Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A traveler and not a tourist

Please be a traveler and not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what is right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in. 
-Andrew Zimmern

As I sit enjoying my last few hours in Lima, I can't agree more with this quote. Not that I wouldn't consider myself a tourist (which I definitely am), but that the most amazing thing about our world is that we get to live in it. It's not a stagnant mausoleum meant to be passed through without touching. 

It's a messy, glorious slop of human life that is never repeated and can never be captured in a few still frames or blog entries.

We are meant to be travelers in this life, actively taking part in whatever comes and not shying away from the difficult, the awkward or uncomfortable.

A tourist would surely avoid such occurrences in a foreign country. Trying desperately to feel as much "at home" as possible, the tourist would stay only in the well-ranked hotels, visit each place dictated to them by the author of their guidebook, and only see what they planned on while ignoring everything else.

And isn't that just what I have been guilty of in life? Consulting my itinerary instead of God's, always searching for what is next instead of relishing in what I have before me and never taking the time to look up from my map long enough to realize that although I may have gotten lost, I've come to an even better destination?

My trip, which was spent doing mostly the same things I do back home in Denver (going to work, intending to get up and run but oversleeping instead, being somewhat awkward at social events), would probably be considered a failure according to most travel guides. But, nonetheless, I visited a place I never thought I would and met people I would have never known otherwise. And to me, that is the best kind of journey anyone could ask for.

I never made it to Machu Picchu, but I began to recognize some patterns in the otherwise chaotic and random Lima traffic.

I didn't take a million pictures, but I did memorize the routes to the park and coffee shop.

I still speak barely any Spanish, but I know some of the faces of people I passed daily on the streets.

I went to the birthday party of someone I didn't even know (or speak the same language as) and actually danced.

I rode in multiple taxis, one bus and discovered I am braver and more capable than I realized.

I took a risk a met up with someone I barely knew (and had next to nothing in common with) for coffee.

I was called “mi hermana” by the little girl whose room I was borrowing for two weeks.

I consistently embarrassed myself by using the few phrases I thought I knew in the wrong context and learned that a smile can speak more than perfect dialect and vocabulary.

And, above all else, I realized this world is a hell of a lot bigger than I'd ever imagined and I've only just seen a fraction. 

For whatever reason, I have a place in it right now, and that is a gift from God. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Upon further reflection, as usual

Quite possibly one of the most awkward, but refreshing, dates I have been on in a while (OK, I don't date a lot [read: at all] so let's call it ever, just to be fair).

I met up with an acquaintance I'd met at a friend of a friend's birthday party in Lima last week. Our first encounter was him trying to teach me how to dance and saying that I needed to move my hips more.

Except, he didn't know what the word was and even though I told him, he kept pronouncing it "tips."

So, Miguel spends the evening telling me I needed to move my "tips" more for Latin dancing and I tried my best to comply, but mostly I just stared at his feet and tried to match his steps.

Later on, he pulled me over in front of his friend with a camera, so thankfully the whole disaster was documented for posterity:
Nice shoes, hombre.
Before I left, he called me over by gesturing with his hands in a way that usually means, "Shoo! Go away!" But, he kept saying, "Come, come!" So I walked over to see that his friend has already uploaded the pictures to his laptop and Miguel wanted to show me because he was "so happy that I have pictures of you now!"


Despite my better judgement, I told him my actual name so he could find me on facebook and, lo and behold, I had a friend request from the guy who kept telling me I needed to move my "tips" more and was so happy to have pictures of me.

I met up with him for coffee (in broad daylight and after telling Ursula a million times where I was going and exactly when I would be back) and it turns out most of the phrases from our facebook messages that I took to be awkward were so mainly because of the language barrier.

We got to talking and he asked me whether or not I had a boyfriend. When I told him no, he asked why not, which I took to be a cheesy pick-up line, so I laughed at him.

But, he insisted that he honestly wanted to know why not.

I resisted every urge to roll my eyes and appear as the superior sex and then began my well-worn (but slightly politer, for purposes of international relations) tirade against single men in general, but found that the more I tried to explain their issues, I was faced with a blatant avoidance of my problems.

I tried to explain how men just don't know what they want and never take the initiative in relationships. Fair enough, but do I even know exactly what I want? And when have I ever gone out of my way to actually invest in a relationship (to an appropriate extent, of course) with a man for interests other than romance?

At one moment, he asked me point blank to tell him something about myself and I just came up with nothing and changed the subject. Sure, that could be chalked up to prudence, but, more likely was a result of fear. (Perhaps this point will require a separate post later).

Then, I went on to realize that even now, when someone was asking me to tell him about myself, I was avoiding talking about, duh, myself. I realized that even though I want to be known, I have a very hard time letting anyone in for fear of you name it (rejection, judgement, misunderstanding, pain, all around awkwardness in general) to the point that I will only let anyone in once they have proven they are absolutely-without-a-doubt-totally-100%-trustworthy to me.

So, Miguel, to answer your question honestly, I am not seeing anyone somewhat because of outside circumstances (travel for work, just haven't met the right guy), but mostly because I have operated from a position of mistrust of others for most of my life and am still trying to break out of it (and probably always will be).

Furthermore, I have an extremely difficult time being vulnerable (I should probably note that "vulnerable" for phlegmatic melancholic introverts like me is probably the same thing as daily interactions for extroverts ... or so I imagine) with anyone save a few close friends and family members (and now apparently anyone reading this blog ... double yikes) which makes it, in turn, difficult for others to open up to me in a way that goes beyond surface level.

So, thanks for the cup of coffee and self-revelation.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Otro dirección!

Here's a few highlights of Peru so far:

I narrowly escaped an international crisis this morning when I failed to understand what Ursula's daughter wanted for breakfast.

Her brother (dressed as un policia, of course) got some cereal and yogurt and apparently she wanted some too. Simple enough, right? Well, not in my case. It was this liquid-y, drinkable yogurt, so I thought she wanted a glass of it to drink.

No, no she did not.

I poured a cup of yogurt for her which set off screams heard all throughout the house, after which my co-worker came down and had to repair my failed attempts at international diplomacy by giving her a bowl and cereal. I ran away upstairs to google more Spanish phrases besides, "No comprendo! Lo siento!"

The other night I went to Mass alone and took a cab home, which is a little difficult with my inability to verbally communicate. Ursula had written out directions I should give the cab driver, which I did. Halfway through the ride, I thought I saw the park that was right next to her house, but instead of turning right, we continued straight and went in (what I thought was) the exact opposite direction of Ursula's casa.

"Senor, mi casa es otro direction."

"No, no senorita. Lince, si?"

"Uhh, si ... pero, mi casa es otro dirección."

Then he went on to explain that I was an idiot for thinking I knew the way better than he did. Well, not really, but that's what I imagined.

A few more minutes of driving in what I thought was the wrong direction and I began to enter mini panic mode. What if he drops me off at the wrong place and I have to wander the streets of Lima alone and beg for food? Now I'm going to get taken and sent to a commune in the Andes! OK, quick, think of all the self-defense moves you know ... How will I survive on cuy alone?

At which point, we pulled up to Ursula's house.

"Oh, gracias, senor ... lo siento ..."

"De nada, you're just a stupid tourist with no understanding of any of the local culture, language or customs. I forgive you."

Actually, I think it was something about there being lots of traffic and it was night, but that's what I would have said. Thankfully, Peruvians are much more gracious and understanding than I am.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

¿Cómo se dice ... ?

Right now I am in beautiful Lima, Peru and feel even more culture shock than when I was in India, if that's possible. Probably because I am not traveling with a group of white people and need to have everything translated for me because I am a stupid American who chose to study useless French in school instead of practical Spanish.

Here's a quick recap so far:

On the plane over, I sat next to some aging Canadian hippies who were headed to Cuzco to get some energy from the Sacred Valley.

I am staying with my coworker Ursula and her family, which is her husband, her 2 kids and their nanny. Also, sometimes Ursula's mother comes over. She no habla anglais, so we get along well just by using hand gestures and smiling.

The second night I was here we had an earthquake drill which means you have to go stand out on a concrete slab across the street next to the car cage. A car cage is an iron cage with spikes all around it that you lock your car in at night. Yes. A car cage.

Today we had chifa (Peruvian Chinese food) for lunch as an office. This basically consisted of me sitting at a big conference table with 14 Peruvians, 4 of whom spoke English, trying to at least act like I knew what was going on. As far as I could tell, they were talking about a popular television show called Yo Sey and a former president who was a functioning alcoholic.

Every time they would all laugh, I would ask my coworker what was said and he would explain it, resulting in me laughing all by myself at some cultural reference I didn't understand, but knew I had to laugh at because he had taken great pains to explain it to me.

After lunch I received an email from one of my coworkers that said, "You are the girl that is in the office now!" I used Google Translate to tell her, "Sí, soy la chica de la oficina!" and then asked her if she is the one who wears glasses. It is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Later that evening, Ursula and I drove to her mother's house to pick up the kids, the nanny and her mom. She drives a tiny Toyota, but luckily Peruvians are very small. So, as we are leaving, Ursula gives Jose Miguel his airplane that my boss, Alejandro, brought him from America. It is at that moment when we realize that I have forgotten the stuffed puppy that he brought for Maria Louisa. I realized this because all we could hear from the back seat is "Mi perrito! Mi perrito! Mi perrrrritoooooo!" for the next 20 minutes while weaving in and out of Lima traffic. Ursuala kept apologizing to me even though I was the one who abandoned the perrito.

Lima traffic might actually be more terrifying than Mumbai traffic because there is more room on the roads resulting in higher speeds and harder breaking.

We stopped at the market to pick up some fruit on the way home. Jose Miguel and I followed Ursula to the fruit stand where I would point to an item and ask him, "Como se llama en anglais?" and he would tell me as best he could. Then he would just point to a piece and say, "Oler!" which Urusula had to tell me meant, "Smell this!" I had my nose to an avocado when an hombre muy guapo walked up and stared at me. Excelente.