Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cultural Observations

Last night, my friend, Vero, and I went out for supper. We went to my favorite Chifa (Chinese/Peruvian combo food) restaurant and wanted to get our food to go. We ordered and soon the waitress returned with our main dishes in styrofoam containers and our soup... in plastic bags. Who does that? Peruvians, that's who. I turned to Vero and simply said, "I love this country."

Which lead me to think about some other things I love about Peru.

1) The lack of safety standards. Okay, I know how that sounds. But I love that when you go on hikes or to super touristy places like Machu Picchu, there aren't safety ropes and signs all over the place, ruining the view and treating you like a child. In America, people are lawsuit obsessed but Peruvian culture seems to say "If you're stupid enough to get hurt, you probably shouldn't have been doing this hike anyway."

2) Peruvians love music. I don't really like the music that Peruvians enjoy but I like the lack of silence. Okay, it does get annoying sometimes but I like that it's culturally acceptable to blare your favorite music for the whole town to hear. No one says anything, no one is bothered, it's just a normal part of life.

3) Travelling brings out the best in some people. This doesn't so much have to do with Peru as with some of the great people I've met in Peru. Some examples, (1) on my flight from Milwaukee to Atlanta I sat next to a nice woman who was flying to Atlanta to see her granddaughter. She had packed extra snacks in her carry-on in case the person next to her on the airplane was hungry. (2) At the bus station in Huaraz I met two backpackers who needed advice on where to stay and they ended up taking me out for breakfast and meeting up with my friends and I for lunch. (3) Peace Corps volunteers always share the contents of their precious care packages. I know it might not seem like a lot, but the little acts of kindness really do make a difference. Being alone in a foreign culture makes people reach out to others in a way that they wouldn't in the US. Travelling stresses out some people but it showcases the kindness of others.

4) In much the same way, Peru makes me confident. At first, the strange culture made me feel crippled with fear and self-doubt. And, sometimes, it still does. But learning how to navigate Huaraz, how to start youth groups, and how to take care of myself at site, makes me feel confident. I love walking in a foreign city and knowing where I'm going. I love being able to give tourists advice on where to stay and what to do. I love the moments when I'm staring at snowcapped mountains or holding a sleeping 5 year old at youth group and just think "I can't believe this is my life!" And when I was back in the States that confidence traveled with me... mainly because I was able to speak English. How can anything be intimidating if I get to do it in English?

A quick story of cultural integration: Most Peruvian bathrooms do not have toilet paper so most people travel with their own supply. I have a PC friend who recently bought TP to keep in the bathroom at her host family's house. She put in in the bathroom and returned a few minutes later to see that it was gone. Perplexed, she asked her host mom what happened. Her host mom just looked at her and said that toilet paper doesn't belong in the bathroom because people would take it. So obviously you have to keep it in your bedroom. Because that is where toilet paper belongs.

Anyway, I was using the bathroom at the Milwaukee airport and noticed that there was a roll of toilet paper sitting on the dispenser. A normal roll of TP, just sitting there. I didn't have any toilet paper with me and was returning to Peru. There would be bathrooms. Without toilet paper.

So I took it.

I stole the toilet paper from the bathroom.

I am the reason Peruvians don't keep toilet paper in their bathrooms.

Cultural integration has turned me into a petty criminal.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The United States of Awesomeness

As many of you know, I recently was able to visit the States for a week to meet my new niece, Elaina. I expected to feel some sort of reverse culture shock but the most shocking thing was just how normal everything felt. But there were a couple of moments that reminded me of just how awesome America is.

Some Observations about America:

1) First off, I'm pretty sure that everyone on my flight from Lima to Atlanta thought I was going through drug withdrawal. The flight left at 1am and most of my travel companions just wanted to go to sleep. Not me... I had Kid Cudi, Lady Gaga, and the Black Eyed Peas blaring into my earphones. I was on my way back to America and was much too excited to stop tapping my foot, let alone try to sleep. I couldn't understand why anyone else was able to calm down... didn't they realize where we were going? Then, when I arrived at the Atlanta airport (practically dancing through customs), no one seemed happy. I was in a food court, surrounded by McDonald's breakfast, Starbucks, and deliciousness and everyone looked so grumpy. I just wanted to walk up to people and say, "Why aren't you happy? Don't you know where we are? We're in America!"

Observation number one: Be happy you're in America. Period. No questions asked.

2) Driving down to Madison was awesome. Do you realize how fast you can drive in America? The switchbacks and mountain roads in Ancash make driving quickly a hazard - though that doesn't really stop some taxi drivers!

Observation number two: Enjoy the freedom of driving.

3) Speaking English is really convenient.

Observation number three: English = awesome.

4) Shopping is much easier in Wisconsin. In Peru, there are grocery stores but for most other shopping, you need to go to the market and push through crowds of people and search for what you need. The Piggly Wiggly, Target, and Kohl's really simplify things! I think it's a testament to how much I love people that I ever left Target.

Observation number four: Consumerism is great.

My trip home was great! I don't think I wasted a single minute. Thanks to everyone who went out of their way to make my week home so special and wonderful!!!

The whole reason for the trip. 100% worth it.