A Love Affair with Peru

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

I was trekking the Inca trail, and the narrow, dirt path followed alongside the torrential Apurímac River. The switchbacks were jagged, cutting through wild grasses, boulders, and twisted trees. The Salkantay mountain range loomed nearby, and snow-capped peaks and dramatic ridges reminded me of the vastness of the Andes. Soon the trail took our small group of family and friends to a higher elevation, and the river looked like a small snake below. The trail had widened, and the group of chatty and enthusiastic trekkers were at a fair distance from me.

Earlier that day, we had all witnessed a condor flying overhead. The huge bird glided through a stretch of the canyon, against a backdrop of cloudless blue and sun-lit, golden cliffs. It took our breath away. Walking now in silence, thinking back on the majestic condor, I said a prayer for my book. I had finished one of many drafts, and though far from being the final manuscript, a sense of wellbeing and positivity rested in me. I felt sure my book would be published someday. What I didn’t know was that it was still only the beginning of an endeavor that would take over a decade to achieve. 

I had arrived in Peru fifteen years earlier, at the young age of twenty-two, well-traveled, fiercely independent, and recklessly adventurous–having already traveled around the globe, trekked the Himalayas, and worked with an environmental brigade in Nicaragua during the tail end of the Iran-Contra War. When I arrived, it was 1989 and red zones marred the countryside and two terrorists groups, Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA, wreaked havoc.

The economy was in shambles, and there were lines down blocks to buy staples like rice and cooking oil. Yet, the beauty and resiliency of the people captured my heart and imagination in a way I couldn’t have predicted. I was to study at La Católica University in Lima for one year, but to the surprise of everyone back home, I stayed beyond my year of studies to marry and start a family.  

My decision to stay involved a man, the father of my children, who after a twenty-five year marriage, I  have since divorced. What I understand now is at the time, and at that young age, I was falling in love and marrying not a person but a country, a culture, and an extended family. The family was involved in a small silk production enterprise in the Andes. I witnessed the life cycle of silk worms, from worm to moth, and how the silk is produced from the cocoons. This large, boisterous, complicated Peruvian family was my love, and the life and stories they shared with me became a love affair.  

Since that time, I have often asked myself,  did I always want to be a writer, or did living in Peru spark an impulse to explore life, people, and the human condition in that deep and mysterious way that writers do. Perhaps it was because my first daughter was birthed there, so far away from my native homeland, that I so deeply rooted myself to the people and culture. It was now my daughter’s birthplace, her homeland, and I wanted desperately to share it with her.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books