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Living in Peru: My experience after 600 days in Lima

Text and photos by Wolfy Becker

Since Alan Garcia survived his first 100 days in office without being assassinated I decided it was time to reflect a little on my first 600 days in Peru without being mugged or kidnapped.

Frankfurt Skyline

Additional inspiration for my retrospect essay came by way of an email I received from one of our active forum participants. He asked me for a bit of advice regarding the life-altering decision of moving to Peru, and ways to make it easier. Here’s what I had to say…

I live in Peru full-time, but like to keep my options “open.” I was asked if I planned to live here forever. Well, forever is a word I don’t like to use too often. As some may know, I grew up in Germany, having spent my first 33 years there. A computer programmer by trade, I worked in the industry the better part of my life.

In 1993 I received an offer to move to Chicago on what was to be an 18-24 month contract with a German company. Having never been to the U.S. before, being independent, and already speaking the language, my decision was made inside an hour. I was moving to Chicago!

As the contract was rather lucrative I was able to maintain my apartment in Germany, though I rented it in my absence. Much to my dismay, my contract was cancelled after only 6 months, just as I was becoming acclimated to life in the Windy City. Without a green card and no work to justify my visa, I was forced to return to Germany.

Goethe's Birthplace, Frankfurt

Goethe's Birthplace, Frankfurt

Once back in Germany, I missed Chicago a great deal. The time there, although short, had changed my life. I was unhappy in Germany, even depressed at times. My thoughts constantly led to one goal – get back to the U.S. In the meantime, I still had to make a living in Germany, which I found difficult as my focus was clouded by my desire to return to the U.S.

It was 3 years before I received another offer of work in the U.S., this time in the beautiful city of Seattle. A better offer this time around, full-time employment was offered to me along with corporate sponsorship for my green card. The U.S. was where I wanted to be, so off I went.

I arrived in Seattle with everything I owned in two suitcases, as I had given away all my possessions to my ex-girlfriend in Germany. I would later regret this decision, as she turned out to be not so nice a person. Looking back I wish I’d sold my things, or at least given them to family.

Once in Seattle, it took 3-4 months to get settled. Finally, my life was on the rise again. I found that in the U.S. the best way to meet people and make friends is by going to bars, which I did. At one bar in particular I met all of my closest friends and had many good times there. Life was good, and it stayed that way for some time.

After 7 years of faithful and dedicated service, my company began to change. Management shuffled every few months, progressively worsening. While their supposed goal was a major clean-up of the workforce, management generally didn’t know the staff well enough to perform such a task. Many employees were fired for virtually no reason, while others were allowed to stay when they shouldn’t have been. My frustrations grew as many good people were let go despite their capability and years of service, and the environment became intolerable, for me anyway.

Chicago from my apartment window

Chicago from my apartment window

During this time life wasn’t all bad. I had the best friends one can imagine and best of all, I met the woman on-line who would later become my wife. I came to Lima for a two week visit, traveled the country with her a bit, and attempted to procure for her a visa to the U.S., which we quickly found out was all but impossible. Once again I had to make a decision, one that turned out to be rather easy – move to Peru and start my life all over again, this time with the woman I love. My wife wouldn’t have enjoyed life in the U.S., anyway. She is very close to her family, and regardless, sitting at home all day while I work is not at all something she would have settled for, even if she tells you otherwise.

Six months after my visit I returned to Peru, this time marrying my wife. While I realized my life in the U.S. had come to an end, we were not convinced that Peru was to be our home. We considered moving to Germany, my home, to begin our life together. Still a first-world country, after all, living costs three times as much and the economy and job market aren’t what one would call enticing. Staying with my family while I looked for work definitely didn’t add to the appeal, either.

Peru was to be my home, then. I did find a problem in my inability to speak Spanish. While my wife and I both speak English, though not as a first language for either of us, I took me some time to settle down here, much longer than in the U.S. Having someone to share it all with made the transition much easier, though. I was not alone.

Seattle (from the airplane)

Attempting to find a job in Lima without being able to speak Spanish is not much of a prospect. My wife continued working while I began blogging. I had so many ideas, constant thoughts of what I wanted to do, businesses I could start. I thought about exporting items or selling on e-Bay to the U.S. and/or Germany, but shipping costs would have eaten the profits. I even considered buying a mobile bratwurst stand and put it in Parque Kennedy, next to all the chicharones and salchicha stands, if you can believe it.

I continued blogging, and it was through my blog that I met Carsten Korch, the Chief Editor and owner of LIP. When we met I had just designed and started a new website as a source of Peruvian news in English for those of us that have not yet mastered the language of the locals. At the time, Peruvian news sources in English were scarce and of poor quality, and I was addressing a market that was crying out to me.

It was through my time spent blogging that I realized how much I enjoyed writing. More to the point, I realized how little I actually enjoyed web-design and programming, even though it had been the field all my business life. Through my blogging I met some great people – readers, responders, and fellow bloggers. Sadly, blogging doesn’t pay the bills and my savings from my time in the U.S. were dwindling, so when Carsten Korch offered me a position as editor of Living in Peru, I took it.

Seattle Space Needle on New Years

Seattle Space Needle on New Years

For almost two years I’ve lived in Lima. My wife and I have a nice apartment, and while there are plenty of things that annoy me from time to time, that would be true no matter where I live. My overall experience thus far has been great, and the desert climate was a welcome change from the ceaseless rains of Seattle. In addition, I like the palm trees and I prefer the cooing of Lima’s pigeons over the always, crying, complaining sound of Seattle’s seagulls, especially in the early morning.

As you may have noticed, my life had been quite full of experiences and nation hopping before I arrived in Peru. More than once I had packed a few things, left the rest behind, and started anew in another country. I’ve always found that where I am doesn’t matter so much as long as my goals are clear and my focus remains intense. From my perspective, life revolves around three things: job, personal life, and the manner in which you spend the little free time left after work and sleep.

I faced many challenges in coming to Peru. I went from single Seattleite with a full-time job, spending my free time in local bars and sports stadiums to married, stay-at-home husband. While the change was dramatic, it was what I wanted and where I wanted to be. The opportunity to share everything with another person overshadows the anxiety of a life-altering move, and it becomes quite simple. The anger and frustration over the little things that don’t seem quite right – the bureaucracy, occasional rip-offs, strange and different customs and habits – soon turns to whimsical acknowledgment of the subtle nuances that make life interesting.

In the grand scheme there are several things in and about Peru I find more favorable than they are in either the U.S. or Germany. My wife’s family is wonderful, friendly, helpful and funny, their doors and hearts opened to me from day one. I have no desire to give them up.

Plaza de Armas in downtown Lima

Peruvians love to celebrate, no matter the occasion. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins all hanging out together talking, eating, drinking, and dancing on Sundays, Saturdays, Holidays, any day. So friendly they are, in fact, Peruvians don’t drink their own bottle of beer, but share one at a time amongst everyone, filling small glasses over and over again. Like I said, some customs are annoying, and being German I like to have my own bottle of beer so I can decide just how fast the bottom appears.

Cross-country travel is relatively inexpensive, and from region to region you can experience the diversity and beauty of the landscape, the people, the history and the glory of this magnificent country. In a country roughly the size of Texas you can find a version of Death Valley, the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite Nat’l Park, Las Vegas, and Naples. All of this without considering those places well-known to the world, such as Machu Picchu, Nazca, or the Amazon.

Peruvian food and living style, well, that’s another one I’ve had to get used to. I like a lot of it, but there is plenty I don’t care for, as well. Ceviche is good, but I’ll take sushi when given the chance. At home I do a fair amount of cooking, introducing the tastes of Germany to my wife and friends.

After 15 years of taking for granted the benefits of a dishwasher, I found myself again buying plastic gloves and liquid Palmolive. Until my move, I enjoyed the comforts of a king-size bed all to myself. Now, I share a full-size bed with my wife. And the walls – the concrete walls – I can’t even hang the smallest of pictures without drilling a hole. Nails don’t work here. My biggest complaint of all, Telefonica, the local phone, cable, and internet provider that could be the role model for monopolies everywhere.

Peruvian Parliament

Peruvian Parliament

Of course, when you step out onto the streets and see so many who truly have a rough life, these minor inconveniences tend to fade away. Seeing so many people just trying to survive – street kids juggling at red lights, mom’s and babies selling candies, and old ladies pushing wooden carts uphill full of veggies for sale – brings into sharp relief the reality that is my pretty decent life. Material possessions seem suddenly unimportant. And all this in Lima, the supposed Peruvian Mecca, the metropolis, where life and opportunities are said to be abundant compared to the rest of the country.

The point is this: moving here has brought about new perspectives, not just in what I see, but in who I am, my life, my attitude. As they say in Germany “Es gibt viel zu tun, packen wir’s an,” which means “There’s lots to do, so let’s get it done.” While getting it done, I’m reminded to always reflect on my “first-world” experiences, making sure not to duplicate the mistakes of the developed world.

For those of you considering a move to Peru consider this: decide for yourself. Don’t base your decision on what you hear or read, but rather on what you see. Intuition is also a good word that comes to mind.

Let Peru be a discovery all its own, one full of intrigue and excitement. There are plenty of folks like me around to offer advice and a little inside info, but in the spirit of exploration and adventure, figure it out for yourself, for who you are, and for what it is that you are looking for.