Random Impressions of Peru Written to Pass the Time . . .

Noise.  Dirt. Stares. Giggles. Dry.

Before I left the states, I interviewed the students going on the trip and asked them what five words come to mind when they think of our trip.  They said things like fun, different, exciting.  My words, recorded above, were chosen, I recognize, AFTER being here over a week.  And I am sitting in an Internet cafe, one of the noisiest places in the country, I think, and I am not feeling well — which is clearly affecting me.  🙂  I´ll try coming up with five more words once I am safe and sound at home, but for now, let me try to explain.

Noise. In the cities, at least, there is never a quiet time of day or night.  Outside my hotel room is the rooftop laundry ¨room¨and food pantry. The laundry is washed in a little electric washing machine (the size of a mini-fridge) and then hung out to dry on multiple clotheslines.  The Señorita did our laundry yesterday, and it´s GREAT to have clean clothes!  The food pantry consists of two animal pens, one with ducks and ducklings and another with guinea pigs.  Yup.  Dinner!  The animals are fed in the morning about 6:30.  At 6:15 they scream for their food.  Did I mention my window is RIGHT by their pens?  Even with ear plugs, a necessary item when coming on this trip, I can hear their hungry cries.  The guines pigs sound as if they are in pain, but I am just not used to their high-pitched squeals. 

On the city streets, there is constant traffic.  The most plentiful vehicle is a three wheel motorcycle type thing that I described earlier.  We used these when we arrived at Huarmey bus station.  There is a constant bustle and to-and-fro-ing in the cities.  Granted, the mountain villages are much quieter.  Especially when there is no electricity, they call it an early night.  But in the cities, noise, noise, noise.  Oh, and add to the traffic the yells of passersby, the music blaring, the televisions blaring, and it can feel pretty overwhelming.

Dirt.  I want to say first off that I am not a fastidious person about cleanliness.  I know some people that have to have two or three showers a day and keep everything in their houses spotless.  I am not like that.  Here in Peru, city and countryside alike, everything is dirty.  Even the medical clinics are really dirty: floors, walls, surfaces, bathrooms.  My sense is that water is precious and not used for cleaning.  Cleaning chemicals are expensive and thus not used either.  Who can blame them?  And this doesn´t really bother me, but it is something I notice.  Such a different world in this regard.

Stares.  I am almost constantly being stared at.  Openly and without any attempt to hide it.  Big eyes, gaping mouths at times, other times just a blank stare.  This was especially marked in the mountains, but I get it everywhere.  It reminds me of when I traveled in Greece when I was studying abroad in college.  Being a blonde woman, I was considered fair game by the Greek men, who used to grab me in the streets and touch my hair.  In Peru, I have never had anyone grab me, but the stares evoke the same feeling.  It feels weird to be an object of scrutiny.  On the other hand, I am definitley someone who sticks out.  Come to think of it, I do not think I´ve seen a single blond person since I´ve been in Peru, even in Lima.  Hey, that´s pretty weird, I guess.  But we are not really in the tourist places, so this is not surprising.

Giggles.  In the mountains, we are figures who evoke giggles from the Quechua women. They laugh at us openly, loudly, and long.  No doubt, they think we look pretty funny.  And frankly, I think they look pretty funny, too!  They wear flourescent colors, shiny fabric, and multiple layers.  SO BRIGHT.  Looks strange to me.  So, of course, we must look doubly strange to them, not only becasue we are not dressed like them but because they do not have the advantage of having seen pictures of gringos before (though I have seen pictures of Quechua women wearing such clothes).

Dry. Much of the area we are traveling in is very dry, and it feels like all the moisture in us is being sucked right out into the air of Casma.  I am pounding almost three litres of water every day to keep from getting dehydrated, yet I still always feel dry-mouthed.  We are in a desert, of course.  And that is what it feels like in such climates.  I remember traveling last summer in the American Southwest and experiencing the same sort of feeling.  Only there, we had an airconditioned car and restaurants and hotel.  We are SO SPOILED in America! 

I realize this is rather a negative post.  Sorry about that.  Yet this is my real experience of Peru at present.  Feeling this way does not negate the fact that I have laughed every day, long and hard, and enjoyed many encounters with warm and welcoming Peruvians.  Feeling this way does not negate the fact that I have done some good here, a small amount of good compared to my engineering friends, but still, I have helped in my way.  And feeling this way does not make me wish I hadn´t come.  Despite being sick, tired, and uncomfortable, I am glad I came. A once in a lifetime opportunity to catch a glimpse of another world.

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