Saturday, May 18, 2013

How's the weather today?


When I was living in Moquegua, I would often go to a nearby market to collect the week's bread, yogurt, and rum. And most importantly, the peanut butter. See, this was one of the few places I had found in all of Peru that would regularly have peanut butter in stock -- the holy grail of food items for me, I would eat whole jars with a spoon. 

I definitely stood out when going to the store. I was often dirty and gross from digging in the field, bought peanut butter by the fistful, was obviously foreign, and generally had little clue what I was doing.  This made me easily memorable, and the girl at the checkout counter always greeted me warmly when I went in. Once I had collected all my necessary ingredients for the night's cooking (i.e. drinking the rum straight and then showing spoonfuls of peanut butter into my face), I would dump it all on her counter and we'd have a chat. 

We always chatted about the weather. We'd talk about the cold weather, how to stay warm in the winter, and about rain and fog and other such things. I was always very proud of these conversations, and my ability to name multiple weather events at a single time (you should have seen my excitement when I learned the word for clouds - a whole new world of conversations opened up). I just genuinely looked forward to talking to my new friend.

Finally, one day I went to the store with a friend who spoke Spanish fluently. She watched the traditional weather conversation unfold with bemusement. After we had paid and went outside, my friend asked in all seriousness "why does she ask you about the weather so much?" I answered the first thing that popped into my head, "because its the only thing I can talk about in Spanish." 

And then it hit me -- that the checkout girl was actually one of the kindest people I had met. I am sure after 5 weeks of me telling her "sure is cold today!" in various ways she was absolutely sick of speaking about the weather. But she also understood I was lonely and wanted someone to talk to, if only about the weather. So she never failed to greet me with a smile and ask me about rain.  It may not seem like a lot, but after feeling frustrated and mentally exhausted from living in a new culture it was so nice to have a safe place where I could go and answer things correctly. People asked me questions all day I didn't understand, but I always knew the answers to her weather questions. I hope the checkout girl knew how much I appreciated her kindness -- because I never had the words to tell her.  

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