Beginnings / Study Abroad

Peru: Initial Impressions, Confusions, and Ups/Downs

(Warning: Might be a bit long, there are quite a few descriptions I want to give. So my advice is to look for the bolded titles of each section and just read whatever you want.)

Well, the good news is that I’ve made it safe and sound to Peru. Actually, I did so Saturday night, arriving about 40 minutes late (and adding another 25 minutes for luggage, sheesh) after a 7.5ish hour plane ride out of New Jersey next to a sweet old lady also named Becky. Who would not. stop. talking. to me.


In any case, had no problems with customs or immigration or anything. My first test of super-rusty Spanish skills actually came on the ride to my apartment–my host mom…land-lordishfigure? (Will explain in a moment) doesn’t actually have a car, but always uses the same taxi driver when coming & going to/from the airport, so she sent him to get me.  I was rusty on the responses, but generally understood and we had a decent time.the 30ish minute ride cost me 50 Nuevos Soles (soles), which is the equivalent to..ehh…$20 or so? I’m not sure what the exact exchange rate is at the moment. In any case, not too bad. The first night really just consisted of a brief introduction, me unpacking like 2 things, and falling into bed. Which, by the way, was weirdly humid. I mean, not tons, but a noticeable level…not noticeable after a day or two, though.

About my host family: Sunday was an unusual day. I had hoped to immediately get out and going (shopping for things I would need like a phone, notebooks for class, deal with some money stuff, etc) but the situation with Laura, my host mom, is a little different than it normally would be. She took a bad fall in April, and can’t walk without crutches right now (I think she was in a wheelchair for a bit at first).  So, whereas she apparently used to be always at work and out and about, she’s now home almost 100% of the time, and is kind of transitioning to a quieter life (although she’ll be off crutches eventually). So she couldn’t actually go out with me.  That meant we stayed in all day & chatted over a couple of meals.  Usually she has an empleada (a live-in maid) named Jimena but Sundays are her day off, so we reheated food together–this actually took a while because Laura can’t really move quickly or grab things (has to hold crutches) so it took so long because she had to instruct me where everything was.  Good news is, I somehow remembered how to say enough kitchen materials to get along.  Anyways, so, we got to know each other over some tasty meals.  Laura, it appears, is extremely intelligent.  She studied sociology and works now in environmental affairs, having had a Fulbright scholarship to John Hopkins and even working at Georgetown at one point.  She plays classical music all day in her room, loves to talk about literature, etc etc. She used to travel a lot for work, and has therefore been to almost all of South America, much of Central America, various European places like Holland, Italy, France, etc…even Nepal, South Africa, and Tajikistan, of all places. 0.o I quite like her!

While talking, she brought up something that I had known, but had COMPLETELY forgotten about. I pay her directly to live here–something very different from Jordan. (While we still were paying the families–quite nicely, might my bank account add–we paid our program, who then dished it out to them).  This really changes the dynamic, because it’s not exactly a situation where you’re being adopted into a family.  There’s very much a monetary factor going on that makes it kind of a business deal, and factors into other aspects of living together, which I will elaborate on later.  In any case, Laura has been great to me so far–she’s intelligent enough to give me wonderful insights into Peruvian culture and mindsets, and also called like half a dozen of her neighbors to see who has exchange students so that we all have people to travel around with when we need it.

Building where I live!

Mine is the 2nd-to right, very tall. I live in the apartment to the left of the one with the yellow sign.

The Place: So, starting with the apartment…it’s quite a large space, actually, and I didn’t initially realize how much.  The floors are all wooden and the place has a light and airy feel to it, despite the fact that it has some long twisty hallways.  The living room has a huuuuge window from which I can look across the street to the park, sea, and a local parasailing business that operates every afternoon. (Yes, I will have to do that before I leave.)  I have my own small but adequate bedroom & bathroom, there’s also Laura’s room/bathroom, a kitchen, office, small patio out front and one behind the kitchen for hanging laundry, and to my surprise, there’s even a room/bathroom for the maid hidden away.

The location is great too–I was originally telling people I lived across the street from the Pacific Ocean, which is true, but I didn’t realize that I was across the street and up a GIGANTIC CLIFFSIDE. (which suddenly made me realize exactly HOW huge the waves must be.) Anyway, the neighborhood is Miraflores, one of (if not THE) the nicest and safest in Lima, and probably also all of Peru.  The park I live across from is called the Park of Love (Parque del Amor) and has a large statue of a rather engrossed couple, and I’ve seen many real…hanging out there as well. There’s also a big mosaic wall/benches with famous love quotes in Spanish.  The whole road on the cliffs along the beach is paved for joggers/walkers and even has random exercise equipment set up at points, so I see tons of people out exercising, and to my delight, tooooons of doggies being walked. 😀

Parque del Amor

And this, friends, is partially why they call it the Park of Love. (Statue is gigantic, by the way.)

Sub-heading: About Miraflores in general: I can’t really speak much to the nature of Lima yet, because I haven’t yet ventured outside of my barrio (neighborhod/district of Lima) and I know that Miraflores is way, way different from the rest of it. It’d be like trying to describe the USA when you live in the Hamptons.  The area is filled with the wealthier Peruvian population along with, well, most of the foreigners. (Read: White people EVERYWHERE up in here.    …what? Don’t judge.)  There are well-kept small plazas/grassy parks all over the place, streets lined with trees, and in the more central area, quite a few ritzy hotels, casinos, and shopping areas. And some amazingly delicious-smelling restaurants.  The architecture, however, seems to be totally confused about itself…along the ocean-front there are tons of high-rise apartments that look like Miami condos, often times with super-modern designs. A little farther back are a mixture of 1970’s style poured-concrete buildings, traditional short, colorful homes smushed in between tall, brightly-colored apartment buildings or again super-modern, minimalist buildings/malls/hotels.  It’s odd.  I’m trying to get a feel for it, but it’s not quite European and not quite like any bigger cities I’ve visited in the US, either.   I like it though. It’s really fun to just kinda walk around, as I love to do.

The Weather: Well, it’s winter here.  And that, my friends, doesn’t mean much. It’s probably like 65, 67 degrees (F, naturally) outside right now.  It’s a wee chillier in the morning/night, and the breeze off of the ocean can be on the colder side as well, but so far the coldest place I’ve discovered in Lima happens to be my bedroom…which is a bummer. (But great for getting me out of the house!)  However, Lima winters are marked by the garúa–a constant gray, overcast sky and sometimes accompanying mist that’s apparently never bad enough to need an umbrella…however, I have yet to encounter the mist part. It’s mostly just fairly humid, but not in a nasty hot way, and overcast (which always makes me wonder why it doesn’t feel more crisp like fall).  The sun has poked through once or twice, as we are soooorta nearing the end of winter, and in general all’s well. (I should mention, however, there are like 80-sum-odd different climates in Peru because of the wild changes in geography, so I’m sure people elsewhere are praying for spring.)

The people: Not much to comment on so far–I’ve only really talked to my taxi driver from the airpot, Laura, a littttle to Jimena, and online to my future conversation partner, who has actually been a great help so far with advice.  Oh, and my waiter at a restaurant today. He was nice too. 😉

Cultural differences:  Right off the bat, there’s actually not too much…the standard non-American kiss on the cheek to greet people, giving me a fork and knife (or at least fork) and plate to eat a banana (literally every time), yeah…but so far not so different from the USA.  Of course, I also haven’t ventured out much, so I’m sure those will hit me later. Except for the empleada situation, which I’ll talk about below.

Problems I foresee coming my way: Now aside from the fact that I’m probably going to get lost as hell trying to get to the university tomorrow for my orientation, here’s what I’m immediately struggling with.

1) Having a maid.  Ok. Having a maid is not unheard of, though goodness knows I never have, and I guess having a live-in maid isn’t so crazy either, if you’ve got the cash for it…but it’s not common for the US, amiright?  I don’t mind having someone around who washes dishes or occasionally cleans the bathroom or whatever, but I am exceedingly uncomfortable always being referred to as “Señorita” and having a whole table spread put out for me just so I can have a banana for breakfast, or being catered to, etc etc. Especially because I’m not her boss, I just happen to live there.  I’d ask her to just call me Becky or something, but I don’t want her to get in trouble, because there is definitely a little tension between Jimena and Laura.  Jimena is new, and fairly young, and so she’s still learning the way of things.  Laura has a lot of specificities, from what I can tell (although really, she has a right to if she’s paying for it) and often thinks Jimena is a little flippant (which I’ve seen her be) or not as attentive/focused as she should be. So I do NOT want to get in the middle of that.  But at the same time I feel awkward asking Jimena to do things for me or being served by her or not being on the same level…so. Fun.

2) The food situation.  Well, I originally didn’t think this was going to be any kind of an issue, because I forgot about paying Laura directly. Here’s the thing…that payment covers two meals per day.  Great, that’s about all I eat unless I have a snack.  But Laura seems REALLY particular about keeping that–she explained if I didn’t eat at home one day that was fine, I could eat it the next day (not necessarily the food, but another meal) or something like that…but like… if I have meal roll-overs, I’m never going to be able eat them all, ’cause I’m sure I’ll wanna eat out. It doesn’t concern ME if I don’t have a meal at home, because that’s ME choosing to not use what I’ve already “paid” for, I suppose, but I think it does affect Laura. Unlike in the USA, Laura, at least, eats something different every day (except perhaps Sundays when Jimena isn’t around) and therefore leftovers probably won’t get eaten, which means whatever I don’t eat would be either a waste of money or of food. So I’m going to have to figure this out, either by telling her WAY ahead of time to just not count me in for a meal on a certain day, or…I don’t know. Again, this is why paying her directly month-by-month is so particular. It’s very business-y and less “welcome to the family!”.

3) Laundry. Alas, laundry. I knew coming in that Laura didn’t have a washer/dryer, which doesn’t really bother me. I can dig laundromats.  Alas, those don’t seem to exist in my area…you drop things off for someone ELSE to clean. Which I dislike, because it’d be so much cheaper to do it myself.  Pants/shirts I can make last a while, no big deal, but things like exercise clothes I usually wash frequently ’cause you can’t exactly re-wear those. And I imagine once things get going I’m not going to want to be constantly running to the lavandería to drop off/pick up clothes. But what can ya do?

So, after writing enough for a 5-page paper, there’s my “initial” reactions to things around here. I PROMISE to be much shorter in the future with these things, I just had a lot I wanted to get out right away.  I’m probably gonna write another post soon about food, and something eventually about tips for anyone coming to Peru just incase, because I’ve already learned a few very valuable lessons (ie keep a copy of your passport with you, always).  Sorry once again for the leeeength!

**Check my facebook albums for more photos, ’cause it takes FOREVER to upload them to wordpress.**

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