Luciérnagas

Blogging is narcissistic yet satisfying like a sunset in a dirty window.

Luciérnaga is a nice word. Especially if you pop the accent right on the “e” where it belongs. Then the “naga” part falls out of your mouth on your last whiff of air. Luciérnaga. If you just say the “naga” part, it sounds even mystical. I’m getting carried away, but if you picture a geographically ambiguous man decked out in tribal gear of your imagination shaking a stick around and saying, “Naga! Naga!”, the mystical part becomes more understandable, right? Luciérnaga. It means firefly.

I really don’t know much about fireflies because prior to coming to Peru, I had only seen them once as a child. This momentus event took place years ago while celebrating my dad’s birthday with his side of the family in New York. I barely remember any of it. To be honest, I barely remember the fireflies, only that I saw them and that they blew my little-girl mind. Flying lights. Like miniature, slow-motion shooting stars, close enough that I could touch them, though I’m sure I didn’t dare.

A young English volunteer tipped me off about their existence here in Peru. She discovered them as a semi-happy ending to a scary story in which she and her boyfriend were deliberately driven off course by their taxi driver, robbed and abandoned in the Trujillan ruins of Chan Chan late one night. As she recounted the details of the story to me, complete with the imagery of a gun held to her neck and blows dealt to her boyfriend, I remained mostly speechless, shaking my head, not really knowing what to say. And then she said, “It was really beautiful afterward though,” and went on to explain that as she and her basically blind boyfriend (they broke his glasses) maneuvered their way through the ruins in the dark, they found themselves surrounded by fireflies, luciérnagas. It’s fun to think that maybe the little bugs were sympathizing with them. Or guiding them through the darkness to safety.

This prompted me to want to see the luciérnagas myself, though not by the same means as my friend, of course. I think they must be a little more Biggie than Tupac because I never see them in California. So I added them to my Peru to-do list.

Then the other night I found myself unwillingly jogging through an impoverished community outside the city center. It was not an ideal run. I was upset because my running companion was charging up a dusty hill, while I was trying to keep up but was so winded I could hear myself gasping for air. I felt weak.

Then came the stray dogs. I used to love dogs. In Peru, I hate them. A small part of me feels sorry when I see them limp or scratch their impossibly itchy skin, but a much bigger part of me panics and thinks, “If you come near me I will counter-attack!” when they approach me on the street. Sometimes I release my fear by saying mean things to them, but I make sure to do so in English so they won’t understand. It’s not their fault, after all.

On this particular night, through my panic and frustration, I noticed a stunning view of the city creeping up behind me as I pushed myself up the hill: yellow lights in wobbly rows with the backdrop of a pink sunset. But I was scared of the barking dogs and frustrated by my perceived weakness, which only led to more frustration because I used to love running, and maybe I still do, but it doesn’t provide me with the same serenity I once reaped from the sound of my shoes slapping against the California coast. So I chose to look away from the lights.

I should have reminded myself that I often end up pleasantly surprised or humbled after a run in Peru. Like the time I tripped on a rock and came tumbling down into the dirt and split my knee open. It wouldn’t stop bleeding, so I approached a small home on a dirt road and asked for a napkin. The next thing I knew, I was inside the home, sitting on a plastic chair while a man cleaned me up with alcohol and his wife assembled a make-shift bandage for me with cotton and masking tape.

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Their two small boys looked on while I wept. The man tried to reassure me saying, “The alcohol burns, doesn’t it?” I tried to explain through my tears that that’s not why I was crying, but he just looked at me curiously, quickly patched me up and returned to his lunch. Peruvians love lunch.

On the night of the hill, after lots of complaining and shouting childish insults at the dogs, (“You’re ugly! I hate you!”) I descended back into the steel-colored city scowling. Lucky for me, my running companion tried to cheer me up by asking if I would like to try to find the luciérnagas I was after. It was a generous gesture considering my bad attitude, so of course I agreed. I gripped his hand as we made our way through a completely dark field rendering some kind of unidentifiable crop. And we didn’t see anything. I mean literally nothing because it was so dark. And for some reason the darkness made me want to whisper the way you do when a baby is sleeping. “Piensas que alguien nos va a matar?” (Do you think someone is going to kill us?) I whispered. I was ignored.

And then suddenly, a small spark in some tall grass flashing on and off slowly like a pulse. And then more. And then one floating through the darkness like a chip off a light bulb, only fluttering slowly as though made of paper. It was so silent.

We squatted by a small channel of water that runs toward the ocean to get a closer look, when suddenly I noticed the reflection of the moon, orange and perfectly round, rippled in the water.

And that’s kind of how my time here has been. Sometimes frustrating and painful. Sometimes surprising and beautiful. Sometimes both at the same time like a sunset reflected in a dirty window. And I know there is a lesson to be taken from all this, I’m just not sure exactly what. But I hope that through the periodic challenges and frustrations that undoubtedly await me (because they await us all, right?) I will continue to seek out luciérnagas and other small sources of relief.

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