It’s so obvious I’ve been crying.
Turning the key in the door I quickly put on my darkest sunglasses before turning to walk down my street. It’s a small neighborhood and I already stand out enough as a foreigner. I don’t want to give the neighbors fuel for the fire discussing my red eyes puffy from crying the whole night before.
To my relief a taxi comes quickly and picks me up. Although the taxi is empty, I purposefully get into the back, trying to avoid any glimpse of conversation with the driver.
I watch the jumble of desert landscape swish by outside my window and lose myself in the cacophony of thoughts that swirl in my head.
Through the haze a voice rough as sandpaper, but rich like mahogany interrupts.
“Disculpa amiga una pregunta?” “Excuse me my friend, can I ask you a question?” It’s the driver speaking to me. My inner self rolls my eyes in disgust. I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts.
“Can I ask, are you from here? Where are you from?”
Alas, the ever popular question. Where am I from? At 5’5 and with “brown skin” and curly black hair, in the melting pot that is America, my physical appearance is normal. In Peru however it screams foreigner.
The driver awaits my answer. “My family is from the Caribbean I tell him. “
To my alarm and surprise, while driving at 60 km/hour he turns from his seat to smile at me; a sweet, toothless grin. For the first time all morning, I feel the knot in my throat loosen and melt with the warmth of his gaze.
For the next twenty minute ride to my destination he proceeds to animatedly ask me about myself, my husband and our life in Peru. He also shares unreservedly about himself. He was married, and has 3 kids who he loves with all of his heart. He’s separated from his wife, which to this day he cannot understand why. They were married young he says. Maybe too young. But it doesn’t mean he regrets it. His smile is brilliant, but his eyes have a sadness that the disappointments of life can do to dull the eyes. There are some words I cannot understand, but I understand what he is trying to say.
Heartbreak is a universal language. It’s a language that we can all understand.
He laughs and chats with me, only glancing now in the rear view mirror to make eye contact with me. He talks about all the jobs he has had over the years to make ends meet: fisherman, carpenter, working in the rice fields, selling ice cream, and now, taxi driver. He says it’s all for his family. He’s Peruvian and I’m not, but something in his mannerisms are strangely comforting. He reminds me of my maternal grandpa. Rough on the edges but pure integrity and goodness to the core.
“Y tu amiguita – como está tu corazón?” “And you my friend – how is your heart?” His question unnerves me. How could he know? Could he sense the anxiety and feelings of despair bubbling over my heart? “Está bien” “it’s ok”, I blurt. What else could I say? How does one answer such question? He smiles at me. That funny smile with a twinge of sad in his eyes. We ride in silence.
How is your heart? How is your heart? How is your heart?
How did he know to ask me that question? How could he know the hurt I was feeling so acutely.
When we arrive to the taxi stand I pay. I feel this sadness to leave my driver. I don’t even know his name, but in 20 minutes I’ve connected with him in a way I would never connect with some of my friends or closest of colleagues in the states.
In America, we speak our own “language”. How many times do we ask our workmates, our friends, or even our family, “how you doing?”, “How are you?”, and without thinking we flippantly respond, “Fine!”, “great”, “Good!”. I worked in a laboratory with the same 4 people for 3 years, and I can’t recall when ever I have asked a real “How are you?”, or even stayed to listen to the response.
What would happen if we spoke the truth? “How are you?”
After 2 years of living in Peru, I find I don’t fit in anywhere. In Peru, we unabashedly talk about everything: religion, politics, body, weight, dreams, death, and life. It is amazing at how little can be communicated with my relatively basic Spanish.
Returning to America, people talk to me about my work, the weather, Peru – and I find myself staring blankly across the space.
I return to my homeland to find that although I speak the language fluently, I struggle to communicate.
This is not to say that I don’t have meaningful conversations with people in the U.S. (I do), but it’s such a lower rate than when overseas.
“How’s Peru?!” is the first thing people ask. “Great!! But really different”, I hear the words tumble out before I can think.
“You look great!”, is the next follow up sentence. Do I hear a tone of surprise?
Let me tell you about Peru. It’s not that great sometimes. It takes my breath away in other times. Let me tell you. Stay to listen.
Tell me – what is in your heart?
When was the last time you cried?
What excites you?
Tell me…what are your deepest fears?
What are your struggles?
Ask me a real question.
The void between is us growing. Even as I sit here in front of you. The chasm is opening and is threatening to swallow us whole. We could build bridge over this gap. This is me inviting you….tell me. How is your heart?
Reach out. Meet me there. I’ll wait for you.
“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters”