It’s my first week, and I’m crying under the stars in a chicken field.
I’ve just arrived from the aguas termales, hot springs 38 degrees Celsius in an enchanted forest in the valley some twenty minutes walk away – and our only bathroom – and I’m warm and sleepy and happy.
Or was, anyway, until I arrived in the kitchen.
Why aren’t you having dinner, Florent demands in his tactless French accent. Because I’m not hungry, I say – the truth. What did you have after lunch, he fires back. Er, some oranges and limas, I say, wanting anything other than to be having this conversation. You only had two oranges and limas? Florent asks, cocking an eyebrow. I thought it would make life easier for the cooks, letting them know not to plan dinner for seven people and just six, by informing them I was headed to bed early. After a long soak in the springs, I have am practically having sleeping bag fantasies and ready to crawl into warm blankets and be shnuggled up. It is, after all, dark with stars out and the mosquitos outside are relentless – there would be no better thing to do than ride this wave of peaceful drowsiness into the dawn.
I’m tired and headed to bed, I say.
Yeah, you’re tired because you’re hungry; you need to eat, he retorts back.
Fuck you, Florent.
Fuck you and every Frenchman and woman who’s ever said that to me. Those exact words. In that exact voice and accent. My French host mother, who just could not understand I had no desire to eat dinner at 9 or 10pm – much less after sundown – or to be awake and sociable when all my circadian rhythm was telling me it was sleep time. The Frenchman in Colca Canyon who I volunteered for, who said those exact words in that tone precisely.
I am reminded, suddenly, that then, too, I was crying under the stars in the Andes, lying on a large stone outside hugging a cat as I bawled my eyes out. Almost four months ago.
I have a thousand responses for this, but I grit my teeth, spin on my heel and take long strides outside. I have no heart for arguing, and anyway, there’s nothing to argue about – there is no right and wrong, just my feelings and my needs, neither of which anyone particularly wants to hear right now. I want to say, I’m hurt and angry and feeling judged and needing acceptance right now, needing to belong. I want to say, I suffered two years of judgment and started some horrible eating habits because my own mother wouldn’t accept me for how and what I wanted to put into my body – do you have any idea of the psychological impact that still has on me, almost eight years on? I want to say, I’ve been healing, I’ve finally started healing in the last few months, I don’t need your bullshit right now or maybe I hate eating after dark; I had the most enormous lunch and I have a slow digestive system; I’d feel horrible if I woke up the next morning and hadn’t digested it all by then. I want to say, I feel very Bolivian, and similar to my Peruvian sisters who similarly don’t dine; we aren’t meant for eating this late anyway. Or don’t tell me what I need – I know what I need right now; how are people like you with so little empathy even at a beautiful place like this?
I remember, suddenly, that 2014 has been the only year totally devoid of this ongoing frustration – mostly because I felt completely loved and accepted – and am suddenly doubled up in pain, longing for the human touch I’ve come so far away from. People don’t really embrace in South America.
I fall into a deep squat, crouching in the long grass by the chickens, tears still streaming down my face. All of a sudden, I hear footsteps behind me on the path and the next thing I see is Eilif’s silhouette pottering out to the fields in the darkness, head torch half-lit. I’m sure he’s seen me, hugging my knees and staring up at the stars, and I suddenly relax, thinking he’s probably thought I was stargazing.
Eilif has done nothing more than walk past, but I feel his calmness and quiet acceptance all around me, even though at this stage we have, perhaps, interchanged only a handful of words. I take a deep breath as I see his silhouette disappear into the distance, unclasp my hands and stand to leave.