Meghan, outbound to Peru

5 Months. I’ve been in this amazing country for 5 months and each time I think it, hear it, or say it, it gets harder to believe. Life here is different, slower at times and incredibly fast at others, but after 5 months it doesn’t seem like a foreign country anymore. Peru is my home.

Since I last wrote many things have happened. The holidays have passed, I have traveled to many of the cities in southern Peru including Machu Picchu, I have switched families, I have graduated Peruvian high school, I have learned more Spanish than I thought I would ever know, and overall Peru has become my normal.

I guess I will start with holidays; I have passed quite a few holidays since my last journal including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. Halloween here was not a very big deal in my area and was much more for the younger children. My host parents explained that many people believe Halloween to be against their religion and that the whole candy deal was relatively new to Peru either way. Not wanting to miss out I threw my American flag around me and trick tricked (what the Peruvians say instead of trick or treat). It was quite cute really.

The next holiday that passed was Thanksgiving and unfortunately our exchange students weren’t able to get together for the American day and because of being busy, I forgot it was even Thanksgiving until my family back home asked to Skype me. Its funny how insignificant things like Thanksgiving are in reality and even though I thought I would miss it I was surprised at how content I was with just making a salad I usually make in the US to share with my family.

Next came Christmas and man do Peruvians know how to celebrate Christmas! Instead of getting to sleep early to wake up to Santa’s gifts, in Peru you wait up until midnight surrounded by family, excited children, and food. They have a feast set up much like Thanksgiving for Christmas including turkey and stuffing and everyone eats as they wait for midnight to come like we would on New Year's. When the clock stroked 12 we all yelled with joy, set off fireworks, hugged, said our Feliz Navidad’s, and dove into the presents. Here Christmas is much more about family than the gifts and consumerism that I think we sometimes focus on in the states. Santa is not a widely used tradition here and gifts are kept to maybe 5 or 6 smaller things per person. Instead you are surrounded by all your living family with promise of visits from more in the coming days.

Lastly came New Year's. Tradition here is similar to the United States except everyone wears new yellow underwear to bring in the new year. At midnight they also eat grapes as they hug and greet company for a year of friendships.

In these 5 months I’ve also ad a few other big changes. I recently graduated Peruvian high school and attended their Prom and ceremonies. Because I lived in a small town, my school was also very small. My graduating class consisted of one classroom of about 30 students. With such a small amount of kids we all were very close and graduating, going to prom, and celebrating other events were things I could only imagine doing with them. My class was incredibly welcoming and I owe a lot of the good memories and friendships to Colegio Nuevo Mundo.

We graduated the 27th of December with a party and a ceremony, as is custom in Peru. We all walked down the isle in our caps and gowns and were given a yearbook and a medal from the director and owner of the school. Many people gave speeches and as I walked up to receive my yearbook as the very last student, my entire class yelled “OBAMA!” in unison as part of an ongoing joke we had. We then had a dance with our dates, followed by a dance with our fathers which I thought was such a cute intimate thing to do that would never be possible in my school in Florida with its graduating class of over 900 students. We passed the rest of the night dancing and enjoying our final time together.

Another big change I very recently experienced was changing families. I changed my family after New Year's and while I am happy for the new adventure, it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do during my exchange. My host family really became a huge part of my life and I saw them all as real family. The small town I lived in was just an extension of that familiar feeling and as I said goodbye I knew it could only be a see you later because I will have to return before I finish my time in Peru. Things are going great with my new family though, they are very kind, and I now live close to the city and am in slight shock at getting anywhere in under an hour.

I should also throw in experience, and before I tell you about the amazing places I’ve been, I'll tell you about my Spanish, my sense of direction in this huge city, and my general knowledge of Peru. My Spanish is coming along great and I no longer struggle to form sentences and use the right verb tenses in casual conversation. I no longer find myself translating back and fourth in my head and catch myself using Spanish words when I am speaking in English because they just work better, or we don’t have an equal. Becoming fluent in another language is a prize itself, without all the other benefits of exchange, to take back with me.

I’m also very comfortable with Lima now and many of my Peruvian friends will ask me for directions around the city. I am confident using the crazy bus system to go anywhere I may need to be and can even get around new places just fine. Even in my new home I know how to get everywhere. This is probably one of the coolest things for me because I was never directional at all in the States and couldn’t get anywhere without a GPS. I’ve also gained mountains of knowledge about Peru in general. I have gotten to participate in events to help the poor children and this really has become a passion of mine so much that another exchange student and I organized and raised money by ourselves to have a Christmas event for poor children close to the small town where I used to live. A lot of work was put in and when the day finally came around and we were ready, seeing the smiles of the children was the only gift I needed.

Finally you have to know about all the places I’ve visited. I find this the most trivial part, not because the places aren’t absolutely amazing, but because you have to go to really know them. In Spanish the verb to know (conocer) is actually used as the equal to mean that you have visited a place and I think that is really interesting look on travelling. So here is a little list accompanied by some things I wrote in my journal while in these places.

• Ica
• Pisco
• Arica, Chile
• Tortugas
• Casma
• Machu Picchu
• Colca Canyon
• Lago Titicaca
• Puno
• Arequipa
• Tacna
• Cuzco
• Auguascalientes

Here is a little something I wrote in my favorite destination of these Colca:
“I am currently in an absolutely amazing and indescribably beautiful 5star hotel in Colca. This is lucky for me, and not so much for you because photos and words could never do this place justice. I am surrounded by the largest and most plentiful mountains I have ever seen, a rocky-river bed that I am currently resting over, farmland fields, a canyon, and plateaus. I will tell you it’s beautiful, but that’s not the word. I’d settle with majestic, but I’ve used that word before and this place is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

While here I’ve felt so connected yet disconnected at the same time. Seeing the incredible landscapes and scooting across riverbeds to end in a rock formed hot tub is the incredibly intimate experience between yourself, nature, and God. You begin to wonder what other corners of the world you’ve missed, how lucky you were to be placed in this moment, and how your insignificant self plays a role in a world of billions and places like this. Now, I want to know how cities were before they were touched. I want to know every star, planet, and comet I am viewing. I want to speak so many more languages to be able to question and discuss things with the natives. I want to live the basic lives of these people to reverse my societal-taken values. I want to then my home so they know for sure there is so much more.

Being here I feel infinite, like I can change the world. This is the connected part. I look around here and my mind skip to thoughts of my fellow exchange students, travelers, and wanderers alike. The hopeful and the hopeless that are exploring the world and discovering places like this for themselves in other countries as well as Peru. And we are connected. We are changing, with the wind and with the tides, and there are others like me who long to have their breath taken away, and somehow through many miles and many languages, we are connected. …

But then there’s the disconnect. The tragically beautiful realization that no one has the same thoughts as you. That you will never be able to truly describe the places you go, and that you have another life far-far away that is continuing on as normal right now like nothing has changed. You can feel almost empty sometimes, and so full simultaneously. To have these experienced in your heart and mind, it fills the soul immensely. Colca will forever be in my heart. The land, the natives, Colca Lodge… It’s all more than I’ve ever dreamed of and tops all I could have ever dreamed up.”

All in all, I am living an amazing life here. If one word described my exchange it would be opportunity because I just have so much of it! It is currently summer vacation here and I have many adventures in store. So far I have reached my highest heights (literally and figuratively) and I can't wait to discover what may be next!

 

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