Back before moving to Peru to work at the hospital as missionaries, I had an idea in my head that when we would finally be in Peru, we were going to fit into the Peruvian culture. I was afraid to join the missionary bubble instead of fully integrating into the local culture. This was the idea in my mind.
Then we arrived at the hospital back in early 2018. Instead of finding a familiar warm Latin culture, we found ourselves surrounded by an Indigenous mountain culture that was a bit closed off to foreigners and distrusting of city-folk (for understandable reasons).
My fears of not fitting in materialized even more when we moved into our house: a comfy sized townhome in a gated area together with another missionary family home on the outskirts of town.
I soon found my previous wish of being one with the local culture not materializing at all. My first breakthrough into the culture was starting meaningful friendships with a couple Peruvian brothers over a weekend hiking trip. But they were both from bigger cities and had moved to Curahuasi away from their families. This was still a big deal because I finally had come closer to feeling more at home in Peru through these friendships. However, I had no deep eye-to-eye friendships with anyone that was Quechua.
After about half a year in Peru, I started to realize that I was making little progress with the local Quechua culture, and I was struggling.
A bit later, I brought it up with Brendan Connally (another missionary) while eating breakfast on the mountaintop next to our town. I mentioned how much I felt like a failure that I hadn’t assimilated into the culture. I felt that Brendan would be able to help me because he had come to help translate the Bible into Quechua and had become fully fluent in Quechua. If anyone knew an “in” into the Indigenous culture it would be him.
I remember as clear as day what Brendan told me that morning. He said “it’s not about fitting in, it’s just about you loving them and being loved by them.” Immediately several faces popped into my head of people I love here in Curahuasi that also love me back.
I thought of Wilson, my right-hand man at the hospital who takes care of me in clinic, who runs the schedule, who says “no” to people for me (I hate saying no), and how whenever I get a chance in front of hospital staff I love to honor him for his hard work because without him I would probably be miserable.
I thought of Emiliano, a hospital guard with whom for whatever reason I have developed a special bond, and so we chit chat for a minute or two every time we see each other around the hospital.
I thought of our househelp Feli, who we love, that always goes above and beyond to take care of Devyn and me and shows up to our house twice a week with a huge smile on her face.
I thought of Faustina and Lucia, a couple ladies that sell veggies at the Sunday market that always greet us with warm embraces and help me practice my Quechua and tell me to cut my long hair.
I thought of many other people that I had reached out to over the months, even though nothing truly materialized. Oh well, at least I reached out.
And all the sudden I didn’t feel like a failure anymore, I felt that I had loved and been loved. And that is what intercultural relationships are all about.