I spent the past week pretty disconnected in Valparaiso, trying to enjoy the few days I had with the boyfriend before ending my South American Adventure.
And then all of the sudden I was on a plane and now here I am at Vassar again and it’s as if it never happened.
Reverse culture shock is a real and scary thing that I’ve only just begun to experience. Let me a give you a window into my current reality, the first 15 hours of being thrust back into the life I was once so comfortable in.
Upon landing at JFK, I said ‘hola’ to one of the security officers, ‘ahora no’ to the bus driver, and ‘pa’ alla’ to the guy sitting next to me on the ride from the airport to Grand Central. All the cars here are so shiny and clean and new. I kept forgetting to put my seat belt on. People here are so wasteful. The leave the car on idle for long periods of time instead of turning it off. They leave things plugged into walls when they’re not using them, they buy things without looking at the price first because they can. These are things that never used to bother me, in fact I never noticed before. But they also don’t litter, they drive carefully and don’t honk unnecessarily. I went to the grocery store and they put everything I bought into one bag unlike in Chile where there’s practically a new bag for every item.
The sizes of people here are more extreme. Especially at Vassar. I forgot what really skinny people looked like. Or groups of them. I also forgot how inadequate they make me feel. I had forgotten what it’s like to be a nobody. I’m no longer ‘the gringa’, I draw no attention. Nobody looks at you in the face here when you pass by.
People don’t recognize me here. I saw two different friends randomly and both had to look about 3 times before realizing it was me. As if my face had partially been erased from their memory.
At Vassar I now feel on the outside looking in. I recognize few faces. I’ve been away from the culture (a culture that is really weird and unique within the confines of the Vassar bubble) for long enough that I don’t share in the inside jokes, the energy, the feelings that I used to share with fellow Vassar students. It feels very strange. It’s the collision between the feeling that I left and the world kept going on without me and the feeling that I’ve only been gone for a week and nothing here has changed, yet I have changed drastically, grown out of the bubble that I used to need.
By mid-day I was overwhelmed and needed a nap. And now I am eating my feelings away and recuperating for day two of re-integration. It’s all very surreal.
Last day at Casa Mantay.
Casa Mantay is a home in the San Jeronimo neighborhood of Cusco that houses young mothers (between 12-18 years old) and their children. Many of the mothers come from dysfunctional and/or abusive households and the children are often the product of rape, incest, and sexual abuse. But you would never guess it from their mischievous personalities and the big smiles on their adorable faces.
During my time at Mantay I helped the older kids (6-12) with their homework and tried (and failed) to teach them a little English. I also spent a lot of time with the 3-5 year olds just keeping them from killing each other basically. And of course the baby room was a magical place filled with the cutest, hugest cheeks you’ll ever see. Aside from losing patience at times with the more unruly kids, it was a really great experience.
The notes my professor gave me to edit my paper with. Now if only I could read them…
Some words in English have somehow become common knowledge down here in Chile and Peru, but their pronunciation has changed a bit.
bullying = boo-ling
sandwich = sahnd-weech
scooter = eh-scoo-tair
freezer = free-zair
lunch = loan-cheh
heavy = heah-vee
full = fool
surf = soorf
youtube = yoo-toob-eh (that might just be my Spanish professor though)
It’s interesting to see the intersection of culture and language despite how far away I feel from my country.
Leaving Peru on Saturday. Mixed emotions. In a bit of a limbo at the moment.
False alarm on the stomach issues, just lasted a couple hours. Either it was a fluke or my body is getting used to being poisoned by my food. Either way I’m glad it wasn’t bad.
This week is finals week, I have 2 tests and a paper between me and Wednesday, my last real day of classes.
So I guess *technically* this is the last week of my 10 month adventure to South America. However I’m heading back down to Chile on Saturday for a week to see the boyf and go to my little Chilean brother’s 15th birthday party which should be sweet as hell.
So I’m not thinking of it as my last week. Thus the panic hasn’t set in. Things like:
OH SHIT I can’t talk in English about the people around me anymore because they’ll understand that I’m making fun of them.
HOLY CRAP I’ve forgotten what my own culture is like.
WTF I have to leave this continent that I’ve called home for the past 10 months, grown to love for all its foibles and quirks, and made so many amazing memories on, for an indefinite amount of time.
Yeah, not thinking about any of that.
Skipping off to bed now with some nice abdominal pain and cramping which I’m pretty sure is a result of some bad milk my Peruvian mother gave me for dinner tonight. She boiled it up and added sugar and cinnamon to it so I couldn’t smell the sour milk and then served it right up. She obviously didn’t mean to give me sour milk, but this would be the 6th time I’ve been given expired dairy products in this house. Luckily 3 of those six times I’ve caught it before entering my body. Not so lucky today. Here’s hoping it’s only mild and I can sleep through this.
11 days left in Peru.
Never gets old with the camelid jokes.
Quite possibly the best choco chip cookies I’ve made outside the US
This morning my Peruvian mother showed me how the parrot likes to give her kisses.
On the mouth.
With his tongue.
This was after he had broken out of his room (I still don’t know how he does this) climbed up onto the table while we were all eating breakfast, and ran around it for a while, kicking off the lid to the butter and getting the string of a tea bag wrapped around his leg.
Then my Peruvian mother showed me how she’s taught him to like coffee by feeding it to him straight out of her mug with a spoon.
The high school marching band down the street from my house is trying to learn the bandstand version of “My Heart Will Go On”. It’s not going well for them.
In the United States, guys generally don’t notice me.
OH NO, RUN AWAY, SHE’S GOT AN ASS AND THIGHS!
Because they’ve been conditioned by US society to only like girls who look like human coat hangers. Or, if she has an ass, she better be ‘exotic looking’ as well.
Being a blue eyed blonde German-descented girl with an ass in the US? Average.
In South America? Ethereal, other-worldly, exotic, hermosa, linda, preciosa.
So I can relate, to a certain extent, to this article. Since I’ve only dealt with it for the past 9 months and not my entire life, its consequences aren’t quite as ingrained within me and my outlook on life and myself. But let me just say this:
I do not, for one second, feel jealous of the ‘pretty girls’ anymore.
I am SO excited to go back to the United States and become invisible to men again. I am THRILLED. This is not sarcasm.
Since coming to South America, especially Peru, I have stopped wearing pretty clothes and putting on makeup, a thing that I usually love to do, in the hopes that my frumpiness will avoid unwanted attention. I feel extremely uncomfortable while walking down the street because I invariably get a catcall or at least a large handful of unwanted stares. The fact that Peru has one of the highest rates of rape per capita in South America is all I can think about while walking around anywhere after dark.
One time a guy actually did ask me if I was a model. And it was awkward. Of course I’m not a fucking model, look at me, are you blind?
I’ve been told any number of crude things as I walked down the streets, many of which I’m sure I didn’t even understand because my street assaulters don’t speak my first language.
The thing is though, when I did understand what they were saying, and I did call them out on it, they’d get offended. Like, wow what a bitch she doesn’t even know how to take a compliment. Because to them, their abuse of the patriarchal power given to them to dominate me and the public space I’m in in order to feel more powerful and more in control (my hypothesis is that most men who cat call have dicks the size of raisins, thus their need to compensate) is ‘just a compliment’.
Put me the fuck back in Minnesota where my blond hair and blue eyes make me average and boring. I want to be treated like a human being again. Even if that is an average human being. The girl who wrote this article is vain and a bit of a braggart, she says she’d never want to be ‘average’. She doesn’t know how easy we have it, us average girls.
20 days left in Peru.
And I’m really excited about it.
Things I’m excited for:
- mostly the food (BRIE GET IN MY BELLY ALSO MAC AND CHEESE AND REAL PIZZA) okay apparently mostly the cheese
- not getting street harassed on quite the regular basis
It has been a beautifully wonderful 9 months but I am ready to go home. Being away for so long has really made me appreciate my home and also my country. Americans may be kinda fucked up but it’s a dysfunction that I’d grown accustomed to. Every country is fucked up, you just need to find the one whose dysfunction makes you most comfortable.
My trip to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
Trip started with a fancy train ride to Aguas Calientes. I visited the hot springs there to relax a little. Then the next morning I got up at 4:30 to catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu.
Upon arrival, the ruins were covered in clouds, but by 10am the clouds had dissipated and the anticipation was well worth it. Pictures cannot even remotely capture it.
The most interesting thing I learned today at Machu Picchu: The Incans had public restrooms and dealt with human waste kind of like how we deal with our cats. They would take the ashes from the fires used to cook their food and put them in the designated potty area. Anyone who needed to use the bathroom would dig themselves a little hole, do their business, and then cover it up again. Every once in a while, someone would have the unfortunate duty of having to go through that shit (ha) with what I assume was probably a human sized pooper scooper. They would then use the excrement as an offering to the pachamama or mother earth (in other words their food was fertilized using their own shit).
These people were brilliant.
I’ve become a bit of a raging feminist since coming down here and wanted an outlet for all the feminist stuff I’ve been reading lately. Thus was born Renegade Woman. It’s still very much in it’s beginning stages, but it has a lot of potential for something awesome.
Check it out