It was one in the morning, I was thirsty, and after an entire day of airports, planes, and immigration troubles, my brain was too fried for me to speak any language, much less Spanish. The most I could explain to the driver was that I was a student from the United States as I passed by my first sights, sounds, and smells of Lima from the backseat of a taxi. We flew through neighborhood after neighborhood, barrio after barrio, down highways, avenues, and allies. I could feel the pulse of the city beating around me like the rhythmic thumping of a cajón. Casinos, skyscrapers, houses, gente, all filled the streets as we zipped along to the house I would call mi casa for the next five months.
It doesn’t seem right, but already a month has passed since that surrealist midnight trip from the airport to my host home in Miraflores. Since then I’ve enrolled in classes (no Monday or Friday classes!), familiarized myself with a few of the combi routes, attended concerts, traveled outside of the city, tasted a variety of Peruvian foods, and met plenty of wonderful people who have helped me adjust to life here in Lima. Being reduced to basic grammar amidst this process in a new megalopolis is a humbling experience that can only be equated to childhood; that first night agua and gracias were the only words I could manage to sputter before passing out. Luckily, I’ve been placed into a house with a wonderfully sweet señora, Laura, whose daughter, Laura (but we’ll call her Laurita) is a professor at the university I’m attending – Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. From the beginning, I’ve been blessed with a kind translator and mentor for a hermanastra, in addition to a caring and friendly host madre. My Spanish, or Castellano, is improving slowly but surely. While I can keep up with the majority of my professors’ lectures, I still have to ask people on the streets to repeat themselves, which generally leads to them talking louder instead of slower (I said I can’t understand, not that I can’t hear). I can order food, buy cellphone minutes, explain directions to taxi cab drivers, and hear which routes the cobradores are yelling from the windows of buses. However, I still lack the confidence to approach Peruvian students and start a conversation, something I’m hoping to improve upon moving forward.
Surviving as a foreigner – as a gringo – within a city of 8 million people in Latin America has led me to rediscover a simple fact of life: every day is a learning experience and every moment, place, and person is an opportunity to learn from. After one month abroad, I feel that I’ve learned more about my own culture, about my own experiences, and about myself than I ever have before.
And yet, how can I truly translate those experiences? How will you understand what I’ve felt after hearing the soulful melodies of a Quechan folk singer and her charango? How can you know what it is to sink your feet into the sand while looking down upon the oasis of Huacachina after a 5am hike to the top of the dune? Will words truly give you a sense of the taste of a pisco sour hitting the back of your throat, or ceviche on your tongue? How many adjectives does it take in order for you to smell the smoked sandwiches of La Lucha drift across the avenue as you sit in Parque Kennedy petting a tabby cat? Can my photos truly place you there on the beach of Huanchaco as you watch the sunset wash the Pacific in a thousand pastels of pink, orange, and red, the outline of surfers and caballitos set amongst the waves? Sure I can write it in a blog, take a picture, maybe even record a video, but the truth is that experience, unlike language, is untranslatable. “Se hace camino al andar.”
Now that I’ve finally fallen into the rhythm of classes, with each passing day, life in Lima is becoming more comfortable. Sure, I miss the sights and smells of springtime in Bloomington. Yes, I’m sad that there is no pizza here that can hold a candle to Mother Bear’s cheesy goodness. Claro, I miss my friends, my family, and my cat. However, the kindness and guidance of my friends, host family, and even strangers, has helped to curb my homesickness by making me feel that my new home is here in Lima.