Tag Archives: culture shock

Sweeping Pavement

I was awakened by a familiar sound yesterday, a swish-swish-swish that instantly transported me far, far away.

Someone was sweeping the pavement outside my window, and as I laid in my dorm room bed, my heart moved south about 3000 miles. Back to Pucallpa, to the house on Avenida Jose Galvez, where the neighbor swept his small patch of pavement every. single. morning. around 6:30 am – despite the fact that it would be covered in dust again within a matter of hours. I squinched my eyes shut tight, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I would open them and find out I had been transported magically back to Peru.

Maybe I would wake up and find myself in a bed of the same size, but with a sheet kicked to the side instead of nestled under a down comforter. Maybe I would open my eyes and instead of seeing Molly standing at the sink getting ready for classes, I’ll see Mama Rosy’s head poked through the door, telling me it’s time to get up so we can go to the market. Perhaps if I squeezed my eyes shut hard enough, I would magically teleport to Pucallpa and could call Monica when I woke up, so that we could plan a night out in Pucallpa to eat papas rellenas and picarones and talk about life on the corner by the shoe store.

I squeezed my eyes shut tight, childishly hoping for magic… but also to keep the tears from pouring out. Those heartstrings that are tied to Pucallpa haven’t come untied, but they’ve been neglected. Chicago is so far from Pucallpa in every possible way. I’m so busy with school and homework that I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve closed the chat window or said “lo siento, no puedo hablar, estoy muy ocupada ahorita” (sorry, can’t talk, I’m so busy right now) to one of my Peruvian friends. Mama Rosy has messaged me three or four times asking for an update on my life, but the excuses come so easily: I’m busy, I’m tired, I’m forgetting my Spanish.

I try to sweep the memories from my mind like the neighbor swept his pavement every morning. It’s easier that way. If I stop and think about how much I miss my South American home, I’ll be unable to think of anything else. I’ll lose an entire day poring over pictures and sending messages and crying into the one remaining package of Doña Pepa I have stashed under my bed.

It’s easier to try to sweep away the memories, but the wind always blows the dust back onto the pavement of my mind. You’d be surprised how many things in Chicago immediately transport me back to Pucallpa. There’s that corner on the way to the beach that always smells like the parque central. The SDR serves white rice every day, and if I get anywhere near it, I miss Mama Rosy. Tears prick my eyes whenever I hear people speaking Spanish – and I hear people speaking Spanish nearly every day. Facilities sweeps the pavement outside my window a few times a month (that’s not metaphorical. There is a broom involved).

There isn’t a good conclusion. I don’t have a logical answer or practical steps. My life has had to keep moving, and I have had to keep moving with it. But I haven’t moved on, not really. I’ve swept aside the memory dust, but it always comes blowing back. It coats the pavement of my mind a few times a week, or even daily… and there’s nothing I can do about it. I miss Pucallpa so bad that it physically hurts, but I can’t exactly drop everything and go back tomorrow. I just keep living life as the heartstrings tied to Pucallpa pull harder and harder. And that’s where it stays right now. Not the end, because there’s no good way to end it.

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Faithfulness in a Motocar

Today I went downtown with Mami Rosy and Papa Jacinto to go grocery shopping. Now, unlike at home when Mom and I hop in the car, drive to WalMart, throw our stuff in a cart, and drive home… grocery shopping here is a bit of an excursion. We had to hail a motocar, drive 20 minutes to downtown Pucallpa, then go to each store separately – the baking goods store, the meat store, the sugar store (which differs somehow from the baking goods store), etc.

It was on this 20 minute motocar drive that I, sandwiched between Mami and Papa, spent some time talking to Jesus. Those closest to me already know that this first week in Pucallpa has been a difficult one. I’ve been battling fatigue, culture shock, homesickness, and the language barrier – all while sweating profusely. My mind and heart have been in a bizarre battle of nostalgia and sheer happiness, and it has all been very taxing.

As we’re riding, I’m thinking about Hiawatha. Today is the day that the staff heads north to begin training and meetings, and I find myself missing the place where I spent every summer until last year. As my mind drifts, I remember the post I wrote a few weeks ago about Christ being my only constant.

And then He bops me gently upside the head and says, “Helloooo? Has that suddenly changed just because you’re on a different continent? Do you think I don’t see you? Do you think I’m someone different here than in the US?”

As I gaze at the wooden buildings with their hand-painted signs, a peace begins to wash over me. Of course nothing has changed. Of COURSE Christ is still faithful and constant and unchanging and true and all of those things. Of course He knows where I am, what I’m going through, and what I will become. He sees my weaknesses, rejoices with me in my joys, and chuckles when I make humorous grammar mistakes. He is the same God in Pucallpa that He is in Chicago that He is in Millington that He is in Eckerman that He is everywhere.  His promises have not changed just because they’re in Spanish here.

As I mull this over with growing peace in my heart, we pass the sign that says, “Jesucristo is el Senor de Pucallpa” (Jesus Christ is Lord of Pucallpa). In a throwback to my years at Lutheran school, my heart cries out, “This is most certainly true.”

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