In the past when I’ve come to Peru by myself, I have lots of time leading up to the trip and in the plane and on first arriving to savor the whole experience. Traveling with kids, the experience kind of sneaks up on you. My brain was so busy dealing with very, very tired children, luggage, customs and immigration, hungry mouths, etc, that I barely even realized I was home. Then, on the way back from the airport, I glanced out the window and straight into the bus next to us, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t stop smiling.
It’s strange, I know. The bus was nothing special, but in that one quick glimpse I saw every Peruvian bus I’d ever sat in, the seat worn smooth, the tears and nicks and holes, the pen graffiti covering the seat in front of me- “Martita, te amo! Promoción ’97, DALE U!” The skinny cobrador, making his way down the aisle. The people, jolted and jerked sideways, trying to maintain some individuality in the press of sweaty bodies and BO. The faceless driver we never see. In that moment, everything felt so right. I knew that I belonged and that I understood and that this was my world.
It’s a strange effect. Every person I see is my past.
The kids playing Siete Pecados-I know them. We built a secret clubhouse in the empty lot where we climbed trees. I dared them all to climb higher then me, but the girls were too scared and the boys too afraid of being beat. We hid in the park, making fun of the couples making out on the benches. Every March, we waged war against any other kids who entered our neighborhood during Carneval, throwing water balloons and squirting hoses. Fighting off bees and hummingbirds, we sucked the nectar from the red flowers that grew against the fence.
That group of junior highers outside KFC-I know them. We pooled our money for the arcade games at the mall. I talked them into teaching me salsa, which we all agreed was a complete failure. We sat out in the park until late, taking turns on a guitar. We wandered the streets of our neighborhood, warily eying the other groups of kids, sizing them up. We invented our own special whistles so we’d always know if one of us was around, along with our very secret handshake.
The teenager combing his hair, skateboarding in the middle of the street-I know him. I flirted with him, then turned him down. I had a crush on him and he ignored me. He wrote me bad poetry and I laughed at him. He plagarized good poetry and I torn it into pieces and called him out. He insisted on pushing my bike home for me, even though it pissed me off. He tried to teach me guitar. He took me out on my first date, which I ended up paying for because he lost his wallet.
That legless man in the wheelchair, selling candy on the corner-I know him. He used to have a small square dolly he’d sit on, begging at the car windows. I’m glad to see him now.
The women at the clothing store- I told them off for being so accomodating to me, the gringa, while ignoring my best friend with her dark complexion.
The girls walking arm in arm-I giggled with them in the backs of countless taxis, high on adolesence and late nights, we snuck out to my first movie, they introduced me to Servando y Florentino.