Greetings from Lima! Srs. Pat, Andrea, Anne, and I arrived safely late Sunday night (actually Monday morning). Two of our sisters met us at the airport and traveled with us by Taxi to the Casa Central (the center house) where we are staying while we are in Lima. The sisters here were up to welcome us despite our late arrival. They did, however, admit that they were all asleep in the living room waiting for us. What a dear welcome! I have learned quickly how important relationships, welcomes, and goodbyes are to the people here.
Monday we were encouraged to sleep late and have a day mostly of rest. I was up to have breakfast with most of the sisters. Breakfast consists of fresh bread that the sisters get twice a day, some queso (cheese) or jam, maybe oatmeal. This morning we had freshly sqeezed orange-mango juice. The mangos here are amazing. I think they are shipped too early in the States. But here...yum! Late morning Sr. Pat V. gave us a tour of the house. The center house was completed in October of last year. The outside of the building matches the edificios of the neighborhood, but I would guess the inside is nicer than most. It is three stories tall, almost two buildings connected in the middle with a courtyard. There are little inner courtyards spread throughout the building. The doors and windows are all open since there is no heat or airconditioning to worry about. The laundry is up on the roof. It is moving towards winter here with temperatures in the fifties and sixties. Always grey with a hanging mist. Even inside I have been wearing lots of layers. The sisters here drink lots of hot coffee and tea. I might have to start. There are thirty-one bedrooms here, enough to house all of the sisters when they come for meetings. There is a chapel, a lovely dining room, a kitchen with little stools, great for sitting around and talking--in Spanish, of course. I hope to learn a lot. I have a good two-day start.
Today Sr. Pat V. took us for an arranged bus tour of the city. We took a Taxi from here, the five of us. I am so glad that I will not be driving here. There are times in the States when I have been driving and I think I am close to a car maybe while I am parking or turning. I have a new appreciation for close. There are definitely no pedestrian laws here. One takes her chances crossing the street. After we got our tour bus tickets, I wanted to find el banyo (bathroom), so I asked a man in front of a nice public-looking building. A man entering in a tie and suit told me to follow him, then handed me off to another man who showed us to the bathroom and showed off the building a bit. We eventually learned that I had asked the mayor if I could use his bathroom! Had I known that I might have tried to remember the polite form of the verb rather than the familiar. Everyone was very nice.
The tour was great. We were on the top of a double-decker bus driving through the city. Lima is huge! There are about nine million people living here, one-third of the entire population of Peru. The buildings along the busy streets are black with polution and dirt, but some are still brilliant in color and there is lots of wonderful architecture. We stopped at Iglesia de san Francisco (St. Francis Church) and saw the bones in the catacombs. The church has survived many earthquakes thanks to its construction. The "cement" that is used is a mixture of small rocks, sand, and egg whites from sea birds. Most of the building has remained much the same, but there are now glass covers over some of the bones to keep people from taking home little gifts. The bus took us through parts of the city with some recognizably American shops (Starbucks, North Face, McDonalds) and past the ocean and Lover´s Park before heading back. I don´t think there could have been a better way to get an overview of the city.
There is so much more that I could write already, but I´ll save some for another day. The biggest challenge is probably language. My frustration is not so much in not being able to understand or even to communicate needs, but in not being able to adequately express my gratitude. This is such an amazing gift and muchas gracias and bien are just not enough.
Tomorrow we leave by bus for Chincha y Pisco, two of the towns that the earthquake destroyed last summer. We expect to be back here at Casa Central sometime Friday, so maybe I´ll send more this weekend. Hasta luego.