On the last leg of our flight, from Miami to Raleigh, there was a group of rather large people with bright blue T-shirts proclaiming the details of their “Mission Trip Summer 2009”. I cringed. In a row ahead of me, I saw a woman reading a book with the Wake County Libraries symbol on it. It’s always so weird to see something so familiar and region-specific after traveling so far. Our row mate was a man in business attire with a file folder. We didn’t strike up a conversation with him until we were beginning our decent and we were trying to figure out what lake we were seeing. It turned out he was a Wake County employee who moonlighted as a diplimat helping Ecuador decentralize its government.
We got back Saturday night and I went back to school Monday. As I was driving through downtown Raleigh, I was, as I always am after returning from abroad, astounded by the lack of people outside on the sidewalks. There were no street vendors, no lively markets, no taxis, no combis yelling for passengers, nowhere to buy pie or queso helado. Only a few people carrying brief cases walking from the parking garage to their offices.
And, as always, the transition back was too quick. It made sense for David Sedaris to go to Tokyo to quit smoking. Once you’re away from home and everything familiar, it’s as if home never existed. I would completely forget about my cats and my job for days on end. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Once I got back into the routine of things here, it seemed impossible that we’d been in Peru just a few days ago.
At the faculty pool party on Friday, I met the wife of the new history teacher. She had a slight accent, and eventually someone ventured to ask her where she was from. “Peru” she said, probably expecting bland statements like “That’s nice” or “Oh! Machu Picchu.” But I immediately chimed in, “Really? I was just there–” I paused to remember,”–Saturday!” It had been less than a week. I was thrilled. I confessed to her my deep love of chicha morada, Inca Kola, and queso helado. She told me there was a grocery store in Durham that sold some Peruvian food. It turns out she is from Arequipa. She said there used to be three palm trees.
Today was the first (informal) day of school where the students go around to all their classes visiting their new teachers. One of my freshman students had seen the picture I put up of Machu Picchu on my class website and she said she is from Lima, Peru. Peru seems to be like a new vocabulary word. Once you learn it, your start to see it everywhere. It was there the whole time of course, you just didn’t notice it.
PS—I stopped at Food Lion this afternoon and happened to pass the “Spanish Foods” aisle. I found a bottle of Inca Cola.