A letter from Sara Armstrong in Peru
Culture Shock and Reverse Shock
We returned "home" on August 17 from a 10-week itineration. "Home" can be a very confusing term for us. Completing our fourth year in Peru and with dear friends in both the U.S. and Peru, we have decided that home is where Jenni the dog resides.
Sara made a list of the cultural differences that struck her during our first week in the U.S. As we arrived we couldn’t help but notice the diversity of personal attire. One lady had shaved off all of her white hair except the forelock and she was covered with tattoos. Peruvians are a somber people (until you get to know them and laugh at their jokes!). The day-to-day dress is mostly dark colors, and tattoos are viewed with deep suspicion. I would love to have seen the faces of some of my Peruvian compañeros as they wondered at the strange adornments and dress in the U.S.
We took the airport bus to the rental car headquarters. The bus driver announced that everyone on the bus who was under the age of 17 would have to take a seat for safety reasons. In Peru, young people stand up in the bus so the elderly, or women with children or pregnant, or handicapped folks have places to sit. We both burst out laughing. It really began a 10-week cultural tour that underlined some profound cultural differences between our U.S. and Peruvian homes.
We were overwhelmed by the choices of food in the United States. Sara's first breakfast was at Einstein Bagels. There were 26 kinds of fresh bagels and she had to pick just one. In the United States the topic of a person’s weight is taboo, while in Peru, it is discussed jovially. Several Peruvians have asked me why obesity is a problem in the United States. If they had the choices U.S. folks have they would also struggle to remain fit. Our first trip to a supermarket left Sara in shock. We saw one entire aisle for chips, another for sodas and another for breakfast cereals. While we have supermarkets in Lima, there is nowhere near this selection. We gleefully enjoyed the riches of North American cuisine all across the country: ice cream, sweet corn, fabulous cheeses, and vine-ripened tomatoes. We were treated to liver mush in North Carolina and boiled peanuts in Georgia. As Peruvian residents we are free to say that we came home with some additional kilos and clothes that fit a bit tighter.
We do not have a car in Peru. We ride buses, planes, and trains, but not automobiles. Our second day in the U.S. we bought a car from dear friends, which we drove 9,600 miles through 23 states, speaking in churches, presbyteries, visiting family, friends and national parks. The past four years we have been encouraging visiting delegations to get to know Peru with all its beauty and diversity. Throughout our 10 weeks in the United States, we were blessed to be reminded of the immensity, diversity and beauty of our native land. During all those weeks on the road we only heard horns honk five times. Peruvians are crazy drivers and they honk non-stop. We enjoyed the quiet!
On October 30 we returned to Lima. Friends welcomed our return with joy and open hearts. The morning of Oct 31, we jumped right back into the planning schedule for the Peru Mission Network, which we will host in Lima November 12–15. U.S. and Peruvian Presbyterian partnerships are sending 24 official delegates, as well as an additional 30 visitors, to participate in this event. People are really intrigued by the agenda. We will have renowned speakers on Peru's economy, narco-trafficking, mining, and various crises related to water. This will be set in the context of how we work together as brothers and sisters in Christ to address the issues that have an impact on partner church communities.
In Lima spring is making way for summer. The strawberry season is in full swing. We are enjoying the fresh bananas, mangos, the super delicious French fries and fresh fish. The city noises of car alarms, auto horns, barking dogs, kids screaming while playing in the streets, and neighbors we can hear through the walls are driving us crazy. It is all a far cry from the quiet, open spaces of southern Colorado, and it will take a while to adjust again. But Jenni the dog was really happy to see us. I guess we are home!
Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 23
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 31