We were taught to be independent. By we I mean people like me who were brought up by Mid-western parents in the Forties and Fifties.
“Stand on your own,” I was told and I believed it.
All along, though, they were helping me.
I saw the struggle to remain independent in my parents when they were old and suffering. It was a quality I admired. Still, I was frustrated because they said in so many ways that they didn’t want my help. They didn’t want to bother me. But I knew that they needed my help. And the few times that they allowed me, I helped.
These are people who all their lives bothered about me. But they didn’t want to be helped in return. Pride and independence ruled.
I learned my lessons from them and now I am old and struggling with the same feelings. However, I’ve come to realize that standing on my own isn’t the best idea. In fact, what they taught me doesn’t stand the test of time.
My situation is a little different. Actually, quite a bit different. Instead of living in California, I live in Peru. I did a lot of thinking about where I should spend my later years and I decided that Peru was a good place for me. My wife is Peruvian. She loved living in the United States but also decided that her mother needed our support as she aged…a typically Peruvian decision.
So we moved to Peru in 2005. The culture is different and one striking point of difference is the value placed on independence and of helping others. The strong need for independence on the part of the gringos puzzles Peruvians. They value the support of others and look for the chance to help each other.
There are many examples. Homes are usually multi-generational. The old live with the young and it is a good thing for both. University students usually live with their families through the years of their studies and beyond. People usually do not go to the doctor alone. Someone must accompany them.
These are some of my experiences:If you are old and walking up stairs, a stranger may step up and offer to help. If you get on a bus, a younger person will offer you their seat. If you take a fall, many come to help you.
There are also some bothersome aspects to this as well. I like to help in the house in my modest way, washing the dishes or doing some other simple chore. Often someone will step in and tell me that I shouldn’t bother with this, they will take care of it.
Living by yourself as an older person would definitely be frowned on and, in fact, people would feel sorry for you.
Let’s not make this a paradise. Peru has lots of poverty and people struggle just to provide the basics. Even so, I have observed a spirit of perseverance and mutual support that lies beneath the turbulence of political and economic events. This, I believe, gives strength and resilience to the people.
They don’t need to stand alone. They stand together. And we Gringos have much to learn.