On Travel

•December 13, 2009 • 2 Comments

I wish I could take credit for what you are about to read, but someone far wiser and more talented than I wrote these words: Kent Nerburn, in his book, “Letters to My Son: A Father’s Wisdom on Manhood, Life and Love,” wrote a section entitled On Travel that spoke to me as I reflected on my time here in Peru. I feel truly fortunate to be able to relate to his words with no regrets.

“This is the magic of travel. You leave your home secure in your own knowledge and identity, but as you travel, the world in all its richness intervenes. You meet people you could not invent; you see scenes you could not imagine. Your own world, which was so large as to consume your whole life, becomes smaller and smaller until it is only one tiny dot in time and space.

You return a different person.

All you need to do is give yourself over to the unknown. It doesn’t have to be on a vast, dreamlike arctic plain. It can be on a gentle stroll through a Wisconsin forest or on a street corner in Nairobi. What matters is that you leave the comfort of the familiar and open yourself to a world totally apart from your own.

Slowly memories of the familiar recede from your mind and you find yourself adrift in the experience of the world around you. Your thoughts and concerns change. Your emotions focus on new people and events. The world makes its claim on your heart and mind, and you are free, at least momentarily, from the concerns of your everyday life.

Many people don’t want to be travelers. They would rather be tourists, flitting over the surface of other people’s lives while never really leaving their own. They try to bring their world with them wherever they go, or try to re-create the world they left. They do not want to risk the security of their own understanding and see how small and limited their experiences really are. They move from hotel to hotel, protected by money and credit cards, and never really meet the world through which they are traveling.

To be a real traveler you must be willing to give yourself over to the moment and take yourself out of the center of your universe. You must believe totally in the lives of the people and the places where you find yourself, even if it undermines your faith in the life you left behind.

You need to share with them, participate with them. Sit at their tables, go to their streets. Struggle with their language. Tell them stories of your life and hear the stories of theirs. Watch how they love each other, how they fight each other. See what they value and what they fear. Feel the spaces they keep in their lives.

Become part of the fabric of their everyday lives and you will get a sense of what it means to live in their world. Give yourself over to them — embrace them rather than judge them — and you will find that the beauty in their lives and their world will become part of yours.

You will realize that the possibilities of life in this world are endless, and that beneath our differences of language and culture we all share the same dream of loving and being loved, of having a life with more joy than sorrow.

[…]

But more than that, because I have traveled, I can see other universes in the eyes of strangers. Because I have traveled, I know what parts of me I cannot deny and what parts of me are simply choices that I make. I know the blessings of my own table and the warmth of my own bed. I know how much of life is pure chance, and how great a gift I have been given simply to be who I am.

And when I am old, and my body has begun to fail me, my memories will be waiting for me. They will lift me and carry me over mountains and oceans. I will hold them and turn them and watch them catch the sunlight as they come alive once more in my imagination. I will be rich and I will be at peace.

I want you to have that peace, too. There is nothing sadder than the person who one day looks up at a life of empty effort and wasted days and asks, “What have I done?”

That is why we need to travel. If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don’t lift to the horizon; our ears don’t hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience, and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days.

Don’t let yourself become one of these people. The fear of the unknown and the lure of the comfortable will conspire to keep you from taking the chances the traveler has to take. But if you take them, you will never regret your choice. To be sure, there will be moments of doubt when you stand alone on an empty road in icy rain, or when you are ill with fever in a rented bed. But as the pains of the moment will come, so too will they fall away. In the end, you will be so much richer, so much stronger, so much clearer, so much happier and so much a better person that all the risk and hardship will seem like nothing compared to the knowledge and wisdom you have gained.

I once wrote a traveler’s blessing in one of my journals: “May you have warm shoes, a soft pillow, and dry clothes.” That’s all. With the closeness of those simple goodnesses, one can dream of the stars.”

© The above quoted text is copyrighted by Kent Nerburn.

Short reflection

•December 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As my study abroad experience comes to a close, I’ve been feeling a wide array of emotions. I just got back from eight days of traveling with friends – I got to see one of the modern wonders of the world, Machu Picchu, and I can’t say enough about it. I won’t bore you with endless adjectives and superlatives, but needless to say, it lived up to and surpassed its hype. We also went to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.

Since getting back to Lima on Friday, my days have been full of goodbyes, some tears suppressed and some unleashed. So, in the last few weeks, I have become all the more aware of my blessings. To have shared this experience with such wonderful people makes me feel incredibly fortunate. And a little later today, I’ll start volunteering at Villa La Paz Foundation, a center for children with disabilities and medical conditions. After all Peru has given me has a person, I want to give back to los peruanos.

One week from today I’ll be coming back “home” to pack up my things (note to self: find little white visa paper for passport!) and spend one last day with my friends who are still here before I say hasta luego to Lima. I am sad to be leaving my friends and the entirety of this experience, but not too sad, because I am certain this is not my last time in Peru.

Estoy agradecida

•November 26, 2009 • 1 Comment

Subject translation: I am thankful. Thanksgiving (el día de gracias) is not celebrated here in Peru, but thanks to Facebook, Twitter and e-mails from friends and family, I haven’t forgotten about this great American holiday.

Though I do not support the political foundation of this day (the Native Americans and pilgrims had a slightly more tumultuous relationship than we were taught in elementary school), I love the idea of having a day dedicated specifically to giving thanks. I like how Thanksgiving’s definition has evolved into modern-day traditions of spending time with the people you love, acknowledging the positive things you feel blessed to have in your life, and sharing a large delicious meal all the while.

So, from a few thousand miles away, here are some things I am thankful for in 2009:

My wonderful family and friends

My family has been there for me as long as I can remember, and there are some friends who have been around for a while too. I am thankful for new friends and old, American and Peruvian, wherever we met, because you have all impacted me in some way, no matter how small, and I am honored to be a part of your lives and have you be a part of mine.

Being American

The opportunity to study abroad is something I am extremely grateful for. While living in one of the world’s poorest countries, I have come to realize how many opportunities I have, simply by being born on American soil. I have realized the benefits and rights I had taken for granted as a young woman in the US are not the same for young women across the world. I am not usually the super-patriotic type, but I now realize how many more opportunities and rights we are afforded in the world, simply by being American. It is by no deeds that we have done that we are so lucky to have endless opportunities laid before us, and for that, we can only be thankful.

Perú

This amazing country, as I have said countless times, has opened my eyes to so many things. Though there are certainly cultural differences and barriers, I have come to see the unity in humanity through this experience. While reading another student’s study abroad blog, I discovered the concept of Ubuntu. To quote the Archbishop Desmond Tutu,

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

Ubuntu is about the interconnectedness of humanity. Karma, but stronger – you do something good, and the ripple effect goes way farther. After so many Peruvians have shown kindness and generosity toward me, I can’t help but feel the same way toward the people I encounter. Why not go out of my way to help someone I barely know? ¿Por qué no debo ayudar alguien que no conozco? Realize the potential impact of your actions on others, and try to make that impact a positive one. Whether the good deeds come back to you in an obvious way, I promise you will feel better about yourself after leaving some good energy in the world for others to pick up on.

Anyway – this country has changed me as a person, changed my values and the way I value others, opened my eyes to the most beautiful sights in nature and in humanity, and most importantly, helped me redefine my definition of need. I think it’s ridiculous when people say they need a pair of $200 shoes, or a $100 haircut, while other people in the world need warm clothing and food and still manage to survive on less than $2 a day.

I’m sorry if this offends anyone, and I am not saying this to make you feel guilty – I just want you to feel grateful for and aware of how much you have, and maybe re-think your own definition of need. Think of how much you could help your fellow citizens of the world with the money you save on things you don’t actually need. And I know I’m getting preachy now, so I’ll cut myself off here.

What are you thankful for today? Anything you have been thankful for all year, or just recently? Regardless – Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Thank you for reading, and I hope you have an amazing day with the people you care about. ¡Felíz día de gracias a todos! Gracias para leer esto, y espero que ustedes tengan un día increíble con la gente que les importa.

¡No sabes! Estoy emocionada sobre la vida, de nuevo.

•November 19, 2009 • 1 Comment

For all my non-hispanohablante people out there, the subject line says: Guess what! I’m excited about life, again. Yup, it’s true. This time around, I know I’m not the only one feeling the love re: la vida peruana. As we close in on less than a month here, time is slipping through our fingers just as, like always, we are starting to get a good firm grasp on life here. Wouldn’t you know it, the closer it gets to closing time, the more I want to stay?

It’s a feeling most of my friends are grappling with it, and we are dealing in different ways. Some are getting nervous, others are spending as much time out in Lima as possible, me? I get sentimental, and think about it so much I can’t fight the urge to write about it here.

The thing that really amazes me is the bonds we have cultivated during our short time here. In college, friendships change because your family is no longer around so your friends become your support network, the closest thing to family you’ve got on campus. Here in Peru, it’s not exactly like at college where you have tons of friends and a college town to make your own.

Because of this, the friendships developed here are different. The support of friends isn’t encouraged, it’s necessary. Leaning on each other is just a part of daily life. We are undergoing, surviving, living a life-changing experience, together. It may not feel like it while minutes turn into hours into days, but we are changing here, and the only true witness to our new foreign selves are the friends who are also changing themselves.

We count on each other a lot more than casual friends in the USA might, but because of that, we’ve grown much closer in one semester than casual friends might. It’s because we count on each other, and also because there’s this urgency – we know, deep down, even though initially time does not feel like it will fly, it does, and we need people to witness the changes within us.

If no one else sees what the heck is happening, if we have no one to share this experience with, how will we ever remember it properly? How can we remember the ways in which we have changed, and try to keep ourselves grounded by the things that matter here, without others who are doing the same?

As I write this, I can’t stop smiling. The words are slipping through my mind, down my arms, through my fingers, into the keyboard and onto the screen way too easily. I know many writers have trouble finding inspiration, and to them I say: Put yourselves in a new, uncomfortable, foreign environment. As you struggle to find normalcy and make sense of new languages and ways of life, you will encounter countless things to write about.

I’ve said before how I was unhappy when I got here. Now I know I will be unhappy to leave. I’m a visual person; I can conjure up some pretty vivid mental images at the drop of a hat. When I think of leaving, I see a small child throwing a temper tantrum, complete with squirming, feet stomping, crying and pouting.

I think my actual exit from this country will go more smoothly than that, but inside – well I will not be a happy camper. This stupid country had to go and show me so much about myself and people and the world that I did a complete 180, and now this stupid country will always have a piece of my heart. And I know even when I come back, it will not be the same.

So many things that I love about this are so tied to the present moment, the here and now: I love the fact that I am not a tourist, that I live in Peru. I love my school and feeling part of a new, different university community that is growing and changing this country’s future. I love the friends I have here, and the fact that they are all I think about while I am here. These are all the reasons I slowly stopped missing home so much – because I feel at home here, now.

And when (not if) I come back to Peru, I will not live here, or go to school here, and my friends won’t be here. What I don’t like thinking about is that after classes end, and the traveling is over, and I’m packing my bags – the spell will be broken.

Something inside of me drops every time I say that phrase, and as the day gets closer, I can’t help but say it more and more. For now, I am going to make the most of my time here by spending as much of it as possible with these amazing friends enjoying this wonderful country.

People who have studied abroad can probably attest to this phenomenon – feeling wonderfully happy and mournfully sad, all at the same time, about so many things. It’s an incredible feeling, and I am lucky to feel it, and I’m not going to ignore it.

Just know that the reason you may not hear much from me is that I am desperately trying to squeeze every bit of time I can out of la vida peruana before the clock strikes, the spell is broken, and my time here is up.

Pictures from the mama visit

•November 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Whew, just got back from a whirlwind weekend in the jungle! While I try to sleep and readjust back to life in Lima, here are some pictures from my mom’s visit.

Visita de Mamá

La visita de mi mamá

•November 13, 2009 • 1 Comment

It’s been a week since my mom got here, and a few days since she left, so I figured it was high time to write about our time together.

After a whirlwind Wednesday filled with a hostel visit and rushed studying/discussion before a control (exam) for Realidad Social Peruana, I headed home and packed my backpack for our weekend. At 11 o’clock the taxi driver came to pick me up and we went to the airport. We got there just as her 11:20 flight landed, but I had somehow forgotten about the colas largísimas (looong lines) for customs and how long baggage claim took.

Two hours later I was looking down at my knitting needles (good thing I brought something to pass the time!) and trying not to fall asleep when I looked up and saw a bewildered Mom looking around the crowd. I yelped and ran into her arms and our taxi driver took a picture of us before we hauled her luggage to the car and drove to the hostel.

I paid Carlos, el taxista, and we got settled in our room. We talked for a few minutes before bed but by then it was after 2 a.m. and we were both exhausted, so we fell asleep mid-conversation, holding hands across our big king-sized bed.

That morning we woke up to the manager of the construction site next door yelling at his workers. Save for el jefe alto (the loud boss) next door, the neighborhood was pretty and quiet. Mom slept the latest I’ve ever seen her sleep – noon – then we got up and got ready for the day.

We walked across the street and after realizing no combis were going to La Católica, we took a cab there. There was a parade going on for the end of la semana del derecho (law school’s week) that caught our attention, but I explained that the campus isn’t usually that crazy. I took her to Café Cultural, where my friends and I spend most of our time on campus, and we saw some friends on the way. It was fun getting to introduce Mom to the new friends I had made, both intercambios and peruanos. She got a pan con huevo y café con leche (egg sandwich and coffee with milk) from Café Cultural, and then we decided to go to an anthropology & archaeology museum in Pueblo Libre.

The museum was in a refurbished mansion and had extensive collections of artifacts from the different indigenous people of Peru. That was the first time I realized how rich all of the other indigenous cultures were. Before that, I had mostly read and heard about the Inca, who are just the most recent of many tribes to inhabit and influence Peru and its culture.

After our tour, we stopped at the hostel, then took a cab to Parque de la Reserva (the fountain park). We met up with Colleen and enjoyed the pretty sights for a while before heading over to the food tents Julia and her Peruvian boyfriend, Luis, had recommended we check out. We chose the first tent we saw and ordered our first anticucho (cow heart), but I wouldn’t tell Mom what it was until we were done eating.

After our first good night’s sleep in a while, we got up the next morning and headed over to Lima Centro, where the Plaza de Armas is located. We had breakfast at a little menu place, then watched el cambio de guardia (changing of the guard) at the President’s house. We went to the San Francisco Cathedral and took a tour of the catacombs, which were just as spooky and mysterious the second time around. After grabbing lunch from the same menu place, we took a cab back home and packed up our stuff for the weekend trip to Huancayo.

We took a cab to my house in Jesus Maria, unpacked and repacked some of our things, and managed to squeeze in a quick Skype date with my dad and Nick before dinner. We had dinner at Costa Verde, a restaurant in Barranco that is literally on the ocean. After a delicious and filling three-course meal, we were sleepy and satisfied. When we got home, my mom met Meredith and Michelle, two of the girls I live with, and got to talk to them and my host mom, Esther, for a while. Then she went upstairs to nap before our trip.

After a quick cab ride, we boarded our bus at the Cruz del Sur station on Javier Prado and settled in for our overnight trip to Huancayo. For some reason they decided to play a very well-done, but incredibly sad movie, so my mom and I couldn’t help but watch it, and afterwards we couldn’t stop thinking or talking about it. Then the passengers around us began to wake up and vomit, so I tried to distract my mom so she (with her weak stomach) wouldn’t throw up either. While she felt the beginnings of an asthma attack coming on (we were going over a very high pass, where the air feels thin and you feel as if you can’t breathe in enough air, no matter how hard you try), I was trying my hardest not to vomit.

Somehow we both fell asleep for about an hour of the seven hour journey, and when we woke up the sun was rising and we were closing in on Huancayo. Happy to be off the bus, we caught a cab to the plaza where I expected to find a hostel quite easily, since that’s always how it has worked in the other parts of Peru I’ve visited. Not the case in Huancayo: Every hotel and hostel we stepped foot in was completely booked, save for some seedy quad rooms. Mom was getting out of breath again and nervous about having an asthma attack, so I left her in one hostel lobby while I took a cab around town trying to find us one.

Eventually I found Hotel Turistico Huancayo, where they had a double for much more than I would every pay with my friends, but I felt bad about the way the trip had gone so far, and I wanted Mom to be comfortable, so I booked the pricey double. After picking her up from the hostel she was waiting in, we had breakfast at our hotel while waiting for our room to be ready. Always watching out for me, Mom told the front desk we would take any double they had available because she thought her daughter was going to be sick. I was in the bathroom while she was inquiring about this, and I’ve never seen my face look greener, so I was very thankful she pulled some strings so we could get our room early. We quickly crawled into our beds and slept until noon.

Feeling a little better, we ventured out to the Cruz del Sur station to buy our return tickets for the next afternoon. We ran into Kelly and her mom, Sugi, there, which was a pleasant surprise. We’d been trying to meet up with them all week, but since Kelly had lost her cell phone it was hard to make and keep plans. We walked around for a while together and they dropped us off at a menu place for lunch. At lunch we finally took some altitude medication, and after returning to the hotel for another nap, the medicine began to work!

We were still a little weary and not in the mood for traveling, so we never made it to the artisan valley nearby, but we did experience a little more of Huancayo by walking through the small street markets. We stopped at the mall so Mom could get her first and last look at a Peruvian grocery store (Plaza Vea) and decided to go up to the food court for dinner. Once we were up there we decided to see a movie, since it was getting dark and we didn’t know what else to do.

We saw This Is It, and it was a cool experience watching the movie among a crowd of foreigners. Watching it with Peruvians made me realize how far Michael Jackson’s influence really spanned, and it made me wish, again, I had appreciated him more while he was alive. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment, though.

While I had waited in the line for movie tickets (Peru is full of lots of lines and processes that seem unnecessary to foreigners, but it works for them), my mom sat in the food court and managed to make friends with a family there. She introduced me to the mother, daughter and niece who were also seeing the movie, and we chatted for a while before going into the theater together.

I should explain, Mom’s first language is Spanish, since she was born in the US less than a year after my grandma and grandma came from Puerto Rico. Even though she hasn’t spoken it for a while, her Spanish is still really good and it was cool that we both could communicate with Peruvians while she was here. Even though she has a native tongue, I think she still thought my Spanish was pretty good, so I hope our whole family thinks so too when I get back and I try to speak for them at Christmas.

After the movie, we went back to the hotel and watched a movie (Just Like Heaven) together on TV. Even though it was a pretty ordinary day and night, and we didn’t see many sights, it was time spent with my mom, and I loved it.

The next morning we went to church in the plaza. That was the first time I went to church in Peru, and it was quite the experience. There were easily over 300 people in the church, and most of us were standing. It’s a much more interactive experience than mass at Catholic churches in the US – people were coming and going, looking for new spots, old friends, and saying hello to each other the whole time. We were also lucky enough to witness a first communion, where all the kids wore halos and had angel wings on – it was adorable.

After church we had breakfast then went to the famed Huancayo market. La Feria Dominical (Sunday fair) of Huancayo is known all over Peru, and for good reason: On the street where the market took place, there were white tents as far as the eye could see. Once we realized a good part of the market was made up of more typical clothing, shoes and food, we were relieved to know we only had about six blocks to cover. We didn’t have much time so we skimmed many booths without buying anything.

But somehow, in about 90 minutes, we accumulated un monton (a ton) of stuff. We filled a large reusable plaid bag with the majority of our purchases, and carried the rest in the plastic bags from venders. We got great deals on everything, but I’m not going to detail what exactly we bought. There’s a chance that many of them will be Christmas presents for some of you who are reading this!

We rushed back to our hotel for our bags, then rushed to the bus station and checked our extra bags and boarded the bus. Luckily, the afternoon was a much better experience than the overnight one had been. Mom and I each slept for a while, but we both watched Angels and Demons, the second movie played, and also made friends with a limeña woman sitting next to us.

After a cab ride back to my house in Jesus Maria, we unpacked, organized, and repacked my mom’s suitcases. She had brought a huge suitcase filled with donations for a project Julia is doing (post on that later), so we left the donations in my room and filled that suitcase up with all of our Christmas purchases. We called my dad and told him we were about to take her to the airport, then after we talked for a while, we left.

We held hands the whole way there, and it was hard saying goodbye. After we left, I looked back because I’d forgotten to give her tissues for the allergies she’d been bothered by that day, and I realized that was the last time I would see her for six weeks. Six weeks isn’t very long, I know, but I was still a little sad.

Overall, we had an awesome visit and I am so happy my mom came to visit me. Now she knows my place, yet another one that will forever hold a piece of my heart, and because she knows and loves it too, I hope one day we can all come back as a family and I can show my dad this wonderful country.

Sorry for the lack of entries lately, I’m starting to get a little irked by how little time I have left here, and how that little bit of time is flying by, so I’ve been trying to find ways to aprovechar my time here, and blogging has not been one of them.

This weekend, I’m going to the Amazon with some of my friends! You can expect a post on that, probably delayed like this one, sometime in the next week. And not long after that, I’ll be done with classes – scary!

Rainforest SOS

•November 5, 2009 • 1 Comment

Sorry to get all political, but I just saw an intriguing commercial while watching CNN and wanted to share my own thoughts and get yours.

I thought the approach was good, the frog kept me interested and of course having so many well-known celebrities helped keep my attention. I definitely support efforts to raise awareness of global climate change, but…

Save the rainforests? Really? I’m thinking/hoping all of those celebrities appeared pro-bono, but it just seems like a weak cause. Yes, the rainforests are going away, dangerously quickly. But this group’s objectives seem a little weak, considering all the potential power these people could bring to a project with more concrete, less generic, more acheivable goals:

The Prince’s Rainforests Project’s work is focused on two very specific aims.The first is to raise awareness of the damaging effects of deforestation for everyone. The second is to identify appropriate incentives that will encourage rainforest nations to stop burning down vast areas of valuable forests.

If we’re getting technical, this does relate to Peru, since we do have a part of the Amazon right here within our borders. There are ongoing debates and discussions about how the Peruvian government should manage this huge resource.

Do you think this campaign is, or will be, effective? Do you know of other causes that seem to have more concrete goals of improving dire situations like disappearing natural resources?

PS: Having cable and watching TV feel weird! Definitely enjoying living the (temporary) high life with my mom while she’s here : )