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.