Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chau for Now

I had no idea what to expect when I landed in the two-terminal airport in Piura, Peru over a year ago now.  I left behind my concept of what life really was about.  I had done some research, but mostly about food. I knew basic Spanish, but was I prepared to navigate another culture? The experience wasn't a two-week pleasure cruise with careful guides.

As an expat on my own, I had to decode everything from greetings (kisses on the cheek), time, transportation, food, shopping, and daily life.

Thankfully, I had help, but to the native Peruvians, it was hard to anticipate what would be difficult, their way of life was so routine, they weren't always aware of what might be confusing for a foreigner. For example, the basics such as how milk and eggs were stored in the grocery store is different than in the US. Hailing a taxi was something I saw children do, but I had to learn how as an adult. It wasn't that anyone was insensitive, it just didn't always occur to them that things like making a phone call or using a hot water attachment on the shower head would be different or challenging.

Navigating a new culture was a constant, evolving process with something new to learn every day. If the routine changed even a little, I would be confused and lost.  I clung to the familiar, but with gusto, tried to embrace new culture.

Peruvians are very warm, friendly, generous, and genuine people. Family is the most important thing to them. Many don't have much in material wealth, but they are rich in relationships. Not that I was materialistic before I left, but now I really know and believe that material trappings of the world are even less important in life. Stuff doesn't make you happy.

Time was another concept that was hard to get a handle around. If a party started at 7, nobody really showed up until at least 8:30, maybe later.

I tried to adapt to my environment. It did no good to complain or grouse.  You have to accept, adapt, and never assume.

Yet, at the same time, I was grateful for Facebook, emails, Skype, English conversations, and care packages from home. Sometimes, the constant cultural negotiation was too much, so any trace of home was like a relief to my addled brain.

One of my main staples in Peru was peanut butter -the exotic treat from North America. Most people had never tasted it before. I would go through a jar a week. It was true comfort food. It was expensive though but worth it to me. It also was heavenly to have tortillas, refried beans, salsa, or taco shells.

One lesson I quickly learned upon my return to the United States was that I needed God even more here than I did there. Being on my own in a country far away from home for so long was hard.

I was blessed to make amazing friends in Peru that will be "contigo siempre," or "with me always."  The people  (okay and the food!) were the best part of my experience in Peru. I was also tremendously blessed with my family and friends back home who kept in frequent and even infrequent contact with me, mailed me cards, packages, and let me lean on them when I was lonely, stressed, or confused.

Yet, here I am, two months back in my own country. It's been a hard transition. The proverbial question "What are you going to do now?" is haunting me.  The dreams I had have gone up in smoke. I don't know what I'm doing past December.

Yet, I have to keep moving forward and try to see the pathway before me that's right for me. I keep moving forward, that's just me. I can't stand paralyzed in fear and doubt.

And just for the record, I haven't had even a smidge of peanut butter since I've been back.

Monday, July 1, 2013


I can´t believe it. It´s really here- July that is.  I never thought I´d see the day when I turned my free calender from Morris Murdock Travel over to July.

I have less than 20 days here in Piura, Peru. It hasn´t quite sunk in that my time is almost done. It still seems so far away.  However, I feel my end date will crash into me more quickly than I realize.  Soon, I´ll leave this Peruvian bubble of daily life behind to go back to the United States with no job into an uncertain future. Looking for jobs has already worn me out but I must persevere. I have one more class I am teaching until I leave - a crash course that meets every night from 7 until 10 p.m.  It´s grueling but it keeps me from dwelling on my time left too much.

Everyone has said that time will go fast but believe me, while I am happy it is finally July, I have felt every single day here. It´s a time of reflection towards the past year and the future. What have I become and who will I become when I return? What will stay the same with me? What will change? What will stand out as weird? What habits will revert back to post-Peru life? Will my friendships and relationships stay the same?

I again go back into a new world with new things to figure out. I know I must have the Lord close to me to help me make the right choices into the brave new world.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

It's a Small (LDS) World After All

Upon arriving to my new life in Piura, Peru, some 3,000 miles away from home, I never expected to find such a small world within the LDS community. I didn't expect to find as many connections as I have in this hot northern Peruvian desert landscape.

During the first few weeks of my attendance at my local ward - Los Angamos, I met the one American missionary from Blackfoot, Idaho, Elder Stephenson. He was transferred shortly after that, and then one Sunday, a missionary from Sandy was visiting. He worked at the ski shop around the corner from where I lived in Cottonwood Heights. Later, the next American missionary was Elder Smith from Layton. I also met missionaries from West Jordan as well.

As far as Peruvians,  I met Jorge and Kelly Diaz, siblings who studied at BYU. Jorge also was a language instructor at the MTC. I thought that was pretty cool- though Jorge told me he associated Utah girls with cookies. I'm sure he got a lot of cookies from all the girls too!

Next, I met the newly-called the Peru-Piura Mission President and his wife. President and Sister Rowley are from  from Santaquin, Utah.

In December, I met their daughter, who was visiting from Utah. It turns out she was getting married to the son of one of the recruiters at Westminster, Jenn who worked for the degree programs I worked on!

On New Year's Eve, I was at a party at my friend's house in Utah. I met two girls that had served their mission together.  We did the initial get-to-know you questions. I told them I was working in Peru. They said they knew 1 Peruvian missionary from their mission... 1 out of millions, right? I asked what his name was. It turns out it was my friend Karlo, who they knew too! So out of all the Peruvian men in the country and world,  we 3 knew the same guy! Hermana Hutchinson and Hermana Grass and I knew the same Peruvian!

In January, my first Sunday back from holidays, I met a visting BYU student,  Sean Ellsworth. We did the normal song and dance when you meet a fellow non-Peruvian.
Where are you from?
The United States.
What state?
Arizona originally.
 What city.
What part.
Litchfield Park
My dad, stepmom and family live there.
 Turns out Seth's dad is Dr. Ellsworth, a local dentist who is in my dad's stake and/was my parent's dentist!

But, it gets even better- even smaller!

Back in February, I went to a missionary training meeting with the sister missionaries. I walked in to the mission home and was introduced to a sister. She looked familiar and I started talking to her.
So the dance begun. We knew we were both from the United States, so we started with:
What state?
What city?
Salt Lake City.
What part?
Cottonwood Heights.

During the prayer, it dawned on me... her name was Brittany, and we used to be in the Midvale 7th ward together with Bishop Barrow!

After the prayer, I asked her if her name was Brittany and if she used to be in the Midvale 7th ward. She replied "Yes."  We then did a name exchange. Do you remember Amber? Do you remember Lexi? And so forth.

It sure feels like a funnel, getting smaller and smaller here. I don't know how much smaller it can get, unless I discover some long lost relative here. Hey, it could happen, anything is possible in Peru! :D

The world is small in the LDS community! I'm grateful though for all the tender mercies the Lord has given me to remember and find the connections to home and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Moto? Taxi?

Taxis and Motos in Piura
Public transportation in Piura is plentiful. Most people don't have their own cars and even fewer know how to drive. It's a different culture than what I'm used to living in. I miss Blaze!  Here's my rough guide to public transportation in Piura, Peru.

She looks thrilled to be on the back of the motorcycle.
1. Walk. Yep, my own two feet get me around 99% of the time. Though as I walk around town, horns honk and drivers call out, "Taxi?" or "Moto?" Yeah, you know what, your annoying honking or calling at me is going to change my mind. Sheesh. If I need a moto or taxi, I'll get one.

2. Motocycle (motos)
You can ride on the back of a motorcycle with or without helmet. After seeing the driving practices in Peru, I haven't dared this method. It's cheap though. I just am afraid of getting that close to a stranger and also tipping it over because of my weight. It's also dangerously funny to see how many people stuff themselves onto a single motorcycle. Babies and small children are smashed in between adults, or in front of the driver. It's terribly dangerous and I see it every day. About a sole or so.

3. Combi/Collectivos
A standard moto 
These are minivans that drive around with a man taking fares and yelling at you for the bus route. They're cheap but you can be squashed into the van like a sausage. You also have to know where they're going, and be able to tell them where to stop. Less than a sole.

3. Motos

A typical taxi
These are modified motorcycles. There are lots of varieties of motos. Some of them have been tricked out and some are the basic model. They're loud, (mufflers are novelty around here I think). Witihn the moto class, you will find the moto generalis, the cute little Cars motos, and some tricked out ones. Motos are plentiful and range in price depending on where you go. They are cheaper than taxis but slower. You arrange a price for where you want to go before you get in the moto. Prices go up later at night or by distance. s./2-4 soles

 4. Taxis
Taxis are the most expensive, but the rates vary on the type of taxi you take. The older, junkier taxis cost less than the fancier, newer taxis. Some taxis are private cars. As well, you arrange a price before you get in the taxi. The later it is, the more expensive it is. Of course, they're faster, but when you get in a traffic jam, it's no different than being in a moto. It is more comfortable to ride in a taxi. In Piura, motos aren't allowed downtown, so when I go to Serpost to get a package, I can only take a taxi. It costs anywhere from s./4-8 soles for a ride. 

These motos remind me of Guido from "Cars."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


July 24, 2012 
Want to lose weight? I've got the answer!

Move to another country, even better, move to another continent!

It took moving to a different time zone, a different continent even to actually get it finally through my skull that I had to lose weight. However, it wasn't shear "ganas" that propelled me to my current reduced size. It was circumstance. I am cheap. I walk a lot. I also don't have a car nor a bountiful pantry, or kitchen. I also can't buy the same foods (blocks of cheese anyone?) that I could in the states. I started losing weight without really trying because I walking so much and eating differently. I walk back and forth to the university 4 times four times a day, which equals roughly about an hour of walking five days a week. I knew for years I needed to lose weight for my future and immediate health;yet, I just couldn't commit to a lifestyle change.

So, opportunity led me to another continent.  Sure, I could easily still get soda, cookies, chips, hamburgers, pizza, and ice cream here. However, I slowly I started to make better food choices.

August 20th, 2012
I started running around the soccer field. Running? It used to be a childhood punishment, now I'm actually running - and during the daylight hours? I started desiring to go running, running in the drizzle, or when I was tired. When I started running around the soccer field,  I couldn't even run one complete lap. Last night, on March 27th, I ran 4 laps, 3 complete laps around without stopping, one rest lap, and finished with a final 4th lap! I also have running routes in the neighborhood that I like to take if I can't run at school.

As days and weeks go by, it is hard to see the changes during the daily grind. I don't have a full-length mirror, and until recently, I didn't have a scale. So to me, I am the same old, awkward, apologetic, fat outcast.

It is hard to walk by the bodega and snack shops with delicious, luscious ice cream, cookies, cakes, and treats, or the hamburger stand, or resist getting an Inca Kola to drink.  Sure, an occasional treat is okay, but I have to remind myself that every choice either subtracts or adds to my goal of a healthy weight.

In January 2010, according to my Google Docs spreadsheet (yes, I made a spreadsheet to track weight loss),  I weighed 223 pounds. According to my spreadsheet, I started losing some weight in 2011, when I signed up for a free health class at Westminster College for employees. Yet, by February 2012, I was back to the original weight and measurements.

During my last checkup before I left in July 2012, I think my weight was about 210 pounds plus or minus.  I think 207 to be exact, I remember how upset my doctor was with me.  I wore a 2X in shirts and size 20 in pants/skirts.

I knew I was losing weight because my clothes were falling off me.  I got a few things altered in the mercado, but it wasn't until I went to Lima in the fall that I saw myself in a full-length mirror at a hotel. I was shocked. I really had no idea how I looked.

I started recording measurements in November. On November 28th, I took my first set of full measurements. My mom had sent me a care package with some new clothes because there is no Ross here, and clothes are pretty pricey. I was happy I could get into size 16 pants and XL shirts.

My skinny jeans December 2012
At the time, I didn't have a scale. When I was home at Christmas, I weighed myself. I was amazed. I weighed 179 pounds! I'd lost about 30 pounds!  My step mom had some clothes for me to try. I couldn't believe it - I could get into size 14 pants! I haven't been a size 14 since probably I was 14.  It was really gratifying. I really felt the impact of my efforts - planned or by default. I did shopping and found I couldn't wear Lane Bryant clothes anymore. That was really strange. I was able to get XL shirts and size 14 skinny jeans.

I did buy a scale from a departing American teacher. On February 2013, I weighed 176 pounds, so I'd lost a few pounds since Christmas. I wasn't exercising as much because of my summer schedule.

A few weeks ago, I some more skirts altered, it was gratifying to see how much was taken out.  Now, even 1X shirts are too big, and XL are becoming too baggy in the shoulders  Now,  it's almost April. I've not been as vigilant with running, but I've dropped down to 168 pounds, about 10 more pounds since Christmas!

The same skirt I wore on August 20, 2012.
I've lost  roughly 40 pounds in 8 months. I have to make good food choices. I try to eat mostly vegetables and fruit, drink lots of water. I rarely, rarely drink soda. I don't buy cookies, chips, ice cream, or junk food. There's not much processed food here, so that helps. I have had pizza 3 times in 8 months. I'm trying to make better food choices, limit my portions, not buy food that I would just gobble up, I do struggle with that though. Meals aren't the same here, and my schedule doesn't allow for dinner like us Americans are used to eating.

I'm trying to eat healthy based on the food culture of Piura. I don't always succeed though. I am still obese though. I have another 40 - 50 pounds to go. I still don't feel like a thinner person. I still feel the same, but sometimes, when I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror, I see the change, or when I glance at my wrist and then wrap my pinky finger around it to meet my thumb, it hits me. Also, when I see how my old clothes just hang on me, I start to believe maybe I have changed. I still have work to do on my psychological mindset.  I have to be diligent that this is a permanent lifestyle change when I return to the United States. I have a little under 4 months left, so I hope to continue to focus and commit to a healthy lifestyle and exercise.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Ticket To Ride

One of my worst fears about traveling alone was realized today.  My friend Piert invited me up to Sullana, a town about 45 minutes north of Piura, to visit for the day.  I had no problems with getting to the bus station. The last time I went to visit him, the moto driver didn't know where the Eppo bus station was. I think I got the only driver in the whole city who didn't know where it was.  Anyway, I got to Eppo just fine. I had no problems buying my ticket. The ride was uneventful.

I went to church with Piert and it was a nice day. The people were friendly and welcoming. I met the only American missionary so far not from Utah or Idaho! He was from Missouri. After church, we went to Piert's aunt's house to eat lunch and visit. It was a nice afternoon. When it was time to leave, Piert's dad drove me to the bus station, but also gave me a little scenic tour of Sullana. We drove by the river, and the main square. When we reached the bus station, there wasn't anyplace to park, so Piert's dad pulled over and I hopped out. 

"Do you want me to go with you?," Piert asked me. 

"No, I'll be fine," I said as I said my goodbyes and waved.  I had this down pat. 

I went into the fairly dingy bus station and walked up to the ticket counter. I was in luck! A bus was ready to leave at 3 p.m.  It was 2:56 p.m.  The cashier told me the bus out front was the bus back to Piura. I quickly walked out towards the bus, feeling proud of my Spanish conversation skills.  I handed the ticket taker my ticket and got on the bus. I noticed there wasn't any seat assignment.

"I bet the bus won't be full, I'll just take a seat in the back, and move if someone comes," I thought to myself.  

I didn't want to get off the bus and ask the attendant. 

I sat down in the back and sure enough, a man came for my seat. 

I moved to the last row, and a grandmother and her granddaughter came. I really confused the young girl, I think she was scared to sit next me.   I explained that I didn't have a seat assignment as normally everyone does.

Then I heard the attendant call my name!

"Emily, Emily?" she said.  By the time it registered she was calling my name, she was getting off the bus. Then she turned around and repeated, "Emily?"

I raised my hand.

"Es usted Emily?"  she asked. 

"Si, Soy Emily," I said.

She came back to where I was sitting and told me I was on the wrong bus! I was on the bus to Talara, a city at least (if on the express bus) 2 hours north! I wanted to go 45 minutes south back to Piura! I shoved my way off the bus, hitting people with my bag by accident. 

I couldn't believe I was on the wrong bus and I was only moments away from going to Talara! I was so grateful that she noticed and I heard her call my name.

I went back to the ticket counter and realized that they were forcing me to buy another ticket, even though I simply was on the wrong bus. Since the attendant had torn it, it apparently wasn't valid anymore. I had to pay another s./2.50 (96 cents) for a new ticket on the right bus. I didn't know how to communicate about the misunderstanding and why I shouldn't have to pay again, but "pride cometh before the fall." So much for my Spanish skills or not needing any help.

"Whatever!" I thought to myself. I just wanted to get home at that point.  

I always, always ask the attendant if I'm on the right bus but that time, I didn't because the 1st cashier told me it was the bus to Piura. Maybe there was a misunderstanding between language. I'm just glad I got on the right bus and got home. I even splurged and took a taxi, which costs more than a moto once I got back to Piura.  I'm glad I wasn't on the Talara bus, or I'd be just getting home now.  So life lesson, always, always verify you're on the right bus in life, or you'll end up going the wrong way. Taking detours takes double the time to get back to where you want to go.