It’s incredible to think how friendships form. I’m currently watching “Eat, Pray, Love” for the first time (I read the book years ago but this is the first time seeing the movie) and marvel how, in foreign places when you know no one and get lost doing the simplest things, a social group can develop and create the security and love you need – always when you least expect it.
In the movie, Liz meets her friend Sophie as she attempts to order a cappuccino in a busy café, and from there she is introduced to a language teacher and his friends and quickly becomes part of an existing group, even signalling her departure by cooking a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. All I can think of when I see this is my immersion into Cuzco, a place I never intended to stay long in. Funny how fate works though, isn’t it?
Nathan and I had been travelling when we met Ed; after all deciding to share a room in Cuzco upon arrival (with his friend Tommy, aka Boat Head), I promptly got extremely sick. This really threw off my plans, which were – of course – to visit Machu Picchu and explore the Sacred Valley. While the boys went off on their adventures, I stayed in the room feeling sorry for myself and pushing myself to walk the ½ block down the hill for tea and toast at the local café. Once I began to recover I dragged the boys with me for live music and cheap beers in the evenings, until, one day, they were all gone.
In grammatically correct Spanish, the kind that no one in Peru actually speaks, I got to know the local guy serving breakfasts at Km.0, Lalo, who introduced me to la mamá, a short, stout indigenous Peruvian woman who treated my ailments with local herbs and tinctures. One day while we were talking, Gladys came rushing in like a hurricane; she had locked herself out of her room while brushing her teeth so could she leave her toothbrush and toothpaste at the bar until the landlord let her back in but in the meantime she had to go to work? After a quick introduction, she was off.
Later that day I met her again, and through her I met Pepe. That night, during live music and drinks, the intros kept flowing: Dani, Miguel, José Manuel and Guillermina, Alberto (Hecht), Phuru… I can’t remember everyone who was there that night and who entered my world later (Fede, Fabricio, Walter, Luís, Barbie, Carlos, etc. etc. etc.), but in these few days my base of friends had been solidified. Joslyn, even in Spanish, proved too difficult for many to get their tongues around so I quickly became gringa, a derogatory-nickname-turned-term-of-endearment and one that stuck for my 2 years there.
The Latin people aren’t ones that take friendship lightly; once you’re friends, you’re family. There’s no sense of “we only just met”, it’s a sensation of jumping in feet first and letting the current determine your destiny. The very first day I met Gladys and Pepe we went for a walk up to Saqsaywaman and Zona X, and within weeks Gladys and I lived down the hall from each other; from there it was an easy step to rent our own place and shop for kitchen utensils, and she was my anchor during my time in Cuzco.
My family expanded to include Carlos and Eli, Vanessa and Bubi, Eloy, Nick, Doug, Colm and John and Bryan, Kris, Sebastian, Tessa, Mayte and Michel. People – locals – recognized me and began treating me like a local (except the Massage? Massage? ladies), offering me the local price on food instead of the turista cost for things and sincerely welcoming me into the fold. There were barbecues, more late nights than I can count, drag queen shows, van rides to the country to eat cuy, laughter and tears, concerts in the Plaza, poker nights, sunrises…just writing about it brings the memories flooding back.
But this isn’t about memories: it’s about people. It’s about surrounding yourself with people you love and those who love you wherever you are in the world, in your personal journey, in your life. It’s about finding family when you’re halfway across the world from the one you’ve grown up with, and it’s about letting them know how important they are to you.
I certainly never expected to find a family outside of Matt and Samara here in Australia, but after 5 years it’s starting to happen. Drinking wine in the park last night with Thais and Coralie reminded me that there are people who are still willing to open themselves up to new friends and to create new family. I can’t thank them enough, just like I can never express my love and appreciation to all my non-blood-related family in my life: I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without your love, support and encouragement. So…. Thanks!
Much love and many hugs,