My daughter is seven years old and I dream that one day she will grow into a citizen of the world. I see her blossoming into a young lady equally at ease on the streets of San Francisco, Moscow, Paris, or Lima and my wife and I have done our best to make this dream possible. As an American with a Russian-born wife and child we divide our time between San Diego and St. Petersburg. When in California, we often cross into Baja California and the lovely fishing villages along the Mexican coast and in Russia we like to take the overnight ferry to Helsinki and enjoy the hospitality of courteous and friendly Finnish people. When the opportunity arose to spend a couple of years in Peru, we jumped at it. Here was a chance for my daughter to immerse herself in a new culture and widen her horizons.
Now I realize my view of world citizenship was simplistic at best. I had mistaken it for multi-language fluency and familiarity with world capitals. I did not count with the human factor and I needed the wisdom of a seven-year-old to set me straight.
We arrived in Lima full of expectation but unprepared for the cultural shock we encountered. From day one life in our new host country became a struggle of conflicting emotions. A couple of days after our arrival, still wide-eyed at the new environment, my daughter and I were crossing a busy Miraflores intersection. Walking on the pedestrian zone we reached mid-street when we saw a rush of incoming traffic approaching at full speed. Cars barreled past us, in front and back. The air wake of a car flapped my trousers and frightened my child to tears. I was furious. What kind of irresponsible people were these? I would soon learn the perils of Peruvian traffic, the likes of which I had never encountered anywhere in the world: the chaotic rush to nowhere, the cacophony of horns, the whistles of traffic cops inexplicably pretending to control traffic by making noise, the anti-theft alarms going off without reason, the utter disregard for the rules of traffic, the absence of all courtesy or common sense.
We quickly fell into a way of life we did not understand and had increasing trouble coping with. A few weeks passed and my wife and I were having dinner at a fashionable and expensive restaurant in the city. A large party occupied the table behind her. They were boisterous but not disagreeable. They were having a good time. They soon finished and left. Having enjoyed a wonderful dinner we set to leave ourselves. My wife went to grab her bag that she had hung in the backrest of her chair. It had been stolen. With it went her money, passport, camera, and Russian cell phone. We were aghast.
As weeks passed and we got immersed in the grind of our new life we started to look at our new world through ever-darkening lenses. I hated dealing with banks that had never heard of process efficiency or customer relations. The most mundane undertaking took forever, as it invariable got mired in inefficiency and bureaucratic rigmarole. Urgent medicine that we tried to bring from the US because it was not available in Peru was blocked in customs because of contradictory and confusing bureaucratic rules. Setting up our Internet line took 12 days and it worked so poorly I had to wait until past midnight to connect to my office in the US.
My wife’s lack of fluency in Spanish made her the target of dishonest merchants. When the elevator in our building broke down and it took almost two weeks to get fixed we decided to have an emergency family meeting. Had we made a grave mistake? Should we accept that we had failed in our project and go back home?
The only unperturbed member of the family was our daughter. She had made friends with Lydia, the neighbor’s little girl about the same age. They spent hours playing and talking. One spoke in Russian, the other in Spanish, all in seemingly perfect understanding. It was such a shame to deprive my daughter of friendships such as this and of the chance to open her eyes to new cultures and people. We decided to take a break from Lima and travel elsewhere in Peru. We wanted to find out whether Peruvians had a soul that we could relate to. We chose Arequipa and the Colca Valley. If time and funds permitted, we would add Cuzco and Puno.
_Jose Adolfo Villalobos says, We are a multinational family with roots in The United States, Russia, and Peru. I am a computer and business consultant and my wife a psychologist and mother to a lovely 7-year old girl. As much as we love the thrill of visiting new places and meeting new people, our fervent wish is to be able to raise a daughter that, in her own ways, will contribute to harmony and understanding among peoples in a broken world._
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