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.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Tale of Two Skirts

One of the best things that's happened during my stay here in Peru is that I've lost some weight, thus leaving me with a limited wardrobe. Clothes aren't as cheap here, no Ross or Savers for me to pursue on Friday evening. However, down at the local market, I have found a seamstress to alter some of my clothes for me, for far less than trying to buy new things that still fit me (I'm still too fat for most Peruvian clothes), and are also modest. 

I finally had a little spare money and narrowed down two skirts that I wanted altered. One of the chosen ones was a black, lined front-pleated Dress Barn skirt. It literally fell off me when I put it on. I wanted to augment my actual professional skirt options. My second skirt choice was a long, paisley purple skirt with black lace on the hem. It still kind of fit, but the elastic was shot. I had repaired the lace that I'd stepped on and ripped twice.  I've had this skirt for at least 7 years.  I am wearing it in one of my pictures from Washington D.C., when I worked at the House of Representatives, and that was back in 2006. 

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

My friend and colleague, Leidy, one of the new American teachers, Carmen, and I went to the mercado. Leidy, a local, took us to a new part of the mercado that I hadn't been to before. It was clean and quiet as compared to the usual parts I'd been to - the parts rough with noise, dirt, trash and chaos. She said she knew a shop, but the shop keeper said she couldn't do the skirts until Monday. The shop I'd used twice before had done alterations the same day, but I figured I'd try a new place. Plus, I wasn't quite sure where it was and I didn't want to wander around aimlessly too much longer. We asked at another shop, but they didn't alter skirts, and they referred us to another shop. 

At the next shop, not much bigger than my bathroom, the shop keeper and Leidy negotiated what I wanted done. She also said she couldn't have them done until Monday. I didn't want to waste anymore time and agreed to have the skirts altered for s/.12. ($4.68).  I couldn't even buy a jar of peanut butter for s./12, so this was a good price. 

She measured me and it was amazing to see how much she'd be taking out of the size 20 skirt. On the purple skirt, she asked if I wanted it shorter, I decided I did and I wanted the lace repaired.  We agreed that Leidy and I would come back on Monday afternoon to pick up the skirts. 

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Leidy and I made arrangements to meet for raspadillas (snow cones) before going to the market. She knew a place near the cemetary, and we agreed to meet there after my class finished. This proved to be a bad idea in my opinion. None of the streets had names on them, so by my vague memory from looking at Google Maps, I guessed the corner where we were supposed to meet. It was hot, humid, and miserable waiting.  At least I was at the right corner, after I called Leidy with no answer, she appeared.  She took me to a neighborhood staple instution, it was like Piura's version of a snow cone shack in the parking lot of Smith's.  The owner had been there for years and years, it was a family business.  I ordered a pina (pineapple) raspadilla.  I sure enjoyed slurping the juice out of the ice and then enjoying crunching the ice (sorry Mom), as we sat in the shade.

We headed over to the mercado and found the shop again. The woman was sitting at her sewing machine, lazily reading a newspaper. She saw us and immediately jumped up.  Apparently, she had forgotten to mend my skirts! I was angry. Leidy and she worked out a deal that she would bring them to the main gate of the university that evening at 6:30.

I had to pay her there but she gave me a discount to s./10 soles ($3.85).  Leidy told me I'd need to let the security guard at the front gate know about the arrangement. I realized I didn't know what to say, so Leidy wrote a note, as we stood in the dirt road outside the mercado.  I passed the note to the security guard and he understood it and my poor attempts to explain. 

I let my 5-6:30 class out a few minutes early, and I raced to the main gate to get my skirts before my 7 pm class. 

"Soy Emily Johnson, tiene mis dos faldas aqui?" I asked the security guard.  "I'm Emily Johnson, do you have my two skirts here?"  I don't know how to say the verb to bring... so I was a bit clunky. 

"No faldas senorita," said the security guard. "No skirts, miss."

I was so angry. I had the shopkeeper's phone number but I didn't have time to call. What would I say? What would she say and would I understand?  I decided to check back after my 9 pm class.

After my 9 pm class, I again walked to the main gate of campus.  I was tired. I'd already walked a lot to the mercado, home, back to the university.  Again there were NO skirts. I was so ticked off. I was not happy.  I figured I'd call in the morning with someone to help me. 

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

I was still stewing about my skirts, I had hoped to wear my black skirt today. I asked my friend Laura to call the woman. She called and nobody answered. Argh! She called again and the woman answered.  Laura asked me if I wanted to go get the skirts or have the woman drop them off. I preferred that she dropped them off, I didn't want to hike back over to the mercado in the melting heat of  midday. 

After my class got out at 12:30, I went back again to the main gate, and guessed it. NO SKIRTS. UGH! I immediately tore over to the mercado, angrily rehearsing in Spanish what I wanted to say, was I going to demand my money back? My skirts? What if she hadn't done the work? What if she tried to stiff me the money? What if my skirts were missing? What was I going to do? I was on my own. I didn't have the crutch of a good friend to help me. 

I stormed to the shop and the woman jumped up from her table, and grabbed my skirts, shoved them into a bag, and handed them to me. I took them to examine each one.  She left thread trails from the black one, so I had her cut them off. Once I checked them over, I mumbled gracias and stomped off.  

What an aggravating experience, which of course, could happen in any country.  It maybe a 1st world problem in a 3rd world country but nevertheless, it ended well. My newly remodeled purple skirt has new black lace and is much cooler for this massively humid heat.  It's also nice to have new life in my black skirt, even though it's still a little too big. At least I have the skirts, the work was done and I have a few more options for my wardrobe.

And, in light of the theme, it is a far, far better thing that I use the same shop that I know. 
My altered skirts have new life again.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One More Haircut

The measurement of time is an interesting one. The song from the musical "Rent" flutters in the back of my mind.  How do you measure the passing or anticipation of time?

I walk the same route back and forth to the university every day, usually 4 times a day or 2 round trips. During our summer vacation here, in the afternoons, as I cut through the local park, I usually saw children playing. Oh, how the youth think that time will never pass, that summer days last forever, and that youth is endless. I usually felt a sense of telling them to enjoy every moment of their unabashed enjoyment of the simplicity of life, before life got in the way. If I could, I  wish I could tell them to not be in a rush to grow up, before deadlines, commitments  bills, ad responsibilities robbed them of their zest for living.

It made me reflect on my younger days and how I thought about time. A memory of  fall afternoons comes to my mind. It was still warm but the sun would start its descent behind the western horizon. I would sit in the green grass in the front of my church, waiting for my mom to come pick me up after play practice at my high school across the street. I remember thinking that high school would last forever. 4 years? That seemed like a lifetime. Yet, now I look back and wonder where did  20 years disappear to since those memories?

Time is a slippery object to measure.

Yesterday, I realized  during my 11 am Intermediate II class that it was the first day of my last semester of teaching at the University of Piura. Yesterday was the last time I would use my introduction to class Prezi.

On Monday, this thought began to percolate in my mind as I sat in the salon. The salon, in the basement of a house, is large, spacious,quiet and clean. It's heavenly. Even getting cold wax ripped from my overgrown eyebrows was a relaxing experience in the cool, quiet room.  All I heard was the gentle swish of the air conditioner unit and the occasional sound of the salon assistant. There was no sounds of trucks,or motos, or even of people.  Another woman quietly read a magazine as she waited for a manicure.

There was something calming and yet normalizing about being at the salon. I was transported away from the reality of my daily life here by doing something as normal as going to the salon.  One of my favorite indulgences is having my hair washed in a salon. I love the feeling of the water rushing through my hair.

Afterwards, as I sat in the stylist's chair, waiting for the hair stylist, I looked in the mirror. I reflected back on my first visit to the salon with my colleague at the time. I remember how nervous I was to be there. I had written down carefully what I wanted done to my hair in Spanish.  Would I get a hack job or would it be good?  Thankfully, the salon has been a good place to go with the actual ambiance of a spa.

I forced myself to take a long look at myself in the mirror.  However, I hate mirrors. I hate the utter depressing feeling I get when I stare back at my reflection. I can't hide from the truth about how I really look in the mirror.

Yet, as I stared at myself yesterday afternoon,  I saw change from that first reflection in that mirror last fall.  I saw not only physical change but spiritual and emotional change looked back at me. I didn't immediately feel depressed about my lack of beauty.  I saw a spark of confidence and acceptance in my eyes looking back.  Hey, I'm not as ugly as I thought.  Maybe?

Then something hit me.

I only had one haircut left to schedule in Peru before I returned to the United States. One haircut left for mid-May.  The next time for a haircut will be when I'm back home.

One more haircut.  Can I really measure time by haircuts?

What about rent payments?

5 more.

How many more Sundays at church?

19 more, adjusting for General Conference and Stake Conference leaves 17.

Weeks in the semester? 16 weeks for my everyday classes. My English for Communications class lasts longer but I'm not sure how much longer.

According to,  I can also caculate time by days, months, hours, etc.

From and including: Tuesday, 5 March 2013
To and including: Wednesday, 24 July 2013
It is 142 days from the start date to the end date, end date included
Or 4 months, 20 days including the end date
Alternative time units
142 days can be converted to one of these units:
  • 12,268,800 seconds
  • 204,480 minutes
  • 3408 hours

I don't know the best way to measure time, but when I realize I've been here for nearly 8 months,  I wonder where time went so quickly. Soon enough, I'll be sitting in an American salon at the end of July, for my first American haircut after a year, and looking back at the last months of my experience here and wonder how I measure the future.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jueves Por Favor

Last night, after an all adventure at the beach, I decided I was too tired to go grocery shopping at the neighborhood market. After hobbling home with a bad sunburn and a broken right flip flop, I stopped at the corner bodega to buy something to eat for supper. I decided upon some hard-boiled eggs and an alfajor (a delicious cookie) to augment my meager supplies at home... which consisted of left-over food from the departed American teacher and my last reserves.

I'm sure the clerk, who I think must live there because she's always there when I go by the bodega, is amused at my "gringaness" when I attempt to buy things in my limited Spanish.

At first, I was too afraid to use the bodegas (or little convenience stores) because I was afraid of actually knowing what to ask for...however, convenience, hunger, and necessity overcame my fear. One of the unique things about these little stores is that you don't walk in and peruse the aisles like you do at 7-11 or Circle K. The store part and the clerk are behind large metal bars. You step up the counter and ask them for what you want, like you're ordering something in a prison commissary.

Another thing I had to learn about culture here is that for the most part people here don't usually understand the concept of standing in line. I have to be aggressive sometimes and make sure that nobody cuts in front of me, especially if I had been waiting for a while.

I also wonder how so many bodegas ( stay in business in such a small radius.  In my neighborhood, there are five bodegas in a five-minute walk. Maybe they're really all part of one collective like in China.

So when I saddled up to the counter to ask for the eggs...

I said "Quiero dos jueves por favor."

The clerk looked at me funny and said "que?"

Then I realized my mistake.

I said "I want two Thursdays please."

What I meant to say was "Quiero dos huevos por favor."....  Or, "I want two eggs please."

Long story short is that pronunciation does matter! And for the record - the pronunciation is very similar!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Stuff it Top Chef


Inspired by watching old seasons of "Top Chef" during my siesta, and in an effort to expand my culinary palette, I decided to try some new ideas.  I looked up some recipes for easy skillet meals and Spanish rice.  White rice is a staple part of the Peruvian diet, so I thought hey why not, with some spices and seasoning, it would be a cheap and filling (albeit a health wise debatable choice).

I wrote down  a few staple ingredients I'd need for Spanish rice: chili powder, garlic powder, bell peppers, etc. I had to go to the  mercado to buy some cheap sunglasses. My friend Leidy went with me because she had to buy some things for her sister's engagement party. As we walked around the food stalls, I decided to buy the chili powder and garlic powder at the mercado because it would be cheaper.

The first shop didn't have anything like that, but we found a shop with chili power and garlic in a liquid form. I happily paid my $1.76 US and went on my merry way.

Later, I went to the supermarket, and without any set recipe, or ingredient list, I purchased limes, peppers, rice, and bistec with lomo (I don't know exactly what it is, some cut of beef). I was excited to prepare my meal on Sunday.

I tried cooking some rice on Saturday night but I totally screwed it up. I added one cup of water to one cup of rice because I thought that's what the instructions (in Spanish) said. It was nasty and inedible. I added some chili powder and garlic - bad idea. The chili powder was really spicy.


About 6 p.m, I start preparing my meal. I cut up the limes, and squeezed the lime juice on the beef as a marinade. Now, remember, that my kitchen prep area is a glass computer desk that I also am using as a desk. My electric skillet doesn't have a long enough cord, so I just leave it on the floor.

Soon, the aroma of the lime juice soaked beef was wafting in the air. Learning from Saturday, I prepared a mixture of a little chili powder with water and poured it into the skillet. After the meat was done, I drained the water and added in the peppers and onions to saute. Things were smelling good. When the mixture was finished, I drained the water again, then realizing I should have saved it for the rice. I boiled the water, and added the rice. I cooked it for 20 minutes and added the meat and veggies back in for another few minutes. I added some garlic as well. I prepared myself a serving of the meal and sat down to eat.

Yet, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to taste or experience. No matter how good my intentions were, or how normal the food looked, I was in for a major surprise.

Pieces of meat and rice were so spicy, I thought flames would burst out of my mouth, pieces of pepper seemed to ignite my taste buds into oblivion. One last college try on a piece of pepper caused my mouth to feel like I had just licked the fiery furnaces of the 7th level of Hell. This was 1000 times worse than the Kansas City "Night of the Living Dead" BBQ sauce incident where I thought I was tough enough to handle the burn.

I went out to the fridge and grabbed the only thing besides water I had - pineapple juice. I slugged that down    and felt some relief... but as soon as the taste went away, the flames started up.  I briefly thought about asking my colleague who lives in the next room, if I could use some soy milk but I wasn't that desperate. I then just ate a piece of bread and that helped. My eyes also started watering, so naturally what do I do? I rub them...only to have my eyeballs turn inside out in their sockets as my eyelids contract and shrivel. I immediately ran to the bathroom and splashed water into my face, but that wasn't cutting it. I quickly ripped off my clothes and turned on the shower. Come on hot water, come on...the water needs to be at least tepid for me to get into the shower. Finally, it was tolerable, I jumped into the shower and let the water just pour over my eyes and face as they burned. After about 10 minutes of showering, I felt some relief.  3 hours later - the burn is still lingering and I blame "Top Chef" for it. I will just stick to peanut butter, tortillas, and tomatoes (not all at once!).  And the next time I'm feeling adventurous with food, I think I'll just try a new brand of fruit juice.