When I was 20 I went to live in Peru as part of my undergraduate degree. I chose to do this; my friends on my course - few as they were at that point - mainly opted to visit Spain in groups through the Erasmus programme. Sometimes I think that my life would have been a lot easier if I had done the same.
I wanted to revisit Peru. I had lived in Lima until I was four years old and my mother had been raised there, having emigrated there when she was one. She lived there until she was 19. I thought living in Peru would be fun. I thought I would get the chance to travel as well as work and envisioned myself living in a beach side apartment, learning to surf and losing all the weight I had put on at uni. I thought that it might help me to understand my mother more.
Parts were fun. But parts were also really, really hard. I learned things about myself, about other people, that weren’t very nice at all. Initially, I felt alone and depressed a lot of the time.
I was in a great place before I went. My second year of university had been incredible. I lived with or around the corner from my closest friends, I was in love with a sweet boy who loved me back, I had become really interested in my course and started to actually study and so was averaging a First in a lot of my classes (not, crucially, in Spanish however!)
In Peru however I was working as a receptionist in a travel agency. I had got the job because the alcoholic decrepit old man that ran the place used to work with my aunt when she was in her twenties and I’m pretty sure he had had a massive crush on her then. He used to call me into his office, which stank of sweat and whiskey, heave his enormous frame into his chair and ask me questions about her. I never knew what he was talking about and used to just make up the answers.
I spent my days writing a book on my laptop about a group of friends at university which so closely resembled my own it made me ache with homesickness.
A few things happened to help ease this ache however.
I made friends with this incredible, funny, spirited and beautiful girl Mily, who worked at the travel agency. She lived in this beautiful apartment with her mother, Carmen. It was set in rooms around a courtyard and we would sit in the sun and gossip and smoke cigarettes. I’ll never forget the kindness that Carmen showed me and the bond that grew between Mily and I. We became a team of two, occasionally joined by her hip and hilarious neighbour Gonzalo. This friendship saved me in so many ways.
A lot happened to me that year.
I think about my time in Peru often and I wonder how it actually shaped me and whether I would have made the choices I have since if I hadn’t gone. I think about how I would explain this time, one of my darkest times, to my daughter.
I don’t want to hide who I am. I certainly don’t want to hide this from her as I’ve nothing to be ashamed of. I am strong now because I’ve known what it is to be weak and I am kind now because I know what it is to receive kindness. And I think that by acknowledging weakness as being part of normal life she would be more likely to ask for help- something I still struggle with.
So why bring all this up now? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about connectivity recently. About how you can connect with somebody for a short space of time and they can leave an imprint on your life, one that maybe you’re not even aware of but that is there all the same. But these encounters can shape and maybe change decisions you make thereon in. The kindness shown to me by Mily and her mother - may she rest in peace - by my aunt’s friend Ingrid, by my aunt Isa and my cousins in Canada, by countless others during what was a difficult time has not ever left me and I think has affected how I treat people who may look a little lost.
I’ve been thinking about these connections because I spent some time with my brother and his wife and my husband and we all got to talking about how each respective couple met and it was all chance encounters. And now our lives are irrevocably changed. My brother lives in America now and fixes drones! And I, I found myself crying at the rugby. Of course these are not swift fleeting encounters but instead are people living a shared life and growing together.
So it’s not quite the butterfly effect, but more a musing on how I will work to be open and honest and ready with Nives and accepting that she will have hard times and I will (try to) focus on how these experiences will shape her for the better instead of trying to control them, I suppose.
At the end of the day we are all evolving, all learning, all working together to try and be better for our kin. This sounds SO cheesy but I’m only really realising now that life is a journey and that each little bit of it is as important as the big stuff.