A few weeks ago, my favorite Peruvian in the whole world turned 34 years old, and what ensued was a weekend full of food, family, friends and chatter in our flat. I absolutely loved hosting so many people, frantically cooking crêpes at the last minute (living the last minute life, as always!) chatting over passion fruit cocktails and almost passing out from a food overdose after lunch with the in-laws.
But throughout the weekend, there was one specific thing on my mind…
(Look at this handsome bunch!)
(Pretty lady sandwich!)
(Always keepin’ it classy….)
I couldn’t help feeling… different. Different from everybody else. Which I am, obviously (the European, foreign part kind of gave it away…), but on that weekend it hit home all the more, maybe due to the intensity of it all.
At one point, as I sat surrounded by Lucio’s friends in the middle of an intense conversation, I kind of zoned out, and took a step back from the situation. Everyone was speaking really fast, the Spanish got too colloquial for me to understand and I just took a mental break from it all whilst I sipped on my wine. But most of all, I tried not to feel overwhelmed by that feeling of… being an outsider. Of being with people you love, dear friends or loved ones, and yet feeling a little bit like an outsider looking in. Because of my different nationality and culture.
It’s a silly feeling which has made its way into my brain quite a few times in my 26-year-old life. Being both French and British, I remember distinctly from a young age coming to terms with a specific reality: with my French people, I’d always be the English girl, and in the UK, I’d always be known as the French girl who has no idea who that celebrity is or what that TV show is about (Emily and Linzi, shout-out to you guys for putting up with my ignorance about UK culture all those years). A particularly strong memory I have is of being about 10-11 years old, surrounded by my French family, observing Sabbath on a Friday night. My mum’s side of the family are all Tunisian-born, so my brother and I stood out like big sore thumbs with our white coloring, blue/green eyes and brown hair. I remember thinking: “I want to look more like them. I want to have darker skin like them. I want to know those Jewish inside jokes too, maybe then I’ll feel more part of the family.” My Disney idol growing up was Pocahontas… dark skin, long black hair, that says a lot too. Then a few weeks later, I could easily be in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside with my English family, yet feel that I didn’t really belong because parts of the culture were completely lost on me. Apart from my daily Cadbury’s from the corner shop, that I could definitely get behind.
In a nutshell, constantly having a foot in both countries (which was very much possible at the time, before this Brexit nonsense) meant I constantly felt a little bit like an outsider in each of my homes, every now and again. So now try creating a home in a completely, and I mean completely different world… a one-way ticket to that childhood feeling!
Fast-forward to the party at hand. As I thought about it afterwards whilst doing the dishes and clearing up from the party, I realized a few things…
- Maybe the fact that I found myself trying to understand a whirlwind of Peruvian Spanish jokes means that I’m not doing such a bad job at fitting in. I’ll always look different and sound different, I might have a different culture and slightly different values, but it’s been a long time since anyone had to speak slowly for me. Maybe I speak better Spanish than I think (even though that night my brain was on slow motion!)
- Being around such different people makes me feel so… alive, in a sense. Trying to make sense of someone else’s life, someone else’s point of view and history, has always been something I loved doing. (and if it’s in a different language to my own? Sign me up!) Maybe that’s what pushed me to go volunteering here in the first place, in a city I had never heard of in the South of Peru, and experience complete immersion in a new culture. Without quite realizing it, I was looking to figure myself out at the same time. It seems that part of me is still very much there, as I continue along this expat journey. And it’s something I guess I still need to work on: next time I’m in the middle of a Peruvian crowd, maybe I need to focus more on asserting my own identity instead of feeling lost, or outnumbered.
- I realized that the party was something I’ll look back on, and feel proud of myself for. Living in such an exotic country is enough of a challenge, but I’m glad I didn’t back down at the idea of feeling so outnumbered. And at least it helped that the people around me were such good friends, and I know they would happily have explained if I’d asked for a translation or an explanation.
And so the next day, when it was the family’s turn to come over and eat like there was no tomorrow, I tried to feel less lonely and more… surrounded. They may not be related to me by blood, but they’re a pretty nice bunch. (If you’re reading this though, Papa, I miss you!)
On the left: my own creation (it looked nicer in my imagination…) and on the right: a slightly more professional piece of chocolate heaven…
I love you, tesoro. You’re worth every single sacrifice.
And finally, just because I’m me, I thought I’d finish with a poem which got me thinking about all of this. Let me know your thoughts too, dear reader…