Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Minute in My Neighborhood

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From my squeaky, narrow mattress, I listen to the sounds of my neighborhood. Ordinarily I’d be sitting in the garden, enjoying the night’s coolness. As it is, I’m stuck in bed, downed by a five-day cold. Still, the neighborhood comes to life.

The hours of siesta are quiet as those after 11 PM. Sometimes, during the late afternoon, classics from the Great American Songbook tinkle through the air when my neighbor gives piano lessons. There’s a certain soothing to that, a certain timelessless. It’s a delightful contrast to the busy night hours.

Then private cars and taxis unfamiliar with this street break hard before the speed bump before my house. Sometimes they don’t see it at all and throw off their alignment in a ruffle of dirt and gravel. College boys walk boisterously along the streets. They’re a contract to young girls singing loudly for a small crowd gathered for a beverage at the corner sandwich shop.

I listen and notice the slight breeze blowing. It doesn’t penetrate to me, surrounded as my house is by high walls. But I hear it. I see it too. In the motion of the palm trees casting shadows outside my open, wood-paned windows.

Eventually, sounds diminish and shadows slow. That’s the sign that it’s around 11 PM, a cue for my bedtime. Tomorrow I will awaken during the active hours. It’s the weekend. Should health be mine, I’ll be able to explore neighborhood by foot rather than by ear.

How Do You Bandage Your Travel Ailments?

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Travel wears us out after a while. It happens to Peace Corps volunteers and international business people, backpackers and expatriates. But when travel is your chosen path, how do we tend to abrasions, reduce the bruises, set the broken bones? We have a few tricks, a few items in our first-aid kit to expedite the healing process and get us back on our journeys. Here are some I’ve gleaned over four years of serial expatriation.

Band-Aid bandages: Daily yoga. Even if just for five minutes, do some basic yoga a few times weekly. This helps stretch out your back from those non-Western beds comfortable as sleeping on a sheet of plywood. A simple down dog soothes stress and pressure built up from breaking through language and cultural barriers.

Eye patch: Get out of town. Seem counter-intuitive? A day-trip or weekend away rejuvenates. Not doing this while living in Shenzhen, China, literally caused my deportation. I’ve learned my lesson and now plan at least a day away each month from Piura, Peru. Go see something else the pandemonium of your surroundings.

Tensor bandage: Cook. Make yourself some comfort food from home or try a recipe from the local cuisine. Yes, ingredients for your favorites from home may be more expensive, but it’s less than psychotherapy. From buying the ingredients, to preparing the meal, and then enjoying it are moments of calm, comfort, and sensory sensation. Plus, it’s a terrific excuse to call over some friends, share a meal and get drunk.

Gauze bandage: Go to a tourist trap. This is a good place for you to both laugh at and relate to the locals and other foreigners. But in the end you’ll be reminded of why you’re there. Plus if you’re one of those travelers who eschews touristy places, you’ll at least be able to answer questions about it for loved ones back home.

Tape: Assimilation is exhausting. In some circumstances of life abroad, you’re relegated to clothing you’d never glance twice at in your own country. Forgo it. Wear a revealing shirt, holey Gap jeans, and stilettos (or whatever makes you comfortable). Emphasizing your foreignness relieves as much as biting on heavy plastic for a toothache.

Toilet paper: In a pinch? For a momentary escape, my favorite is to simply slip on my headphones, crank on some American rock n’ roll, and sing aloud. It usually freaks people out just enough to steer clear of you.

How do you heal your traveler’s ailments?

Beware, Priest, of the Beautiful Dream

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Scene from the Catholic university where I teach in Piura, Peru:

 

One of my colleagues, who bears a thick Peruvian Spanish accent, said in a seminar today that he once dreamed of finding a beautiful priest with whom he fell in love.

 

Hearing only part of that statement from the depths of my own writing, I shot a look of astonishment at him. The whole class was laughing. That a class of highly conservative, extremely Catholic English teachers was giggling at his dream of romance with a priest sent me brought the Twilight Zone theme song to mind.

 

When class ended my colleague approached me with his omnipresent, gigantic smile. He said, “Don’t worry. I won’t have any more dreams about princesses.”

 

Peace returned to the valley. I could return to my own dirty thoughts of priests, a la Colleen McCullough’s Thorn Birds.