When You’re Strange: Adjusting to Life in a New Town

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!



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11 thoughts on “When You’re Strange: Adjusting to Life in a New Town”

  1. I love your sense of adventure and your way of describing your situations. I remember when you first arrived in Lima, and now you get to have a whole new adventure. I can especially relate to the getting lost part … that’s exactly how I find my bearings, but I think I just never realized it.

    I think you’re going to love your new home; I hope you will find the time to continue writing. I am living vicariously through your blog … sigh.

    All best wishes to you!

  2. Its so hard to step out of your comfort zone. I guess I do it a lot, but I’m not sure that it ever gets easier…and the simple fact is sometimes you fail. I hope I am not misrepresenting myself in this blog by my optimism when I write. Honestly, there are times, when I want to hole up in the house, say no to every invite, and find my comfort zone again…be it by returning to the states or just watching movies in English.

    BUT once you overcome the discomfort and fear, you are all the better of a person because of it. When I was a kid and upset about something, my friends dad would always tell me “it builds character.” It used to piss me off at the time, but he was right. It’s good to be humbled every now and them by the unknown.

    Linda, I’m so excited for you to be teaching at the Medical Center. I bet you make an awesome teacher and it’s great to go a different direction in your field…keeps your mind ticking.

    For those of you who have asked via email, I did find an awesome apartment in Banos del Inca (outside of Cajamarca). There are gardens everywhere and it’s absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to be in the mountains rather than the city. Official moving date: Dec. 17th. We’ll see how Brandy makes it through the plane ride and adjusts to her new home. I can’t wait. My family will be visiting us for Christmas for 10 days in Cajamarca.

    Right now I am in the jungle and will be until Dec. 10th. I am loving it as usual and have lots to tell you all so please stay tuned. Thanks for the feedback!


  3. Dear Danielle,
    If I were there, I’d take off my big, tall hat made of woven palm leaves and tip it to you! Then we could go buy… some cleaning products? Probably not.
    You are embracing your adventure and you have so many gifts to share-lucky people in that town! Keep your lovely smile going.
    Sending you love and good hope.
    With gratitude for knowing you,
    Happy Thanksgiving,
    Kathi Russ

  4. Linda Hendrickson

    God bless you girl. You inspire me. I have been having trouble pulling together an application to teach at the University Medical Center because it will be something NEW for me and you are off moving to a new city in Peru. I’m such a whiner.

  5. Hi D,

    I suddenly stumble upon this and find myself so much happier..i just move to Bali this week, my first day was like hell dunno where to go, whom to speak until on second day i bought a city map..and a bike! So every weekend (i work like a horse on weekdays :p) me and my bike just ride around the nearest beach talking to stranger i met and share diff story over an ice tea..it wasnt bad at all i guess 🙂
    enjoy your life D 🙂

  6. Oh my dear!!! Everything you say it´s absolutly true. It´s hard being outside your comfort zone ( and i know a lot about this ) but i think that in the moment you just got out and think positive things start to go right. I was alone for a weekend because Felipe was in Bogota to see a soccer game with a friend and i decided to go out with Inca ( of course) and just enjoy the day ( i´t was a beautiful day) and i met my first friend here, Victoria, another argentinian who was as lonely as me!!! So i came home that day, happy with myself because í had a friend and i feel so pride…it was a great feeling and that day making just a friend become super important because i was lonely in a strange city but i make it by my own.
    I can´t believe that you go…i´m gonna miss you so much!!!

  7. I’m smiling … grinning from ear to ear like I always do when I read your blog. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures in Banos del Inca. I admire your spunk and adventurous spirit! I hope you and your family have a wonderful adventurous Christmas. The rest of us … aunts, uncles, cuzzin’s and so on … will be missing you from our comfort zones at home.

    Love you and miss you.

  8. Hi Danielle! You don’t know me and I hope you don’t mind my contacting you but I stumbled upon your lovely blog while looking for more information about Cajamarca. I am 22 and will be moving from southern California to Cajamarca in March to spend ten months teaching English as a Fulbright fellow. Because Cajamarca is not a particularly popular tourist destination, there is limited information about what daily Cajamarca is like, especially for a young woman, and I would love a little more guidance. Please let me know if I can get in touch with you! My email address is eleanor_wolf(at)pitzer.edu.

  9. Hi Danielle,

    I plan to move to Cajamarca in a few months’ time for a new job and came across your blog in my “research”. I have truly LOVED reading your posts! Some are up, some are down…all are a real reflection of what life is like as a foreigner trying to figure out a new place, complete with an essential good sense of humor. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your reflections and writing about what sounds like an absolutely beautiful place in so many ways! I can’t wait to go there and start exploring myself!

    Thanks again, and please, keep writing!


  10. Been reading your blog yesterday and today. Wonderful material, extremely enjoyable. You are a wonderful writer with a great outlook. I sort of hated to see that you had returned home, the blog is so enjoyable to read. I hope things are going well for you at home. Richard, Denver, CO

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