As a kid, I always told my mom I wanted an older brother. "Even if you got a brother," my mom told me, "he wouldn't be older than you." Damn you, science.
But then I found a loophole.
The summer before I started high school, my friend Emily told me about two foreign exchange students who'd been attending her church. One of them didn't have a host family yet, she said, so he was staying with the other student's host family. If he couldn't be placed with a family of his own soon, he'd be sent to another city - or even back to his home country of Peru.
"We have to take him!" I told my mom. I outlined all the reasons why we were a perfect potential host family: We had the space, & we had the time. I was going to be in high school, too, so she wouldn't have to deal with two different schools. And we'd been a little bit lonely ever since my dad died three years ago; wouldn't this be an adventure? We needed it, I insisted, & he needed us.
We met with Paolo at a local Dairy Queen. He spoke approximately no English, & as a 14-year-old almost-freshman, I had just three years of middle-school Spanish. In other words, we could barely communicate. He'd brought a book with him, a photography book about his hometown: "Es la ciudad blanca," he told us, pointing at images of grandiose white stone buildings. The White City, it was called.
He was so eager, so polite, & as soon as my mom dropped him off at his temporary host family's home, she confirmed it to me: "We have to take him."
|I can't find an HS pic, but this is from Paolo's 2012 visit.|
Paolo got married last Saturday in his hometown of Arequipa, the White City I'd heard so much about for the last 18 years. And as he & his wife Ulda made it official, my mom, my aunt, my uncle, & I were all there to see it & to celebrate with them. After almost two decades, we made it to Peru.
We visited the top of Machu Picchu & boated across Lake Titicaca. We explored Inca ruins & petted llamas. We stayed in a hotel that used to be a monastery & another that was a mint. We drank coca tea & ate quinoa everything. And at the end of the trip, our trip culminated in a grand finale celebrating Paolo & Ulda's love. "This is my little sister!" he said as he introduced me to his friends. And when we left the wedding reception for our hotel that night, I cried again, just like that 14-year-old kid who didn't know how many years it would be before she got to see her big brother again.
I came home exhausted & battling a nasty cold, as I always seem to do when I get home from a big trip. But this was, truly, the trip of a lifetime for my mom & me, & even I, a prolific writer, can't fully express how much it all meant to me to be able to see Peru & to be there for my big brother's wedding.
If you follow me on Instagram, you've already seen a lot of these photos on my #goldbigsdoperu hashtag, but here's a more complete look. Come to think of it, maybe I don't get to call it "the trip of a lifetime" if I plan to go back as soon as humanly possible?