Almost three weeks have gone by since I arrived in Peru and it has been quite the journey thus far. Most importantly, my classes were suspended for a week due to a national environmental crisis which put everything on pause. There have been floods and landslides all over the country that have destroyed homes and put the country in a panic. There’s nothing quite like not knowing the word for “landslide” and having everyone around you talking about them in a serious/panicked way (huaycos = landslides in case you ever need to know). Since Lima gets its water from the river Rimac which was one of the rivers affected, water to the entire city was cut off for several days. Luckily, the house I live in has tanks to store water, so I was never completely without, but many of my classmates and neighbors were. The prices of common goods have increased tremendously as there is a scarcity. My host mother told me that never has there been in her lifetime an event to this magnitude. Normally, when there are floods and landslides, they only happen in one region of the country and other regions can help out, but in the case of the recent huaycos, the whole country has been affected. It seems to me that this would be a time in which foreign aid would be very well received and appreciated. It has been disappointing to me to see the lack of coverage of such a momentous humanitarian crisis in the US media. Last count I heard, at least 75 people have died as a result of the floods and many many more are injured. If you have spare change, please consider donating to the Peruvian red cross. Many many many people all over the country are still without basic resources.
During the first week of classes, international students are not official enrolled. We just get to attend whatever classes seem interesting to us to determine which ones we want to take and then register the following week. However, due to the cancellation of classes, we did not enroll this past Monday as planned. If all goes well (which I believe it will as Lima has water once again and it appears the rains have mostly stopped), I will finally register for classes this upcoming Monday. It’s funny because immediately after I stand in line to register for classes at my university here, I will need to get on my computer to register for my classes at Ole Miss for fall 2017 as my registration window opens the exact same day. It has been a little stressful still not knowing 100% which courses I am going to be enrolled in. Also, having a free week during which I could not travel (because it is not safe to do so due to the floods) in a city I do not know well (that has CRAZY public transportation) and not knowing that many people yet (because classes really haven’t started) has been stressful for me as well.
The transportation here deserves it’s own paragraph as it has been my biggest hurdle so far. In Mississippi, I am so accustomed to just being able to hop in my car and take myself to wherever I need to go. And when I travel to cities within the US, I am accustomed to either walking down the street or using the public transportation system that is clearly mapped out. In Boston for example, I could put my destination in google maps and see different potential routes I could take with public transportation. In Lima, however, this is not the case. My family tells me it is not that safe to walk where we live and the bus routes are not online and they have no map. In order to get to another part of the city, you need to kind of already know how to get there. When you get on the bus, you tell the money collector where you are going and pay accordingly. It is best to already have an idea of how much it will cost so you don’t get overcharged. If you take the micros, you really have to know where you are going because they only stop at the places you need. It is necessary to remind the driver that you need to get off at a certain street before it passes you by. Taxis here also are not the safest, especially when you are a solo woman. After a week of struggling, I am finally starting to get the hang of the transportation, but initially I was pretty frustrated at my inability to quickly and efficiently move about the city. I have talked with Peruvian friends about the public transportation and they also say that it is one of the things they wish was more organized.
If you are studying abroad in order to improve language efficiency, host families really are the best. I am blessed to live with an extremely supportive family. During my first week here, my host mother made me cry (in the good way) by telling me something I did not even realize I needed to hear. After a full day of orientation, I came back pretty exhausted and tired and felt very burnt out. Over dinner, my host mother told me without any prompting from me that I needed to stop thinking so much about grammar and just let the words come out. “I recognize it because I had the same experience when I learned French – I had studied it but never really practiced it and then when it came time to speak, I wouldn’t because I was scared of being wrong. You speak Spanish well. Just stop thinking and let it out.” It is really nice to have a family to confide in after long days spent with friends. The other day, I went and watched a dubbed version of Beauty and the Beast (La Bella y La Bestia) with my host mother’s son and kids. It is a marvellous film and it was so fun to hang out with the kiddos and it was good practice to watch the film in Spanish.
I am also lucky to have met a few really supportive friends. Before coming to Peru, I underestimated how draining it would be to be fully immersed in a foreign language. It can be frustrating to hang out with friends and not be able to fully participate in the dialogue due to my lack of language knowledge. But again, without prompting from me, one of my Mexican friends told me last night that I am doing very well and I have a lot of potential for speaking the language. This kind of reassurance helps my spirit so much. I have learned during my time here in Peru that I am very impatient with myself. I want that after 3 weeks I am able to fully express all of my thoughts and understand everything everyone says (no matter if they are from Peru, Colombia, Mexico or Chile with completely different accents), but language acquisition just does not work this way. I have learned that I constantly need to remind myself that I have only been here 3 weeks (without really taking classes) and even the other international students who are native Spanish speakers have difficulty understanding each other. Sometimes in English I do not understand what the person just whispered to me. Sometimes in English I do not remember what that person’s name is. Sometimes in English it just takes a while to learn how to travel around a new city. Sometimes in English I am not sure how to contribute to a conversation. These things are normal and not something to beat myself up over. Patience with myself is difficult but extremely vital.
I also know that I already have improved in my time here and that once I am taking classes I will improve that much more. And, fortunately, people still want to be my friend even though I speak broken Spanish so that’s cool haha. I am constantly thankful for people wanting me to tag along with them to explore the city. I guess this means I am not as socially uncomfortable as I feel like I am (yet another example of being too hard on myself) hahaha. I have also discovered that constantly asking questions is a great technique for me. Not only does it help me ensure that I understand what is going on, but also it shows that I am engaged in the conversation.
This week I have had the opportunity to explore the catacumbas of Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima, swim in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, visit the Museo del Arte Lima (MALI) among other things. I very much enjoyed MALI. My favorite exhibit was a series of 700 photographs of books that were seized from the terrorist group the Shining Path by Peru’s anti-terrorism agency. While many of the books were about marxism, there were also a few books that seemed to have just been pleasure reading. Very thought provoking work. Also at the museum, I saw a sign for the 3er Festival Internacional de Música de Alturas (FIMA), which I am planning on going to tonight as it as free. Super pumped about it. My time here in Peru has just begun and so many new experiences await me 🙂
Almost forgot to include!! My birthday!! I turned twenty-one 4 days after I arrived here in Peru. My host family prepared me a birthday lunch (riquisimo!) and after a day of orientation, there was a party on campus for all of the cachimbos (first semester students… basically “freshman” but us international students are included too). I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday party. At one point, the DJs called international students up to the stage and we participated in a dance off in which I was one of the finalists. As a result of this, I have had some cachimbos in my classes that already know who I am because they recognize me as the girl from the US that danced on the stage hahaha. Then, later that night, I went out with some new friends and then hung out in one new friend’s apartment. It truly was a great day. Everyone, even though we didn’t know each other well yet, made me feel so special. Spending your birthday in a foreign country with new people is a great way to break the ice and make new friends.
Also, other random thing: from my bedroom window I hear certain noises. Early in the morning, a man selling bread passes through the street on a motorcycle honking a little horn. If you want to buy bread, you go outside when you hear him come by. Also, there is a person that comes by every so often to sharpen kitchen knives. He also passes through the street making a certain noise that if you hear it, and need your knives sharpened, you run outside to have it done. It’s a different way of doing things, but I kinda like it.