Yesterday and today have really turned me around. Much of the frustration and confusion I felt a couple days ago melted away in less than twenty-four hours, thanks to a couple great events.
Last night I met with an American journalist who was helpful and generous beyond anything I expected. He’s an editor for an international wire service, and he’s been working and living in Lima for ten months. Over more than two hours that we shared in a café, he advised me on how I can do the best reporting possible while I’m here, how I can have the most fun, and what I should do to become a better (and more employable) journalist by the time I graduate. I had only asked about the first. His main suggestion for the summer was that I focus on photography. If I can improve my Spanish, and if I get out regularly to take pictures and find visual stories, I’ll come across stories that can become articles just by meeting people as I go. I hadn’t thought about going that route, but I trust he’s right, so I’ll try out his advice. Beyond that, he made me feel even more comfortable in Lima (although he did see that I got into a cab afterward, rather than walk home), and he offered to help me as he could: by inviting me to the office and connecting me to other reporters and photographers who may be willing to meet me. That, I told him, would be thrilling. But even if meeting the pros doesn’t pan out, the conversation excited and reassured me, giving me new focus and ideas for how to get out and begin reporting.
And this morning I began working on the major obstacle I’ve been facing here: la idioma. I got up and out hours earlier than I had been getting up, since I needed to get across town for Spanish class by nine. The four-hour class is divided into two parts: two hours on grammar review and two hours for a conversational session. I don’t know whether I learned anything today, but I felt much better speaking as soon as some time passed, and by the end of the class I felt more comfortable heading out into the street, speaking to people and even telling them, “Perdón, solo hablo un poco de español.” The class, which I’ll attend all week, has only three students. The other two are American guys my age, from Florida and from L.A. Both are in Lima all summer, just chilling like I am. And with lots of other classes every morning at the school, I might find a few more people to talk to (in English or Spanish) if I stick around.
My new confidence with Spanish (and that’s all it is, since I’m no more proficient after one day of class) is great, and it’s opening doors I want it to, but not all of them are fun or easy. My first real Spanish conversation here came this afternoon, with a cab driver who took me from a plaza in Central Lima to the apartment, several miles away. When he began speaking to me, I quickly told him I only spoke some Spanish, and he offered to speak more slowly. I was able to understand much of the rest of what he said: he had just come from the hospital, where his five-year-old son has been for the last two months. The kid had acid spilled on him in their kitchen, and he’s not doing well. For much of the ride the driver seemed close to tears, and all I could offer was “lo siento.”