How do you usually greet someone? Well, it depends on the situation I suppose. With an acquittance, maybe a wave or smile. With a coworker or boss, perhaps a handshake. With good friends, maybe a hug. In Peru, it’s with a side kiss on both cheeks. The first time this occurred, I was a little taken aback because I was not used to it. In fact, I had to adjust even more when all the males I met did this as well.
In fact, the first time I was greeted this way was by my co-workers. I took it in stride, but was a little surprised that I had to greet more than eight people all in this manner. It’s safe to say that smiling, nodding, and waving would have saved time. It’s also safe to say that it was easier to remember everyone’s names when the greeting was two side-cheeks.
After some time in Peru, I’ve had adjusted to many things including the manner in which greetings occur. I’m a little surprised, but I realize that the greeting is a style that I have come to appreciate. By doing a side-cheek greeting, it ensures that everyone feels included and welcome. Moreover, the personal touch immediately makes two people feel closer.
Upon reflection, I realize that in the USA, touch is typically seen as unusual and frowned upon, especially in public settings. From my experience, anything more than a hug is not viewed as commonplace. Yet, in Peru where people are pretty emotional, very flamboyant, and highly outspoken, kisses on the cheek seem very appropriate. There are times when I meet someone just once but we kiss and embrace. There are other times when I have seen the same person every day, and the greeting is the same. Regardless, I have not only come to embrace the new people in my life, but also this style of greeting.
When I leave my Sunday morning visits, my buddy kisses me and I do likewise. This touch solidifies the importance we place each other in our lives. For me, it symbolizes that we’ve enjoyed the time spent together and there’s much to look forward the coming visit, month, and year. The hug and kiss lingers even after I exit Hebrew Senior Life, finish reflections with my peers in the van, and prepare for the busy weeks ahead. The culture in Peru and the USA are indeed very different; however, touch is definitely something that transcends such barriers and fosters relationships. I miss the time spent with Nancy and greatly look forward to not only sharing stories, but also these hugs and kisses.
Now, as more than half of my summer in Peru is over - time has indeed flown by. I am taking more time to reflect on my time in Peru before I very literally fly back to the United States. With all my experiences in life, I can say with certainty that the one thing that has made this experience the most worthwhile are the people: the relationships I have been able to form, stories I have been privileged to hear, and perspectives I have gained. Isn’t that really the center of Alzheimer's Buddies? Moreover, isn’t that really the heart of medicine itself? As for me, it’s really what makes life rich and enriching.