I was a douche to a Peruvian the other day.  Not that I’m not a douche on other days (gringo, Peruvian or other), but this time it was under no fault of the Peruvian.  You see Hugo was at the health post the same time I was. It was late on a Friday afternoon:  I was at the health post for the health promoter meeting, and he was there for reasons unknown to me.  I had never seen him before and didn’t know who he was or why he was at the post.  And Hugo didn’t do a single thing wrong.  In fact, he was nice to me.  He asked me where I was from, what I was doing at the health post and  if I liked Peru and the food, etc.  And that’s why I was a douche….

But let me explain myself….

I’ve been in Peru over two years now, living in the same community for a bit under that threshold. Living here two years, where most people know your (and my) name gives you a feeling of belonging.

But still during all this time, there’s still someone who asks me: 

‘Who are you?’ 

Mateo, Peace Corps blah blah 2 years blah blah…’

‘What are you doing here?’

‘blah blah blah blah’

‘How do you like Peru?’

‘It’s good.’

‘Have you adjusted?’

‘I’ve lived here two years’

During the first months, all of these questions are expected and even if you don’t speak well, you have your little Peace Corps speech memorized about who you are, what you’re doing, etc. And it’s nice that people are actually taking an interest in you.

But after awhile, it gets to be a broken record for the volunteer. ‘I’ve been here for two years! I’m not a visitor!’  While whoever is asking has the nicest intentions, getting these repetitive (and seemingly non-profound) questions is frustrating.  From the Peruvian, they’re genuine questions.  But from the volunteer who’s been in the field for x number of months, it’s constantly explaining yourself. 

It’s irritating, because you hate being taken for a tourist or someone ‘just visiting’. You live here, you eat the food. You live with a family! Don’t they get it by now! Haven’t they seen you before? Asked someone about you? You’ve come to your community for something much bigger but yet you’re still explaining yourself a year into it.

And one of the best strategies I’ve found is usually somebody I’m with will chime in and start commenting about something I’ve done in town to build my street cred, and also taking a bit of the weight off of me.


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So earlier on Friday I was waiting in my municipality to talk with the mayor. The municipal building is just three rooms with a waiting area.  And while waiting for her that day, no less than four different people asked me the standard set of questions as they passed through to pay their utility bills. 

And then later in the afternoon, while I was trying to talk with welders about fixing the doors on the community reservoir, one of their visiting buddies ran the gauntlet with questions.

So by the time I got to the health post, I was over it.  And there I am just chilling in the waiting room of the health post, talking on and off with the staff until they scurry off.  And there’s Hugo just kind of staring at me.  And he started asking me the gauntlet of questions, to which I gave short answers to try to curtail any follow up and finally a quick speech about how I’ve been here two years – more to justify myself than whatever he was asking – and then pulled out my phone and walked away to make a non-important call.  

A little bit later, I find out Hugo just wasn’t some random dude, but he was the new dentist who was going to be working there a couple days a week.  I felt likeadouche.

Why? Because it shouldn’t matter whether he was a random Peruvian or someone I work with, I really had no reason to be so short, so frio with him.  But I was. 


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