Today the counter app on my phone that was set on June 4th, 2014 has reached 1,000. Which means I left for Peace Corps Peru 1,000 days ago! Magically enough, this is also my 100th blog post.
In elementary school one of my favorite celebrations was the 100th day of school. I remember making little macaroni necklaces with 100 pieces of pasta, so instead of making 10 macaroni necklaces I’ve decided to try and tell you all…
What I love about Peru in 1,000 words
The plane landed and the the bustling city changed from modern skyscrapers to unfinished brick houses and dust. A family with a tin roof and two cats took in the gringa and loved her as their own. They watched exaggerated telenovelas and Esto es Guerra while she fumbled with her words trying to communicate, but hugs and hand holds were always mutually understood.
As a group they experienced it all, from birthdays to the loss of a friend, they are forever connected. They divided and conquered from the coast to the snowcapped mountains. Learning the true meaning of sickness and health, and finding peace in solidarity. They were showered with gifts, both tangible and not. It was not two years of travel, it was two years of living.
She was given the opportunity to freeze, run in the rain, crochet and smile with the beautiful people in the wide brimmed hats. The mountains were forever green, complimenting their bright colored lace trimmed tops and rubber tire sandals. Skirt upon skirt upon skirt kept the legs of the women around her warm while she donned a North Face coat and jeans. They drank barley coffee from the same cups, accompanied by the same wheat bread cachangas and fresh salty cheese.
Huayno played from a an old antenna radio on the carpenter’s bench and blasted from the fuzzy speakers of the 15 passenger van on it’s way to the city. She had a love hate relationship with the same five Huayno songs that played on repeat for 24 months. He took her hand and patiently taught her the double tap steps to the beat, while spreading his arms and soaring like an eagle. They never made eye contact. As they changed partners the people clapped and encouraged the gringa. A million smiling faces communicated the mutual pride they felt at the sight of an outsider with two left feet trying her hardest to fit in. She felt alive and finally learned that the only thing that makes a good dancer is confidence.
Just as the green started to yellow, the rains came, starting as agreeable afternoon showers and turning into torrential downpours lasting for days. The streets turned into raging rivers as the water poured down the mountainside. She worked alongside her co-workers until lunch time when they would walk home amongst the clouds, squinting to see 3 feet ahead. They would wait out the rain in the crowded little restaurant.
Five tables, open to all, expected to share with the next stranger who walked through the door. The chubby little owner made up for her stature with laughter, loud and recognizable a mile away. From the farm to their plates. They ate warm soup, rice, potatoes, yuca, creamy beans and locally slaughtered protein. The glasses of fresh fruit juice were endlessly refilled and a cheers or salutation was given each time a new person walked in the door. They paid for their meals monthly, with only a little note in the book and a trusting handshake as currency everyday.
Afternoons were for classes and the gringa showed up on time everyday, only to wait thirty minutes due to the “hora Peruana”. She loved this time as it meant enjoying the beautiful view of the quaint city from the balcony, or conversing with the passing farmers lugging their donkeys behind. The donkeys piled with alfalfa to feed the guinea pigs, their silver hide enveloped by burlap sacks exploding with freshly cut produce. Their earsplitting brays resonating through the sleepy town.
When the women came to class, everyday started with a round robin of cheek kisses and small conversations about the time that had passed between their last encounter. Their skin was sun-kissed and golden from the hour walk into town. She taught them about business and they taught her how to crochet. The children colored in one corner as the woman who had only made it to 1st grade learned how to add. They laughed, oh did they laugh as they learned! Most importantly, together they learned the power of a woman. Creating a safe space to grow, and becoming each others cheerleaders in and out of the classroom. The gringa had found 13 mothers in Peru, and one day her mother met those mothers, and they cried as they exchanged gifts and lingering hugs.
As quickly as the adventure started, it came to an end. The people begged her to stay and she cried as they went around the table one by one sharing their favorite memories together. The day she locked herself out of her room and we had to break the window. The day she called at 3 in the morning scared of the mice terrorizing her apartment and we comically moved our daughter so she could have a place to sleep. The mornings she spent playing volleyball with our children and the English greetings she left with them, a parting gift. She will forever be our daughter, sister, cousin, or teacher.
1,000 days later she understands that the greatest gift of all was not the chance to travel, but the chance to find life in a small town in the Northern Andes of Peru. The donkey races and pick-up soccer games. The lunch invitations that turned into hour hikes into the campo and all night parties. The process of culture shock and learning the art of enjoying alone time. The delicious new flavors and the custom of offering a meal to every visitor, even when you have no food to offer. Finding the human connection and the art of understanding foreign customs. Showering them with kindness and using love as a universal language. Turning the “fish bowl” into an opportunity to be an example, with the hopes of making a small change in life of someone somewhere, and at the same time knowing that she could not help everyone everywhere.
She was physically and mentally changed for the better, and she was there. She found life in Peru!