Friday, January 16, 2009

Unearthing Vulnerability in Lima

Sitting in the “Comida Arabe” café (Middle Eastern Food) in Lima, there is always a falafel stopover as part of my Lima visit. Pictures of Jordan, Palestine, and Jerusalem randomly cover the cream cracking walls, a Spanish voice sings to the mystical trance of a beat that could certainly make a Cobra rise.

For me, Lima is a fairly intimidating city. It’s expansive, chaotic, crowded, and has all the elements of cities I know from the US—from modern department stores to poverty stricken urban areas and everything in between. Throw in the language switch to quick Spanish and you can get to feeling lost. This makes me think about not only immigrants who come to live and work in the U.S., but refugees that are planted in our cities all over the U.S.—how lost, lonely and scared they must feel. To transplant yourself the other way around gives you a great deal of sensitivity that is palpable inside of you.

Last night I arrived in Lima at about midnight. I always feel somewhat nervous about the trek from the airport to the Miraflores District of Lima, where I’ve learned enough of the “ropes” to feel settled for a day or two stop over before I head to the mountains to Cajamarca.

At the Lima airport, once you pass through immigrations and collect the luggage you anxiously hope shows up, you come to your first ultimate moment, which I call “The Stop Light.” Before you leave the “secured area” into the public, you must literally pass through the security team by pressing a button in front of a stoplight that turns red or green. Some folks have fathomed that someone is behind the smoky glass you can see above and behind the stoplight area, deciding your fate. Whether or not this is true, I always use as much positive intention to get the green go-ahead. If so, you move swiftly forward and think a silent thank you! If red, you move to the side where all of your belongings are taken apart (not just lifted up or shifted around, but unpacked.) There is a very specific list of items on the back of the application to enter the county that states what items you may bring into the country without paying “taxes.” However, the list seems to me it was last revised circa 1985 since the directory of allowable items is highlighted with oldies but goodies like cassette tapes. Needless to say, if you get the red light and get “unpacked” you’re not going to argue any “taxes” that may be required to continue on. I had two flip video cameras and three web cameras beneath my stuff for use in the field and was wondering what the red light might cost me. If you do get the red light, it can help you greatly to use the “whining tool.” This is a form of a Spanish voice that is unmistakingly popular when trying to get your way and has a very high rate of success, may I add. The sound is like a slightly begging puppy. I’ve used it before, throwing in details of how I lived there for two years and how much I love to help their women. The art of negotiation is key when the way “way of doing things” is ever-changing and not established by a set of rules. Green light for me this time!

The “Stop Light” is your first test of playing it cool. The next 100 yards beyond the light finds you around a corner, entering the sea of people waiting in the public zone. Basically you exit out into the mass of nearly 200 Peruvians waiting to meet their guests in clustered noisy crowds behind a small waist-high metal barrier 5 yards from you. Here you are on full display on the catwalk entering into public as you get looked upon from every angle. This is where you must muster up the “I know what I’m doing so don’t screw with me” look so you exude confidence in the craziness. You will be approached by about 50 different taxi drivers competing for your business yelling their prices from every direction. Some of them question you: “Taxi?” Others seem to command you toward a ride they know you need: “Taxi!!”

The unknown taxi driver ride requires another layer of confidence altogether, especially as a white woman alone in the middle of the night. I have to say, I simply don’t dig riding into the darkness of the city at 12:30am with all of my possessions with a man I’ve never known in my life in a country where I don’t really have rights as I know them. (Side note: the passport is your most golden possession and is always your first concern over any other material item or money; it gets you home with absolute hassle. I carry mine under my clothes in a waist belt).

Once in the taxi on the way to Miraflores, all you can do is hope for safety and guidance from something or someone, wherever you summon your Power. In general, you have no idea where you are or if the route is right or wrong. The route to Miraflores often requires weaving through parts of the city, and there are always moments we turn down some empty alleyway street to cut to a new road and I think to myself— this is WAY beyond my control right now and I hope this man is a good person. One of my strategies for personal engagement is to be chatty with the driver from the get-go…using humor and asking questions, especially framed about his family and children, and bringing up the work DIscoverHope does in Cajamarca. An appeal to the pathos can go a long way!

When we arrive at the hotel, I am always thankful once again for the safe arrival. In my room last night, a humid layer from the Lima summer heat clung to the think still air. This hostel room has many buried memories of travelers in the old tile floor, the cracking walls, the weathered dusty furniture, and straw mattress bed. I don’t know if it was the vulnerability of the trip and opening myself to absolute protection beyond my own will, but sitting in the dark heat of the room in Lima with the fan click-clacking a small gust of air was a super lonely feeling. It made me think of how expansive this world is; I wondered, where in the world were all of you and what were you doing and feeling at the exact same moment? Through that thought came gratitude for a secure place where I could close my eyes.

Lima always brings these feelings of vulnerability and unknown for me—but nevertheless, a necessary stop on the way to the North. All day, I will stumble adjusting to my Spanish voice, which at its peak is flowing and adept, but now choppy from the year away. In the course of these days in Lima, the transformation takes place...there must be a code switch, inside and outside. I must shed the cocoon of expectations about the way things work.

The Latin beats have overtaken the Middle Eastern mystique and my falafel has filled me up, and I am ready to hit the streets. Tomorrow, while you are sleeping or drinking your early morning coffee, I will be winding my way back through these streets to the airport to catch the sun rising over the Andes Mountains. I’ll write you tomorrow from the cool and wet North.

To vulnerability and the gratitude it unearths from us, MM

1 comment:

erin said...

That "Spanish whine" is sooooo annoying! Even people in my graduate business classes would use it when the teacher announced a test or something. My American classmate and I were so taken aback the first time we heard it in class that all we could do was look at each other in horror/amusement.

Glad you got the green light!