Hasta La Vista
A bright eyed child runs up to you in a fervor of giddy excitement. He bounces on the soles of his feet, floppy sun hat bobbing over the top of his head and hands dancing around as if enacting an intricate Salsa dance. He has come to ask you a question, because you’re the teacher, but when the words come tumbling out of his mouth they dissolve into an indecipherable avalanche of rolled r’s and oddly pronounced vowels. You’re left grasping for meaning, struggling to piece together any type of coherent thought, but your attempts collapse like a band that has a shitty drummer. There’s no steady rhythm in your world, only dissonance, self loathing, and chaos.
I use this short story to elucidate my struggles with learning Spanish while here in Perú. When you come to a country with the intent of learning that country’s language, and you still experience anxiety when engaging in small talk with a taxi driver, it’s disheartening. I undoubtedly improved, but there was a Colombian couple on my trek to Machu Picchu, and I simply couldn’t establish a relationship with them.
If you’ve ever engaged in a conversation with someone who only knows the basics of English, you’d be familiar with the moment when the other person kind of just nods and smiles because their language limitations leaves them with nothing else to say. We don’t deeply connect with other people by asking how many sisters they have or what their job is, we establish bonds through detailed stories that expose our dreams, desires, and vulnerabilities. We establish bonds with situational jokes concerning shared experiences, and my rudimentary Spanish skills limited my relationship with the Colombians to nothing more than a friendly smile.
Miscommunication is one of the greatest causes of human misery, so despite my linguistic shortcomings, I hope to stick with it. There are 400 million native Spanish speakers worldwide, and that’s a whole lot of blank and confused looks I’d rather not face.
*Sidenote: You never realize how many conversations you eavesdrop on in public until you can’t understand the language of the conversations that find their way to your ears.
Another battlefield in the domain of international travel was the occasional bout of homesickness. To preface this, people often say homesickness is a matter of perspective. Homesickness should make us grateful, for it means we have a home worth missing.
That said, when a wave of volunteers leave on the same day one of your favorite bands (Car Seat Headrest) plays at your favorite venue (The Fillmore), you get sad. Suddenly, the Peruvian winter is just cold and dry rather than different and endearing, and the dog shit and exhaust fumes on the streets is annoying and gross rather than an interesting experience.
And homesickness builds. The first cracks may appear due to Car Seat Headrest or a particular memory, but then you start to miss your cat, the smell of your backyard, and the camaraderie of doing stupid shit with your friends. One thing leads to another, and next thing you know you’re half naked on the cobblestone streets of Cusco, crying into the shoulder of a Peruvian homeless man whose leather jacket smells like stale Doritos, and you tremble and beg for enough money to warm yourself through the frigid winter night.
In my actual experience, the homesickness was fleeting. In the moment it struck like a cannonball, but in time it faded to the background irritation of a tame mosquito bite.
And now that I’ve reflected on the more challenging parts of my trip, here are some fun tidbits and observations:
1.) Driving, especially in Lima, is akin to a post apocalyptic world. Horns are honking, people are cutting other people off, pedestrians cross whenever they please, and nobody seems to give a shit.
2.) In Peruvian markets, there are juice bars that blend up smoothies with all different types of fruits. One particular fruit, Lúcuma, which tastes like a cross between a sweet potato and caramel, had me hooked.
3.) On Lake Titicaca, there is a population of people living on floating reed islands. They float out there, entertaining tourists and eating trout.
And to cap it off, here is one last llama picture:
If you have any interest in looking into the program I volunteered in Perú through, here is a link to their website:
// Gap in The Clouds // Yellow Days
// Queen's Parade // Swimming Tapes
// Stop Smoking (We Love You) // Car Seat Headrest