I dreamed last night that I was in Lima, showing a group of tourists around. It was cold and overcast, the kind of day that inspired Herman Mehlville to describe Lima in Moby Dick as “the saddest city you can’t see.” It was more foggy than cloudy. Discernable clouds were visible within 100 feet of the ground, and above that a sheet of cold gray. I remarked to the tourists that I love this weather. It’s ideal for fair skin. Especially glabrous gingers like me.
The group changed as we ducked into a restaurant. The tourists disappeared, and were replaced by the expat gang. The restaurant was Peruvian, of course. We took our seats and the server came for our drink order. I ordered a brandy. Not a pisco, but a brandy, which is curious given pisco is to brandy as bourbon is to whiskey. I often tell Americans pisco is just Peruvian brandy.
Pisco is transparent because it’s aged in earthen barrels, as opposed to wooden. We were in Peru but I didn’t order “pisco,” which I would commonly order. I ordered “brandy,” which nobody would say in Peru.
When the server left, I posed the question to the table, “Do you ever think about going back?”
This is the expat gang, so it’s implied that I’m asking if they ever think about returning to their homeland. In what may be a common self-indulgence among expats, everybody instinctively says no, they don’t. Indeed, one or two of the lads is inspired to a diatribe against the nuisances of life back home, which are unique for everybody at the table, and interesting to everybody else.
But it’s the same answer all around: negative. Maybe in a one-on-one situation, somebody might own up to thinking about home. But never at a wet lunch. Everybody is happy in Latin America. If they weren’t, they’d be gone already.
That was the climax of the dream.
When I woke up, I thought about that question. I never thought about moving my family to the States, even after I started making plans to. I wasn’t eager for the American lifestyle. It was a business and financial necessity. I have too much work on the ground to hire out, and I can’t pay for private school tuition times three plus a four-bedroom house in Lima. The numbers aren’t there.
But in the final weeks in Peru, I was ready to leave. I was getting sick of Peruvians. Nay, I wasn’t sick of Peruvians, but Peruvians were sick of me. I sensed Peruvians contempt for not me personally, but all of the expat community. Something had changed. The red-carpet treatment was gone.
An old friend who landed in China in the 1990s saw Chinese attitudes change. He said foreigners were once fawned over, but attitudes change quickly with abundance.
Maybe it isn’t quickly, but it does happen. And once it happens, it feels like it happened quickly. Everyday Peruvians didn’t seem just uninterested in foreigners, but annoyed or even superior. There were a flurry of petty abuses and disagreements with strangers in the streets and in commerce in those final days. I wanted out.
I thought back to Colombia. I think Colombians were abusing the tourists for at least as far back as I arrived in 2009. Granted that was Bogota, but they seemed to always have contempt for foreigners.
I went back to the question from my dream and turned it around. Living in the United States, do I ever think of going back to Peru? The answer is no. I’m rooted to my business here. I may want to spend a summer or academic year for the children’s language instruction and cultural edification. But I haven’t yearned for permanent residence in Lima or anywhere else in Latin America.
I sometimes wonder if my decade in South America was just an adventure I needed to get out of my system, a curiosity I needed to satisfy. Would I ever go back for more than a vacation?
Now that I’ve had the dream, and thought these thoughts, has my answer changed (do I ever think about going back)? It’s pretty clear that dream was about going back, and since then I have been thinking about what life in Lima would look like.
Maybe that’s how it starts.
No promises, no predictions. Just reporting what transpired in my subconscious mind.