Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The Lima Interview

The Lima Interview
Ashley Harper

So first I’d like to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I know you must be busy, and hey… that must be your son there – Ouch! Um, he’s cute, isn’t he. Ehhem, so why did you move to Peru?
Well, my husband got a job teaching at a private school in Lima.

So, you just said, “Ok, honey, whatever you want”?
No, I mean when Dan. . .

Dan is your husband.
Right. When Dan went to graduate school, it became clear that getting a job as an English professor was not going to drop into his lap, so he, or we thought that getting another degree in English as a Second Language would give us the opportunity to live outside the country for a while.

Why did you want to live outside the U.S.? You some kind a’ commie or something?
Well, no, but I thought it would be a good experience for the family. You know, help us learn to rely on each other, on ourselves. Learn another language and so forth.

And do you feel that you’ve achieved these …um… goals?
Yes. No. The kids are fluent in Spanish now. I can deal with insurance companies over the phone, so I’m doing pretty well. Dan can sit in a lecture and understand everything.

And the relying on each other stuff?
Well, I don’t know if we needed another country to show us how selfish we both are. I mean, we’re both only children, so sharing personal space and time is a pretty foreign concept. But that’s marriage, right?

I guess. I’m a swinging single myself.
But when there are no grandparents around or close friends to bitch to, the only child syndrome is pretty exaggerated.

I see. Well, what about for your kids? How did they handle the change from North to South America?
Remarkably well, as you’d expect from children. Flannery was five and Gus had just turned one when we moved to Lima. If they had any major difficulties, I can’t remember them.

So then, what have been some of the difficulties?
Well, there’s the obvious, being a foreigner and always being viewed as a foreigner. Any time we go to the grocery people touch my son’s hair. He’s a toe head.

A what?
A toe head. He’s very blond, and we all have blue eyes more or less which draws some attention. We either get taken advantage of or treated as if we’re better. It makes you pretty self- conscious to go out in the street, even though there are plenty of Peruvians with blond hair.

Do you ever feel threatened?
Recently there have been a number of kidnappings. Not like Columbia or anything, but close enough to make you worry. I do feel nervous, sometimes, to be so visible. I’m always on my toes, which of course you have to be anyway in a city this big.

How big is it exactly?
Between 8 and 12 million people.

Dear God! Are you using like metrics in that estimate?
No, I can speak Spanish, but spare me the kilograms.

So, what do you do there?
Actually, I let myself be talked into being a teacher at the school where Dan works, and also where our daughter goes. That’s a big plus, getting to see her everyday.

Talked into? What, you don’t like it?
No, not really. I’m glad I have the experience, and I’ve proved to myself I can do one of the hardest jobs in the entire world, but, no, I don’t particularly look forward to each class.

What do you teach?
Well, English. I’m now teaching eighth grade and second grade.

Wow, that’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?
Yeah. Sometimes I sing Itsy Bitsy Spider to the teenagers and play Wilco for the eight-year-olds. It’s a big shift. I don’t like it.

What are some of the perks?
The convenience. Across the street I can get the laundry dry-cleaned, buy fresh cheese or cilantro, film, string, school supplies, beer, make copies, you name it.

Cement nails?
No problem.

Sanitary napkins?

Well, I’d have to walk down the block.

What about transportation?
Well, we have a car, which incidentally is for sale if you’re interested.

Thank you, no.
I love driving here, but it’s easy to get a couple of buses down to the ocean for less than $2, or take a taxi across town for less than $5.

What else will you miss?
Traveling cheap, the beautiful towns in the mountains, the beach, exotic fruit, buses with sheep on top.

So, tell me more about the kids. I’m getting off track from my assignment here.
Hmm. In general, they fight in Spanish and watch too many videos. They go to a lot of birthday parties that are usually in McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken and have shows, loud music and so forth. There’s a new ice skating rink which is all the rage. Flannery is in 2nd grade and a model student – go figure, genetics taken into account. She’s taken a number of workshops after school, including swimming, gymnastics and Peruvian percussion. Gus is in a nido, aka day care or preschool. He generally loves it. There’s an alpaca, big tortoises, parakeets and rabbits. There are psychologists on staff and a special workshop for art. Of course, Gus only brings home balls of hardened clay and painted pieces of wood, but I’m no stage mom. They both have many friends, especially Flannery. The biggest shock for her will be a big school. In Trener, everyone knows who she is because both her parents work there and it’s a small school. Not like the public school where she’ll know almost no one. She’d like to stay. Gus doesn’t seem to really care one way or the other.

What would you say the children have gained, other than the language?
Well, we sometimes carry around old clothes or toys in the car to give to the children who beg at the car windows. I’d like to say they value their security more, but that’s a stretch. I think just absorbing all the poverty, entire towns of hovels, juxtaposed with the equally visible chauffeurs, nannies, and butlers has to make some sort of impact, even if it isn’t realized for some time.
Of course there are aspects of the U.S. that I’m sure they’ll appreciate a lot more when we return.

Such as?
Well, the presence of our extended family first of all. PBS, libraries, public playgrounds, sidewalks, trees, neighbors who aren’t on the other side of electric fences and cement walls.

Well, Ashley, it will be good to have you home. Bring presents.
Ok. Chau.

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