Same-Same But Different

People in the States often ask me, “What’s it like there?” while people in Peru ask me, “How are you adjusting to life here?” It’s hard to explain what living in another country is like or what you feel as you get acclimated to a new culture. Part of what I experience is similar to my old life. For instance, I go to the grocery store at least once a week. But part of my experiences are also quite foreign. Instead of driving my car to Kroger, I walk down the block to Tottus. So it is the same… but different.

There is a Cambodian phrase that perfectly sums up this feeling. They say, “Same same, but different.” The first time I heard this I thought it was an oxymoron, but later I realized it makes perfect sense. Sometimes things in life feel almost the same, but there is a slight twist that makes you wonder if you are suddenly in an alternate reality. I’m sure you have experienced this in your life too. It’s that feeling you get when you eat someone else’s turkey and dressing at Thanksgiving. You know it has similar ingredients to what your family always makes, but it doesn’t taste quite the same and you can’t figure out why. It’s the feeling you get when you are in a dream and your brain tells you that everything that happens is taking place at your house, but when you wake up, you remember that your home does not have purple walls or a swimming pool in the living room. It’s same-same but different.

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So if you wonder what life is like here: it can be so different. Because of the breeze, sometimes it is cooler outside your house than it is inside, even with the fans running. Every now and then you hear mangos falling on your tin roof with a bang and think that there are fireworks. Sometimes Most of the time, your students don’t wear shoes in class. Normally you greet men and women with a kiss on their right cheek. Once in a while, your students will find a tarantula during lunch break and put it in a jar and name it and feed it. Occasionally you have to show your passport when you pay at the store because you don’t have your DNI (Peruvian identification card).

But life can also be so similar. Sometimes you learn new songs at church on Sunday. Every now and then, you get tired of folding the same old clothes. Sometimes Most of the time, you drink coffee at breakfast. When you wear your clunky rain boots, it normally doesn’t rain, but when you decide to wear your cute sandals, it pours. Once in a while, you feel sick and just wish you were a kid again so your mom would take care of you. Occasionally, you have time to do more things with your life, but you get distracted scrolling Pinterest or watching Netflix.

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To try to explain all of Peru would be too much because I haven’t been to all of it. However, I can tell you about Pucallpa. There is always dusty sand hanging around so on dry days it can feel like a desert on your rough, cracking heels. Then on rainy days, you walk through flowing water in the street and wonder if you are going to get a parasite under your toenails (I have heard some gross first-person experiences). The trees make you think you are in a tropical jungle, but the stray dogs make you think you are in some urban, post-apocalyptic world. There are birds here that make sounds like a droplet of water dripping in an empty barrel. There are competitions between students to see how many bloody mosquitos they can slap during school. Pucallpa is complex. I could tell you so many facts, but none of them can really give you a picture of what everyday life is like.

Everyday life is just like that. Our human experiences are the same all across the globe, but also quite unique to our surroundings. Making new friends and keeping in touch with previous friends is the same but different. Being a teacher is the same but different. Accepting that I am about to be twenty-nine and single is the same but different. Growing in my relationship with God is the same but different. Everything about being alive is the same. But everything about living here is different. I wish I had a better way of explaining it, but after living in Peru five months, this is my conclusion: moving to a new country and culture is same-same… but different.

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