A question I received a lot prior to leaving for Peru was “what are your expectations?” I could answer the question in very general terms (“immersion”, “wonder”, “discovery”) but in reality I had no idea what I would see and experience. My first few days in the country have affirmed that… with a strong underline beneath no idea.
Lima, like any large city, is incredibly diverse and varied. There are thirty districts, each with its own personality. San Borja, the district I will call home for the next month, is an upper middle-class district with colorful, densely-packed homes and prim green parks. It’s safe and quiet and kind of charming.
My volunteer placement is in Villa El Salvador, a district on the outskirts of Lima that can be described as a “shantytown”, although it has made great strides toward organization and progress in recent years. If I had to describe the appearance of Villa El Salvador with one word, it would be dusty. The town was built on fourteen square miles of sand flats, and because of that everything seems to be painted in a copper-tinted pallet.
If you were to Google search “Lima, Peru”, most of the images that would appear are from downtown Lima, home of La Plaza de Armas. This district is much more colonial and European than the other districts I’ve visited. If I only had a few days to spend in Lima, this is probably where it would be.
The only common theme I can pull out of my first days is deconstruction of expectations. I’ve been frequently surprised, and embarrassed by my surprise. During my first drive to my volunteer site, I was ecstatic to see dozens of people jogging and power-walking throughout the city, including Villa El Salvador. After squealing with delight and pointing obnoxiously upon seeing said runners, I immediately felt embarrassed for assuming that running would be an uncommon activity here in Peru. It stemmed from my equally embarrassing presumption that South America is hot, therefore no one would want to run around voluntarily. October in Lima is actually ideal for running: overcast and 60-some degrees Fahrenheit every day.
Despite feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed most of the time, I am full of joy and energy and gratitude for making the decision to come to Peru. Most of the realizations I’ve had have been positive, if confusing, and I welcome more of them.
For now, I leave you with my favorite roadside advertisement so far: “Si sientes mariposas en el estómago, no es amor. Son gases.”
Translation: “If you feel butterflies in your stomach, it’s not love. It’s gas.”
So that explains it. Thank you, Lima.