By Danielle L. Krautmann

Alternative to department store.

As my taxi weaves its way through the streets of Cajamarca, Peru, things look different than they did my last visit.  Perhaps it’s because last April, I was a tourist from Lima.  This time I’m here to look at apartments.  I will be moving to Cajamarca in a month.

The taxi driver grumbles to himself about the traffic as I look out the window.  I notice that every store on this block sells cleaning supplies.  Brooms, mops, bold colored buckets and dustpans clutter the shop fronts to draw you in and deter you from the next store which sells the exact same items.  The next two blocks are filled with peluquerias (hair salons).  Each store front is covered with out-dated posters of models from the 80’s displaying voluminous hair styles.  I wonder which of these peluquerias I will go to.  Does it make a difference?

The next block is where you buy your canned foods with faded labels while the one after is filled with hardware shops.  Is this a weird dream?  What planet am I on?  Why don’t these people just go to a department store?  Finally, as the taxi approaches Hotel de las Americas, I notice every other building on this block sells nothing but cheese and yogurt.  All I can think about is how I will describe this strange phenomenon to friends and family when I return to Lima.  Then it hits me: these are the places I will shop and these are the streets I will need to learn.  Shit.  This is going to be like starting all over….AGAIN.

One of these guys is not like the others

I step out of the taxi and take a look at the locals.  When I visited in April, the people of Cajamarca (many of whom still wear traditional Andean clothing) contributed to the rich cultural experience of visiting this beautiful mountain town.  They walk the streets dressed in sandals, knee-length wool skirts with petticoats, with 3 to 5 sweaters layered over each other (never mind it’s hot out).  A tall hat made from woven palm leaves shades their dark leathered faces and covers their black hair which they wear tied back in one or two braids.  Today, these women are no longer photo opportunities, but my new neighbors.  The majority of Cajamarcanians sport modern attire as they would in Lima, but there is still something very different.  All of a sudden I become keenly aware of the lyrics to the song I’ve been humming to myself for most of the taxi ride.

“People are strange, when you’re a stranger.  Faces look ugly, when you’re alone.”

You said it Jim Morrison.  How the heck am I going to live here?  How will I make friends?  Lima is one thing, but this place is just a little too different.  I try to remember why I wanted to move here in the first place.  Something about the mountains, something about the culture, something about getting out of the city, and something about Brandy being able to run free off her leash.  These things seem trivial and I’m ready to hop back on the next plane to Lima.  Loud lonely Lima all of a sudden becomes lovely, luxurious Lima, where I have friends, and can buy everything I need in one store.   Alas, I am supposed to go and see eight different apartments tomorrow so I’ll stay the weekend.

I guess it doesn't look all that bad, does it?

The taxi driver says “gracias señorita” as he dumps me off at the hotel and drives away quickly.  I catch myself humming The Doors again, “No one remembers your name, when you’re strange, when you’re strange.”

Change is hard, moving is hard, and after moving nine times in the past five years (I’m not exaggerating), I can safely say, it doesn’t get a whole lot easier.  But I have learned there are a few things you can do to get through the adjustment period a little more smoothly.

Leave the house every day

Easier said than done.  At any given time, I can think up at least five reasons not to leave the comfort of my own home:  It’s not safe. I can’t understand anyone. I’m tired. there’s too much to do around the house. Brandy doesn’t want me to leave her alone.  There, easy.  That was five.  Stop making excuses. Even if it’s just to take a walk around the block, get out of the house.

Get your bearings

Figure out where you are. You can look at maps, but the best way to learn the streets is by walking them.  When I moved to Lima, I was so nervous about getting lost, I would only walk around the block, so that’s where I started.  Then it became two blocks, then trips to the grocery store, then I learned the bus system.

Talk to people, start conversations

Everyone has a story to tell and most have good intentions.  Of course you must keep safety in mind, so perhaps if there is a “gentleman” standing on the corner making kissing noises, don’t approach him and ask him if he wants to be friends.  Aside from that, put yourself out there, you’ve got nothing to lose.  “People look strange, when you’re a stranger.”  So don’t be a stranger, talk to everyone.

Accept every invitation

Take advantage of every opportunity, even if it’s not your thing, keep an open mind and go anyway.  If you get invited to a gathering, a Tupperware party, a trip to Gamarra to see the Shaman market, to train for a marathon, whatever, GO!  Every invitation you accept will get you more invitations, and you’ll never know whether or not you’ll like something until you try it.

Finally, go easy on yourself

Moving is hard.  It doesn’t matter if it’s to another country or the next town over.  In Peru, we use an expression, “poco a poco”  which means “little by little”.  That’s how things happen and that’s how we adjust.  It won’t happen overnight.

So now, I suppose, it’s time to take my own advice.  In a month I will move to this place, I will shop in these stores, get lost in these streets, and befriend these strangers.  Time to find an apartment, check out the local market, and find someone to talk to. Here we go again!