I write to you from my modest bedroom in the house that is my home for the next 5 weeks. I am staying with a family of three: Berta & Leo are married, and my parents’ age. Their daughter Christy lives here as well, and works full time. Christy and I are the same age. Their family is almost a mirror of my own. Berta & Leo have a son, older than Christy, who lives in Boston, studying hospitality administration, just like my older brother did.
I am so glad I decided to do a homestay versus living in a shared apartment with other students. Living in a homestay means that I get to share both breakfast and dinner with the family. I’m going to get a rude awakening when I return to North Carolina and have to feed myself like a proper adult – every night, Berta calls out, “Ya, Mawi,” and I hurry to the dining room and find a full plate of deliciousness awaiting me. Berta is a wonderful cook, and has a good eye for presentation. I hardly feel the need to find any authentic peruvian restaurants because she prepares such beautiful and delicious meals.
I’ve been surprised and delighted to discover that I can converse fairly easily at the dinner table in Spanish. We’ve talked a lot about food, our families, the customs in our respective cultures, and our favorite activities. Berta is a runner, and Leo is a yogi.
The house is a 20-25 minute walk from ECELA, the school where I am studying. I could take a bus for about 50 cents one way, but I enjoy the walk. However, walking through Lima’s city streets is not for the faint of heart. No one here observes stop signs. A majority of intersections do not have stop lights, and it is a literal free for all, with drivers on perpendicular streets playing chicken with each other and pedestrians alike.
Last Friday was my first night out on the town. We went to “La Peña de Corajo.” I don’t know the translation – but I think a peña is any type of Peruvian music/show/entertainment. Peruvians like to dance and enjoy themselves into the wee hours of the night. To give you an idea, we met up at 11pm to take a cab to this performance, and we stayed until 2:30 in the morning. The room was still completely full when we left. This isn’t just young people – adults and married couples were out too, dancing, dancing, dancing. There was a stage where the band played, and a dance floor in front of it that functioned as a space for the dance performances as well as a general dance floor. I think maybe you have to put feminism aside if you want to truly enjoy the experience. At one point, the MC invited all the foreigners up to the stage. Each one introduced themselves, said what country they were from, and then was asked to show the audience their finest dance moves. The MC also gave away several free beers, awarding them to whichever audience member raced to the stage first. For instance, “the first man wearing a plaid shirt,” or “the first person from Germany,” or “the woman with the nicest ass.” Like I said, not a great night for feminism, but fun nonetheless.
Needless to say, we all spent the rest of the weekend recovering from the lost sleep. El domingo (on Sunday), I managed to work up the energy to go for a run along the coast. Sundays in Peru couldn’t be more different from Friday nights. Everyone was out with their friends, partners, and children either walking, jogging, rollerblading, or riding bikes. They even close some of the main streets so that cyclers can pass freely. No one seems to be in a rush to get anywhere or do anything, a welcome change from the rest of the week.
The first week felt very full, with four hours of Spanish class per day. ECELA is open to students of all ages and all nationalities, and so far I have met students as young as 16 and older than 35, from the U.S., England, Germany, New Zealand, and South Africa. However, in addition to my spanish classes with a mix of these students, there are 10 of us who study or practice social work in the U.S., and will receive additional instruction about social services in Peru. This past week we had 2 additional lectures from Peruvian social service organizations and the option to participate in some other social activities/excursions. We will also have the opportunity to volunteer with a Peruvian ONG (organización no gubernamental, i.e. NGO). In one week, we will begin our volunteer work, which we are all looking forward to.
I feel lucky to have the means and the opportunity to travel the world, and excited by the notion that I may actually leave Peru speaking Spanish well enough to converse with Latinos and Latinas in the U.S. I also feel entirely undeserving of the hospitality that has been offered to me by my host family. They are very generous and patient. I told Berta that this week I would like her to tell me more about Peruvian politics, and she was thrilled by this request.
¡Eso es todo que tengo decir ahora!
Saludos a todos,