Sunday, April 15, 2012

South American Salsa: Satin Reflections

Sky satin whirls through air, frolicking with bright reed flute notes, deep drum beats, teasing smiles. Stomping feet and brisk yips echo in the festive atmosphere executed by polite waiters, complementary Pisco sours, and juicy tequeños dipped in avocado. I savor the salty, crispy, cheesy, way-too-greasy bite and then refocus my attention on the dancers. Weaving gaily, twirling, with their professional smiles firmly in place, they show off traditional dances from Piura, Arequipa, la selva and other regions of Peru. The array of styles, steps, and music hint at the diversity of Peruvian culture. I bob my head to the rhythm, enjoying the show and thinking that it’s a good way to spend a last weekend in Lima.

What? Wait . . . It really is that. Once we begin our post-semester traveling on Friday, I will only spend two more nights in Lima. The next week will go so fast- a little homework, one in-class final, packing, a funeral mass, a good-bye lunch and any other lasts I should squeeze in. Puno and Lake Titicaca on the weekend, and then Iquitos and the Amazon the next week. Back in Lima for 36 hours to do final packing and goodbyes, and then boarding a Miami-bound plane on April 29th. And then Kansas and Kearney and friends and reverse culture-shock.

The last few months have flown by in a whirl of combies, classrooms, challenges, outings, and laughter. I will miss the heat of the sun on my back as I test out icy ocean water. And the spicy flavor of anticuchos or ají de gallina or papa a la huancaína. My red and white apartment building with yellow flowers spilling over the wrought-iron fence. The energy and convenience of a big city. Moving to salsa music, classes in Spanish, maybe even the occasional, “Please, sir, you know that’s a lot. Give me the taxi ride for 7 soles or I’ll ask Juanito over here instead.” But I think I’ll miss the people in my program the most. Bonfires on the beach, Bembos ice cream dates, funny stories about messing up Spanish or falling out of combies, random conversations on the steps inside the entrance to UPC.

I won’t miss the constant “Hey, baby, nice body” comments or whistles from strangers, the every-Peruvian-for- himself driving chaos, or the being cheated because I’m a foreigner parts of Lima. The constant feeling that everyone is staring at you, the pretending to look mean as I navigate streets on my way home.  

I have learned a lot here. About subjunctive tenses, the usage of por vs. para, the meaning of “phrasal verbs”or how word order affects meaning. About the diversity and complexity of the Peruvian culture. About social problems facing Peru past, present, and future. About humans’ rights and indigenous politics in Peru and Latin America in general. As I reflected in a final essay earlier this week:

“That’s the thing that leaves me thoughtful. Perhaps because I grew up in a family that had to stretch paychecks to have food on the table, or because I have spent years praying for, studying, and working with marginalized groups, I have always felt a connection with indigenous groups and poverty-stricken families. The past few months spent living with the other side of society—shopping all the time, spending Fridays at the beach, or staying in resorts- have made me realize how easy it is to get caught up the materialism rampant in upper classes and wealthier countries. While having a maid serve my meals and do my laundry really bothered me in the beginning, I can feel it slowly becoming normal.

“I have had amazing experiences during my time here, but I do not feel the same connection to Peru as I have to other cultures that I have spent time in. The old saying goes, “you get out what you put in.” My life here has revolved around me—my studies, my friends, my classes, my fun. And that scares me. I have at least two more years of studies in a place generally isolated from extreme poverty. My life will easily fill with activities, classes, friends, and fun . . . I realize that staying aware of the hardship faced by so many people every day will take a conscious effort on my part. I hope that I choose to stay connected with the people who have lived a much harder life than I. If I forget, I become part of the problem.”

Ready to watch some dancing!

The after-the-dances dance party on the stage. Limeans love to dance!

1 comment:

Rob said...

Great insights in your last paragraph. Way to stay alert to the "subtle realities". :)

But I had to smile when you mentioned "trying to look mean..." I can picture you trying, but not succeeding. (And that's a good thing, cuz your gentleness is a blessing to others.)

Enjoy the rest of your trip!