I woke up to a stranger shaking me in my bed at 3:15 AM asking me if I was Julian. I confirmed that I was, and he told me the van was leaving. After tracking the presidential election results until around 1:00 AM, I slept through my alarm and nearly missed my transportation from Arequipa, Peru to Colca Canyon. Despite the surprising awakening, I’m thankful my guide was willing to enter the dorm room with 12 beds and identify the hibernating passenger who was holding up the trip. I gathered my things in record time, raced down the stairs, and sprinted out the door into the crisp morning air towards the van.
After about three hours of driving, daylight broke through and we stopped for breakfast. My fellow passengers emerged from their slumber and began to socialize. I knew it was only a matter of time before the (Republican) elephant in the room came to light. Reactions ranged from apathy to hysteria. About a third of the fifteen or so people in the van were American, yet everyone was interested in the big news. One of the Americans sobbed for half an hour, uttered profanities about how messed up our country is, and announced that she liked her life in California…as if staying was an impossibility. Our tour guide tried to console her with words of encouragement: “We don’t like politics here…you are in Peru now…be happy…” They didn’t seem to dull the pain. I later learned through her constant complaints and sour attitude that she didn’t even want to be hiking in the canyon in the first place. Her boyfriend dragged her along to Peru and she had voted for a beach trip in Fiji.
She eventually felt better after the other Americans expressed their disappointment. They proceeded to engage in group therapy by bashing the electoral college and hearing that Canada was a viable option. Another girl had a revelation and said: “I mean…I don’t think all Republicans are bad people.” Many stones were cast that day. Character judgments, broad sweeping statements, narrow-mindedness. Characteristics and behaviors that occur across the aisle and are fueling the division that is plaguing our country. Emotions were understandably high given the stakes of the election, but we have to be better. All of us. I remained relatively quiet throughout the exchange and elected to walk away rather than challenge some of the assertions being made. For I had no dog in this fight. I wasn’t thrilled about a Trump presidency, nor would I have been happy with Hillary as our commander-in-chief. Instead, I empathize with the venerable Ernie Johnson: “How am I going to be a better American?”
The hike in Colca Canyon was beautiful, as you can see from the pictures below. But my mind was elsewhere. The world continues to grow smaller, and the results of this election have reverberated globally. There are people out there who relish seeing division in the United States. Don’t give them that gratification. Don’t fall into that trap. It takes time for wounds to heal. But if we start with unity and compassion, perhaps the United States can be the great nation that it has the potential to be.
I miss the United States, and I love the United States. I’m proud to be an American. And my trip has reminded me how much of a privilege it is to be an American.