The taxi drove on a dirt road that bordered green terraces and cow pastures. As we drove along the river we passed picture-perfect hamlets of white adobe houses and narrow streets where men and women greeted us as old neighbors, with courtesy and warmth. Whenever we stopped our daughter was always the center of attention. A cheerful lady with red cheeks and a bowler hat selling fruit in the market gave her a small basket of strawberries and an old man bent with age and a wrinkled face gave her a ekeko , a small good-luck inca figurine. They said it was a gift for the cute gringita . The valley narrowed into a ever deepening canyon. Our lodge sat on the river’s edge next to natural hot springs carved into a rocky outcrop. That night, soaking in the hot pool up to our chins, listening to the water gurgling among the pebbles in the river bed and the choir of birds and crickets nearby, smelling the scents of alfalfa, and gazing at a black sky where myriads of stars danced, we thought of no better place to be.
Next day it happened. Our daughter woke up feverish and with a sore throat. By mid-afternoon she had developed a raging fever and had trouble swallowing. We started to panic. With the help of the lodge manager we frantically tried to locate a doctor in the area. An hour later we found one willing to drive from Chivay to the lodge. By the time he arrived, our daughter was delirious with fever. The doctor was a small-framed man with a kind face and metal-rimmed glasses dressed in a rumpled suit. He attended to our daughter with great gentleness, as if he were handling a precious object.
He seemed to carry a small pharmacy in his bag, but when the fever still went up, he called for ice bags to keep the child’s temperature down and prevent brain damage. It was past midnight and it seemed the entire staff of the lodge was up trying to help. Worried sick as we were we could not but feel deeply grateful for the concern of total strangers for our daughter’s welfare. At dawn the temperature finally subsided and our child fell into deep sleep. The doctor had been with her for eight hours.
Our daughter recovered quickly and a few days later we were back in Lima. This time we were far from feeling jaded. We had seen the other face of Peru. We had found that Peruvians had a soul, and a big one. We had met gentle, caring, cheerful people capable of small acts of tenderness and care just because it was in their nature to be so.
At another family meeting we unanimously decided to go on with our Peruvian adventure, with some adjustments. We moved out of the high-rise to a small house in an older neighborhood with tree-lined streets and brightly colored houses where everybody seems to know each other. My wife found new produce and meat vendors in nearby bodegas’ that cheerfully address her as their casera.’ Language barrier seems to be no longer an issue as these people have entered our circle of friends. Our daughter is making great strides learning Spanish as she spends hours in great conversation and games with her dear friend Lydia.
When we recently commented about our recent life and times in Peru, our daughter had the last word, Why do you want people to think like us?’ She asked, If we wanted that we should have stayed home. I love my friend Lydia. She does not understand when I speak, but I like her and she likes me.’ Wiser words were never spoken by a seven year-old. Now I know that she is on her way to becoming a citizen of the world. I look forward to the day when she will return to Peru, from wherever she might be, and walk the streets of her’ towns Lima and Arequipa.
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