Our GATE (Global Awareness Through Education) study tour of Peru was staying in a convent in Lima at the same a group of teachers was having a retreat there. One evening in the dinner line at the cafeteria, I saw a stunning teacher in a green dress. She was chatting with some other teachers, who were hanging on her every word. She was tall, had a drop-dead-gorgeous figure, was brown-haired and brown-eyed, with strong cheekbones. The sweep of her shoulders stemmed effortlessly from her neck. Her face radiated calmness, happiness, and vitality. She was simply the most beautiful and graceful creature I have ever seen. She reminded me of Sophia Loren, both in appearance and attitude. I knew that, as a teacher in Peru, she could not have much money, but she appeared royal, elegant, and proud. She also radiated a steamy sensuality.
Awakening the next morning, I couldn’t think of anything else but this beautiful, captivating woman. I looked for her on the grounds before and after breakfast but didn’t see her. Then our GATE group was off for a busy day of activities in hot and humid Lima. When we got back, in late afternoon, we were free until dinner. I couldn’t wait to look for this beautiful teacher again. I was sticky and sweaty from the heat and humidity and needed to clean up first. The cold shower water hit my skin as I washed myself quickly, attempting to get out the door fast to look for her. The garden was the centerpiece of the convent grounds and I stood, drinking a Coke, in more or less the crossroads of the garden paths. Now if she does any walking around at all, I thought, I’ll be sure to see her.
The heat caused the cold bottle of Coke in my hand to sweat, dripping beads of water on the ground. I kept waiting. The Coke got warmer. It would be time to join my group for dinner shortly and I had almost given up. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her, coming toward the garden with a friend. The dark hair, the smooth cinnamon skin, the enchanting smile I had seen again in my dreams the previous night—there was something about this woman that made my heart beat faster and my palms sweat even faster than my Coke bottle.
“Hola,” Hello. “¿Qué tal?” How’s it going? I had now picked up a few words of Spanish. “Would you like a Coke?” I asked in English, sticking out my half-empty bottle. “Wait right here,” I said and gesticulated. “I’ll get a Coke for each of you,” I said, pointing at the Coke bottle and at each of them. “OK?” I figured everyone knew, “OK.”
“OK,” they said, laughing.
“Don’t go away,” I said and emphasized with spur of the moment sign language. “I’ll get my phrasebook,” I said, which of course they couldn’t understand as I didn’t have my phrasebook.
Then I ran to the cafeteria to get two more Cokes, hurried to my room to get my Spanish phrasebook, and raced back, hoping they would still be there. They were. I gave them each a Coke, retrieved mine, and introduced myself. They offered their names in return, Bella and Eva. As we worked our way through the phrasebook, I learned they were teachers. They pointed at me, asking me in Spanish what I did. Without checking in the book, I just blurted out the only foreign word for lawyer I knew, the German, “advokat.”
“What,” Bella jokingly asked in Spanish, “are you an astronaut?”
I found it. “Abogado,” lawyer, I said. I tried, “Perry Mason,” but that meant nothing to them. I guess those old reruns hadn’t made it to Lima. We had a halting conversation in phrasebook Spanish. Luckily, Stephanie, our guide, happened by and I enlisted her help as translator to explain what I did for a living and what our group of gringos was doing in their troubled country.
I believe there are “click” experiences in life where you meet someone and, for no reason you can explain, you just “click.” That’s what happened to me with Bella.
Adapted from John Wagner’s memoir, TROUBLED MISSION: Fighting For Love, Spirituality, and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru (Kelly House 2015).