I am writing this blog from a cafe in Jaen, Peru. By my estimation I am the only white person in the entire city. I’ve come to this conclusion on account of not seeing anyone overtly non-Peruvian and being regularly stared at with great skepticism. Obviously, I have no qualms about being in such a scenario – it’s simply something I have never experienced. The first month and a half of my fellowship was spent in Cusco, Peru, a city stocked with foreign travelers making their way to Macchu Picchu, Canyon de Colca, Lake Titicaca or enjoying the nearby attractions. Cut to Jaen, Peru, a city of 50,000 inhabitants situated in the northern region of Cajamarca just south of the Ecuadorian border. It is a hard working bourgeois town, whose economy is primarily driven by coffee and rice production – there is no tourist industry to speak of. Foreign visitors (of which I have seen none, this is merely what I’ve read) will generally use Jaen as a stop off point in their trip to Ecuador only to turn around and re-enter Peru for the purpose of extending their Visas. Unlike Cusco, in Jaen, foreigners are an aberration – never was this more apparent than my first day here.

That first day, I set out to buy a new shirt – a seemingly innocuous act. As I scanned the racks for a new get up, a horde of local teenage girls approached asking to take pictures of me. I agreed and stood awkwardly as they pulled out their cell phones. I remember having no idea what to do with my hands. Do I hold up a peace sign? Do I wave? Maybe a thumbs up? I did none of those things. Like a star struck doofus I took a gray collared shirt from the rack and held it up as if I had just shook Roger Goodell’s hand and was posing with my new teams jersey. Who does that? I sometimes have nightmares those pictures will surface on my Facebook feed and I’ll have to stay in South America forever. Not really, but its not inconceivable to think that I’ve become a local legend (laughing stock). I’m imagining a Facebook thread reading something like: American moves to Jaen and thinks it necessary to model your most average of gray collared shirts, here are the results: link. There I am, red as a tomato, awkwardly holding that damn gray polo – pure click bate. I proceeded to take a selfie one by one with each of the girls. We can only assume those pictures are equally as embarrassing.

This is my first time “talking” about the incident. It’s a sore subject – I folded under the pressure of a teenage mob just looking for some selfies. Determined to redeem myself and get the shirt I originally set out to buy – I returned to the store. Thankfully the crowd was nowhere to be seen and no selfies were to be had. I begrudgingly bought the shirt I had foolishly held as a prop just days prior. It has now been two weeks since the gray polo fiasco and I think people in Jaen are getting used to seeing me around. Stares have turned to smiles, skepticism has turned to intrigue, and no more pictures have been taken. I think word must have spread of my uncanny ability to ruin a photo – my family could attest to such an expertise.

Comments

Nice one Cooper, I'm sure you'll be a local legend for the right reasons soon enough! I'm interested to know more about how you got on in Cusco, as I'll be there from September-December, volunteering with Kiva MFI Asociación Arariwa. If it's not too much trouble, could you send me a message here: https://www.kiva.org/lender/mhiggi Gracias!

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Cooper Fitzgerald grew up in Maine with a business mind as he owned and operated a local food truck during high school. Cooper has interned with an alternative energy company in Maine as well as a consulting firm based out of Boston serving entrepreneurs in developing countries. He recently graduated from Colorado College with a degree in International Political Economy and Spanish. Having spent extensive time abroad, especially in developing countries, Cooper has fostered a special interest in innovation, entrepreneurship and their stimulation of economic growth and political inclusivity.