Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A cultural affair

My trip to Peru was an eye opening experience in more ways than one. When one lives alone, one can analyze and tweak one's world view with spiritual exercises or a in a variety of other ways. However, when one is another culture, another continent and country, in a sub dominant language where your family's world view takes precedence..your world can turn upside down.

It's ironic one misses family when in that family all of you individually and collectively simply don't allow the other person to be who they really are. It's almost as if your personality in this particular group morphs into something scarcely recognizable. Somehow I knew this reality would come to pass prior to my trip as I sighed before my departure. My roommate commented and said whats wrong aren't you excited to go and I said yes but....

Now don't get me wrong, the trip in all aspects was amazing. Its just for me to be in some primitive cave woman like existence even for brief moments causes severe psychic pain for me. How could I be dishonest, suspicious and more unsatisfied then satisfied in relationship in a few weeks than I normally am in several months? It's both humbling and humiliating. I have to say we are challenged and experience the most opportunity for growth in intimate relationship whether with family or strangers.

So onto some pleasant experiences and surprises of my trip first. The first would have to be that when I was higher on the pecking order, my family helped out a lot with stuff I had to get done there. So much so that I became more demanding than most human beings have a right to be. Another hi-lite was having such a uniquely fun time at the wedding reception. There is a custom among the young adults with some means there to host a "hora loca" or crazy hour. I was skeptical at first with such a shenanigan but with a little, well more than a little, alcohol, it proved to be the most fun experience of the whole event.

These guys with funny makeup and costumes came out on stilts with long balloons to pass out. They encouraged havoc in dance and action and the spirits ran wild in good fun. I also had the opportunity to dance for 15 minutes plus with my 87 year old uncle. He had seen me dance down to the ground and slowly dance back up prior and proceeded to do the same more than a few times. I was impressed but also scared! To see the spirit of love rise in his heart and have faith in it was touching.

Another pleasant surprise was a response from a business owner whom I contracted some 10 sessions of treatment with. Because I became ill, I wasn't able to go past 4 sessions. I decided to talk with her regarding the situation and how we could resolve it. She immediately offered to give me a full refund, I protested since this was not fair, I had used 4 sessions. She agreed and quickly refunded me the 6 sessions. It was probably a combination of factors that led to her decision. Perhaps a main one was the goodwill established by my cousin being a frequent customer of hers. I was grateful and thankful that such professionalism existed despite the tales of woe about business and strangers my family had filled my head with. The first story came as soon as I landed in Lima.

Lastly, my trip to Cuzco and the Inca trail was amazing. The challenges started early. I had a fever the night before my trip and after the first easy day of the hike, I lost part of a dental filling. As I troubleshooted what to do with others help, I decided to persevere and finish the trail. Coughing and only able to use one side of my mouth, I joked that even under these circumstances one can hike the great elevations of the Andes. My trip ended with a wonderful surprise as the dentist I found was competent, had state of the art equipment, was over the top compassionate in administering the injection, was not pushy in rendering other services and in the end became a friend. We parted in the typical Latin goodbye with a kiss on the cheek.

These experiences saved me from the chaos of the cultural affair I was in. As I mentioned earlier I became ill. This happened at the wedding reception. The evening was breezy and chilly and this landed me with a rather severe cold. The end of my trip with family saw me in bed more often than not where fever visited and revisited me. There are few events aside from physical illness for me when I become so egocentric that every lapse of attention and care causes me to recoil. This certainly was exacerbated due to an earlier experience where my patience ran thin with a dinner episode that had me at the end of the pecking order. The fact that I responded in primitive form left everyone all the worse for the experience.

Another humbling experience happened on the Inca trail. In my handicapped state, I was searching for my camera through my backpack and was unable to find it. I searched three times taking just about everything from the pack and opening every zipper. I searched the tent. I then thought perhaps my tent mate had by mistake put it away in her pack since I last remembered it being in the tent. After this failed, I gave into suspicion and thought well someone had to take it..since it didn't just disappear. As illogical as this was, I was perplexed as to what could have happened with the camera. Well my suspicion caught fire by remembering others prior complaints, and I caused an uproar at campsite. After checking all the porters and feeling badly this had to happen, I finally asked to receheck my backpack. This time I took out everything and in a hidden compartment, our trail guide felt a protrusion that seemed like a camera and he finally located the secret zipper. How embarrassing to have caused so much angst among everyone.

This experience can be excused a little more due to the crazy circumstances and being thrust among strangers. In familial or longterm and close friendship, one would think, however, that when you know people well enough and they know you...that you could somehow navigate past the landmines. We think it would be nice if we such perfect control over our will in moments of confusion or doubt. But we don't and I am thankful we don't, because that's how we grow and how we can respond with love.

That love sometimes has to have space, reflection and a seed planted in our heart. That seed for me is so evident but in my cultural chaos I couldn't even think of it. That seed is to see Christ in everyone. I have been graced with the response to His love. And with that grace the seed has begun sprouting. What joy amidst chaos when this seed will one day explode into a passion in our heart. It may not always prevent us from experiencing and reacting to disappointment or pain or loneliness in this world. However, it can transport us to a joy that surpasses those experiences.

May we all grow in Love and in relationship. And may we reflect this Christmas season on the great gift of Christ taking human form to save us by showing us how to Love. And may that Love transport us past all the variations in life which become our cultural affairs.


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