When I left Peru for the holidays, I was ecstatic to visit the States, but I had every intention of returning to Peru at the beginning of January. I had big plans to trek about the country with a friend of mine there and move to Cusco in February. In the past, I had struggled with some issues, but I thought that I had overcome them effectively and begun to enjoy myself. However, over the past month I have realized that I simply found ways to compensate for my unhappiness. From the moment I arrived home, I dreaded going back.
My organized mind struggled every day to find beauty and make pieces fit that never would. I wanted to fix things up, change them, instead of accepting Arequipa for exactly what it was. People are late for everything–never on time. No matter how many times we swept the floor, it was always filthy again the next day. Showers were often cold, and I couldn’t run mine for too long or it would flood my whole room. The apartment was dirty, loud, and dark. But these are only minor irritations. These, I was able to overcome to a certain degree. There were deeper issues that were impossible to ignore.
I used the practice of taking photographs for Instagram to find beauty in every day because my eye struggled to find it. There is a movement occurring in which people expose the truths behind their perfectly framed photographs. I will expose my truth as well: I photographed the beautiful old buildings, but I did my best to hide the graffiti on everything and the filthy smudges where people passed for years upon years. I did not photograph the piles of trash on the streets, nor the mangy dogs who would rip them apart in search of food. I did not photograph the homeless men with their hands down their tattered pants, who would pull their genitals out for the world to see. There was no way to capture the frequent smell of human urine and shit, nor of trash, nor of the exhaust from ancient vehicles.
I inserted my headphones before I left the house and only took them out when I arrived safely at my destination. I would pass the cathedral as the music swelled around me, the sun hitting the white stones of the spires and gilding them with golden light, and I’d feel something beautiful move in my chest. The music buoyed my feet and put a bounce in my step; it manipulated my emotions and helped me feel as though I was enjoying myself. And I did enjoy myself for a while. It wasn’t all terrible. Living in a city that’s almost 500 years old does have a certain novelty to it. But after a while, the sickening tendency of men to tell a passing woman (especially a white, blonde one) exactly what they thought of her becomes overwhelming. Every day, both to and from work, I would hear whistles and catcalls and kissing noises from pedestrians, honks and shouts from cars. For some women, this is not a problem. For me, someone who does not like to stand out, it was very difficult. I felt like I was constantly standing in the spotlight, with a target on my back. I felt like my body was under endless scrutiny.
My health declined. In much the same way going to college disrupts one’s ability to make healthy choices and form good habits, so too does ripping yourself from everything you’ve ever known and plunging yourself into a vastly different culture. I struggled with laziness. I didn’t want to cook myself healthy meals. I thought it didn’t matter because I was walking everywhere so it balanced out. I didn’t want to run on the streets because I dreaded the attention I knew it would draw. I ate too much sugar because the place I worked sold massive quantities of sweets, and they were incredible. I could feel myself sliding back to a place in which I did not want to find myself. I have begun to make strides in the right direction during my time at home, and my concern is that my past struggles and bad habits will return if I do.
Since I’ve been home, Honey has been unable to cope with me leaving the house. Anytime she sees my suitcase, she begins to shake so hard it looks like she’s going to come apart. She barely leaves my side when I’m home (something she never used to do–she’s a fairly independent dog). I couldn’t stand traumatizing her so much again by leaving her behind, but I do not feel that it would be safe to take her with me.
There are also mundane issues, such as money and employment that I will not go into because those are issues many people struggle with here and abroad.
Right now it is difficult to think of myself as anything other than a failure, but a good friend helped me see that it takes more strength to follow my path and not cave to the pressure I might feel from all of those watching. I realized that the reason I almost forced myself to go back was because I told people I was going and they would expect me to follow through. What kind of life would that be, to live according to the expectations of people who have absolutely no stake in what I’d be forcing myself to do? I feel ashamed because many people knew I was going, and now everyone will witness my failure to thrive in the environment I thought would be so much better than where I grew up, but I won’t let this fear of judgment stop me from living my life my way.
At heart, I am still a wanderer. I know that Peru is not right for me, but I do not wish to settle yet, so for now I wait and plan my next move. I have a few ideas about where I want to go and what I would like to do, and now I know more about what I want and what I do not. Though I wish I had been able to find contentment in Peru, I am happy that I tried, and I did have fun doing it. I am grateful that I got to see Machu Picchu, practice my Spanish, meet amazing people, try new foods, get run over by a llama, take a train through a cloud forest, and dance on a bar. Peru IS a beautiful country, rich in history and tradition. Its people are proud, and rightly so. There is so much heritage there worthy of praise. I am grateful now and will forever be grateful that I was able to go. If I hadn’t, I would still be wondering what it was like and dreaming of it as a possibility. Now that I know my dreams do not lie there, I am free to pursue more of what makes me thrive. Goodbye, Peru, and thanks for everything.