By Danielle L. Krautmann
The other day I was taking a taxi back from work. I negotiated the fare to be eight soles, a fair price to go from San Borja to my apartment in San Isidro. I told the taxi driver to please not take the street Javier Prado explaining “la trafica es mierda ahora,” and asked him to take a different route. He ignored my request and landed us in stand still traffic on Javier Prado. He told me if I wanted to continue, I would need to pay 12 soles. Assessing the situation to be non-threatening, I explained to him that he had two options. I could get out of the taxi and pay him nothing, or he could take me to my apartment for the price we agreed upon. I said I had told him not to take Javier Prado and he took it anyway, that was his problem, not mine. He mumbled a couple swears and agreed to take me for eight soles. I won an argument in Spanish! Yes!
Something has changed over the past two months. I first became aware of it when I started having difficulty coming up with blog topics. At first, everything felt so new and different that I had a long list of topics I wanted to cover. Then, I was so frustrated with the differences that I didn’t want to write about them. Lately, it’s getting harder and harder to see the differences between Peru and the United States because it feels like day to day life.
I am currently in the process of getting my Peruvian Foreign Residency card or Carnet de Extranjeria. Don’t be confused, this is not citizenship, it’s basically permission to stay for an extended period of time without a visa. It’s about as Peruvian as I can get. While I contemplate what this means for me, I can’t help but recall a conversation I had with Charlie in February when my frustrations hit the roof. Charlie told me that I lived here now and needed to get used to the cultural differences. At the time, it was the meanest thing he could have possibly said to me. How dare he tell me that I live here? I thought we were just staying temporarily until it was over!
So what’s the difference between being a resident and just staying here? It wasn’t until my recent visit back to the States that I really felt, for better or for worse, that my home is here in Peru. When I got together with friends or family, most people’s first question was, “How’s Peru?” You would think that I would be a pro at answering such a generic question, but it continued to dumbfound me. I felt like I was being asked “how is your life?” and had no idea where to start my answer. While three months ago, I would have delved into the differences between the two countries, my answer tended to be something along the lines of “Peru’s good, how’s New Hampshire?”
I have noticed that as Peru has begun to feel more like home, situations that originally sent me running back to the apartment in fits of rage or tears are now nothing more than little annoyances. For example, paying the monthly bills is a tedious process. Checks don’t exist here and you can’t pay with credit card so you need to go to the bank associated with the company (for example Telefonica is our cable/internet provider and they use Scotiabank) and deposit money into their account. Since everyone does this, the lines are usually long and since people feel the need to start every interaction with a polite conversation (taking much longer than I believe they should), the lines move slowly. The first time I went to pay bills, I quit half way through, storming home after waiting in line for a hour and a half. Now, I plan the bill-paying process will take at least an afternoon. I usually spread it out over two days and go to the bank when it’s least busy.
I still get annoyed with los hombres, but have had a revelation. About a month ago, I walked by two men, dressed professionally in business suits in a nice area of the city. They were having a seemingly serious conversation about investments (I was eavesdropping). As I walked by them, one of the men momentarily excused himself, made an obnoxious smooching noise towards me, then apologized to his business partner and continued the conversation. It was almost as if he was obligated to do it. Like if I walked by and one of them neglected to comment, the conversation could not continue or one might lose respect for the other. Now, I get this machoism is a cultural thing and I need to try to accept it. While it used to cause me to have violent dreams about beating a Peruvian man until he bleeds (seriously), now I just roll my eyes or turn up my Ipod.
I can speak enough Spanish to get by in most situations. I do not consider myself fluent because I still can’t follow jokes told in Spanish, sarcasm, or quick conversation among groups, but I’m getting there. I can get around the city by bus and know how much I should be paying for taxis so I’m taken advantage of less. I’ve got friends in Peru who I missed on my trip back to the states. I found work tutoring English to children and between that and Spanish classes have managed to keep my days quite full (although I still miss my job as an occupational therapist terribly). I got sick of telling people that I moved here for my husband’s job, so I’ve begun to tell people I’m either a writer or a teacher (depending on the day and what I’ve done more of). Although I don’t have the official card to prove it, I will soon and I think it’s safe to say that I’m not just staying here anymore. I live here. I’m a resident of Peru.