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.