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
Incense. Candles. Live bands. Fireworks. Veils. Popcorn. Cotton candy. Barefoot reverence. Purple vestments. Dueling bands. Balloons. Crosses. Flowers. Candied apples. Priests. Banners. Crucifixes. Ornamental street tapestries. And people. Lots of people. Men dressed in purple are carrying a massive painting of Jesus on a heavy pedestal. Others dressed in purple are following close behind, reciting their prayers and showing their devotion to the Lord of Miracles, some by walking barefoot.
You know how almost every home in the states has a Christmas tree this month? Well, here in Peru, almost every home has a nativity scene displayed. It is hard not to think about the story of Jesus’s birth when I see the nativity scene everywhere that I go. Peruvians can relate to the story of baby Jesus and theVirgin Mary. I would like to share a personal story with you relating to the Christmas Story.
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.