If you are going to live in Peru for a long period of time as a wandering outlander, you better well like it. However the life of a vagabond is not always full of adrenaline-rush-water-rafting-paragliding-mountain-climbing fun. I was warned by many fellow adventurous wayfarers before my Peruvian journey of the notorious traveller’s cycle in which we are eventually entangled into three distinct stages. First we are drawn into the romance of the honeymoon period where the novelty seduces our senses and our exploration of the country is full of endless possibilities.
Once the excitement subsides the differences between old and new become apparent and you begin to feel the onset of homesickness until finally adjustment kicks in and new customs and cultural habits start to seem normal. I think my psyche had the brilliant idea of surprising me with a different stage every day, so that as much as I love this beautiful country there are always days where I find myself negotiating with new customs and reverting to my Canadian ways. But these rare moments of homesickness are almost always short-lived because Peru has a wonderful habit of unexpectedly providing new experiences and her surprising opportunities always convinces me to stay. One of these unexpected moments of beauty was the day I stumbled upon a maestro by the name of Jacabo Chertman in a public circle which I have now given the title “The Circle of Life.”
I had been to this circle before many times in Kennedy Park, Miraflores, but I had not really understood the weight of its alluring effect until about a week ago. A fellow volunteer and I had just finished our stroll down the tourist filled streets drinking our bubble tea that reminded us of home when we decided to check out the crowd of people overflowing the circle. The centre of the night’s attention was maestro Jacabo Chertman. Since neither Frances nor I are well advanced in our Spanish we had to rely on the general atmosphere to figure out why this man had attracted so many people. The audience was made up mostly of older people, all of whom had a look of familiarity with the maestro as if they either knew him as a person or his work in general. There was a poster with his portrait beside the choir with the words “Gracias” and “Adios.” One by one the choir members sang solos in his honour embracing him at the end of each song and during which couples most likely in their 70’s flocked to the heart of the circle and danced the night away. The night was most definitely dedicated to the retiring maestro, Jacabo Chertman and all songs sung and dances danced were done in his honour. He directed the choir for most of the night, however he did grace us with his voice for one song while managing to look each and every one of us in the eye as he sang. Looking around at the circle I noticed that each person in this elderly bunch was soaking up every last minute of what might have been his final performance before retirement and all seemed to have the same look during his performance; a peaceful yet stern, squinted-eyed look of remembrance, of a wisdom that the only five people my age who were present could not understand even if we tried.
Still intoxicated by the atmosphere, I have realized why I find this circle so appealing. There are public places everywhere in the world where people can sit and chat with their friends and enjoy the outdoors or soak in the hussle and bussle of the city life around them, but I have not until now seen a public area that encourages unity in its shape and positions people in a way to make them face one another. A circle is such a simple thing but in this instance it has proved so affective in making people acknowledge one another promoting and facilitating human interaction time and time again. I cannot think of any such lively hub where people naturally flack to of all ages, foreigners and locals alike while sharing in the music of local musicians, or a laugh from a comedian passing through the park or even just a simple conversation with strangers.
Since having taken on this nomadic lifestyle, I have definitely had my fair slice of the ups and downs of culture shock and the traveller’s cycle. But it is truly in simplistic moments like these that reveal the beauty of this culture and a major player in my adjustment has been El Parque Kennedy and the “Circle of Life” which is always full of interesting surprises, opportunities and new people to meet.
Christina Baker is a volunteer with the Karikuy program in Lima, Peru.