The past couple of weeks have been full of complete and total immersion in every way one can possibly imagine. It has been an experience so unlike any other that it seems difficult to articulate exactly what is happening, but we’ll do our best to put into words all that has happened and that we are feeling since we arrived in Lima.
Our typical weekdays in Lima consist of going to Spanish school starting at 9 AM. We have a two hour session of grammar class in which we learn the structure and vocabulary of the Spanish language. Thus far we’ve learned basic vocabulary (days of the week, counting, colors, most oft used verbs and adjectives, directions, greetings,etc.), conjugating in the present tense, reflexive verbs (where one receives the action that is done), all the use cases of tener (to have), irregular verbs (conjugated differently), differences in ser/estar (to be), and most recently how to use the past tense on the aforementioned. When I sit and examine all that we have covered in about 2 and half weeks of immersion school, it is the equivalent of almost all Mitchel had been taught in two semesters of high school.
One of the big differences between now and high school, though, is our ability to actually use the language. After grammar class and following a brief break, we have two more hours of conversation/speaking class. Here we utilize all the ideas we have learned thus far and put them into practice. The first week or so these classes involved much of us slipping back to English to try and develop the backbone of what we were trying to convey. In recent days, these classes have become almost exclusively in Spanish. While difficult, we have found that we are able to keep up and understand all of what the teachers are presenting.
The real world is an entirely different animal. In class, the other students and teachers recognize that we are learning and will usually speak slowly and annunciate clearly for us. In the streets, at restaurants, church, at stores, and in the general public people often speak at what sounds like a ridiculous speed (though even this is starting to show signs of beginning to slow down to our ears). Thankfully, most Peruanos are receptive to us asking them to repeat what they said more slowly.
Even more though, existing in a culture where you can hardly express yourself to others is really, really difficult. We won’t lie to you, there have been moments of extreme frustration, but please don’t take it as any form of regret in our minds. Just imagine spending days where the only one who can really converse with you is your spouse and you realize that you need some basic household items so you go to the supermarket. You figure out where you think one is through the wonderful invention of Google Maps, but you soon realize this is no trip to Wal Mart.
Everything is quasi organized into groups that you are used to but, as you walk down every isle you have more and more questions that don’t seem to have to immediate answer. They call that thing a fruit? Seriously I just want a regular potato, why are there 15 different bins of them? They call this a limon? (it looks like a lime)? Is this bleach or laundry detergent? Do Peruvians wear deodorant, all I see is Axe body spray? Also how do they bathe, there are no loofas or wash clothes in existence? Is the product that looks like it has nearly the exact same logo as the name brand I recognize just as good? Why does every toilet paper seem to have perfume added to it? So apparently milk comes in a box or a bag now? And with honey added to it? The list goes on and on, but by the end of it we were both so overcome by feeling like we didn’t know anything that we felt like we had just failed at life. We’ve repeated the store experience many times now, and it has gotten better. The first time though was overwhelming.
In fact, when we look at our progress of how far we have come in a little under 3 weeks, it is almost baffling. Tasks that seemed pipe dreams 10 days ago now seem completely attainable. Ordering food to our tastes, asking employees if they have certain items, taking the city bus, getting a taxi, holding a prolonged conversation with someone that is willing to be patient with us (and hopefully knows the faintest amount of English), and getting the paperwork filed with Interpol to become residents are all things that we can now do with relative ease.
People have also taken notice of our presence. Our neighbors at our apartment stopped us the other day and we were able to have a quick conversation with them about who we are, where we are from, and what we are doing. We’ve made friends with a Limeña woman from school. She has shown us around many parts and museums of Lima, and in the course of our talks with her she has seemed receptive to coming to church with us on a Sunday. According to her, most people she knows are “Christian”, but very few actually go to church. When we described to her how the church in Lima had immediately taken us in, helped us get initially set up, and how we have been to a few different members houses for meals already, she seemed genuinely intrigued. She said it sounded almost like a family. We assured her that is exactly what it is.
Not all forms of attention are welcome though. After a while the constant being honked at by taxis, asking if I want money exchanged, having random trinkets presented to me to peruse to buy, and stares of people wondering how I got there can grow old. There is no hiding in this culture. We are taller, whiter, and in general more well cared for health wise than the vast majority of the population. This does hold advantages, but in the midst of decompressing after a particularly difficult Spanish lesson, it can make one greatly desire to kick the pigeon walking around you who doesn’t understand personal space (not that we’ve done such a thing… really!).
All in all, these first few weeks have been an absolute roller coaster (funnily enough that word translated in Spanish is “Russian Mountain”). One minute we’re ecstatic that we’re able to speak without looking like too much of a buffoon, an hour later we questioning humanity because the place that grows coffee beans drinks instant coffee by and large, the next hour we are falling in love of the history of the culture at a local museum, and by the end of the day Mitchel is depressed because he ordered what he had hoped was going to be some sort of delicious empanda and they gave him some cornbread thing. Add in a minor sinus infection that bit Mitchel and the first round of an intestinal bug that got Rachel (we think it was just something she ate) and life has certainly been full.
We appreciate all the prayers we know you have lifted up for us. We are grateful for the opportunity you have given us, and please know that we are doing our very best to learn the language and culture that we have transplanted into. It may be difficult at times, but we would still never trade this chance to spread God’s word for anything else we could be doing. We also want to thank those who have been sending us emails! They are so encouraging to us and we love to hear about what is happening in your lives! Please try and take a look at our website from time to time and keep up with us on Facebook. Our more “daily” updates can usually be found there. We plan on compiling a news letter and developing the first of our video series to be sent out soon.
We hope you are well and that the work of spreading the news about our Lord and Savior in the States is proving fruitful.
A last minute update : We have noticed that Sundays are often the hardest days of the week for us. During the weekdays, we go to school for four hours a day and then get off and walk around Lima. However, by the end of the day, we know everything that happened, and we understood the majority of everything that was said to us. When we go to Church on Sundays in our new language, it often gets overwhelming, and we leave not understanding the words that were said (but we still love getting to worship our God with the people in Lima. Even if our languages aren’t the same yet, the intent of our gathering and partaking the Lord’s Supper are universal). However, we have made great strides in the month that we have been here!!! Today was the first day that we left church feeling refreshed rather than overwhelmed! We also understood about 30% of Bible class and about 40% of the sermon today (it certainly helps when the preacher is animated with hand gestures, annunciates clearly, and speaks pretty slowly. It is also nice to have grown up in the Church and a have a feeling on how he is tying different readings together)!!! Thank you so much for your prayers, interceding on our behalf for language acquisition and cultural assimilation! We honestly believe we are picking up our new language rather quickly, and we give all the credit to God!!
Thank you so much for the opportunity!
Mitchel and Rachel Routh