I muttered a curse word under my breath before heading out into the unforgiving summer sun in Peru to find flour. I was making the dough for a pizza we were going to eat later that night and had just realized by staring at an off-white soupy mixture and an empty bag that I had nowhere near enough flour to finish the job. Turns out that using a large coffee mug to roughly estimate a cup was a poor decision. I learn something in Peru everyday.
It was the middle of March, the end of summer here and the beginning of our community’s time living together under the same corrugated-metal roof. We had been in Peru for almost two months, having spent a large portion of that with different host families, and it rained every day. Every single day. Hard. In addition to the ins and outs of cooking schedules and figuring out who would sweep, pulling out buckets and plastic tupperware to catch rain leaking through our roof was part of our community experience from the beginning. We would interrupt prayer nights to quickly lay towels down in trouble spots and watch the water rushing down our street rise to within inches of our front door. Moreover, due to the rains, my community member Elizabeth and I were not working, as the schools delayed for weeks waiting for the rain to stop. We were wet, hot, mosquito-bitten, and bored in a strange place.
This all took its toll. I struggled to fight off self-pity, knowing that the rain had left me uncomfortable while others were rendered literally homeless. My temper was shorter and my thoughts darker. At one particularly cringe-worthy moment, I sharply commented to my community mate that she “did a lot of laundry.” Starting off community is hard on any continent, but, after a year in Baltimore with a different group as a Jesuit Volunteer Corp, this was my second year of community living. Wasn’t I supposed to be good at community? Why didn’t I feel like it?
I hoped that this pizza could be a turnaround: an apology for my mood, a comfort food to lift our spirits, and an act of love for a community I was struggling to enter into. Determined, I went shop to shop asking about “harina” in my heavy American accent, eventually finding a store that had flour almost a mile from our house. I added cup after cup (avoiding the coffee mug this time) until finally the dough had the right consistency. We would have about three times as much dough as I intended, but pizza dinner was back on.
Community, like Spanish, is an experience of constantly moving goalposts – even as I enter further into community, I just become more aware of the areas where I mess up. It has only been by giving up the idea of ever being good at community and learning patience with myself that I have been able to create a community with my two wonderful compañeras.
That night, we pulled the pizza out of the oven and gathered around our table, each a little broken in our own way. “We should light the prayer candle,” Erica suggested. “It feels like one of those moments.” We said a prayer in the candlelight, sharing love and fellowship and a common hope that the rain would end soon. The candle stayed lit through each slice of pizza, and it never felt like the prayer really stopped. Indeed, community is a prayer: continually finding and honoring God in each other. Albeit, it’s a prayer that I am not and will never be good at. But it’s a prayer that has kept me grounded and given me purpose. It’s one that I want to keep on praying.
It never rained that night.
Chulucanas, Peru 2017