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Of loneliness and sillar stone

I sit in an alleyway of sillar stone. The white walls collect the heat and shine it back at me. I have just ordered a pizza a la leña from a tourist trap restaurant behind the cathedral. When it comes a man walking by comments, "Asu, que rico! Provecho!" Only he's not looking at my pizza when he says that. I have forgotten that to wear a tank top here often invites a full body glance up and down, a lingering stare at the blondish streaks in my hair, or some incarnation of a whistle.

I have tentative plans for today including eating tres leches cake at least once, drinking a cappuccino with some friends, and perhaps drinking a cusqueña negra in the airport. I have to catch up on my caloric intake after the colossal effort that my metabolism made in the high altitudes. And my Peruvian mom's voice echoes in my head, "Amandita! Porque tan flaquita, mi reina?" I love the sound of my name here, Amandita.

Teresa managed to fuss over me all morning, even while she was on the phone with her daughter who lives in Italy. She mentioned me multiple times, "la querida Amandita..." and cleaned the kitchen even as her daughter chatted with her about life and relationships over in Europe. I admired her industry even as I felt a sense of cariño seep into my bones. I have felt so loved here this past week.

I felt loved when we sat around after Domi's filling dinners and played cards and shouted at each other in English and Spanish. I felt loved listening to the low hum of languages in the clinic. And I felt loved yesterday when I checked my e-mail for the first time in two weeks and thought about going back home to regular life and work. And yet, last night I felt loneliness sink my heart again. After I had said goodbye to most of our team and had shared a taxi with Cathy back to Calle Chullo 113, I sat in my old room and thought about what it was like to live here last year alone. The feeling of being far from those who know me best came back. I suddenly wanted to sit with one of my brothers or friends and reassure myself that they are still here, accessible.

We are never safe from loneliness, no matter how much sunshine and love we absorb. Like the sillar stone of Arequipa's white volcanic city walls, we will still feel the chill after the sun goes down.

So, what then?

I think I hear it under the city sounds...

"Be still and know."

"I will be exalted in all the nations, in all the earth."

"Though the earth should change and the mountains be thrown into the sea."

"I know your innermost thoughts."

"Precious are my thoughts towards you and vast is their sum."

Again and again it calls out, still and quiet, a light that does not fade into the twilight and a warmth that does not leave me cold as stone.

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