Thursday, October 17, 2019

Seventeen Dufflebags, Japanese Food, Cockroaches, and Rubber Stamps

or Peru, And How We Got There

On this day in 1984 two young people, feeling very grown up and, at the same time, young and vulnerable, left the United States on a one way ticket for a country where they had never been before. Getting there was a twentieth century odyssey.



With our 17 duffle bags of luggage, we flew out of Chicago saying good-bye to Jim's parents and a few people from our sending church to Miami where we were met by a son and father, each with the same name, who were friends of my inlaws. They told us that their hospitality would be somewhat meager because their wife and mother was in the hospital with Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome! They had come to the airport in their car, but since we were flying stand-by the next day we had to take all our luggage with us. The father decided to take me home with my carry-ons (a sewing machine and a "portable" typewriter!) and get the church van. He just opened the door for me and let me in the house and went back to the airport to get Jim and all the luggage. I didn't know which room was ours, so I sat in the living room waiting for them to return. It was hot and humid and suddenly I heard noises like someone trying to open a window. Just like on TV, I went to investigate. Turns out it was a parrot scratching around in his cage. When they all arrived back, he apologized that he hadn't shown me our room or anything else so I could make myself comfortable.

The next day the father went to work and the hospital so the son showed us around Miami some. I remember him complaining that there are so many non-Floridians there now. He said, "We ought to make a law that anyone who hasn't lived here at least five years has to leave." Me: [blank look]

We took him to a restaurant to thank him. He chose a Japanese place. We had never had Japanese food and whatever it was we ordered we didn't really like, so we spent a lot of money on an ethnic experience we wished we hadn't had. Later in the airport, we decided to have one last McDonalds hamburger before leaving the country. Taking the airport train to the terminal with a McD's we ate cold hamburgers and soggy french fries. Two disappointing "last meals" in the United States for who knew how long?

When the son dropped us back at the airport with all our luggage we got a skycap (I don't think they even have them any more!) to load up all our bags onto a huge cart and go to one airline where we could fly on standby. The skycap dumped all our bags on the floor and left. We tipped him what we considered an extravagant amount, but he frowned at it. Maybe they always did that to see if they could get more, or to make you want to give more the next time. The airline gave us a price that sounded so high, we decided to check out the other airline. Jim said he would go and I could stay with the luggage and if it were good he would come back to get all the luggage...and me!

We ended up flying on the second airline and tipping a second skycap to move our stuff to another end of the terminal. After everything was checked through we went off to a bank of pay phones to call our parents. I remember having to put three dollars worth of quarters into the phone while I was already talking to my mother. "We have our luggage checked." Clank, clank "The flight leaves at 7:15pm." Clank, clankity-clank "First we go to Grand Cayman" Clank, clank

The reason we had to fly to the Cayman Islands instead of a direct flight to Peru is that there were no direct flights in those days. (Any millennial who has read this far, is probably asking in what century this took place!) The planes Peruvian airlines--both now defunct--flew made too much noise to be allowed by the FAA to land in US airports. So of course, Peru said, the US airlines could not fly into Peru either because tit for tat and you would get all the business and big, bad USA is bullying us again. So one Peruvian airline made a deal with Cayman Air and another with Jamaica Air and Eastern which had flown into Lima made a deal with some other Caribbean Island. Nearing midnight we landed on Grand Cayman and were all ushered into a metal shed where a bartender spoke a form of English I could not understand at all. All I remember about my first Caribbean island was that it was hot and humid late at night in the middle of October so, why would anyone ever want to vacation here?

We boarded the Faucett plane and settled in our seats when a large cockroach walked up to the top of the seat in front of us, looked at us, and wiggled his antennae. Thankfully I was too tired to react or even consider the possibility that he had a friend somewhere else on the airplane, like in my seat!

We landed at Jorge Chavez airport at about 2 a.m. and stood in line with everyone else to go through customs. I could hear bang-bang, bang-bang and wondered what the sound was. When we got up to the desk with the official, I discovered that he was stamping passports and papers and reinking continuously. Bang-bang, stamp-stamp! It seemed like there were dozens of official documents to stamp to make our entry into Peru legal. (Side note: a couple of months later I was watching a little girl about three play with some papers she had found. She was pretending to stamp each one and ink the invisible stamp before affixing the stamps. I realized this was a way of life!)

We saw our senior missionaries and waved to them along with another new missionary as we gathered all our luggage onto the cart with the help of a porter who looked somewhat official. When we got out our new colleagues handed us red and white carnations "the colors of the flag", gave us a quick greeting, and rushed around loading our mountain of luggage into the van another kind missionary, who we didn't know, had brought to convey us home. It seemed like ten people appeared out of nowhere to "help" load the duffle bags. The missionaries were telling us to watch to make sure everything went into the van and no where else and to hang onto to our purses, wallets and other items. A boy was tugging on my coat and talking non-stop. I turned to one of the missionaries and asked, "What is he saying?" Our friend cocked his ear and listened for a minute and then said, "He's saying, 'I'm the one doing all the work here. I'm the only one who should get a tip.'"

Finally we were all piled into cars and drove through the dark and quiet streets home, only slowing for red lights. Our senior missionary said that at this time of night it wasn't a good idea to come to a complete stop, but that he did usually obey the traffic signals. 


At their house we unloaded everything into the tiny entry of their two story row house, had a quick word of prayer to thank God for a safe arrival, and then everyone wanted to go to bed. We were shown to the "prophet's chamber" on the flat roof of their house. There were two twin beds and a table. We climbed into the beds that felt cold and clammy due to the humidity in the air. We laid there a few minutes and then a rooster crowed, and I thought, "Where have I come to?"




Thanks for reminiscing with me about that eventful day 35 years ago. I had fun remembering everything about that defining moment in my life. Now that we base ourselves in the US I never know what to say when someone asks "Where are you from?" And I dislike my name tag at conferences saying that I live in a small city in Iowa, because it doesn't tell my story. This is part of my story. As I write this, I realize that everyone has more of a story than we can know through a name tag or an address. I realize I need to ask more questions and listen more intently, to hear between the words and find out people's fuller stories in order to connect with them more.





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