After two long weeks of impact events with a group of 30+ short term volunteers, construction of a new church building here in Puno and finding and meeting new contacts from the outreach events, our entire team was tired and worn out. Going into this short term trip, we knew we would be tired so we planned a three day break to celebrate a job well done, rest up and rejuvenate for these final three months in Puno. Trevor, Garren and I decided the thing that would rejuvenate us the most was a little bit of American culture. Here in Puno we have gone out, the three of us, exactly three times in 13 months. So three twenty-something’s, stuck in the cold, secluded, farm town of Puno, we needed a break from this place and some North American food and coffee. Where do we get the closest thing to North America? Arequipa which is now little America. When we arrived in Arequipa almost two years ago, there was exactly one Plaza Vea (WalMart-ish store), there was one Dominos, one KFC and one Burger King. There was no such thing as Starbucks or McDonald’s or malls or large grocery store chains. Arequipa has been booming in the past year and now there are three Starbucks, a few McDonald’s, one TGIFriday’s, one Chili’s and three huge malls! So Trevor Garren and I hopped on a bus at 11pm on Sunday night for the six hour trek to eat, literally, that was our main goal, to enjoy warm weather, drink coffee (specifically, Starbucks) and eat our hearts out.
In our attempt to enjoy some North American culture and way of life, our Peruvian bus broke down in the middle of the mountains at 3am. Thanks to God, seriously, they were able to jimmy-rig the bus and we made it to Arequipa only an hour or two later than expected. We wandered around the city for three days, reminiscing of our arrival to Peru, this city of Arequipa almost two years ago, remembering how this place was so foreign to us and now it’s the closest thing we have to home.
Honestly, I enjoyed the food, we ate all the stuff we can’t get in Puno, McDonald’s, TGIFriday’s, Mexican food, pizza and more. We ate a lot! And I sipped on a latte everyday, that’s how we started each day, spending the entire morning in Starbucks enjoying the smells and the ambiance while reading or chatting. I had fun seeing friends who live in Arequipa and spending time with Trevor and Garren outside of work and the cold.
But as much as I enjoyed our time and the coffee and the friends and the food, I was saddened and scared. The sad part of me was sad because I just want to be home now. being in little America made me realize how much I miss home and actually having a social life and being able to grab a Starbucks or go out with friends. And the other part of me was scared. Honestly, I’m a bit frightened at the idea of going home and the reverse culture shock. Here I walk alongside the pigs and sheep. I watch cholas (mountain ladies) walk their alpaca’s to the grassy areas as their skirts sway back and forth with every step. I see children playing with trash strewn about in the streets, using plastic bottles as soccer balls and broken pieces of plastic tubing as a shovel to play in the dirt. I walk into houses that before I would never consider a “house” but a glorified, permanent, tent. The things I see and experience here have become normal. And that scares me. What am I going to do in the states. I’m going to marvel at homes with four walls, insulation and running water, I’m going to be walking on sidewalks and not with the sheep and pigs but with people dressed in modern clothing, probably with a cell phone glued to their ear, I’m going to eat food I used to know and will not see rice and pasta and potatoes on the same plate.
I desperately want to go home but at the same time, just as coming here was a shock and a big change, going home will be a shock and a change. I’m sure I’ll adjust quickly and get back into the groove of driving instead of catching a combi or taxi, of wearing heels instead of brown hiking boots, of using a purse instead of a backpack. But I never want to get used to the way I lived life before in the states. I never want to go back to my old self. God has changed me and molded me into a different woman and that I want to go with me, I’m packing the new me and bringing her to the states. The me that has seen and experienced so much from this city and this culture, the me that has grown closer to her Heavenly Father and has learned to disciple, preach and lead only through the guidance and wisdom of the Spirit. I will be glad to fall back into some old habits, like grabbing a latte before church on Sunday, but so many other things, I want to leave behind forever, only moving forward in my life and ministry to the Father, using this experience as a part of me forever.