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One egg, two guests – and a meal for six

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It was my custom, as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in a small Peruvian town in the mid-1960s, to take breakfast at the pension up the cobblestoned main street. My compatriot Bob also usually ate at the pension in the morning.

But on a particular morning, as I stepped out of my room in the family compound where I lived, I heard his laugh burbling out from just across the grassless courtyard. He must have come visiting.

Thinking we could walk up the street together for fresh avocado slathered on a still-warm roll, I followed the laughing and the gaggle of Spanish-speaking voices to the farthest of the unfinished adobe-brick buildings.

I stepped into the cooking and eating area of our Peruvian friend Shena. A well-worn wooden table and miscellaneous chairs nearly filled the front room. A few hens scratching for whatever they might find on the compacted dirt floor clucked quietly.

Shena's husband, Miguel, tended a carafe on the dining table that dripped syrup brewing from fresh coffee beans he had just roasted over an outdoor fire.

Bob was telling Shena silly jokes he made up, mostly about her. As she steadily whipped an egg white in a bowl with a table fork, her 10-year-old daughter, María, flounced around like a sprite in her faded blue hand-me-down school uniform.

Lanky teenager Tulio, wearing his khaki school uniform with a dark belt, lounged off to the side in his usual quiet way. A slight smile played at the corner of his mouth as he watched the gringos. When Bob's jokes got too outrageous, Tulio doubled up laughing while hardly making a sound.

Shena put down the bowl containing the egg white, which she had beaten into a big airy froth, and picked up a second bowl. She started stirring and beating an egg yolk just as she had the white.

Miguel set bowls of steamy milk on the bare table in front of Bob and me, stirring in heaps of sugar and a streak of nutty syrup.


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