Day 88

I have a 90 day tourist visa. I’m allowed to be in the country for 90 days and after that, I am to be charged each day that I over stay my visa. The original plan was to arrive in Peru, get my immigration papers moving and have my residency visa before the 90 day period was up, no problema. It’s no secret that the original plan didn’t work. It’s day 88 and my papers finally went to immigrations this morning. Nothing like waiting to the last minute. Thanks for nothing, my dear employer.

Luckily for me, once all the paperwork arrives at immigrations, the clock stops on my tourist visa. I’m allowed to stay in the country until my papers are processed and I receive the final word regarding my residency status. So here I am, in bureaucratic limbo, waiting and waiting. I’m told that I should receive my visa in about four weeks. Which realistically means about six weeks. Though yesterday I was told, “It really just depends on how busy they are. Sometimes it takes longer, sometimes not.” The real answer: no one knows, welcome to Peru!

On the bright side, this is the final stretch. I need to complete a few more obstacles: take visa pictures, register at INTERPOL, give my fingerprints to the Peruvian government, and then it’s just waiting for my long awaited carne de extranjeria to finally come home to me. And once it arrives- Pisco Sours to celebrate!

Off roading

Off roading.

These are two words that are typically not part of my everyday vocabulary. I am a self-proclaimed, shameless city girl. I would rather spend my day exploring a big city than hiking through the mountains. Not that I don’t think mountains are beautiful and to be appreciated, but I would rather not appreciate them covered in bugs and sweat and cooking food on an open fire. Interestingly enough, I used to struggle with my general lack of interest in all thingsoutdoorsy. I had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t cool enough. Part of my felt like a hypocrite when I pushed for recycling and renewable resources, but would rather spend my day in a museum than on a hike. Sometimes it felt like I didn’t fit into the right kind of Christian because I wasn’t dying to be immersed in God’s great outdoors. But lately I realized that I do love the outdoors. I love beaches of every size, shape and kind and on a beach is where I feel the magnitude of God’s creation. How very logical since I grew up surrounded by beaches, not surrounded by mountains, so naturally I am more inclined to find my peace along the shore.

Surprisingly, this came as great comfort, finally I felt as though I wasn’t outright neglecting the power of creation. But I never was, because I find the most beauty in visual arts: paintings, sculptures, drawings and architecture. All this explains my natural pull to live in the midst of a city. As it turns out, I was never neglecting the power of creation, but rather appreciating it through the work of man. Ok, enough theological aesthetics for one day.

Off roading. I simply don’t do off roading. But I’m in Lima and a friend of a friend of a friend invited Alvaro and I to a beach about thirty minutes south of Lima and I couldn’t turn down such offer. He recommended that if we have a vehicle with four wheel drive, we should bring it, “we’re going off roading” he said.

We met our friends at a small beach town and then followed them fifteen minutes further south on Peru’s biggest highway, the Panamericana Sur. Our caravan made a quick exit from the highway and we found ourselves in a small, Peruvian town. The cars turned right, then left, then right again and in a matter of minutes we found ourselves on an unpaved, bumpy road. Without warning, the only thing we could see in front of us was a cloud of dust kicked up from the SUV before us. The car jumped and bumped and swerved and we blindly followed the trails of cars until we found ourselves at the entrance of the beach. A moment later, all the cars began driving along the sand and Alvaro and I looked at each other with mutual confusion. We tried to follow the other cars, however, our mid-sized SUV stopped just a few feet into the sand. The other cars in our group were outfitted with monster tires that found no match with the sand below. Thankfully, these monster wheels came back for us, deflated the tires and then coached Alvaro on how to get his car out of the sand trap.

On the move again, we drove along the shore, our tires were a mere fifteen feet from the water’s edge. We drove for a solid five minutes until our caravan found its resting spot, clear out of view from every other group at the beach.

Our experienced off roaders dug a hole in the sand, filled it with charcoal and placed a round grill on top- our makeshift grill. We ate crispy chicken, hamburgers and an assortment of Peruvian mystery meats that I am not bold enough to try. Some of the group braved the cold waters but my feet turned to ice immediately after touching the frigid waves, so I chose to stay dry. We spent the afternoon grilling, eating and drinking then played a competitive match of volleyball during sunset.

Peruvian beaches aren’t the Floridian paradise I’m used to. The sand is dark, the sky is gray and most disappointingly, the water is exceptionally cold. Though it wasn’t sunny Palm Beach, this beach was beautiful because it seemed most natural. The area around us was full of mountains and cliffs and the shore was full of birds, undisturbed by human presence. For the first time, I was on a beach and as far as my eyes could see, there was not a single other human being. It felt like I had discovered an unexplored part of Peru, it was just me, the birds, the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Getting back to civilization was equally as adventurous. It was getting dark and our new friends kept saying, “Oh yes, we will leave soon.” I have learned that “soon” in Peruvian, doesn’t mean a thing. We waited and waited and as the minutes passed Alvaro became more anxious of finding our way back to the highway. Finally, we found our window of opportunity and decided to take it. We drove along the beach, with only our headlights to guide us and nearly ran into a group of huts along the way. He began to make a u-turn that was scarily close to the water and my typically calm, collected boyfriend was a pile of nerves. I guided us around the huts and finally we found the unpaved road. The road was mostly a straight shot, despite a few forks and detours, and luckily, we made it back to town. After one dead end, I had the feeling that we needed to go right. So we did. We drove towards a large collection of lights, which seemed to be the best option and within minutes discovered we were parallel to the highway. Hooray! We successfully made it off the beach, down a dark paved road, through a small town with few lights and even fewer signs and back to the highway with little delay. Thank you dad for my natural sense of orientation.

We made it back to Lima, both thankful to have survived our first official off roading adventure. We both agreed that it was fun but most likely not something we want to do again. In true city mice fashion, our first stop once in Lima was directly to the car wash.

The Cheek Kiss

Thankfully, before I arrived in Lima, I had been properly warned about the traditional greeting and departing gesture: the cheek kiss. Though this warning was appreciated, I don’t think it could have prepared me for the onslaught of kissing that occurs and every social gathering in Lima.

At first it was just with Alvaro’s family, a simple cheek kiss to say hello and then again to say goodbye. Easy enough. It gets tricky, however, when a large group of people arrive at the same time and need to greet another large group of people. When Alvaro’s three aunts, cousin and grandfather arrive at his parent’s house they must greet Alvaro, his parents, his sister and me. Custom says that they must greet each of us with a traditional cheek kiss, which means there are almost thirty kisses. Unlike the United States, you can’t simply walk into the room and project a simple, “Hhheeeyyy!!!!” to everyone present.

The greater challenge? What if everyone is already sitting at the table when you come in? Well, then you must walk around the table individually kissing each person. If you are to leave early, you must do the same.Forget trying to sneak away unnoticed- it’s impossible in Peru. It’s also helpful to plan your exit about fifteen minutes before you actually have to leave because it will take that long to properly kiss everyone.

I find some benefits to this. For starters, I like that it is well known in Peru that you will only give one kiss. When I was in Germany, I was greeted by students from all over the globe, some of which came from cheek kissing countries. It was also a little game to try to discover if this person was going to go in for one or two cheek kisses. More than once I deftly dodged an almost very awkward meet-in-the-middle kiss from misjudging their customs. Secondly, it takes away the awkward how-well-do-I-know-this-person moment. You know the feeling. When you get ready to leave do you shake hands? Simply say goodbye? Go in for an awkward, maybe unexpected hug? In Peru, you kiss everyone, no questions asked.

The weirdest thing for me to adjust to is that you even cheek kiss complete strangers. A few times, Alvaro and I have been out and run into someone he knows. With Peruvian introductions a cheek kiss is just as common as a “nice to meet you”. I think that most American’s appreciate the 12-18 inches that a handshake separates them from this new stranger. In Peru, you’re up close and personal from Day One.

I’ve yet to figure out how this works in more delicate situations. What happens if you run into an ex? What about that girl from class that you always clash with? What if you are meeting because you’re in the middle of an argument? And how do you say goodbye after a breakup? For me, a cheek kiss is intimate, but maybe for Peruvians it is not.

And finally, the best part of this whole cheek kiss thing: usually the responsibility falls on the guy. So 50% of the time, I don’t have to worry, I just wait for them to make the move and it’s smooth sailing from there.

Pinkberry in Peru

What a glorious day. Last week, while driving through the most chaotic round about in Lima, Óvalo Guiterrez, I noticed the familiar looking logo of Pinkberry affixed to a remodeled store front. Could it be true? Is Pinkberry really coming to Lima? I let out a small shrill of excitement and then in my best very excited Spanish, I tried to explain to Alvaro’s mom why I was so excited. Either my Spanish isn’t good enough or she doesn’t share my love for frozen yogurt, but somehow we weren’t clicking.

I must admit, I have actually never had Pinkberry before (that is until yesterday). I’ve heard of it and know its reputation for being absolutely delicious but unfortunately have never lived in a city with a store. Nashville recently opened its first Pinkberry but unfortunately, I was already in Lima. There is delicious ice cream here, ice cream made of  fresh Peruvian fruits that are absolutely heavenly, but I always, always prefer frozen yogurt. Now that Pinkberry has arrived, I am able to get my fix.

Óvalo Guiterrez is the reason I don’t drive in Peru. The picture here makes the area look like a peaceful, Peruvian paradise. Don’t be deceived. Instead of the calm scenario you see below, it’s a disorganized sea of pedestrians and kamikaze taxi drivers. Every time I’m driven through the round about, I unknowingly hold my breath and send up a little prayer to make it through the chaos. Though there are pedestrian crosswalks at each cross street, we take tunnels underneath the round about if we need to walk from one side to another. Cars speed through the round about, without any regard for lanes or right of ways, and no pedestrian is safe from their hurried exit.

This round about is a a prime location for any number of leisurely activities, housing a park, movie theatre, mall, Starbucks, church, grocery store and a number of restaurants. Despite this appeal, I only go there out of necessity, the chaos of Peruvian driving isn’t worth the convenience of one stop shopping, that is, until now. PInkberry is going to help me conquer my fears of the dreaded Óvalo Guiterrez.

The Lighthouse

One day I’ll write a book about my taxi adventures in Lima.

Tonight once I got into the taxi, the driver asked me to confirm the address. I told him the building was on “Malecón Cisneros”. He began driving and after a few minutes we were driving along “Malecón Reserva”. He asked me, “Señorita, what is the address?” To which I replied, “No, Señor, it is on Malecón Cisneros.” I thought this would be an easy solution, that is until he asked me how to get there.

Since Lima is mainly comprised of a confusing collection of one-way streets, I am still trying to find my orientation within the city. I usually know where I am and in what direction I need to travel, but I struggle with knowing what streets to take. Often times, the most direct route is impossible to take because you will run into at least one one-way street along the way. Instead, you must take a convoluted path of several one-way streets until you reach your destination. I now realize that I have inherited my parents’ need for annoyingly precise and direct traffic routes from any Point A to Point B. Yes, mom and dad, I publicly admitted that.

Though I couldn’t explain how to get there, I did remember that the building was near the lighthouse. Surely he would know how to get there. I began to tell him that the building was near the-oh no-in this exact moment I realized that in all my years of Spanish education, I never, ever learned the word for lighthouse.

“Señor, it is near the, oh no, I don’t know the word in Spanish. But it is a small white and black building with a light on-uh- with a light.”

He didn’t understand.

Thinking that he might understand if I said it again, I repeated my description, “the building is black and white with a light...” This wasn’t helpful.

“Señor, when boats are in the ocean at night, it helps them to see the beach...”

His only response was laughter and a sincere apology that he still didn’t understand what I meant.

I frantically called Alvaro- no answer. I then called his sister and right after she said “hello” my phone cut out. It was only natural that I ran out of phone credit at that exact moment. She called me back and I quickly told her I needed to know the word for lighthouse:

“Saro,” she told me, meanwhile I was thinking, “I have definitely never heard that word before.” She repeated the word and finally spelled it for me “s-a-r-o”.

“Señor, Señor! It’s near the saro! It’s near the saro!” I caught his eyes in the rearview mirror and instead of being met with understanding, I found more confusion. “The saro! The saro! The saro! The saro!” I repeated over and over again.

Finally he replied, “Señorita, near the faro?”

“No!” I said, “The SARO!!! S-A-R-O!”

“Señorita, the word is faro, not saro. Faro with an F.”

“With an F, not an S?”

“Yes, Señorita, with an F.”

By this point, we were driving by the faro and he pointed to the small black and white building repeating, “faro, faro, faro”.

Without a doubt, that evening at dinner he told his wife about the American girl who spent ten minutes trying to say the word faro.

The Adventure

My employer was supposed to take my contract to the Ministry of Work this past Monday. They said it would be delivered on Monday and then would take three days to be processed. Last night, Alvaro’s mom said, “Today is Wednesday, day three. Tomorrow, we are going to inquire about your contract.” Thank goodness for this woman and her attitude, I wouldn’t be able to survive Peru without it.

We arrived at the school at 10am and of course, were told to wait. We were told that our friend from HR, Ms. Mashed Potatoes was in a meeting, so another woman came out to answer our questions. After an overly polite hello, Alvaro’s mom asked if my papers had been delivered. “Oh yes, of course. We delivered them Monday.” What terrific and unexpected news! Upon hearing such a surprise, his mom then asked to see a copy of the submission verification form. The woman disappeared and about five minutes later Ms. Mashed Potatoes came out and so did the “truth”.

My papers had in fact, not been submitted (for some excuse that I didn’t care to listen to) but she assured us they would be delivered the next day. His mom said that it would not be a problem, we would take the papers and deliver them ourselves that morning. We left the office and went to pick up Cecilia to accompany us to to the Ministry of Work. She looked at the papers and noticed a mistake on the first page. The school has to show the total number of employees (74) and then figure out how many of those employees can be foreigners. The maximum amount of foreigners that each company can hire is 20% of their total work force. In this case, that number is 14.8, however, they chose to round the number to 15. Though it is true that you can’t actually have 14.8 foreign employees, it appears that the the Ministry of Work isn’t concerned with such logical trivialities.

We went back to the school to have the correction made. This would have been simple, except the General Manager was on vacation and his signature was on the page. After some significant convincing, our HR friend magically erased the old number and somehow reprinted the page with the original signature and new number.

We set off for the Ministry of Work. parked the car in a gravel lot, traded identifications for visitor badges and went to the third floor. Cecilia took my papers into the office and came out a few minutes later to inform us that the General Manager (who is currently on vacation) forgot to sign one of the three copies of my contract. Her mom told her not to worry about it and then ordered her to practice his signature and forge it on the blank contract. With the forged signature we took the contract in for the last hurdle, a thorough check to ensure that all necessary lines and clauses are present. It was at this point that a Peruvian governmental employee who looked no older than my younger brother, told me that my contract was incomplete. When stating the address of the school in which I will be working, Ms. Mashed Potatoes simply wrote the street address, choosing to omit the district. In such a sprawling city like Lima, where each district is its own entity, leaving out the district is a crucial mistake. We were sent away all because she forgot two words.

We drove back to the school and tried to meet with our contact, “she’s at lunch” was the general attitude. We were hurried out the door and told to come back at 2pm. We dropped off Cecilia and then drove back to the school (that’s for the fourth time, in case you’re keeping track). Alvaro called as we pulled in and I spent ten minutes complaining about the inefficiencies, inaccuracies and frustrations of his country. After venting, I met his mom in the office only to find out that our friend still wasn’t back from lunch. At 2:20. Another employee graciously made the correction to our contract, but wouldn’t give them to us because she “doesn’t work in HR and someone else should sign off on it.” We waited and waited and waited. A little after 2:30 his mom declared that we had to leave, with the papers, because the Ministry closes at 3:30. Magic happened and we were out the door.

She wanted to take a taxi this time, to avoid having to park in the gravel lot. Part of the art of choosing a taxi in Lima, is learning to judge the quality of the car before it stops in front of you. After nearly four and a half hours of running all around Lima, we were both exhausted. His mom hailed a taxi and before it even stopped she sighed and said, “oh no”.

Oh no is right! As I opened the door, I thought, “I would have thought that Alvaro’s mom would choose a taxi nicer than this.”

The fabric on the ceiling was beginning to crumble and large chunks of it were missing. I looked to the front seat and saw an assortment of electrical wiring hanging from the dashboard on the passenger side. The passenger door panel was missing, leaving an exposed inner door as well as an exposed speaker. Somehow, the skeleton of a radio was still present, though the main screens had been removed and the buttons were worn from use. Within minutes, I realized our driver’s love for speed and Alvaro’s mom joked about how he drives faster than her. “Which is quite an accomplishment,” I thought as he sped up and swerved in and out of three different lanes. I glanced in the back to see how many cars we had passed and saw that all of the truck panels were covered in rust. An assortment of tools laid scattered in the trunk, bouncing around near the spare tire. I sat behind the driver and noticed that the handle typically used to hoist oneself out of the car was broken and now hanging vertical instead of horizontal. The plastic edging was worn and coarse, from too many years of oily fingers grabbing hold to get out of the car. He had an obsession with the horn of his car which unfortunately sounded like a hoarse goose. Candy wrappers, a coke bottle and maps littered the front floorboards. The last detail I noticed was a small image of the Virgin Mary, placed right underneath the broken/missing/worn radio. I chuckled under my breath and thought, “I need the Virgin Mary if I’m going to survive a ride like this.”

We made it alive and I had never been so happy to arrive at a governmental building. I nearly jumped out of the car and ran to the safety of the sidewalk. After receiving our visitors passes (round two) we went upstairs and Alvaro’s mom went straight to the young man who helped us the first time. He told us to wait in line but somehow his mom jumped the 10 person line and we were in and out in the matter of minutes. All that commotion for two simple words, unbelievable. We walked out of the Ministry and I prayed that we would find a better taxi for the ride home. Unfortunately, I didn’t pray fast enough because there was already a taxi idling by the curb, waiting for his newest customers. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought when I saw the cream colored station wagon that might as well have had wood paneling on the back half. I opened the door and was greeted by an ugly combination of 1970’s shag like carpets and a musty smell that can only come from 40 year old carpets. I sat on the seat and consciously tried to touch nothing but the seat underneath of me.

We finally made it back to the school (for the fifth time) and informed our friend, Ms. Mashed Potatoes, of the small trumph at the Ministry of Work. My papers have to be picked up on Monday, but they must be picked up by the employer. His mom told the woman in HR, “Please have your messager call me Monday morning, I will be accompanying him to pick up her papers.”

After 6 hours, five trips to the school, two trips to the Ministry of Work and two rides in the oldest taxis in Lima, I amfinally one small step closer to my magical work visa.

Legality is relative

I don’t understand Peruvian law. I simply don’t understand it. Even with a boyfriend in law school, who is well versed in labor, family, civil and international law, I don’t understand a thing. The problem is simply because Peruvian law is well, Peruvian.

I hadn’t realized until moving here that laws, expectations and civil codes become ingrained in a culture to a point where they no longer appear as separate entities.

Why wear a seatbelt? Because it’s safer and it’s the law.

Why must a 17 year old driver be home by midnight? Because it’s the law.

Why change lanes when passing a police officer in the shoulder? Because it’s kind and it’s the law.

I wear a seatbelt and change lanes not only because it is illegal not to, but because for twenty-two years I have been told that it is right to do so. They have become a part of my inherent culture. Peruvian laws seem foreign to me because they too are apart of a culture, a culture that is foreign to me.

A few weeks ago, Alvaro and I went to the only bar in all of Lima that shows all of the NFL games. We had spent most of the afternoon enjoying Advent lunch with his family and therefore, didn’t arrive until well into the second set of games. All of the tables were full, but there was a significant amount of standing room only space. We turned to leave and I said, “Hey, it’s not a problem, let’s just stand at the bar.” Discouraged he replied, “We can’t, there’s a law against not having a seat in a bar in the middle of the day.”

Did I hear that correctly? Shouldn’t there be a law against not having a seat at night when the bar is busier and people are more influenced and mischievous behavior is in its prime? Nope, at night (when there’s a higher risk for all sorts of nonsense) you can do whatever you would like. At 4pm, however, you must have a seat by decree of the Municipality of Miraflores, Lima.

Last Thursday, when Alvaro played lawyer, the confusion was over one very small clause in my contract. Peruvian labor law states that any company who hires a foreign employee must reimburse the employee for a flight back to their home country. Sounds like a good deal, however, since the beginning of negotiations, my new employer has informed me that they will not be paying for my flight. It wasn’t too much of a disappointment because before that I wasn’t even aware that I was entitled to such a perk. The solution to this legal quandary, according to Cecilia, was to simply insert a parallel clause. I was under the assumption that it would say something like, “I, Meghan, understand that I will not receive reimbursement for my flight back to the United States.” Simple enough.

That seemed fair to me but my new friend in HR (whose last name translates as “Mashed Potatoes”) feared that such a clause was illegal. Here’s where we spoke with the General Manager who offered the clause with conditions, unfortunately, Cecilia said this was illegal because labor law states that the employer will pay for the flight without such conditions.

On Friday, I went to sign my contract also had to sign a parallel clause to finally lay this reimbursement clause to rest. Here’s what I signed:

“I, Meghan, have received $1,000 (one thousand US dollars) from my employer to be used for the sole purpose of a return flight back to Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America.”

Of all the previous options, the one that I signed appears to me to be the most illegal, mainly because it is anoutright lie. I’m beginning to learn that in Peru, nothing will cease to surprise me.

Peruvian Time

The Dean at the church that we are attending recently gave me a valuable piece of advice. He said, “Meghan, this is what I have learned during my six years in Peru: Things in Peru take twice as long as you think they will, and four times as long as they should.” I know that I am adjusting to the pace of life in Lima because I have come to expect unusually long delays with pretty much everything.

For example, before arriving in Lima in July, I had been in touch with my new employer and had agreed that I would begin work the first of December. That first month would then have had to operate under a very delicate timeline. I needed to carefully plan signing my contract, sending my papers to immigrations and completing my training if I were to have started work in December. According to that timeline, I should have signed my contract the second week of November. I just signed it last Friday, the second week of January.

After weeks of delay, two weeks ago I was told that I could sign my contract on January 10th. As people asked me when I would be signing my response was, “I’m supposed to (complete with air quotes) sign on the 10th.” I didn’t actually sign until the 14th, after a significant amount of pressure from Alvaro the lawyer.

The thing I have been most excited about over the past few weeks, is the opening of a yoga studio near my apartment. The studio was set to open January 5th, but due to complications with the heating system for the hot yoga classes, they had to postpone their opening. The owner proclaimed that they would be open within a few days. And now, almost two weeks later, the official grand opening in tomorrow.

I”m not sure exactly what it is about Peruvian culture that contributes to this delay. Peruvians and Expats alike recognize and laugh about it saying, “Oh, yes, that’s Peru...” I thought that dealing with bureaucratic red tape in the United States was difficult, but this is a whole different story. I’ll take American customer service calls any day. Just two and a half months in Lima have shown my that the Dean’s advice is completely true. And according to Alvaro, “...that’s only if you’re lucky.”

Alvaro, Attorney at Law

By now it’s old news that my time in Lima hasn’t exactly been going to plan. The biggest divergence from my well laid plan- I’m six weeks behind the date when I was supposed to start work. Although this was incredibly frustrating at the beginning of my time in Peru, I have learned to accept it as just one of the struggles of moving to another country. Alvaro and I have spent countless hours trying to figure out what went wrong. Did we not plan correctly? Is it the Institute? Is it their employees? Is it Peru? Perhaps all of the above?

The most frustrating part about this experience is the lack of direct contact that I have had with anyone official. It seems most logical to me that when being hired, especially as a foreigner, I should be speaking with Human Resources or another department experienced with hiring procedures. Instead, I have only been in touch with one woman, who is the Manager of Instructors at one of the area institutes. Though she is well qualified for training, monitoring and managing instructors, she is not well qualified to answer my questions regarding a work visa, tax rules or contracts for foreigners.

About six weeks ago, at the peak of my frustration, I called my contact and asked to speak to someone in Human Resources. her reply was this, “Human Resources can’t hire a new instructor without the approval of another instructor. So by calling them you won’t make any progress.” That was it. No name, no contact info, nothing. Every time I spoke with this woman, it was another excuse about someone being sick or the Holidays or how “they’re going to do it soon,” which doesn’t actually mean “soon” in Peruvian.

I conceded. I gave up and decided to wait and wait and hoped that things would work out. Several weeks ago I began my two week training course followed by a week of observations. At the end of my training I was told that I could sign my contract on January 10th. That day came and went without a contract. Today we were determined to change that.

I received a phone call today and they asked me to bring all of my paperwork to Human Resources because they wouldn’t draw up my contract without them. Cecilia, Alvaro’s sister, is graciously handling the legal aspect of my paperwork and had received “completed” versions of my contract earlier this morning. Except they were incomplete and full of errors. Alvaro took me to hand in my paperwork this afternoon and brought the faulty contracts with him.

We told the receptionist that we needed to meet with someone in Human Resources, and she instinctively told us they were all in a meeting. I was determined to not leave unless we had spoken to someone and I then told her that they were supposed to be expecting us, just a small stretch of truth. She walked off and then came back a few minutes later and took us into a small, chaotic office. We were introduced to the woman at the desk who didn’t look away from her computer when making our introductions. Our voices we muffled by the Spanish love songs coming from the radio next to her desk. We handed her our papers and she nearly hurried us out the door. Alvaro, however, had another plan.

He opened the folder with the incorrect contracts and began asking our new friend questions about the errors. For example, why the contract says it is for a “man with British citizenship” and also why she decided to simply omit three of the obligatory clauses? She didn’t have any answers.

We were shuffled around the office until we landed in the office of the General Manager. Finally, someone with a little bit of power. We sat in front of his desk and once again made our introductions. The Manager looked at Alvaro and asked, “You’re her lawyer?” and without skipping a beat he replied, “Yes, my firm is representing Señorita Gwaltney because she is very close friends with one of our associates.” I had to tilt my head and use my hand to cover my mouth in order to hide my smirk. Alvaro, my lawyer, and the Manager discussed the particular clause in question and then we left the room so he could consult with his law firm. A few minutes later, he told us the new clause and all seemed well.

Until Alvaro called Cecilia, my real lawyer, and told her of the addendum. “That’s illegal,” she replied, “the Ministry of Work will never accept that clause.” Alvaro walked back into his office, “Excuse me, but I just spoke with my “colleague” (synonymous with “sister” in this case) and she informed me that the Ministry will not accept that clause. Is that how your lawyer advised you?” His reply: “Oh, no, he didn’t advise me on that. I just made it up.” How typical Peruvian.

Nearly defeated, we left the Institute and were told to come back tomorrow morning in order to sign the papers. The Manager assured us that everything would be ready in the morning. Upon our departure, my “lawyer” Alvaro, told the Manager, “Unfortunately I have another appointment in the morning, but one of my colleagues will be here to assist Señorita Gwaltney.” And just like that, he earned his degree.

Mani & Pedi

My newest obsession is reading food blogs. I graduated from college and now am freed of the stress my impending thesis had on me for the past couple of years. I needed to find something that could become my new project- and I decided upon cooking. It started back in Nashville when I discovered the fabulous Annie’s Eats (love her!) and since my days in Lima are incredibly unstructured, I have spent countless hours exploring the food blogosphere.

This afternoon, however, I simply couldn’t do it. I had to get out of my apartment so I embarked on a small quest (per the recommendation of my expat friend Polly). I walked one block and a half to an adorable coffee place and ordered my coffee to-go then ventured to a local nail establishment that is nothing more than a hole-in-the-wall.

The salon has three pedicure chairs that are placed uncomfortably close together at the back of the room. I sat down in between two Peruvian girls, balancing my coffee and handbag as I took off my sandals and felt unusually clumsy in the small quarters. Within seconds the nail attendant asked what color I wanted, I had to ask her to repeat the question and then stumbled through telling her, “something similar to what I have now”.

The girl on my left spent the majority of my pedicure staring at me, or so it felt like she did. While I could feel her gaze I watched the attendant pamper my feet and then realized she didn’t cut my nails short enough. I debated whether or not to tell her and almost decided to just let it go until I thought about Alvaro’s reaction to my lazy Spanish. It didn’t help that I am already self conscious and now I was going to have to ask her to cut my nails while this Peruvian girl listened to my American accent dance across every syllable. I gave in and asked her. She redid them but I could tell that I was going to have to ask again.

What followed was a Spanish lesson in my head. Is there another way I can ask her? And what gender do I use for the nail color? I see the color across the room, but I can’t remember the word for “row” or even “bottom”. Why didn’t I learn the words for “fourth” and “fifth”? As I pieced together nouns and verbs, I could feel the Peruvian girl’s stare and it felt as if she could see the sentencing forming incorrectly in my brain. I wanted to scream out, “I know your Spanish is perfect, but I’m trying! I’m actually quite friendly and well spoken in English!” The most frustrating thing about not speaking the language fluently is that I feel like I am never able to show my true personality.

The attendant finally finished and walked across the room to grab two nail colors to choose from. Neither one was particularly what I wanted, but at this point I felt defeated and simply chose the pinker of the two. Immediately after I pointed to my choice, the aforementioned Peruvian girl said, “I think that the one on the bottom row, third one from the right is much better.” She was right, it was perfect.

The attendant started to apply the polish and I looked to my left and said “Gracias.ˆ Her response? “You’re welcome.” Her kindness left me feeling guilty about the previous thirty minutes I had spent being internally annoyed with her. Now I think that her stares were because she was jealous of my American accent just as I was jealous of her beautiful Spanish.

Culture Shock has arrived

Prior to departing for my semester abroad, I was giving a folder of information from the Belmont International Studies office. In that folder was a myriad of information regarding travel plans and insurance and dangers to be aware of for the student traveler. There also was an article on culture shock and how to deal with its symptoms. I, however, took no notice of that article.

I was very fortunate to experience very little culture shock during my semester abroad. I found small cultural differences to be quirky and sometimes annoying, but I never dealt with extreme feelings of insecurity, loss, homesickness or confusion. It’s safe to say that I have never truly experienced culture shock. Until now.

Before moving to Lima, I was prepared to face this mysterious idea of “culture shock” mostly because I had a small taste of it during my two week visit last July. Even then, I wasn’t able to recognize the symptoms. It wasn’t until my friend and Germany travel companion Erin very calmly said, “I think you’re experiencing culture shock,” that I began to see its effect. Now that I can label myself as an American expat living in Lima it’s safe to say that culture shock is in full swing.

Yesterday marked two months of being in Lima and I am well past the Honeymoon phase. Though I’m not sure I ever really was in that phase, mainly due to my July trip. Also, I’m in a relationship with a Peruvian, which means I have been exposed to wide range of Peruvian culture long before deciding to move here. The exact names of the phases vary according to the source, but I believe that I am now somewhere between the “negotiation” and “adjustment” phase.

A couple weeks ago I was right in the middle of the negotiations. Each day was a constant struggle between the Meghan that wants to be brave, learn Spanish and overcome my fears and the Meghan that wants to give up and return to the comfort of the United States. Even as I watched the two Meghans battle, I knew that the brave Meghan would win. Not necessarily because she’s brave, but because more than anything else, she’s stubborn.

And I was right, stubborn Meghan won and she’s now in the adjustment phase. One major factor of adjusting to life in a new culture is to develop a routine. Unfortunately, I do not yet have one. Due to circumstances out of my control, my employment has been delayed over and over and over again. I now have hope to begin work in mid-February. Until then, I need a routine. I’m thinking about developing a self imposed schedule consisting of time for errands, yoga, reading and deliberate Spanish practice. More than anything, my sanity can not handle four more weeks of my vacation lifestyle. I crave more meaningful accomplishments than finding a new recipe and vacuuming my apartment.

I have learned that culture shock is very real. It seems to me that the term can be thrown around in any number of circles, but when it has taken hold of you, it’s very, very real. I have started to notice small changes in my behavior that are a result of the simmering stress and anxiety that I have yet to claim. This stress has somehow seeped into subconscious and become a part of me, making me realize that it’s the kind of stress you don’t notice until it’s no longer there. It is my goal to confront that stress so that I can more easily adapt to Peruvian life.

The next phase in culture shock is the “mastery” phase. I look forward to that time when most people begin to experience a sense of “biculturalism,” adaptation and independence.

Here’s to my self imposed routine relieving my stress and Immigration employees who process my visa quickly.

Found: One Yoga Studio

After two months of searching, I have finally found a yoga studio. This is one of those small triumphs.

Shortly after arriving in Lima, I found the studio and was overjoyed that it was just a few short blocks from my apartment. Great news! The only problem was that I couldn’t find any information about the studio. Their website wouldn’t load, every time I walked by it was locked and I was unable to find a telephone number. Recently I had just settled on the idea that the studio closed several months ago and is no longer in business.

Last week I decided to try one last time and to my surprise, found the door open. Construction workers invited us in and told us that the studio was set to open this week. That solved the mystery of the studio.

Today was supposed to be opening day and I stopped by the studio on my way home from training. I walked into the lobby and found three young women speaking incredibly fast Spanish. My terrified look must have given me away because one of the women looked at me and said, “Do you speak English?” Relieved I replied, “Yes, please...”

She informed me that the studio’s opening had to be postponed because the heating system being used for their hot yoga classes wasn’t working correctly. We chatted for a few minutes, she gave me a small tour of their beautiful studio and she even mentioned that they might be getting a couple teachers to teach solely in English. Before I left, I inquired about their hot yoga classes. I have never tried one but my dear friend Erin is a huge fan, so I think it’s worth at least one try.

Finally, a little bit of success in a city that so far has been filled only with setbacks