Peace Corp Travel: Bananas by the Bunch

Food & Wine, Peru, Volunteering & Giving Back — By on December 21, 2009 at 6:00 am

by Robyn Correll
LG Peace Corps Correspondent

When I joined the Peace Corps in September of 2008, bananas weren’t in my game plan.

I mean, I liked bananas. They’re tasty and go well with my raisin bran. But I never thought they’d actually have any significance in my life as a health volunteer in rural Peru.

But, like with so many of my other wide-eyed misconceptions, I was proved very, very wrong.

I guess, for starters, I live in a banana forest. The hills and river valley surrounding my small village in northern Peru are home to thousands of banana plants that make up 85 percent of my pueblo’s economic gross. My host family and neighbors depend on bananas to, well, bring home the plátanos.

Which, by the way, we eat daily. Not a single day passes without a healthy portion of bananas or plantains in some baked, boiled or fried form, contributing to my rice belly and putting Trader Joe’s fried plantains to shame.

With all of my community’s dependence on bananas, it’s really no surprise that they also are an important tool I use in my work here. Sure, I tell the community the about the importance of bananas as part of a balanced diet (in it’s rightful place beside a mountain of vegetables) but mostly though, I talk about sex.

Or rather HIV. And bananas are key when giving condom demonstrations with the youth and parents in my town. In a conservative culture, I wouldn’t get anywhere if I whipped out, say, a wooden dildo. Bananas are less threatening, more familiar. And let’s face it, kind of funny.


Photo #1: César, Robyn’s host father, fills up on majau for dinner. The boiled, mashed, then fried plantains are as common in her town as rice.

Photo #2: Stefani, 15 and a teen health promoter, holds a banana for her classmate Xiomara during a condom race.

Photo #3: Plantains hang from their branch right before harvest. Most men in the small village of Pampas de Hospital are employed by organic banana companies, which export to the US and Europe.

Photo #4: Robyn gives a condom demonstration to teachers and parents from her village during a session on HIV.

Photo #5: A group of teens in Robyn’s youth group walk through a local banana chacra, or plantation.

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