18601km: A Home away from Home


by Yong Quan Tan

I stood in the freezing cold, as the grass rustled tentatively beneath my feet.  It’s 11pm, and I peered up into the night sky, expecting darkness. Instead, I was greeted by the stars, glistening in their brilliance and filling up the atmosphere. Then, amidst the speckled sky, a shooting star appears, shimmering and fading in the same moment. I bask in the moment, and think to myself: “I’m not in Singapore anymore, am I?”

Living 18601 kilometers (or 11558 miles; that’s almost halfway around the world) away from home is undoubtedly a rare experience in my life, and is one that I’m still coming to terms to. In Peru, it feels like I’ve exchanged familiarity for adventure, my daily Bee Hoon with Egg for Sopa de Verduras y Pollo, my Singlish for Spanish, my gardens for mountains and my family for a Peruvian one.  Within my group, I catch myself fumbling to switch from British English to American English, and attempting to understand the culture of a continent that has faced its own challenges for centuries, while reorienting myself within a totally different and new community. From personal possessions to lifestyles, these changes become indicators of my presence in Peru and consequently, my absence from home in Singapore.

Yet, upon the beginning of my 3rd week here, I have begun to discover myself from a different perspective. My favorite view (besides the Incan archeological sites and the mountains) is always moving: the 7:30am autobus ride to Calca where my internship placement is located in provides me a unique view of local agriculture, and how buildings are built with Adobe bricks (made of dried clay and straw). As I munch on breakfast, I pass by Catarata Arin (a waterfall in the town of Huaran) and am pertinently aware of the Sacred Valley’s towering heights and how it flanks me on both sides constantly throughout my journey, as the journey ahead seems like it opens up while the road behind looks like it’s being devoured by the mountains. Each new workday offers a visual invitation to embrace the unknown.

In my internship placement, I am sometimes confused by the intricacies of planting and harvesting (coming from a country with an almost nonexistent agricultural industry), as I prepare the soil for new seeds, harvest vegetables, and bond with my new found friends in Eco-Huella Farm. Nonetheless, I lose myself within the work, with every stab of the shovel and pull of the rake, I get closer to learning about Incan irrigation systems, how altitude affects everything, and the philosophy behind Quechua agriculture. In Peru, there are no difficulties, only opportunities to learn and, in time, to serve.

In my new home in Urubamba, I (try to) speak exclusively Spanish, stuttering and muttering as I think about how to translate from English to my new language, while hoping that I don’t end up breaking the flow of the conversation. I hope that my Spanish will improve such that I don’t need to hold onto my phone and open up SpanishDict, but till then, I grit my teeth and continue onwards, hoping to have the audacity to try and the discretion to appreciate the opportunity that has been given to me.

The incessant internal comparisons of the constants and the differences of life will continue. However, in retrospect, an exchange of the familiar for the different sounds like a compromise. As I’ll be here for 3 months, it feels less like compromise, and more like accumulation & assimilation. The idea that I may speak with a different accent (and even in a different tongue), but my eyes light up equally whether I see shades of white & red (my national colors) in the bracelets made by the local weaving collectives or the waterfalls and mountains in the region. That my heart feels a little warmer when the gardens in my farming internship remind me of the ones I have back at home. That I feel a rush of adrenaline on hikes, because being close to the earth and air and wind remind me of my time in the army when creature comforts were not as near, but the opportunities for self-discovery are.

I guess ‘Home’ will always be Singapore, but the idea of what constitutes as home is fluid & always changing for me. And while Bee Hoon with Egg will always have a special place in my stomach, so might Sopa de Verduras y Pollo.

Originally posted here.