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Places in our hearts

  1. May 21, 2009 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    It is often said that people have a spiritual or otherwise profound connection to a place. It seems that these "connections" can range from the place of one's birth, to a place visited only once. One comment that I have heard comes to mind: Once you have been to Africa you will never get it out of your heart. Another comment that just caught my attention was about a Hawaiin who was described as being deeply spiritual about the land in Maui. Personally, Peru had a similar effect on me. When I think of Peru, I am filled with a sense of music. But it isn't because I was always hearing music when I was there. It is more like a sense that life in Peru is musical... and it was absolutely infectious. I am reminded of the so-called Latin spirit - perhaps that is what people mean.

    I have a cousin who fell in love with the Latin spirit of Ecuador. She lived there for a year while in high school and was hooked. Now, as a medical doctor, she plans to return to Ecuador and live there. When we talked about it, it became clear that her feelings about Ecuador were very similar to my feelings about Peru. And she knew exactly what I meant when I mentioned the sense of music! It was precisely her sense of Ecuador.

    Why do we sometimes form intense emotional connections to one place, but not others that in principle are just as nice or nicier?

    Why would I feel so fond of a place where I had to use false names and take different routes every day as a precaution against kidnapping; a place where the houses are surrounded with 220 volt electric fences; a place where a $40 cash gift can make a man cry?
    Last edited: May 21, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2009 #2
    Often in places like you describe I have noticed a greater disparity between principle and reality. The concerns that you list at the end of your post are very real threats, but for someone who has never been to such a place they will never know the actual experience. There is no basis for comparison. While there are always criminals and violence present in every culture, the average way of life in Latin American countries is very different than the way of life in the United States. Because you have experienced life within an entirely different value system you have a basis for comparison.

    The typical metropolitan life in the U.S. is a highly competitive, high stress environment. Even living in rural areas one often must participate in consumerism. Just looking at the 'How does your garden grow' thread on this site I would say that people value the entire process from initial effort to final reward. Life in many places is Latin America is still about that process happening within a community rather than corporate consumerism. For me at least that really helps identify the people with the place. When I was living in Mexico and was accepted by the people I was staying with it was a simple step to feel like it was home, in the same way that growing a garden might make someone else feel.

    edit- I still have fond memories of the chickens that were running around in the store at the shop nearby. The store was just a room with a street-side dutch style door. I would walk up to the door and look in and ask the lady for what I wanted to buy. The eggs from the chickens were up high on a shelf. She would carefully put the eggs in a plastic bag and I would take them back and cook them for breakfast for everyone. I still remember laughing with her as she explained to me the proper pronunciation of Colgate.

    It's not like buying a carton of eggs from the refrigerated section of the local supermarket. I know the lady that raises the chickens. I can see the chickens that produce the eggs. I could ask how they are raised and what they eat. My relationship with the vendor becomes an important thing to consider. That beats a label on a box any day. It's much more personal.
    Last edited: May 21, 2009
  4. May 21, 2009 #3


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    I have long ago realized that I am connected to places where I felt happy. Reasons of the feeling (personal, professional, love, achievments) are not important.
  5. May 30, 2009 #4
    I have also heard the music and felt the magic of Peru. What follows is a page from my diary written on Christmas Eve day in 2005. It was written as an email to myself in an internet café. It’s a bit personal, but I think not enough to harm anyone. I should explain that at the time I didn’t speak Spanish and no one mentioned including Maribel spoke English. Maribel is now my wife and I am a permanent resident of Peru. I still hear the music.

    It´s Christmas Eve day. It is sunny and hot. If there is any excitement about Christmas here in Chiclayo, I don´t see it, except that people are selling and buying live white turkeys on every street corner. Maribel´s family raised a turkey for the last 11 months in their house. Yesterday she told me it was going to be Christmas supper (eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve). I asked her if it was going to be difficult to eat the turkey. She just smiled. One-half hour later she said "bye bye pavo (Spanish for turkey) and slit its throat. All the blood was saved for something that I´m sure will be on the dinner table tonight. I will try to avoid it.

    In the afternoon yesterday Maribel told me that her father Cesar has expressed some dissatisfaction with the sleeping arrangements. He has conservative values and wants to uphold the honor of his daughter. Maribel and her sister Magali suggested that I talk with him. I asked them for suggestions on what I should say. The next thing I know Maribel, Magali, Brian, Maribel´s father and me are sitting in an ice cream shop downtown. Magali is apparently telling Cesar about my good qualities. Maribel and Brian chime in. I can’t operate my Franklin electronic translator fast enough so I’m completely lost. Suddenly Cesar stands... pounds the table... walks over to me and Maribel... puts our hands together and loudly proclaims... "permiso!" I have just been given permission to marry his daughter. People start coming out of the woodwork congratulating us. Maribel is beaming. I´m smiling weakly. We the make the rounds of the other family members houses to announce our engagement. I´m smiling weakly.

    That night Maribel and I went to the homes of several of her girlfriends to celebrate. I accept the congratulations and answer all the questions as best I can. I am smiling weakly. At the last home it is decided that we should all go to a favorite disco to culminate the celebration. So into the taxi goes me, Maribel, and her girlfriends Gladys and Mary. I´m thinking this is a dream come true. Mary is plain by Latin standards, which means she is hot. Gladys is a drop dead knock-out. At the disco I´m dancing with the three of them when Omar, a young lawyer friend of Maribel´s comes to our table. As I knew he would, he immediately asked Gladys to dance when Maribel and I were on the floor. Maribel asked Mary to dance with us, and she did, but the writing was on the wall. I hate this part, and always have. Mary saw that she was the odd person out, and did her duty by quietly leaving during one of the dances. I felt really bad for her. I wish there was a better finish for her evening. The four of us drank and danced until 1:00, when we decided to check out the action at a second favorite disco. The place was jumping, and we hung out until 3:00 when this old man decided he´d had enough. Omar and Gladys were still going strong when Maribel and I left. It was only after we had returned to the hotel that I realized I had spent an entire evening laughing and communicating with dozens of people without the use of spoken language.

    I´ve only got three days left. I wish it were three months. We tried to extend my ticket another week but couldn’t hit on the Lima – Atlanta connection. It is going to be hard to return to my home in the woods. There are about a dozen homes here that I have access to. When these people tell you "my home is your home," they don´t say it lightly. I choked up a couple times when, after visiting for the evening, the man would stand and make the formal proclamation that “mi casa es su casa”. I have never met people like this or experienced a culture such as this one. They have so little, yet they exhibit pride, dignity, cleanliness and a zest for life that to me seems unimaginable given their meager resources. Absent is any trace of affectation or pretense. They are quick to open up completely to sincerity and honesty, but I think would quickly shut out the “arrogant Americano”.

    It´s been one hell of a ride. I don´t know what the next chapter holds, but this much I am sure of..... my Chiclayo experience does not end with my return to Wisconsin.
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