There comes a point in every expat's life where surviving in a foreign country becomes momentarily overwhelming (at least, I like to think this happens to other people). Yesterday was that day for me. It had a lot to do with other stuff that's going on in my life, I admit, but when I found myself stranded at a gas station, unable to find the restaurant I was supposed to be meeting friends at, I lost it. Like, standing-on-the-corner-crying lost it. It was not the proudest moment of my life.
Cabbing in a foreign country can be particularly stressful. Generally I can tell my driver the destination without a problem, and they always act like they know exactly where they're going. But despite the fact that almost all of them have GPS on their phones, I find they like to rely on me to give them directions when we get closer to the destination. This was particularly fun when we first moved here and I had no idea how to get to my house. I've got that down by now, at least. But sometimes, like yesterday, I want to go somewhere I've never been before, and considering this is a massive city with some 10 million inhabitants, it seems a little unfair for the cab driver to expect ME to know how to get there. Isn't that your job, dude?
So yesterday. I gave the driver the name and address of the restaurant. He nodded like he knew it. We drove to where I thought it was, but as we got closer, the address was nowhere to be found. So I looked it up on Google Maps, which told me it was nowhere near where we were. I searched multiple times and the little knife and fork icon came up with the name of the restaurant on the map, so I showed it to the driver and we spent 15 minutes heading back that way (traffic is horrible here, if I haven't driven that point home enough by now). At this point I was about five minutes late, but then we realized that no, in fact, the restaurant was not where the map said it was. So the driver pulled over and waited for me to get out. Ugh.
I asked in a store. I checked my phone. I texted my friends. I knew I was in the wrong place, so I hailed another cab and told the guy where I wanted to go. No, he said. He couldn't go there (I think he didn't want to turn around? I'm not sure). That's about when I lost it. I stood behind a building crying, knowing I looked like the perfect mugging victim but unable to pull it together. I thought about giving up and going home. I just didn't want to deal with it anymore.
But there also comes a point in every expat's life where they have to decide to buck up and get over it. I had people waiting for me. I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for after lunch. I knew I was only a half a mile from my destination. A kind woman saw me crying and offered help. "Are you okay?" she asked. "I can't find my friends!" I sobbed. (Mind you, this was all in Spanish.) And then she told me to cross the street and hail a cab, which was all I needed, really. Someone to calm me down and help me get my act together. I can't tell you how much the kindness of strangers means to a lost foreigner. It reminded me of the times in my life when I've seen random people crying and I've wanted to help them, but didn't want to interfere. From now on, I'm going to interfere. The worst they can do is tell me to get out of their face. But if that nice woman hadn't helped me, I may still be standing on that corner weeping.
Ten minutes later my friend found me and led me to lunch. I was thirty minutes late, my appetite and mood completely ruined, but I had a nice lunch with my friends, which was all I'd wanted in the first place. That's the thing about life in a foreign country: the things that seem so simple at home - grocery shopping, ordering take-out, installing a baby gate - are infinitely more challenging abroad. Sometimes it's the language, sometimes it's navigating a new city, and sometimes it's the fact that you're living in someone else's home and everything has to go through an embassy work order. It can get exhausting and hit you at moments you might never expect it. The ride home was almost as difficult. I collapsed on the couch like I was returning from battle instead of lunch with friends.
But there's the flip side: the awesome friends you never would have made back home; the new restaurants to try and the fact that you get to live in a way nicer house than you could afford in the U.S.; the locals, who really do want to help you, even if they can't speak your language. Lima broke me yesterday, but then it helped put me back together. And it only took five different cabs to do it.