Ever since arriving in Perú a little over a week ago, I’ve found myself repeating a phrase in both my conversations and my writings: “Es lo mismo,” or, in English, “It’s the same.” When we discussed Peruvian social issues in my conversation class, I nodded and said, “Es lo mismo en los EE.UU.” When my host family told me about their house rules, I agreed fervently and said, “Es lo mismo en mi casa.” Although I have undoubtedly encountered many strange and wonderful things in Cusco–from cuy to political slogans in primary colors painted on the sides of abandoned buildings–there is an incredible sameness in our differences. We may dress differently, eat differently, and speak differently, but in our hearts, we are so much alike. Take, for example, the young couple I saw climbing out of a taxi yesterday. They shared a shy, tender kiss before going their separate ways, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself. My host mom, Natali, showers her three-month-old, Lucas, and her four-year-old, Antonella, with besitos every day. How beautiful it is to realize that love, though it manifests in different ways, is really the same everywhere.
One of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer, writes in his novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, “We exist because we exist…we could imagine all sorts of universes like this one, but this is the one that happened.” Indeed, our respective cultures constitute our realities, or the world that “happened” for us. Travel allows us to broaden our minds by giving us the chance to step into different realities; because of this, travel also gives us the opportunity to realize that maybe the world isn’t so big after all. The other day I went to a café and heard the song “Love Generation” by Bob Sinclar playing softly over the sound system. This song was one of three that my group leader played on our tour bus, affectionately known as “Rigato,” during my travels in Europe four years ago. Little connections like these, as nebulous as they may be, are what make me say, “Es lo mismo.”
I don’t want to discount the amazing differences that exist between cultures. Obviously there are many–culture shock exists for a reason. Rather, I want to highlight that maybe instead of “Otherness,” we should focus on “We-ness.” This, after all, is where empathy originates. On my walk to school, I pass children in uniforms running to make it to school on time, Andean women selling their handicrafts and fruits on the street, business people and common laborers waiting to catch the bus, and the random foreigner who (like me) sticks out because of her lighter hair and eyes. And yes, it’s a very different scene than one I’d find in the United States. Nevertheless, there’s a collective “We-ness” to the hustle and bustle of the morning, all of us bundled up in the cold, dry air.
Everything is but a world within a world–here, in Cusco, I am finding myself among the layers.