Well here is your long overdue update of how I’m settling into my new life in Lima! I’ve been here for just under a month now, and have had time to marvel at my ocean view, get car sickness from my commute, fall completely in sync with my boss and coworkers, and spend a scary couple of hours trying to get home on a Friday night. As you can see, this has been a mixed bag, which is completely normal. One day I’m on cloud nine, can’t believe my good fortune for getting this assignment, and even a few hours later I’ll find myself cursing this place, my lack of Spanish, and this whole crazy life. So here it is, the good, the bad and the ugly of my first few weeks in Lima.
Housing – My apartment, in a word, is incredible. It’s directly on the coast, modern, spacious, close to shops and restaurants and bars, and is directly on a walking path that includes cute puppies, hundreds of joggers, bikes, couples walking hand in hand, and more cute puppies. It is, however, LOUD. My housing reps at the Embassy made this very well known in their review of the neighborhood, but naively I thought it wouldn’t bother me. The car alarms, the sirens located on the parking garage doors that go off every time someone enters and exits the lot, the youths yelling to their buddies as they walk down to the mall…ooof. I’ve found my dehumidifier is a decent white noise machine, but even that can’t drown out the sound of a 98 Taurus.
The Food – When I told people I was moving to Peru, everyone went on and on about how much I’d love the food, and they were right. If you don’t eat seafood (which I only recently started doing) it could get old quick, but there’s no shortage of delicious, innovative, fresh, flavorful dishes to try. Restaurants range from Gastón Acurio establishments to Chifas, local Chinese/Peruvian takeout restaurants. Peru is well known for their ceviche, which I lovingly refer to as “fish cooked by science,” but admittedly none of it has looked appetizing to me. Hopefully when the weather turns warmer, a cold bowl of essentially raw fish will look more appetizing.
Traffic – I was warned that Lima’s traffic was bad, it was everyone’s loudest and most consistent critique of life in this city, so I was prepared for madness. Since I’m new to the Embassy and it takes a while to get my license plates, insurance, etc, the Embassy offers a shuttle to and from work for 45 days at the beginning and end of your tour, for a small fee. I’m picked up before 7 every morning by a large passenger van, and our driver carefully dodges through Lima traffic to get us to work, typically an hour later. Did I mention I only live 6 miles away? Going home is usually worse, and on more than one occasion has resulted in me getting sick upon exiting the vehicle – the starting and stopping, quick acceleration and swerving to avoid oncoming, belligerent drivers are unavoidable, I don’t blame the Embassy drivers for this one bit. Hopefully my car will be street legal soon, and I’ll start navigating these crazy roads for myself. It will likely be much more stressful, but hopefully will make me less sick in the process. Think of all the audio books I’ll be able to finish w/ 2 hours in the car per day! Tons of people hire drivers and just rely on taxis to and from work every day, and its entirely possible I’ll end up doing the same if the commute becomes too threatening, but for now I have every intention of driving myself, thankyouverymuch.
Not speaking Spanish – Because my job supposedly does not require me to know Spanish, the Foreign Service did not send me to language training. It was the same for Bosnia, I didn’t need it for work, so they shipped me off to a foreign country and basically told me to take classes when I got there. One problem – this place absolutely does require Spanish for my job. I will be spending late nights and early mornings at the airport, dealing with customs and baggage handlers that only speak Spanish, I have meetings with telecom providers to prepare for upcoming visits, and they only speak Spanish. I am required to set up my own home water deliveries for my apartment – in Spanish. The warehouse and facilities workers I work closely with in the Management section seem to only speak Spanish…whoever decided this position should not be language-designated was sadly mistaken. I’ll enroll in language classes once things aren’t quite so new, but for now I struggle through each daily interaction with my head hung, and a quiet “Lo siento, no hablo Español.” (And that is probably not even grammatically correct, but whatevs.) Happily I’ve made some friends WHO ALL GOT LANGUAGE TRAINING FOR THEIR JOBS, and they are kind enough to do a lot of translating for me, excited for the practice. The DoS really needs to change this policy, its insane.
Culture shock – This is nothing new, and happened to me about 10 days into my first post. My pattern this time goes something like this:
- Enjoy a delicious restaurant with new Embassy friends!
- Home phone goes out and causes alarm system to chirp in the middle of the night for no reason for several days 😦
- Kick ass at work and knock out a bunch of projects!
- Take two hours to get a taxi home from work, leaving you on a dark street corner with a dying phone, wondering if you’ll get kidnapped or mugged 😦
- What a lovely apartment, with a fancy new stove!
- None of my pots are compatible with this stove, guess I’ll buy new ones 😦
- Wow, look at these interesting items at the grocery store, I get to try so many new things!
- None of this stuff at the grocery store looks familiar 😦
- Living in Lima will be such a great opportunity to learn a new language!
- For the love of god would someone just speak to me in English? 😦
You get the idea. The things that make me happy one day are the same things that nearly kill me the next. It’s getting better, the more I’ve had a chance to settle in and get accustomed to my new normal, the easier it gets from here. I’ve made some new friends, am expecting my household effects as early as next week (!!!), will soon be able to drive my own car, and I can see this grouchy fog lifting after each tiny victory.
That’s it for now! Hope to do another posting after my weekend trip to Paracas next month.