As a whole, I feel pretty well integrated in Shilla. It has been over a year.. everybody knows me, the kids yell out my name, I understand more Quechua, and less and less Shillapinos think that I'm Italian and work in the church... there are days I forget that I'm too tall even (until I hit my head on a door whose frame comes up to my shoulders... have I mentioned I live in hobbit land? Ask my dad).
But recently, after a bout of feeling too self assured, my host mom and sister informed me that I'm telling too much to the neighbors. Now, I thought I was just being friendly. If I'm walking up the hill and they ask me where I'm coming from I'll freely say "From Huaraz! And this package I'm carrying? My parents sent it to me from the States!" or que ever. At first when my host familia told me that I just need to say hello and go on my way, I thought. huh. NO. I don't see any harm in it and I'm promoting friendship and connection between families. But then I realized if I just keep doing what I want that's not integration at all.... and then it dawned on me. I wash my clothes a lot longer than it takes my 14 year old sister. At meal times, I'm still served first and am encouraged to "descansar" (rest) frequently although my mom and sister are CONSTANTLY moving, cleaning, workin' in the biohuerto, taking the chanchos (pigs) and burro (his name is Ramon) to pasture... I have a completely different role. Since I have to make lesson plans, keep track of assistance, write oficios and solicitudes, etc. I use my computer a lot! And since my mom can't read, when she watches me on this thing, what does she see? What does she think? It probably looks like I'm busy doing a whole lot of nothing. And when I do help in the chacra on occasion, I'm so slow that I'm not even a help!
Just yesterday on the phone, a fellow Ancashina volunteer and amiga said "we're awkward all the time". And it's so true. Whether it's our gringo accents when we are trying to get the universities to come up and do a University Fair, to planting corn seeds double the time it takes our host moms, we will always be just slightly out of it. And what usually results from that is that we end up thinking that THEY'RE slightly out of it. Vicious circle.
But there is good that comes out of all the awkwardness/never truly fitting in: Funny stories. For instance, just recently I had a spanish language confusion problem (sheesh. You think after 10 years of this language I would be able to manejar it all). I told my host sis Florcita that I needed a key to unlock candela (which I thought meant padlock).
She was like "Really? There's a candela by that door?"
Me - "SI Florcita. De verdad!"
Florcita- looks at me confused
Later. I find out that in fact "candela" means fire. Then how the heck do you say padlock?
Florcita - Laughing uncontrollably
Mama - "Candado, Emy. Candado"
They still don't let that one go. And I guess it's the laughing and connecting to a joke and the silly things that we do that binds me to them more than anything else. No matter if I'm too tall for the doors.