There are people who feel deeply attracted to what is different from them.
Perhaps they revel in experiencing the complexities of new cultures, new types of food, of speech; idiosyncrasies most would deem confusing and disorienting. They enjoy the challenge of deciphering new codes and being able to master them (or perhaps the opposite —they like being constantly reminded that they will never be proficient at any of them).
These may be the people who are not afraid to be confronted with the not-knowing inherent to human nature —the brave souls who actually seek to have the rug pulled from under the feet on a regular basis, as part of their usual worldly experience.
I believe I am part of that group.
When I visit Perú, where I spent the first nineteen years of my life, there is still (and I believe there always will be) a sense of “home” my twenty one years of living abroad have not been able to shake off. My pores start breathing differently as soon as I get off the plane I boarded in the United States and start walking towards the airport terminal, my ears starting to get used to the nuances of Peruvian Spanish, the smells of the port-city of my youth and childhood, the chaotic immigration lines, the smells of busy lives trying to survive at roughly $270 a month which recently became the new national minimum salary.
I am at the same time repelled by and pulled towards the chaos, the loud voices, the lines supposed to be one but continuing to multiply, the confusion reigning in the rooms. I already miss Seattle, the city where I have lived for the last seventeen years and is seeing me flourish, where people would know to quietly pick a line and wait for their turn. At the same time there is something fun about seeing what happens if you don’t..
As I make my way through my days in Lima, realizing I am more a tourist than I am a local (as reluctant as I am to sit with that fact), noticing and getting used to the various accents of the people who populate the capital city, my heart smiles as I feel surrounded by the warmth of my fellow citizens, by their easy smiles, their openness to non-locals, their willingness to let themselves be seen and taken in. I am touched by the vulnerability present in the soul of the city, by how little it hesitates to embrace you and show you who it is, something that becomes more foreign to me the longer I spend abroad without a visit. Something I do not want to let go of.
As I travel to different towns in Perú, there is always something to remind me of my “otherness”, of the fact that I stopped fully belonging to this land the minute I decided to establish myself in a different country, to breathe a different air and acquire customs that at times contradict the ones I was raised in. Rather than push me away, however, this not-belonging makes me want to reach in more strongly, a mix of curiosity and dare —is it my roots refusing to let go? The call of my Inca ancestors becoming alive and proudly reclaiming what is theirs? Whatever it is, I cannot ever be thankful enough for. I refuse to fully feel like “a stranger in a strange land” when I am back in what I still consider my hometown.
It is now, at around five in the morning by the side of the ocean, hearing the waves crash as I struggle to fall back asleep in what is supposed to be my serene, relaxing vacation before I go back to work in the “land of the free,” that I feel most at home, lulled to sleep by a sea who has no questions, no complaints, no hurt feelings, no resentment about my departure twenty one years ago or the slightest sense of confusion even —a good friend who is simply delighted to see me back, eager to hold me and not let me go. A loving being that calmly and playfully, fancifully, stares at me and asks, “Back? My child, you never left…”