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The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Alexis Dumain.

“Three little birds…”

These lyrics to the classic Bob Marley song have soothed me to sleep amidst every malaise from fever to insomnia throughout my childhood, as intoned by my dutiful father. Now, as piped through the speakers of this cafe, they present as more surreal, yet more relevant.

“Sittin’ by my doorstep.”

In North Carolina, it was easy to relate to the simplistic poetry. The harmonics of birdsong was a given, and the metronomic rhythm of life which governed the surrounding symphonic and physical movements was predictable.

In Lima, I’ve found that this is not the case. An abbreviated list of aggravations that I did not anticipate:

1. The weather. I knew in the abstract that Lima is in the Southern hemisphere and therefore, it would be winter. I had even added a page in my weather app and was consoled into a false sense of security by the stable temperatures that rarely fluctuated below 60 degrees. However, I did not anticipate the synergistic effect of cool temperatures and 90% humidity. Nothing dries! My (pre-)gap year chutzpah unfortunately did not cling to my bones with the same tenacity that the chill did. Perhaps it’s also worth noting that I just really hate the cold. Specifically, being cold. And being in cold places. You get the picture.

Water activities in Lima (don’t let the wetsuit or smile fool you – I was inches from hypothermia) vs. water activities in ‘nearby’ Chaclacayo. ‘Paseos’ to escape microclimates are favorite activities here.

2. The pollution. I imagined a metropolis in its glittering wonder, akin to the technicolor brilliance of the Emerald City. Conveniently, my imagination omitted the smog, black diesel fumes, and overall grime that settles into, well, everything.

3. The NOISE, NOISE, NOISE (bonus points if you can read this in the Grinch’s voice). In the same way I underestimated the reality of the weather, I neglected to account for the very urban truth that is cacophony. The guide books handily failed to mention the unique concoction that are car alarms and revving motors here. Each is its own arrogant soundbite that extends its plaintive cry far beyond what any reasonable social contract should allow. Most of them seem to occur within centimeters of my bedroom window. Usually at odd hours of the night/morning, but there is really no definite agenda (aside from the requisite that they occur when most people are/should be sleeping).

Suddenly, the soothing lyrics to this song took on a different meaning. There probably are three little birds that really do sit by my doorstep, but now I have to deliberately seek out their ballads, lest they be drowned out by the infinite other distractions. Every time my inner peace is disturbed by the shriek of an alarm, I could test out the choice words of displeasure my host father taught me…Or, I could refocus on the persistence of those three little birds.

The advance of spring, too, has come to awaken a rose-tinted anticipation that is a powerful antidote. Walking through city streets, I become giddy at the multi-hued buds that are starting to open. I almost started crying when I trampled a sprig of pollen on the sidewalk the other day (I wish this were an exaggeration for comedic effect). In opening my consciousness to these talismans of small comforts, my annoyance at the insufferable ‘weeds’ fades away.

My new hobbies include creating photographic evidence of signs of spring to prove that I didn’t imagine them.

Last week, too, the sun came out for about an hour, and I was barely able to contain myself. I bond with a surprising number of strangers over these meteorological oddities. As I write this, I can barely sit still solely because I can see blue sky.

The universality of what spring represents, though the exact manifestation is location-specific, is an instruction in the optimism, awakening, and rebirth. Just for today, just for this present moment, I am not the same lost, overwhelmed, cold person I was when I first stumbled upon this cafe. The changing physical surroundings of these experiences, distanced by only a months’ passing, represent the spring renaissance totally.

It is through this that I understand the concept of spring cleaning in a different light. The ritual — furiously expelling the grubby remains of the past from a physical place — allows for outward expression of an inward concept. The dust and grime that had settled in over the winter needs to be removed to actualize the possibilities to come. Weeds need to be plucked so that planted seeds have the space and nourishment to grow. Accumulated rubbish can be set aside and transformed into the compost that serves as sustenance for other beings. Similarly, the discombobulation that followed the alteration of my foundational values was necessary to purge me of presumptions that were preventing advancement of self. This percolates down through the rest of my ‘foundation’, all the way to the metaphorical bedrock, eroded and scattered by the intrusion of new roots.

So don’t worry
About a thing
‘Cause every little thing
Is gonna be alright.

Three actual little birds. Lured to the window by tablespoons of sugar.
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