One of the things I do when I travel to new places is “get lost”. I do it on purpose. I know it sounds dangerous but it is really one of the best ways I’ve found to get to know a city and get to know it well. I’ll usually start with the local transit system. In Senegal it was old, beaten down mini-vans operated by private owners that doubled as buses for public transport, in Colombia I hopped on modified jeeps that sat 8 to 10 people and in Brazil, well… Brazil has amazing pubic transport.
Here in Lima the buses are regular buses but operated by private owners/companies. They cost pennies on the dollar but aren’t built for comfort. I rode one for a few miles and wandered the area, meandering through the streets.
It wasn’t too difficult for me to notice that I had walked miles upon miles and had yet to encounter a person of color, specifically someone of African Peruvian descent. It wasn’t as though I started out looking for this but the absence of people of color was too conspicuous to ignore. I put this thought out of my mind and sat in a park reading a local paper “Diarios Peruanos.” I don’t typically drink soda but you can’t visit Peru and not try, at least one, Inca Kola. It did. It was good. Sort of a light cola/vanilla taste to it. Not too far off from the Vernors I used to drink as a kid in Detroit.
My ultimate goal was to push the limits of my Spanish fluency by engaging as many people as possible but this proved to be a bit of a problem. I don’t know if I’ve got a look, or if it’s my walk, but… before I can ever get a word out of my mouth I’m greeted in broken English with “Hey Bro…” or “What’s up man?” I don’t know. Maybe those are typical greetings that have caught on world wide.
When I do speak Spanish, people seemed a bit surprised. I was asked today if I was from Cuba. I loved that!
I returned to Miraflores, the area where I’m staying. When I got off of the bus I walked a few blocks and was walking past a Black Man. He smiled so wide I had to acknowledge him with “the nod.” Some of ya’ll will know what I’m talking about and most probably won’t, but, he shot it right back in rhythm, smiled and said, “Hola hermano.”
I stopped, he stopped. I had to engage him. He only spoke Spanish. He was Peruvian. He almost flipped out when he heard that I was from Los Estados Unidos, especificamente Los Angeles.
He was so engaging that I felt like I had just found a long lost family member.
After getting information on restaurants, clubs (which I don’t do), community centers and the like, we parted. But before we went our separate ways, this brother reached out and grabbed me and gave me the hardest hug I’ve ever had from another brother.
“gracias hermano, gracias…,” he kept saying as we parted ways. I’m not sure what he was thanking me for but I appreciated it.
Wow… that old school nod goes a long way and, apparently, has no language barriers.
Oh… before I go, a quick little cultural fact. Did any of you ever hear of the tradition here in Peru of Black Men being hired to be the Pall Bearers at funerals? Apparently it is a custom, long standing and the affluent pay very well for this traditional service. Interesting, isn’t it?