A month into a year-long contract teaching at a university in Piura, Peru, is not the time to realize I long for home. Nevertheless, here I am, looking out upon the desiccated flora and the abysmal color palette of the flat land surrounding me.
My clothes are sweat-soaked after walking a mile from work where language and cultural barriers have worn my nerves like singed hair. The maid hovers, prattling on in indecipherable Castellano, making me want to cry for privacy. Horns from mototaxis outside the house— just 20 feet from my bedroom—jumble my thoughts. Their Latinized version of Jennifer Lopez’s “Get on the Floor” that plays like a soundtrack on repeat. My spirit is jumbled as a jigsaw puzzle.
Auditory fatigue, it’s called. Auditory fatigue alone is almost enough to warrant homesickness.
It’s more than that though. It’s exhaustion from life abroad. Exhaustion over converting currency from Peruvian soles into US dollars for half my transactions to determine how much I’m actually spending. Exhaustion from negotiating for each moto or taxi ride. From day-long translating Spanish on signs and in speech and the cultural meanings beneath all of it. I’m tired of my feet being dirty as a peasant’s. I’m tired of cold water in showers with exposed electrical cords, of Internet connections as high-tech as rural American electricity in 1932, of sidewalks whose unpredictable topography requires walking with eyes cast downward.
I’m done with a place so conservative that the existence of homosexuality is eschewed, so artless that art and architecture books brought from home serve as relief, so absent of architectural design that I’ve taken to create it in my imagination during my long walks to and from work.
Mostly, I miss the West’s 21st century. There’s a certain liberation in taking things for granted. Yet we don’t know this until we’ve lived abroad. It’s sheltering as a down comforter. Moving abroad– especially serial expatriation– tears that away. It leaves scabs that become mental and physical scars.
We learn to treat homesickness with periodic trips back home. They work like Rolaids– but with nine months more in my stay here, it’s as if my medicine cabinet lacks that elixir. So what happens when wanderlust devolves to homesickness? Do we resort to surgery, abandon our post and return to the safe confines of the States?
No. I made a commitment. I asked for a long-term job with a living wage. I got it. Let me stop my whining that my wish didn’t look like what I expected. Besides, Peru has an energy, a pulse audible beneath the auditory exhaustion. It tells me there’s a lot to learn here. It’s not home. But it’s a good resting spot until home calls me back for good.
I turn back from the desert view and walk to the semi-paved road before my house. I’m not in the mood to haggle and therefore I simply agree to the four soles (or $1.50) the cab charges to take me to Starbucks. There, things begin to look up. Festive employees greet me by name and make my latte just as I like it. The AC cools my body, the free wifi calms my road-weary nerves. For the moment it’s a spa to ensure the health of my wanderlust. It’s a substitute for a real American moment. I’m a closer to 21st-century relief.