January 2008, journal entry
“A deep hollow lies between our house and that of our backyard neighbors. My father would call it a gulley, a word not heard much these days outside rural America. The real estate agent may have called it a creek bed, and, in fact, a stream does run through it most of the year. After a big rain, it’s a regular freshet. The family that lived here before us cleared a good bit of the sloping backyard, but it will never be a lawn. The lot is heavily wooded. Kudzu is always creeping forward. The steep incline of the far side of the creek bed is covered with poplars and mimosa and ivy. I think there are a few wild dogwoods in the mix. In the summer, it forms what Eudora Welty so brilliantly called a “curtain of green,” providing privacy for us and for our neighbors. Idling on the back deck, I feel as if I’m hidden in a tree house. It’s a place I wear shorts without anxiety. In the evenings, sound carries and bounces around the hollow. Sometimes I hear laughter and music and smell the smoke from a charcoal fire. I imagine I can hear ice clicking in sweating glasses, and I wonder if I’d like to be at their party.
Instead I find myself at a summer party alive with Latin music. The dry and dusty air is heavily seasoned with the smells of sweat and roasted beef, from a cow slaughtered only hours and feet away. Tonight I am one of 25 gringos hosting a fiesta for the poorest people of Chimbote, Peru.
Tonight, however, the live band blares La Bamba, and I dance with old men and children. Little boys run up to me with clasped fists, crying “La Cucharacha!” in an attempt to frighten me, prompted by my husband, who is also making his first visit to Peru.
It’s hard to believe that only a few days ago, we were dreading this trip, wondering aloud why we were spending so much money to go to Peru. And now, we both dread leaving.”
We return one week from tomorrow.