Thoughts on One Year in Peru

By Danielle L. Krautmann

“Six months ago, I was living in Seattle with roommates, working as an occupational therapist for a home health company. Now, I am a housewife in Lima, Peru.”

Can you believe that in January I celebrated my one-year anniversary of living in Peru?  This country and I have had a turbulent relationship with many ups and downs.  I personify Peru and can’t count how many times I’ve found myself directly cursing it for its defects…and sometimes for my own.  I once forgot the keys to my apartment in a taxi and screamed “I hate you, Peru!” as the taxi quickly drove away.

Danielle of the Jungle

Peru has long lines, every task is far more complicated than it needs to be, and the men can be terribly rude.  But I think, just maybe, the best relationships happen when you can love someone (or a country) deep enough to see past their faults.  I know I love Peru because when I reflect on my past year, its hard to remember what was difficult.  All I can think about is what I’ve gained.

Alone but not lonely

“All Alone.
Whether you like it or not.
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.”
~Dr. Suess

Upon arriving on January 4th, to my new apartment in Lima, Peru I had two hours with my husband before he left for four days to go work at the mine.  I found myself with a cell phone and no one to call.  As I paced around my sterile living room, I immediately understood what my new life would be like…lonely.  Charlie would be at the mine in Cajamarca most of the time and I would be in Lima, alone.  With no friends, afraid of everything outside the apartment, I decided to sit for four days and wait for him to come back.

One of my favorite places in the world. The Rainforest.

I spent weeks walking around my block and eventually my whole neighborhood looking for friends and things to do.  I would run home in tears after being kissed at, followed and harassed by men in the streets.  I would sulk and stew inside the apartment over the loss of my family and friends, my career, my independence, and my former last name.  And for what?  To be sexually harassed, to watch TV, drink wine, cook, and be a housewife. How had I gotten here?

Hiking over the Salkantay pass en route to Machu Picchu.

I was so lonely.  I wanted to go home where I had friends, people to call on my cell phone, people who spoke English!  Charlie was working hard at the mine.  He was too busy during the day to chat and too exhausted at night.  During one heated discussion I told him, “When I agreed to move down here, I had no idea how much you would be away at the mine.  I’m alone all the time.  I hate this.”  His reply?  “You’re not alone.  You’ve got Brandy (our dog).  You can talk to her.”
“She doesn’t speak English either!!!”  I screamed with frustration.  Poor Brandy, who was listening nearby, hung her head in shame.  I’m sure she understood.

At some point that first month I remembered something.  I had come to Peru with a goal of my own.  I was here to learn Spanish and it wasn’t going to happen on its own.  I joined a running group, started Spanish classes, and began talking to everyone I could.  I baked desserts for the guards in my apartment building for the sole purpose of initiating a conversation.  I would hand them a plate of cookies and if they replied “gracias” and I replied “de nada,” I felt successful.  I spoke to Brandy in Spanish.  I began wandering further and further from the apartment on foot and by bus.  I got lost all the time, giving me perfect opportunity to ask for directions on how to get back.

Sand Dunes Huacachina Peru
Sand Dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Despite my slow accumulation of the language, friends, the ability to run long distances, and a job tutoring English, I still found myself alone a lot.  The evenings were the worst.  I was by myself in the apartment at least five out of seven nights a week.  Rather than wallow, I began to fill the time.  I ruled out TV and drinking alone and replaced it with books, cooking, exploratory runs around Lima, and a job I loved in the rainforest.  I refused to get bored.  Little by little, I began to enjoy my alone time.  As nice as it was to have Charlie around (of course this is what I would prefer), I minded less and less when he left for the mine.  I had a job, friends, and a purpose here of my own.

Visiting Huacachina during my parent's visit, Peru.

Marilyn Monroe said “I restore myself when I’m alone.” To be able to be alone, without TV, booze, a cell phone, or other distractions is nothing but an opportunity.  In fact, I now find myself craving solitude and taking pleasure in it.  Peru has taught me that alone is not lonely.

On learning Spanish…

Learning Spanish continues to be a humbling experience I would never give up for instant fluency. I still furrow my brow when trying to understand, botch verb formations and tenses when I speak and have yet to master the sexy rolled “r”…maybe I never will.  But at this point, I can understand most of what people say to me and can express just about everything I want to…sometimes it just takes a while.

Celebrating our first Peruvian Easter with a Paneton.

Recently, I went searching in Cajamarca for a curtain rod for the shower in the apartment.  When I arrived to the ferreteria (hardware store) I realized I didn’t even know how to say curtain in Spanish.  I figured I could improvise.  I approached the sales clerk and began, “Estoy buscando algo para mi ducha, pero no se como se llama en Espanol.”  (I am looking for something for my shower, but I don’t know what you call it in Spanish).  If this hardware store was anything like a grocery store, pharmacy, or anywhere else I have played the guess-what-I’m-talking-about game, the clerk would begin guessing until he got it right.  I would then jump for joy as he showed me the adjustable curtain rod.  Instead he stood silently looking and me waiting for more.  “Well…”  I continued, “No quiero agua en mi piso.”  I don’t want water on my floor.  “Ah!   He said!  “Cortina!”  Okay, it was a start.  Now that I knew how to say curtain, I could surely get to “curtain rod”, and from there, “adjustable curtain rod.”

In Cajamarca with my new English student, Bersa.

“No,” I explained, I was not looking for a curtain, but it was “a thing to put the curtain on”.
He engaged in the tango that I have become quite familiar with.
“Window?”
“No, it goes in the bathroom.”
“shower?”
“No, its for the curtain that goes in the shower.”
“towel?”
“No.  Something for the curtain that is long and made from metal or plastic.  It holds the curtain.”
“Cortinero?”
“Si!  Si!   Si!” I exclaimed jumping up and down.  I was overjoyed to have figured out the word and could have kissed him.  While this particular ferreteria didn’t happen to carry cortineros, there were about 8 more on the same block.  I left the store and bought a coke to prepare for step two of my mission: the purchase.

FINALLY getting my work papers at SUNAT (after many trips there).

The next three hardware stores carried curtain rods, but not the adjustable kind.  I wandered down the block slowly examining the clerk in each store until I found a friendly and patient looking female whom I was sure would help me.  Her name was Violetta, and I was convinced that a chick working in a hardware store would be compassionate with my situation.
“I am looking for a cortinero…”  I started…
“Ah!  Cortinero!”  She replied and went on to show me three different models (all the type you need to install).  “The thing is,”  I explained, “I need a cortinero that has a size you can change…”  She tried to understand me, listening and watching patiently (along with everyone else in the store) as I used my arms and body to try to lead her to the word “adjustable”.  “Ah!” she said finally, “cortinero a pression!”
“Si!” I hugged her, I couldn’t help it.  While ferreterias generally don’t carry cortineros a pression, my new BFF, Violetta, wrote the words for me on a piece of paper and gave me directions to a block filled with shops that fabricated curtains.  After asking in four of them, I found my cortinero a pression, and after that morning, I will never ever forget how to say ‘adjustable curtain rod’ in Spanish.

Learning the language has been humbling and rewarding.  My confidence increases with every conversation.  Fortunately I love to talk and practice makes perfect, right?

I'm sprinting across the finish line in Lima Marathon!

A new career?

The most difficult part of moving to Peru was leaving behind a career I loved and was good at.  Occupational Therapy does not exist here the same way it does in the States.  The job market barely exists, the income is minimal, the patients are not the same, in fact, most people don’t even know what an OT is.  Perhaps one day, when I am completely adjusted to Peru, I will start my own private practice here.  Probably not.

I tried teaching English, and it was nice to find work, but it didn’t satisfy me the way rehabilitating a brain injured patient did.  Gaining the trust of a privileged Peruvian child was nothing compared to gaining the trust of a rebellious twenty year old who wanted to party but couldn’t because she was dying from cancer…or gaining the trust of a person suffering Schizophrenia…or a woman with 70 years on me.  My English-teaching job was too easy.

Horseback Riding in the Colca Canyon, Peru

Things turned when I found Rainforest Expeditions and agreed to spend a month in the jungle of southern Peru gathering content for their Facebook page.  I breathed the air of Tambopata and felt immediately restored from the pain of living in the city.  I began to learn about marketing (I am still learning), about ecotourism, and about birds and mammals I never knew existed.  I am no longer holding the fate of vulnerable sick patients in my hands.  I am vulnerable, attempting to do something I didn’t study for six years, trying to speak in Spanish with my co-workers and fit in with an all-Peruvian staff who refer to me as “the gringa.”

A different culture

Things are different here.  Even after a year, I struggle to understand certain features of Peruvian culture.  But I’ve learned that I don’t get far by focusing on what’s different.  I can be an ex-pat or a resident.  I choose resident.

Why not focus on what I love about Peru?  Everyone here drives like I used to in the States and they aren’t considered bad drivers.  Being late to meetings and parties is accepted…almost encouraged.  Everything is negotiable.  The language is beautiful.  The people are warm, welcoming, and kind.  The terrain is incredible.  From high peaks, to mountain valleys, desert oasis, to my favorite: the rainforest. Peru is a country with never ending possibilities for exploration.  Oh yeah, and the parties rock.

A year ago, I found myself a lonely housewife in Lima, Peru.  Now I’m a marathon runner, a friend, an explorer, a teacher, a gringa, a social media marketing manager, a writer and a cook.  I shop at the mercado, kiss everyone I greet, play volleyball in the street with the neighbors, and take combies to town. I cook Lomo Saltado, Causa Rellena, Chifa, Pachamanca and Anticuchos.  I can speak Spanish, buy live chickens, make a Pisco Sour and walk in high heals.

Despite our many struggles, I want to thank you, Peru, for an amazing first year together.  I look forward to (hopefully) many to come.

18 thoughts on “Thoughts on One Year in Peru”

  1. Beau, Hil & Shel

    Your blogs, just like you, are simply outstanding. You never disappoint! Can’t wait to see you in April! Be well! XOXOxo

  2. Danielle,
    You are a tenacious individual…making lemonade out of lemons. We are so proud of you! Can’t wait to make the trip in July! See you soon! oxox

  3. Liz Parker (Mom)

    Good one Danielle! A far cry from your early blogs. It is a totally different culture from the U S, but you’ve embraced it with gusto. I’m proud of you.

  4. Great summary although you forgot to add that you made Ceviche.
    “Say!
    I like green eggs and ham!
    I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!”

  5. Hi Danielle
    I met you at a women and wine night with Marie in Lima. I just found your blogs. Really made me smile. THANKS.
    Una consultita: We have two teens girls and am contemplating taking them to the jungle. I know that you enjoyed your work there and wondered if you would let me know what you recommend. We are residents now and so we can fly pretty cheaply but the lodge thing is a little confusing. They seem to have teen program. Is that worth it? Do the parents go to? I really don’t know if I can climb up a 100ft tree but might try. Also we could go for 5 days in March 8-12 or wait until June. What are your recommnedations?
    Thanks

  6. I enjoyed reading your experience in Peru. I’m from Peru, Lima, and I moved to the U.S. (Cleveland, Ohio) two and a half years ago because of my husband. By reading your blog, I have felt identified with all the emotions and frustration that you experienced living in a completely different culture, far away from your family and friends, and stopping your career. It’ is really admirable that you could overcome the obstacles that you found in my country. Peru is a beautiful place with warm people, but it also may be dangerous if you don’t know anybody there. I’m glad that you could make it out by yourself 😉
    I don’t know if it was just a coincidence or a meaningful indirect sign that I found your blog while I was searching for a new career path. As you mentioned in your blog, occupational therapy is not well developed in my country. I had never heard about that until I came here. In my country, I have always been interested in working with children; therefore, I studied to become early childhood teacher and then I wanted to specialize in phychomotricity for children. I looked online if this kind of field exists here, and I found out that it is considered as a part of a therapy or rehabilitation. And I also found that there are two programs that work with motor skills: occupational therapy and physical therapy. I’m really so confuse about what to choose. I only know that I have to fight a big battle to achieve what I want here. I feel nervous ……
    Please, could you tell me what if the main difference between an OT and PT? It would be so helpful for me to hear some information from someone who has experience in OT field. Thank you!!!!

    You also mentioned that your husband worked at a mine in Cajamarca. I have two cousins who are mining engineers and work there- I think they work in Yanacocha. Maybe your husband knew them 😉 …

    It was wonderful to read your blog!!! If you would like continue practicing your Spanish, you are welcome!..

    P.S. I ‘m sorry for my English mistakes. I’m still learning ..

    1. Hello Bea,
      I have to say, every time I hear that someone took the time to read my blog I am honored. I can imagine it would be quite a shock to move from Peru to the States. I would love to hear more about your experience. You’re English is great, by the way, nice job.

      There are a lot of differences between the fields of OT and PT and often the roles depend greatly in the area of the field you are practicing.

      The very GENERAL difference is that PT’s are focused more on teaching/restoring movement and mobility while OT’s are focused more on restoring function.

      In the field of pediatrics, PT’s and OT’s work together a lot. PT’s focus more on gross motor function and coordination, while OT’s work more on fine motor and also the child’s ability to function in their environment. For example, a child with down syndrome may work with a physical therapist to improve their coordination and an occupational therapist to improve their independence in daily tasks, such as getting dressed, playing with other kids, or participating in classroom activities. Both fields are equally important for the child.

      While I have worked with children, most of my experience is with adults, but if you like, I would be happy to put you in touch with some OTs who work with children.
      Another difference to note is that Physical Therapists now need what is called a DPT (doctor of physical therapy) to practice while OTs need only a Master’s degree. Of course I’m partial, but I think OT rocks because we give people their independence back. Most OTs I know really enjoy the work.

      I would be happy to talk with you about this more via email. Please write me at DanielleLParker@gmail.com.

      Danielle

  7. FANTASTIC! I smiled all the way through this one. You sure make it sound like a great place to live! I’m not going to write much now because I want to take a look at your other blogs. It’s great to hear from you. Can’t wait to see you in April. Hope the snow has melted by then.

    Love, Lee

  8. Pingback: Top 10 Most Annoying Things about Living in PeruGoMad Nomad Travel

  9. Too bad you left Peru already. I moved to Lima a couple of month ago, and going through the same things. It would have been great to find some friends here. Good luck in your next adventure. I liked your blog.

  10. Great blog Danielle! I am a bilingual Stanford graduate who worked 16 years in Mexico and am looking for something more culturally interesting than Cabo San Lucas (pretty much Newport Beach South). Is there any way I could contact you about the mine where your husband works? I am 49 and want something different, have administered up to 24 Latino employees. 100% Spanish.

    Un abrazo

    1. DanielleLKrautmann

      Hello Jim,
      Sorry about the late reply…we’ve had a busy year with a new baby. You can certainly contact me about the mine where my husband works, but I don’t know a lot about it. The mine (which mines primarily Copper) is called Cerro Corona and owned by a South African based company called Goldfields who subsidizes it to be operated primarily by Peruvians. My husband works as a geotechnical engineer for an international company called MWH. His company provides consultations to the mine.
      The famous mining company in the area is called Newmont. They own the Yannacocha gold mine and the very controversial project “Conga” which you may have read about.
      I’m better at answering questions about the area than about the mines themselves, but am happy to answer any questions I can. My email address is DanielleLParker@gmail.com.

  11. good morning ma’am.., I am from India (pursuing Occupational Therapy). I read your article and about your struggle & love for Peru & Spanish.

    I feel deeply motivated..

    I need your suggestions regarding Occupational Therapy and its prospects.

    I will be highly grateful if you reply to my texts

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