Hello from Perú!! Steph Ferrell writing to you from a humble apartment situated on the border of the Miraflores and Barranco Districts here in Lima, one of which is known for its beautiful view of “El Mar” (aka The Pacific Ocean, which I run along every other morning — yes, Steph and Chris, I am working out) and the other known for its young “discoteca” scene (but I’m having fun too). Not only is my location great, but my host mom falls nothing short of fantastic herself. Her name is Frenci and she is one of my best friends here. She has two sons that share the room across from me, however I do not see them much as they both have work, school, and “novias”. She also has a friend that comes over often named Nancy (they call her Nancy Enana – which in Spanish means “Nancy The Dwarf”, because she’s short – offensive nicknames don’t really exist here, they’re just all considered endearing…). The first time I met her she complimented me on my eyebrows and then moved on to ask me no less than 50 questions that ranged from “Where do you live in the United States?” to “Is there poverty in America?” to “Do you drink water?”.
Miraflores - I pass through this park (Parque Amor) when I run in the mornings
Frenci cooks for me and gives me a beso before bed each night as she switches between wishing me “buenas noches” to sometimes just saying “byeeeeeee”. She speaks a bit of English, which has been helpful when we’re really struggling to communicate (and by we I mean I). She has been the one who has taught me the most important things about the city and was also there for me when I came home a little shaken the first night I took a taxi home by myself. The cab driver ended up taking me to one of the more dangerous parts of Barranco instead of home and when I finally, thankfully, got to the apartment on the brink of tears she opened her arms in a hug saying “pobreciiiiita, pobreciiiiita” (which means “poor baby”…haha).
I currently have an internship at the Museo de Arte de Lima (originally I had been set up with a different museum, but had to switch because of some logistical issues), and am finding it so interesting to see the inter-workings of a museum. While there’s not very much for me to do considering the lack of training I have in restoration, conservation, and…well, speaking Spanish, I am still happy to be there. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Photoshop, editing images of artifacts to be put into a new computer system they have for organizing their collections. I work at the museum Mondays through Thursdays, and every Friday the program I’m in here gets together to do cultural trips that have been a lot of fun so far. I’ve been sand-boarding and white water rafting, and am looking forward to a trip to Macchu Picchu with some of the kids in the program next week!
Museo de Arte de Lima
Sea lions sunbathing on one of our Friday trips to Ica, Peru
I am now past the halfway mark on this trip, and while I certainly have adjusted over the past 5 weeks, I have to say that the adjustment was harder than I expected in the beginning. “Classroom” Spanish is much different than “I’m trying to survive in a Spanish-speaking country” Spanish. It turns out that asking what tonight’s homework will be in class happens to be a lot easier than even just trying to order an iced-coffee (they don’t have those here) at Dunkin Donuts. I ended up with an ice-cream-looking latte the first (and last) time I tried that. But, those moments of miscommunication, embarrassment, and often times extreme discouragement are what help you learn here. So, needless to say, I’ve had a lot of those moments.
However, the biggest contributor to my culture shock here was transportation. Luckily, I’m able to take Lima’s newly installed Metro system to work, but it is very basic and is really not a very common form of transportation here yet. Their biggest mode of transportation are “combis”, which are privately owned buses (vans, really), with “cobradores” who quite literally hang out the door screaming the names of the streets the combi will pass along. These were hard for me at first because you really have to use your voice to survive on them. And, even when you do, it’s particularly hard to communicate with the drivers and cobradores because they are not very educated, which makes their Spanish even more difficult to understand. But, while I have naturally gotten terribly lost on the combis, most people are willing to help when they see my clearly foreign appearance and the look of sheer panic on my face. I have had some really terrible experiences on combis with elbows and screaming babies in my face, but I have also had some beautiful experiences that have made me fall in love with the people down here that are so willing to help.
The Metro (what I take to work)
The hardest part of my day is probably crossing the street here, though, because there are just absolutely no rules in the streets (which make combis an even more unbelievable experience – I’m thinking we could introduce the combi to our dryland and strength training, because it’s actually a great core workout). The “right of way” for pedestrians doesn’t exist, so I often find myself quite literally sprinting across the street. Sometimes I swear I hear the engine pick up when I start to cross.
The things I’ve learned abroad in Lima have far surpassed what I thought was one of my life-goals of becoming bilingual. While that would certainly be nice, I would consider that only a bonus after finishing this trip. Lima has already taught me much greater life lessons: I’ve acquired a greater capacity for empathy and realized that everyone is intelligent in their own language – it’s not a matter of mind but rather a matter of expression. I’ve also learned that culture is important: some people’s disorder is other people’s order. For example, “Nancy Enana” is scared of the Metro; whereas I literally wanted to kiss the T-reminiscent “Metro Card” when I obtained one. Unlike Nancy, I was terrified of combis and couldn’t believe she actually preferred them over what I consider to be a quiet, organized system of transportation. But, that is what culture is all about: culture is what is familiar and what is familiar feels good. And that’s what makes me thankful for my own home: both my home in New Jersey and my home at Harvard. While this trip has been nothing short of amazing, I cannot wait to come back to my culture and family in America. And the Boston T system, haha. I miss you guys!! Hope everyone is having a great summer.
A special type of flower found all over the city, they’re so bright!!