Cultural Learning: Trust and Mistrust in Arequipa

Since moving here two years ago I have begun to understand a piece of the culture that I had no idea existed. Trust and mistrust are two sides of a coin that are very significant here in Arequipa. Getting to know people and building a level of trust with them is no easy task. Once you do build trust with a Peruvian you have made a real friend and it’s a beautiful thing. A Latin American missionary and friend of mine believes that the Spanish conquest of the Incas here in Peru played a part in their history contributing to the mistrust that exists today. I agree that this may be a problem rooted in a history that occurred nearly 500 years ago. At the same time I would concede that many other factors play into the equation. 

A study done by the Pew Research Center showed that out of 47 countries surveyed the only other countries where the level of trust was lower amongst its people than Peru were Kuwait and Kenya. Their findings revealed that, “In countries where people generally trust one another, there are fewer worries about crime or corrupt political leaders.” As in many other parts of the world, home robbery, pick pocketing and theft of all kinds are rampant here in Arequipa. Surely poverty plays some part in peoples desperation to find what they want or need and often impoverished people resort to stealing in order to move ahead in life or so they think it helps them move ahead. You can talk with people here in the city and it won’t take long before you stumble upon a story of someone having been robbed or a friend or family member who has been. Drug and alcohol addiction, as in the United States, is a societal infection that causes all kinds of problems including mistrust. 

Because of these factors there is a high level of mistrust where we work. Many people are very hesitant to invite someone into their home without having previously built a high level of trust. If they do invite someone over whom they don’t completely trust I think its common to feel like the person is scoping out your house, what you have of value and how it would be easiest to break in at a future date. A couple of our young friends in their mid 20’s have been friends for probably 15 years and have only in the past few years been in each others’ homes. I think friends here make it a habit to just do things together out and about instead of inviting that friend into their home. Part of what mistrust looks like on a daily basis is also assuming the taxi driver is overcharging you and negotiating the taxi fare, or assuming the vendor in the market is asking more than the going rate and therefore asking other vendors before deciding who to buy from. My wife Sarah went shopping with our friend Ingrid who helps us out in the house. She said Ingrid compares prices for everything and she taught Sarah, when she’s been told a price, to always say “¿Nada menos?” meaning “Will you not sell it for less?” 

Unfortunately these scenarios make it challenging to build deep relationships quickly. As with most things in life though, being patient and giving God the opportunity to do things in His timing and through the culture in which you live is important. It’s hard to wait, especially when you are like me and feel accomplished when you are active and executing work-related tasks. I believe that prayer is the spiritual tool that aligns me most with God, His mission and how He is carrying it out in Arequipa, Peru. Please join me in praying for deep levels of trust, in God’s timing, to form in Christian communities in this city.