So we caught a microbus to downtown. On the micro was a man playing guitar and singing (quite normal). He was very good. We bought ice cream from the vender on the bus. People often complain about Lima's public transportation, and with good reason, but come on - you can't buy ice cream and get a free concert on the metro in DC.
We got out of the micro not at the Plaza, but into the most crowded streets I have ever been on (exempting Chinatown, NYC during the Chinese New Year). Most shops are closed on Sundays and this was the last Saturday before school started, so everyone and their mothers (literally - very family oriented culture here) was out shopping. Women with babies strapped to their backs jostled with venders selling boiled quail eggs. Men pulled huge stacks of boxes through the street. It was sweaty and loud and colorful. I didn't mind the crowding, or the smells, but at one point a man started yelling (still unsure why) and I suddenly thought: what if a panic happened? What if people started to run? A lot of people would die. This didn't happen but it's a real danger I never thought I would encounter. This was not what I expected when my family said El Centro. But hey, all about the flexibility and surprise.
We found a vender with good prices on school supplies. Shopping (at least at crowed center such as these with multiple hole in the wall shops and venders) is completely different from in the USA. For at least 30 minutes we had the vender as our personal shop assistant as my host sister read out the list of items we needed. Every item was tested and looked over, the bill was checked multiple times - the intensity of the transactions amazed me. How different from the casual way I am used to shopping! But then, that is also because I just hate shopping most of the time. We stood in the crowded corridor of shops, with puppets (school supplies? I wish my classes had puppets) and lunch boxes hanging from the ceiling. I started at the Jonas Brothers pencil case inches from my nose. For 37 seconds I tried to simply take in the mass of humanity around me, the noises and smells, the pain in my back when boxes were shoved into it, the placid kindness of the people squished near my elbow. I was sweaty and stinky and, in a strange way, I loved it.
We eventually did go to the center Plaza, walked around some beautiful cathedrals, watched couples taking wedding photos, ate some fried bread and Inka Cola and had a wonderful evening. But this is the difference in studying abroad and in being a tourist: any tourist can go the Plaza de Armas in Lima. Not any tourist can have the experience of the frenetic intensity of school shopping in Lima - why would they? Why would they ever venture into that area with its reputation of danger and theft and really cheap notebooks? By the way, I got six good notebooks for 15 soles - that's 90 American cents per notebook. As much as I sometimes just want to backpack around South America, instead of attending class, this is why I am here - to be more than a tourist, to know more than beautiful buildings.
Hurrah for the everyday errands!
PS. No pictures, because I didn't bring my camera due to theft.
pps. Also - I finished my plate at lunch and dinner yesterday. Peruvian stomach strength and 20 pounds heavier, here I come!