through it. And…I hope it’s kind as it makes it’s way through you. (wink, wink).

  5. You might be ready now to endure Passover with my family. Although completely devoid of bumpy car rides, there is definitely a strong game of chicken involved when it comes to horseradish and gefilte fish eating contests. As in, I double dare you to pile horseradish on top of that big hunk of gefilte fish and eat it in one bite. No holding your nose.

    You’d win for sure.

    Way to go making it through your honorary dinner like a champ. You’re an excellent sport and I know they appreciate you for it.

  6. You are more of an adventurous eater than I am! I don’t know that I would be able to eat llama unless I thought it was chicken! 😉

    Just curious what kind of job you have. My daughter (19) is quite the adventurer–she has been to Africa and Mexico this summer–and I would love to pass on your job info to her. She just isn’t the 8 to 5 desk-job type !

  7. I have been through interesting meals through travel and have eaten many things I did not want to…your Mom & Dad taught you good manners!

    Hope you get home safely.

  8. Oh, my god! You bring back such memories for me of having food absolutely FORCED on me and wondering if I could just slip that 4th ladoo in my bag when no one is looking.

    And flamingos! Wow! Stay well, my friend.

  9. Kelli,
    I have been reading and enjoying your blog for a while and just started participating in your “In Stitches” flickr group(mjanice12). My son is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Moldova and has had very similar experiences. One night a family in his village invited him and his host mom to dinner, and to honor him, they offered him a plate with the chicken stomach and feet reserved just for him. All eyes are on the guest and they offered it with much pride. What do you do but start chewing and thank them for the offering? He was a vegetarian for years, but like you, felt that it would be disrespectful to refuse food from those who had so little. It is such a small compromise compared to the wonderful work you are both doing. Thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us.

  10. Another life experience! you handled it with grace, dear Kelli. I would have had a hard time as well. In our recent Peru travels, Kris willingly tried alpaca and cuy… me, not so much. This little vegetarian was loving the potatos and quinoa 🙂

    I am thinking about you~

  11. Oooh, that sounds like it would be tough. Glad you had access to a nice toilet. 🙂 We often were served questionable foods when I was in Russia, but nothing as odd as llama jerky.

    And flamingos!! My favorites! That is a fun, pink, surprise. Glad to see you are safe and traveling well… can’t wait to hear more adventures.

  12. Oh, I want your job! Llama jerky and all. I would have a hard time choking that down as well, but what an adventurous life you’re leading! You’re going to have so many stories to tell!

  13. That’s often how it goes on those trips – you have one experience that’s tough or takes you out of your comfort zone, and then it gets overshadowed by something spectacular – like seeing wild flamingos!

    Bolivia is on the top of my list of places to visit (my bf’s family is from there), so please continue to share your journey with us.

  14. I had a similar experience in Ukraine during college. Unfortunately, I can’t say that our whole group dealt with the food offerings with grace, but we were invited back for a second year, so it can’t have been too bad.

    I think about this more lately, now that I know about my corn allergy…

  15. My heart goes out to you (and my stomach and intestines, too, apparently). Enjoy the moment, because, like the flamingos, you never know what will happen next. And that’s it for the trite phrases. I will say, though, that your experiences have certainly given me many smiles, so I thank you for your sacrifices. 😉 Strong guts and safe travels!!

  16. Kelli,
    You can be certain that you have a strong, healthy immune system. Moreover, your parents brought you up soooo well… 😉 They must be proud.
    Stay well and safe!

  17. Oh NO! llama jerky? you’re so gracious. i’m sure they’ll never know that you’re a veggie. but your drive sounds splendid! flamingos?

  18. It’s hard to sit and eat a meal when being watched by the very people who will now go a day without food because of you. Epecially the kids. The hunger and desire in their eys. Yet if you don’t eat it, it’s more insulting than we could ever imagine.

    Flamingos? Sounds awesome. Can’t wait to see some photos.

  19. yes yes… this is so true and you have talked about it so beautifully. a friend of mine was doing a fulbright in panama and talked about being served a ceremonial drink made of river water… she was very freaked out about drinking it but at the same time felt that the significance of the moment was much greater than the risk.

  20. Mmm… tastes like chicken! Do you suppose they have Foster Farm llamas in Bolivia? Kidding aside… hope you’re having a great trip and am thinking of you and all the joy and love you bring to the world! xoxo – M

  21. Kelli —
    I just about bust a gut reading this blog. Too funny — I think you might have missed your calling. You could take this on the road, say The Improv, and make some serious denero.
    Laughter, the Gods are smiling.

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