Living in a foreign culture for years is an odd thing. At first, everything was either extremely interesting or extremely annoying, because we were evaluating all experiences against our own and determining whether new things should be accepted or merely endured. I’ve been writing this column for two years, which means I’ve spent lots of time paying attention to the things I experience, trying to put my finger on their value to a Peruvian’s life and extrapolate the value I should integrate into my own.
As a reader of this newsletter, I’m sure you know that a large part of our developmental ministry is doing micro-loans, which just means small amounts (by our definition) loaned to small businesses. I’ve recently done more thinking than usual on this subject due to some conversations with Anna Heikkilä about her thesis topic options and realized some cultural trends that I had simply not noticed before.
Early on during our time in Peru, I asked a friend about how to reach out to neighbors. I learned that the responsibility would fall to me to befriend the woman of the family, whose task it is to screen newcomers before introducing them to the other members. It has been an interesting process to learn how to host others in our home in ways that communicate hospitality to Peruvians.
We like being given the recognition we feel we deserve. It is not uncommon for our children to start asserting their “grown-upness” at a young age, reminding us parents that they are now X years old and don’t need our help with the task or decision under discussion. This continues throughout life, when we get our hackles up should someone insinuate that we are less than we actually are, whether it refers to age (college kids coming home during the summer?), job status (fetching coffee for the boss?), or a variety of other facets of life.
We are used to being identified by a few key pieces of information, typically including full name, possibly maiden name, Social Security number, driver’s license number, and birthdate. Some of that information is widely known, while some is protected in order to protect our identity, our uniqueness and access to personal things.
Each month, I try to choose relevant topics in the field of inter-cultural experience, usually based on what we have been dealing with recently. And let me tell you, we are being stretched all over the place in the reliability of planned activities. I hadn’t realized just how much this affected us until we had a chance to plan out a week’s worth of activities for our most recent visitors from Tullahoma, Ken and Suzanne Smith. It struck me as a little out of the ordinary that we would decide what we would do, and then actually do it. It felt unusual, because it is.
As will soon be taking place in the US, Peru is in the process of holding their presidential elections. We have learned quite a bit about how this is a different beast than the stateside system, and yet haven’t figured it all out. Nonetheless, welcome to the maze.
Every culture in the world deals with families. Sometimes it defines who a person is at their very core. Sometimes it merely defines common practices, such as holiday traditions or methods of grieving. Sometimes it defines priorities by conditioning its members to always attend weddings but not funerals, or emphasizing mealtime prayers but not homework assistance. The way culture influences family varies around the globe, but the fact is that families are observably different.
It is the rainy season right now. It has been said that rain to Peruvians is like snow to southerners. They just don’t really know what to do with it and prefer to stay home. It is tough on many families because the homes aren’t made to keep out water, and the flat roofs (left that way so that another floor can be added on later) collect water that then creeps down into the house.
Peru is an extremely Catholic country. And within that, Arequipa is an extremely Catholic city. It is woven into the culture here in a very real way. People will state that they are Catholic, even if that just means their family would claim the Catholic church over another, rather than defining their sense of self in relation to God and the world. Nominal Catholicism is widespread, with such participants attending mass on religious holidays, but relatively few times apart from those.