One Year. One Physical Therapist in Trujillo, Peru.

Combining passions of global public health with travel and cultural immersion... With the help of the Catholic Medical Mission Board, I was afforded the opportunity to live outside of Trujillo, Peru for one year's time (2010-2011). Check out old posts about my experiences as a PT working in hospitals, a school, an outpatient clinic, doing research/community based rehabilitation, and a little teaching too. And my experiences with an entire calendar year of holidays, cultural customs and new culinary experiences!

I make it back about once a year with university students/CMMB projects, so I will periodically provide updates :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Culture Shock, Take Two

I arrived back to the US last week and am still getting used to my own culture again. Alaska gave me a nice welcome with -20 degree weather and a big bull moose grazing in the backyard. I think the two worlds I’ve lived in could not be further apart!
Home sweet Alaska...
 Aside from the obvious climate differences, I am taken aback by almost every aspect of daily life. The other day I stood for several minutes just staring at the choices in the grocery store. I keep saying hello, thank you and excuse me to people in Spanish. It took me 6 tries to check my voicemail the first time because I kept pushing the wrong buttons, and still takes me ten minutes to write a text message in English (well, lets be honest, that may be normal for me). Other big news - People here abide by traffic laws! There’s no swerving or hanging out of moving vehicles, and transportation itself here is so lonely- everyone with their own car and so many going to their destination alone. I can get all my laundry done in one day, and with a dryer! Tap water doesn’t have to be boiled, dishes go into this contraption called the dishwasher, and I can flush my toilet paper down! Doctor waits are minimal. TV and music are so foreign. And it’s so QUIET.

view of Anchorage flying in
I can’t shake the feeling that there are holes in my life after Peru. I miss everything-everyone- to the point of feeling a physical ache. I miss the symphony of roosters, buses rumbling by, horns blaring, bicycle peddlers, children shouting, latin music blaring, dogs barking. The organized chaos that is the public transportation system. Peruvian babies. The view of the ocean as we round the curve to Huanchaco and the bliss of riding a wave on a surfboard. Greetings from strangers on the street. Stray dogs. Slow walking pace. My neighborhood market. Freshly squeezed juice. The mass in Spanish. Picarones-arroz a lo pobre-lomito saltado-ceviche-papa a la huancaina-tallarines saltados-chifa-chicha morada-helado de lúcuma-aji-arroz con leche-hamburguesas y sandwich de pollo-yuca-mango-choclo-Cusqueña-pisco sour. (in no particular order!) But most of all, I miss my Peruvian family. My patients – the laughter of my peds patients and the stories of my geriatric patients. Neighbors, colleagues, co-workers and nuns. Peruvian and gringo friends alike. My friend and Spanish coach Maria. Pancake and taco nights with family. The shouts of my host cousins as they race upstairs to feed the dog. Night-time tea and laughter. I miss the culture, lifestyle, and though I feel so blessed to have had such a great experience, I can’t help but feel pretty bummed that it’s all over. However, it has been amazing to see family and friends again - 14 months is a long time to be away!

“Most of us live the greater part of our lives submerged. Certainly in my own case I can say that not until I left America did I emerge above the surface.” Awhile ago my friend shared this quote by Henry Miller, and it definitely mirrors my own feelings about living and working abroad. I don’t think I really “got it” until I spent a good chunk of time in a developing nation. Now that I’m back in the US, I find it’s hard to convey the exact experiences and feelings of life in Peru to others. It’s hard not to compare everything to life in Peru and bring it up in every passing moment. It’s also hard not to judge others, nor to be guilt-ridden and disgusted by parts of American culture.

Someone responded to Miller’s quote with, “The tough thing is to make personal changes as a result, without turning into a sour cynic about your own culture. ‘Enlightened’ people usually turn into judgmental people. Enlightenment with humility of a good thing.” So, two months post-life-in-Peru, I find myself faced with this challenge and still in a bit of mourning over my separation from South America. I hope that my new lifestyle and many of life’s lessons learned - the Peru “magic”- will somehow live on in my life.
on the descent to Anchorage
So, I guess this is my last post. I hope you've enjoyed hearing about my experiences and will carry some "Peru magic" into your life as well. Thanks for all of your support over the year! 

Y gracias de nuevo a mis queridos Peruanos- siempre contigo! (y hasta pronto!)