Everyone has a story

*Note – This post was written starting on my bus-ride back from Piura and return into site as a reflection of my travels the past couple of weeks. It is a ramble of some sorts.

After my trip back to the beautiful US of A visiting my wonderful family and best friends, followed by a week of early in-service in Lima while visiting my past host family; I am refreshed and rather excited to get back to the desert of Piura (not for the heat, but to be back in my tranquilo home). I am currently sitting on the second floor of a bus starting the 16-hour journey from Lima to Piura. While waiting for the bus, I enjoyed surprisingly easy conversation with 3 Peruvians from all different departments (Lima, Trujillo and Iquitos) – we each shared our origins, destinations, work and a couple laughs. After fare welling one another and exchanging information I boarded the bus alone, and was soaking in the comfort of my independence. Instead of opening my book and shutting the curtain, I decided to observe the rare sites of Peruvian city life as we escaped the everlasting traffic filled streets of Lima. It was refreshing to see Peruvian nightlife does exist after 7pm, as I have forgotten due to the early bed-schedule I have in the campo.

As I watch the sidewalks filled with people, I begin to see tidbits of various people’s stories. The two lovers holding each other while waiting for a combi to return home for the night or go out on a wild date. Two men shaking hands with force and accomplishment before heading their separate ways, with different thoughts running through their minds. The teenage boy with the backwards hat and slouched bag lazily hanging off his shoulder weaving in and out of people in a rush to his next adventure in his young life. The health workers in their scrubs walking in a pact after their long day of work, in which they will get up again tomorrow to begin again despite it being the weekend. The small combi jetting in front of our bus filled with over 35 people from all different walks of life. The city is bustling and its people are leading their interesting unique lives with the painted background of Lima’s intertwining never-ending streets.

And that leads me into my reflections over the past weeks’ travels, and the wonderful people I was able to spend time with and meet. Everyone has his or her story, and we never know all of it. I won’t ever know the full stories of even my best friends, parents, sisters and brother – let alone a stranger I encounter who is having a bad day or a great day. The only story I will be able to most likely fully comprehend is my own. But even in regard to my own story, I may not even know whom my story affects or the consequences of some of my actions on other people’s stories. I think this is a beautiful, mysterious and sometime tragic thing about human connection and sharing. We never fully-know everyone’s story and there is always space for learning, even in regards to ourselves. So what stories did I learn on my travels?

Let’s start with my trip back to the US…you blow me away America, and I love you – but I may just not miss you too much yet to come back for awhile (but the people I do love and miss very much, are very welcome to come down and visit Peruland 🙂 )! Through my journey from Piura –> Lima –> Miami, Florida I encountered many people and their stories. As I arrived in Lima, I switched to America Airlines where I had to wait in a very long line with American tourists…and damn can we be ridiculous. I had my first tid-bit of culture shock while still in Lima, while 8 US women I presume in their 60s were standing line bickering over the smallest insignificant things, after enjoying one of the wonders of the world, Machu Pichhu. As I began to chuckle to their ridiculous tone and lack of respect to one another, I tried to hold back judgment but can’t lie found it a bit difficult to be somewhat appalled at their behavior. But who knows what got these women to the level of screaming at each other for not checking-in online beforehand, as it did not make any difference. Anyway…

The culture-shock was quickly alleviated by the eclectic middle-aged passenger sitting next to me. We began talking in Spanglish about our lives, families, futures plans and eventually exchanged information hoping to cross paths sometime in the future. He owns his own furniture company making unique pieces out of bamboo and leather, and born in Italy moved to Peru as a child, and now lives in Indonesia half of the year. As I wished safe travels to the eclectic man with long hair, an elaborate scarf, and wrists decorated with jingling bracelets that carried his hand-made leather bag expecting never to see him again… he came and found me at the baggage claim to introduce me to his nephew who is my age. We chatted and he seemed ecstatic to be going on this trip to learn more about his uncle’s business, and that is when I saw the impact an affective mentor can have in someone’s life – secretly thinking to myself I hope I can be that cool of an aunt one day.

As I walked out into the beautifully diverse Miami, Florida my parents surprised me at passenger pick-up where tears quickly filled my eyes with happiness and the comfort to be back in my champions’ arms. They had come in just for the morning to take me to a big American breakfast and we talked over what we had missed in each other’s lives. I do not even know what they gave up to come down to surprise me just for a couple hours before heading to New Orleans, and I am so lucky to have them in my life as mentors, friends and party parents. As we caught up, I was alarmed how much little things I can miss in 6 months, which may not feel like a long time; but it is alarming and somewhat sad the moments, accidents, occurrences that accumulate to me missing part of my loved ones everyday lives while I am serving here. But that is a sacrifice of the experience in which I am gaining so much, and on other hand I will never fully be able to paint my picture back to them as well.

Mama Hack surprising in Miami
Mama and Papa Hack surprising me in Miami

After my parents left, I wandered the city of Miami with really no plans. I stumbled across the holocaust memorial while I was lost trying to figure out my way back to the hotel. A giant stark hand shot out of a lily-pond with suffering bodies falling off of it, commemorating the large Jewish population and holocaust survivors whom reside in Miami, Florida. I was blown away by the illustrative photos, facts and realistic statue, and in the end found myself crying alone at the foot of the statue, as the reality of 6 million people dying to the atrocities of the holocaust finally hit me emotionally after years of education, reading, and studying the horrific historical event. As I entered the little reception area, the old man at the desk asked where I am from. I explained that ‘I’m from Ohio, but living in Peru,’ situation and reciprocated the question as he had a foreign accent. “Honey, I am from Poland! I was in the holocaust,” he stated as he pointed to a tattoo number with a smile. I was in shock as I had never met a holocaust survivor, and not knowing what to say just exclaimed wow…and sat down to listen to what he had to say. He shared his holocaust story of living in over 5 concentration camps, his family passing, finding his brother on the ship to the US, arriving to America with $10 given to him by the shiphands and his life advice he had for me (and yes I did write them down after, as my past aspirations to be a journalist in me took over). “Do not pity me. The holocaust was a part of my life, and in the end it makes me who I am, which I would not change. The key to life is to stay positive, and everything will be beautiful.” “If you are stabbed on the outside, it will heal. But if you are stabbed on the inside, it takes time, perseverance and forgiveness to heal it so you don’t continue hurting on the inside – cause if you don’t that will never heal.” As I said goodbye with a hug, I knew I would never forget that conversation ever in my life.

Holocaust Memorial in Miami Florida
Holocaust Memorial in Miami Florida

Where am I going with this rambling? Whether it be your dearest friend, your deceased loved ones, a stranger on the street, or a kid playing in the dirt…everyone has a story. And it’s a great thing to learn them, as we can grow as individuals through shared stories, experiences and interactions and potentially enhance our own story. I myself am very guilty of being self-involved and thinking I am the only star of the show, and thinking no-one else can be having problems too. Yet we do not know what happened to people 50 years ago or 50 seconds ago, and that is why we must continue to respect one another for the sake of humankind. We cannot dehumanize people or pre-judge based on a ambiguous notion. And we must remember, we ourselves will touch many people in our lives even if we may not realize it in the present moment. It is important to learn from everyone’s ongoing story and what their going through rather it be small and trivial to large and great to devastating and tragic.

During my visit, we celebrated the life of my beautiful spunky Grandma Jeannie who passed in November. She continues to illustrate the power of her story affecting others through her strong spirit. We were able to spread her ashes in the ocean as she had wished, and celebrated after where each of us shared words, experiences, and emotions about the matron who had touched all of us each in a unique and powerful way. Her spectacular life story may be written, but she will continue to live on through all of our stories she touched in a powerful way. And she was definitely smiling down at the crazy party we threw for her!

Family Celebrating hte life of beautiful Grandma Jeannie
Family Celebrating hte life of beautiful Grandma Jeannie

How does this relate to my PC service? All of it does. I may have been living the fancy US/Lima life for a week, but that does not change who I am or my service. I just completed a training event with the 22 other volunteers in the health program, and it was the first time we had all been together since swearing in. We all had so many stories, complaints, jokes, insights, poop-stories, and more to share with one another. In that aspect, the motto of ‘the Peace Corps service is different for every volunteer”, really sunk in. We all have our challenges, successes, embarrassments but all of us are in different climates, host families, communities, experiencing cultural differences and more. As we all are a bit lost in our peace corps journey, we can’t lose site why each of us came, and why each of us it still here.

As a volunteer, the past week of training did re-inspire me to take full advantage of this opportunity in many aspects from work to personal areas. Our books or shall I say journals are still being written, and most nights by the reluctant tired hand – but we only have 2 years to potentially help change the stories and lives of those in our communities who aspire for change and a happy ending to their story.

In contrast, to my travels the stories of the people in my town are just as colorful. My host family is now back to being a full house with 9 people, as my grandparents and sister have returned from their summer-stay in Lima. There are numerous different stories in Chatito – from the women sitting in the health post, the campesinos going in with their horse carriages for their long-day in the chakra, and the story of Chatito itself and how it came to be. My grandmother who just got back from visiting her 7 out of 13 children in Lima, and still continues to stay on her feet all day. My 8-year-old cousin who just got back from her summer stay in Lima, who worked everyday selling sandals with her mom on the beach. My inspiring 15 year old sister Carla, who also just got back from her summer stay in Lima who worked the night-shifts at her uncle’s store. My dad who had served in the Peruvian army for 5 years, and now finds his peace in the chakra. There are people around every corner that have something to share and teach, and that what makes this experience so great. Not only am I gaining new perspectives, learning new skills I would have never obtained but also learning to listen and see more clearly people’s stories.

Bianca enjoying keeping her clothes clean with her new favorite bib - hand monogrammed by my wonferful Aunt Nancy :)
Bianca enjoying keeping her clothes clean with her new favorite bib – hand monogrammed by my wonferful Aunt Nancy 🙂

And that’s my story for now. Sorry for rambling. Stay tuned if you want more.

Noches de dios,

Jamie Lane

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Adaptability

I have one day until I head off on a plane back to the land of the US of A for a week, and I cannot lie I am a bit nervous to be living with first world amenities as I have oddly enough adapted to life here. I am about to hit my 6th month mark of being in Peru (3 months in training, and 3 months in site), and to be honest I do not miss the amenities of the US (of course, I miss the people). The rawness of my life here has made me seen humanity in a new way, and how adaptable we can be. My US life was the coziest of lives and now…let’s just say it’s a bit different.

Human adaptability is crazy. When I first arrived to my first host family in Lima during training, I remember being in shock of their living conditions – and now I feel like they are very successful and their house is very nice compared to many or all of the houses in my town.

When I look back at my first three months of service in my site, Chatito, I realize I am pretty good at adapting to change in my life. It did come with some tears, longing for running water, or wondering why the hell there is never toilet paper anywhere when you need it. And as I walk through my average day compared to my past US life, I feel rather proud of my personal adaptability and can’t help but chuckle to myself of the very odd things that I am so very used to.

I wake up every morning at 5am to the rooster, pop my ear plugs in and then wake up an hour later to the sun beating down on me starting the sweat for the day that never really stops (I am currently sitting in my underwear writing this with two water bottles on my feet with my fan essentially lying on me to cool me down…that’s how hot it is here). I rise out of cozy sand-filled bed, grab a mug and scoop up water from one of the jugs. I go outside and brush my teeth with my mug, like I used to do when I went camping. Now it’s my everyday life as I hold my sink in my hand, and my drain is the ground. I am used to using the outside toilet (don’t you dare put the toilet paper in the toilet), and afterwards force flushing it. I am used to washing my hands out of an upside down water bottle. I am used to not having a sink, and glorifying the one little water spout we have in the backyard which brings water the two days a week it comes, which fills up 15 jugs around our house and backyard. I am used to filling up a bucket, carrying it to my little shower closet outside between the chicken and rooster coup, and pouring a pitcher of blissful water over my sweaty body. I am NOT used to a chicken poking its head in while I am doing this, still scares me and makes me feel very odd.

On that note, I am used to being surrounded my farm animals all the time. I am used to picking up a duckling went it has gotten out of it bin, or yelling ‘PASE!’ at the chickens who have made their way into the kitchen. I am used to the tense relationship the baby bull, Mochito, and I have. I do feel like I am making headway in this though, as he sat about a foot away from me the other day when I was painting my nails…should’ve painted his hoofs. I am used to finding two unknown kittens eating food off of our table. I am used to the donkey that makes the absurd scream, like he is about to pass out from a hernia, at me every time I walk by him. I am used to, but still rather alarmed, by the very large wieners I have seen on all types of animals. I am used to pigs aggressiveness towards me; they are some feisty mofuggas. I am used to holding a rock in my hand when I go on runs to throw at a dog if they chase me. I am used to seeing a chicken slaughtered. I am used to eating mysterious fish. I am used to drinking fish flavored water, because the bin where I guard my boiled safe drinking water sits next to the fish – I can’t lie I do gag probably three times a day to this. But after accumulating enough water bottles for the next month for the tippy-tap project, I felt like it was time to make a sustainable change in my life. So boiled fish-tasting water it is. Speaking of our animals, I am used to eating the most organically and farm fresh food I ever will in my life. Everything we eat either comes from our farm or our animals, and it is so delicious. I am spoiled being in the northern region with mangos, bananas, avocado, tomato, and more coming straight from my family’s farms.

I am accustom to the little children yelling my name, with whom I used to try start conversations thinking they wanted to talk to me…. and no they really just get a huge amount of amusement of screaming my name over and over again until I am out of view. I am used to handing my announcement for the meeting to the store lady, and hearing it over the loud speaker that informs the whole town what ‘La Senorita de Cuerpo de Paz’ is up to for the day. I am used to the whistles from the outsider construction workers in town, even though I haven’t looked pretty once in site. I am used to the respect my whole town gives me with the ‘Buenos tardes Senorita Jamie,’ and if I have a favor or question their willingness to bend backwards to help me. I am used to getting giggled at when people don’t understand my gringa Spanish. I am still not used to knowing when to greet people with a kiss on the cheek or just a handshake, it is a constant struggle, and I am very awkward at it.

I am used to constantly being sandy, and walking all over town to find one person for about an hour. Even after I received my Peace Corps bike, I prefer walking because it is very difficult to ride through thick sand with beaming desert sun. It had resulted in two bike falls for me already. Thus transportation by foot is better for me I think.

I am used to working in the health post, with children constantly coming up to me and just staring at me for sometimes up to a hour. I am used to waiting an hour or longer for a meeting to start, due to the infamous ‘hora peruana’ – I still do find it a bit irritating and think I always will…one of my US characteristics I won’t give up is punctuality. I am used to being super busy one day, and twiddling my thumbs the next.

I am used to lying on the porch floor with my little sisters and falling into a daze.I look forward to ending the day with my family watching a dramatic telenovela, and playing with baby Bianca. I go into my room around 9pm, and depending either continue work, read a book, or study Spanish. I usually find my eyes heavy around 10pm. I sleep better than I ever have in my life, I think due to the overwhelming amount of cognitive ability I am using speaking and working in a second language and a third-world community.

Through it all though, the things that shocked me during my site visit are now a part of my comfort. I have adapted, and this is my home and will continue to be for the next two years. The hugs from my little sister, Ari; the shy smiles from my brother, Christian; the worry and care from Mama Marcela gave me today because I was vomiting all last night; and the laughs from Papa Juan exclaims when ‘OOLEY’ – baby Bianca smiles at me have made this place not just my site, but my home.

I have adapted to this life, and hope after I live the ‘good US life’ for a week, I can emerge right back into it. With that being said, I am very excited to spend some great quality time with my friends and family, eat delicious food, and laugh my ass off. And more importantly, I am looking forward to commemorating and celebrating the life of my beautiful Grandma Jeannie, who passed away on my first day in Chatito.

Hasta pronto US,

J