An American in Peru

Where I buy fruit

It’s amazing how much a single interaction, or the successful completion of a task can make my day and contribute to my happiness here.  Conversely, a failed task or misunderstanding can be devastating.  Who knew I was so sensitive?

Here’s an example. This weekend, Charlie bought me a cell phone (I had been using a temporary one lent to me by his company), but it’s a pay as you go, so I needed to go to my favorite grocery store, Wong, to add minutes. This involved reciting a nine-digit number to the cashier in Spanish three times.  She showed me the number printed on a receipt, it looked right and I walked home feeling proud of myself for doing this without Charlie’s help…all in Spanish!  Boy, I was feeling good…like maybe, just maybe I can make it here on my own.  I don’t have to wait for Charlie to come home from the mine before I take care of business.  I am an independent, Spanish-speaking traveler who will be just fine here.

I called Charlie to brag about my accomplishment and after a couple minutes lost the call and heard a message that said I needed to add minutes to my phone.  What?  After further investigation of my receipt I realized the number I recited was one digit away from the correct one.  I added $17 to some lucky person’s phone rather than mine.  How kind of me.  This deflating discovery made me feel like curling up on the couch and watching a familiar DVD in English, eating ice cream and calling home.  I thought to myself how will I ever make it here if I can’t even add minutes to my phone? Fortunately, my schedule did not allow time for a pity party, I had a girl’s night out planned with Gaby.  This morning, I humbly returned to Wong with my phone number written on a piece of paper.  Although they were not capable of correcting the problem, I was able to add minutes to my phone.

This afternoon I went to Idiomas Catolicas to buy the books for my Spanish class which starts next week.  I paid, and while I was waiting for the secretary to bring me my books, was approached by a well-dressed, bubbly twenty-something year old woman named Rita.  She asked (in Spanish) where I was from and if I spoke English.  When I answered her she became overjoyed. I was afraid she would burst into bright bubbles of excitement right in front of me!  Within 10 seconds, she had practically dragged me, by my hand, into an empty classroom.  She quickly introduced herself, asked my name, and gave me the formal greeting of a kiss on the cheek.

Rita explained to me (in Spanish) that she was taking English classes at the school but would like private lessons to help her perfect her pronunciation and compliment her classes.  We exchanged phone numbers and established that the best times for me would be Mon-Wed in the afternoon.  She asked how much I charged per hour.  This was all happening so fast, I could barely follow the conversation.  I was fumbling around with my Spanish trying to figure out how to tell her I would need to talk with my husband first.  Being an inexperienced teacher, I had no idea what I should charge.

I considered telling her that if she would be my friend, I would charge her nothing.  She seemed nice and I can always use more friends…I’ll buy them if I have to.  But the eagerness and anticipation in her face made me feel like I should quit thinking to myself and throw out a number: $15 dollars an hour.  Without flinching, she said it was perfect and she would call me this weekend.  She kissed me again and apologized, I think for being so rushed, then briskly walked off to class backwards, smiling and waving to me the whole way.  This entire interaction took less than 3 minutes and I was left alone standing dumbfounded in the empty classroom.  Do I have a job?

Posted by Danielle L. Krautmann, 28 Jan 2010