In every Spanish grammar textbook, there is usually a page on the use of diminutives. This is a linguistic feature, used by a surprisingly large number of of languages, designed to make things sound cuter. So whereas in English we might say ‘I’ll be there in a sec’, in Spanish people say things like ‘I’ll be there in un ratito ('un rato' meaning ‘while’). So far, so good. However what the textbook doesn’t tell you is that in places such as Peru, -ito appears in every. single. sentence. Your eyes are not ojos, they are ojitos; being young does not make you joven, but jovencito and you will never be offered té o café, but tecito and cafecito. The love for -ito is so entrenched that it is not uncommon to use it twice in one word; see: chiquitito, the standard way of calling something small (‘chico’) in Latin American Spanish.
With the photos of Mum and Dads’ visit to Chile and Peru finally posted, I decided I couldn’t put off a Peruvian update any longer. As I sit down to write this, it hits me that I’ve been in Peru for eight weeks. Even weirder, I’ve only got four left. About time I got my blog on, then.
When I applied to be an English assistant at UCBC in Chile, they gave me the option of coming for either one or two semesters. After spending nine months teaching English in France before university, I decided that it would be better if I could organise my year abroad to include something a bit different, so I chose the one semester option and went back to the Year Adrawingbroad (so, so sorry) to work out how I’d be spending the next chunk of my required eight months away. After a tip-off from the Year Abroad office and a tentative email before Christmas, I found myself with the offer of a work experience placement at Land Adventures Tour Company in Arequipa, Peru.
The view from our house
Which brings me here – to a house in Sachaca, a suburb of Arequipa, Peru’s second city, writing this entry whilst watching a dubbed episode of Friends and admiring the rather fantastic view of Volcano Misti out of the sitting room window. I am living with Paul and Catherine, owners of the tour company, and, as well as answering emails, putting together tour itineraries and translating content for their website, the last 8 weeks have seen me thrown headlong into adapting to life in a bustling family – playing with the kids, trying Peruvian food, being licked to death by two huge slobbery dogs, etc.
This could not be more different than my experience in Chile. Whereas in Santiago I shared a flat with two other adults who spent the majority of their days working, and compensated by doing the majority of my socialising at previas (pre-drinks), here in Arequipa the house is constantly full, with up to nine other people living here at any one time, and I am in bed most nights by 10pm.
In the UK, we have a tendency to use the term ‘family’ to refer to parents and their kids, but here in Peru it is something far more encompassing, involving grand-parents, great-aunts and uncles, grown-up siblings, nephews, nieces and cousins. Most people will remain living within 10 miles of where they grew up, but in the case that they have to move cities for employment or education (and it usually is cities – whereas in the UK you can move between towns in five minutes, this part of Peru is made up into largely deserted plains, punctuated with Big Cities, with journeys of up to eleven hours between each one), regular trips back to the family base are the norm.
In our house, we have had Paul and Cathi’s niece and nephew living here for the duration of their two and a half month summer holiday, and with them come Paul’s mum, dad, aunt and, at weekends, sister and brother in law. Add Paul and Cathi’s adorable 9 month old baby and two dogs into the mix, and we’re talking a very full, very busy household. This has meant that I am, if a bit overwhelmed (turns out whoever told me that Peruvian accents were easy to understand had never been to Sachaca, Arequipa), also constantly surrounded by Spanish and goings on. It’s a totally different experience, and has given me a highly concentrated dose of Peruvian life and culture, which can only be a good thing.
Fun and games in the paddling-pool
Living with locals has also given me chances to do and see things to which I might not otherwise have had access. Although going to Arequipa’s main market to pick out two live guinea-pigs for dinner (a delicacy here in Peru) and then cheerfully popping them in a box to take them home to slaughter was not high on the list of experiences I planned to get from Peru, it was certainly a very memorable, once-in-a-lifetime one (for the curious, guinea-pig tastes a bit like rabbit).
Equally, the sugar-fuelled three year old’s birthday party, complete with cartwheeling, a cumbia-dancing clown and doves appearing out of fire in a cramped living room in front of twenty raucous children (the health and safety conscious Brit in me was having a seizure), was also something very far removed from the well-trodden Peruvian tourist trail. Ditto the evening I spent explaining to three pensioners the difference between the UK, Great Britain and England, all the while being plied with more and more of local beer Cusqueña, before rounding off the discussion with a tequila shot passed to me by Paul’s mum.
So oblivious to their fate
It’s been a whirlwind. A lot of the time, it’s been fun, laugh-out-loud funny, eye-opening, unforgettable. Sometimes, it’s just been really rough. Despite how little time I have left, despite the knowledge that very soon I will be landing at soggy Heathrow Terminal 5 and wishing I had the sun back, or that within six months I will be approaching the terror of Cambridge deadlines and finals, there have been days where I find myself actively wishing the time away. Whereas in Chile I had the solid support system of other English students, here I’m out on my own. The only gringa in the village, if you will. The people I know here are very kind, but nobody understands homesickness quite like a fellow year-abroader.
All that said, I’m still confident that splitting my year was the right choice. Getting to know Peru after spending five months in Chile has been a great opportunity, and the cocktail of similarities and differences between the two countries has kept me fascinated from day one. Equally, gaining professional experience in an area outside of teaching has been great for me, especially when it’s in something that has played such a big part in my time as a visitor in South America. Answering tour inquiries, as opposed to making them myself, has made me think a lot about travelling, tourism, and how Westerners’ see this continent and their holidays here.
The last eight weeks have given me so much to think about, and I’m sure that my remaining four will be just as interesting.
Coming up on the blog: Jailbreaking Arequipa: ROAD TRIP. Puno & Lake Titicaca, Cusco & Machu Picchu. Dancing and music at Latin America’s second largest festival. Jenga the drinking game, barbecues galore and the unfortunate tale of how I ended up on an IV drip in a Peruvian hospital. Really.
The view of the sunset from my bedroom window, as of five minutes ago.
Until then, back to Sachaca, where the sun is setting and Friends has given way to a (subtitled, not-dubbed!) episode of CSI. The baby is playing on the carpet, the dogs are fast asleep and Misti has disappeared behind the clouds.
Lots of love,