Note: I started writing this post while in the Lima Airport (a bit sentimental, sorry!!), and finished it after being back in the States for about two weeks, hence there is a break in thoughts.
I have so many thoughts as I depart from this beautiful country of Peru. My first question is when will I be back, hopefully sooner rather than later. I have had the best last couple of days, capping off an amazing eight weeks.
One of my goals for while I was abroad was to form relationships with the people, and really, in good byes, you realize the relationships you’ve made and the impact you’ve had. Never did I think I would visit every department of the clinic to say goodbye to my friends and express my thanks to everyone. And even more so, I didn’t expect so many people to tell me not to leave, and when I said I had to go, to send me off with such kind words, blessings, and hopes for my future. And then, don’t even get me started on my family. The love they have showed me through the food they have cooked for me (all of it sooo delicious), the knowledge and wisdom they have shared with me about pharmacy, Spanish, cooking, religion, and life in general, and the time they have spent with me in conversation, around Cusco, and just chilling- I will truly miss them!
Everything I have learned- whoa! Clearly, I can’t write everything down. Even if I wanted to, some things are truly unable to be expressed in words and must just be experienced and felt. But, in words… I have learned how to make Arroz Chaufa (Chinese rice), apple pie, lomo saltado, chocolate caliente, mate, mochas, papas fritas, rice… and the list continues. I have also learned lots about health care in Peru: from insurances to the history and development of all the clinics and health care system in Cusco, to antibiotics and Metamizol (not available in the states), to observing doctor’s appointments, surgery, and births. Also, my Spanish has improved majorly (at least I think it has). I’ve gotten to the point where, at least in Cusco (remember they talk slower and cleanly) I can understand almost anything (as long as it isn’t really weird vocab). In addition, I have gotten really good at ducking through doorways. I was struggling a bit these last few days to remember my bottle of water to brush my teeth at night when we had no water, but I got pretty good at that too! Also it is natural now for me to throw my toilet paper in the trash. I will definitely have some re-acclamation challenges when I get back to the states!
Also, let me just say a word about my sisters in Peru: Terese, Kiersten, Taylor and Laine (the four other US students in my house). Basically they are pretty awesome. We are from four states, different families, interests, and backgrounds. We are studying different subjects (but all studying Spanish) and attend different schools. Despite these differences, we had some of the best mealtime conversations, spontaneous story time sessions, hardest laughs, and deepest conversations! A couple memories to share. One night, Laine tells us that she can sing opera… but only one word. Intrigued we pressure her to sing for us. And she does, “Wyyy-ooooming!” So loud, so opera-y-ly beautiful, and so funny. We were cracking up for a while! Also our new game: What are the chances. Basically you dare someone to do something crazy and then think of a number. If the two people say the same number, the person has to complete the task. So, one Saturday afternoon when we were eating trout for lunch (skin, fins, head and all on our plates) Taylor decides to play with eating the fished eye ball. Laine and Taylor said the same number, so Taylor ate that eyeball- she said it popped in her mouth! EWWW! Another memory: Kiersten, Terese and I were walking near the plaza and a man handed me a business card advertising tattoos and piercings. Not really interested in this business card, I decided to trade for a message card from these women who are constantly offering massages, “Masaje lady, 25 soles.” So I took a card from her and replaced it with the tattoos/piercing card- not what she was expecting. Then, I had a massage business card, also didn’t really need it. So I made it my mission to get someone else to take it from me. Everyone we passed I offered it to them, “Masaje!” Finally when I added to my sales pitch a woman took the card. Sold!
I will miss my Peruvian Life!!
OK… back in the states for two weeks. Thoughts:
Toughest question upon return: What was the best part of/favorite thing in Peru?
My answer: Everything. The culture, the language, the food, the people, the dancing, the clinic, the friends, my family, the pace of life, the beauty of the mountains and environment… it goes on and on. When other people answer for me, they say I miss the salsa dancing the most, which I do miss a lot, that is true, but maybe not most.
Least favorite thing in Peru: The cold weather was a bit hard to adjust to, especially while missing the Minnesota summer (although I hear it was rainy while I was away).
Most difficult adjustment while in Peru: As a joke, the altitude, although I could feel a difference, it wasn’t that bad. My stomach could feel a difference in mealtimes, with everything pushed back later. Being extremely tall in a predominantly short world took a bit of adjustment. Probably toughest thing was figuring out how to dress for the weather, no joke. It would be chilly in the morning, hot in the afternoon and freezing at night. There was always the question, should I bring a jacket? Scarf? And the phrase, “You’re hot then you’re cold,” borrowed from Katy Perry seemed to be the theme of my stay.
Most difficult adjustment back in the US: Well, I adjusted to throwing toilet paper in the toilet again, pretty quickly. All I wanted to do at first was speak in Spanish with my sister, but for my parents’ sake, she made me speak some English on the way back from the airport. I think the lifestyle is honestly most different. In Peru, there seemed to be, more or less, all the time in the world. I would take public transportation somewhere, and it would take 45 minutes, but I often didn’t even notice. Here, everything is on a strict time schedule and I have a continually long to-do list. I wouldn’t say either concept of time or lifestyle is good or bad, they are just different and very cultural.
Favorite food: Well, I ate a lot of ice cream! Many Princesa (popular candy bar of chocolate and peanut butter) McFlurries from McDonalds. But my favorite food was probably Lomo Saltado. My host parents made it for me for my last lunch in Peru- how sweet!! And it basically is beef and lots of vegetables and French fries with a sauce, served with rice. Yum! (I learned how to make it so hopefully I can attempt to recreate it!
Craziest thing I did: Now to answer this, we would need to define crazy, but a couple things come to mind. I climbed to the top of a mountain. I jumped into Lake Titicaca. The fact that I lived in a foreign country, only speaking Spanish was pretty cool. I learned how to salsa dance and even took lessons from a dance studio. So much fun! A wild monkey climbed on me in the jungle. I licked and ate termites off a tree in the Amazonian jungle. They tasted kind of minty. I saw two natural births and a C-section. I held a baby boy, less than an hour old. I made local friends, even running into them on the combi or in the plaza! I ate raw fish. I ate guinea pig. …lots of crazy, fun and adventurous things!
Biggest cultural mistake: This one is a bit tougher. I definitely messed up with introductions a few times. It is customary to give a kiss on the right cheek to everyone every time you come or go. Since that is far from normal in the United States, sometimes I would forget to give a beso (kiss) when getting home, leaving or meeting new people. I did get it down eventually, but it took a little while. And then challenge #2 came when I would wear my glasses and maneuvering so I wouldn’t take people out with my glasses!
Funniest moment: This could be answered with countless stories. However, many laughs surround the fact that I am so tall. One day I was walking through a market and a woman at a stand spoke to me, asking if I could screw in the light bulb above her stand. I went over and did it, making the light bulb illuminate, not really thinking much about it. Then a couple of my friends realized the comedic factor of the situation- I really stuck out and we giggled a bit. It was also funny to go dancing. Literally, I think every Peruvian I danced with was shorter than me, most significantly shorter than me. Almost every one would start by jokingly going on their tiptoes. It was funny every time, just because of how predictable it became. Also, one day, I was walking across a pedestrian bridge to meet a friend. On my way down the stairs I completely slipped, and toppled down a few steps, hard. Bruises appeared a few days later. I was laughing at my clumsiness, unfortunately, no one was there to laugh with me (at me).
Times I felt most like a Peruvian: Well, first let me make this clear, I never physically felt like a Peruvian because I looked about as completely opposite as Peruvian as possible. However, I felt extremely Peruvian when I ran into a friend on the combi. I was alone and on my way home from work one afternoon. I sit down on the bus and the person next to me said, “Hola Michelle.” Taken aback (who the heck would know my name!?) it took me a few seconds to realize it was my friend, Bruce! We talked all the way to his bus stop (in Spanish)! I also loved the moments when taxi drivers would try to overcharge me, especially at the airport when I dropped off a friend. I was able to explain to them that I lived there and knew the usual cost for a taxi. I caught them for thinking I was a tourist! Lastly, there were instances where I successfully used my Spanish to explain myself, or argue for a fair price (foreigners are constantly overcharged). I didn’t necessarily feel “Peruvian,” but I was able to successfully use my Spanish, which felt pretty cool!
Most touching moment: Ok, now there were lots of these, but not to get too sappy, I personally loved when my host mom would introduce me as her daughter. One day we were at the zoo, and she knew some people there. She proudly told them that, Terese, another American student, and I were her daughters. This is especially funny due to the lack of resemblance in looks. Also my host dad would call us American host daughters princesses! Just a wee bit of sap: the kindness a sincere send off I received from friends and coworkers was pretty darn meaningful!
Biggest lesson learned: I am still attempting to wrap my head around this lesson, but it was sometimes difficult for me to understand and accept some of their health beliefs (and this mostly was from experiences in my house, not in the clinic). There are many home remedies in Cusco, and many strong beliefs for example, in temperature affecting health. For example, if you have a cough, you can only drink warm beverages (e.g. tea or warmed up juice) and if it continues, you can’t take a shower for three days. I’m not saying these things don’t make a difference, in fact the warm beverages thing seemed to help, but these non-biomedical beliefs are different than what I am used to and what I will be trained in as a pharmacist. After talking to one of my pharmacy professors, who also has his Masters in Public Health and has worked extensively internationally, I learned that although these beliefs and health concepts may seem strange to me, they are logical to someone in some way based on people’s experiences and lives, and they really shouldn’t be thought of as wrong.
Scariest moment: One day while at the clinic, I could hear screaming from the first floor (I was on the second floor at the time). I didn’t know what was happening, but eventually it stopped. An hour or so later, I was in the emergency room observing a lab technician draw blood (I was in the lab that week), when we heard the screaming again and saw a stretcher followed by a whole swarm of doctors, nurses, and techs run into the trauma room. The lab technician whom I was with was called into that room to draw blood, so I followed. It turned out the young woman was schizophrenic, and having a psychotic episode. By the time we got there, she had been sedated and everything was calming down.
Most beautiful view: You choose!