While I was at the airport in Lima, Peru, a custom official looked at my passport in disbelief as he saw my surname. Sometime later during my stay, The Lima Times ran the headline “Lima comes to Lima,” assuring my celebrity status thereafter, as I received numerous invitations to private dinners and social gatherings – including the home of the former Vice-President.
Upon arrival, I was met and driven to the Pension Beech, which would be my residence for the duration. Daily, in the best English tradition, Mrs. Beech provided “Cream Tea,” served by her native staff in tuxedos. I felt back in Jolly England!
Although I was designated as Poet-in-Residence at the Universidad de San Marcos and Professor of Comparative Literature & English at La Catolica, I could only function at the latter since San Marcos had been taken over by Maoist students. I finally set foot on that campus when, to my chagrin, Antonio Cisneros led on that I was a pro-Castro Cubano! Afterwards, he led me to the Chinese Ambassador’s residence to offer condolences on Mao’s death. While emerging, he pointed to a surveillance car photographing attendees; the next day, I entered the U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs office with arms up in surrender to the laughter of the staff, knowing I was an innocent dupe of my dear friend Cisneros.
Through my colleague Eugenio Chang-Rodriguez, I met many literary figures, among them Luis Alberto Sanchez and Mario Vargas Llosa, with whom I did a video on that same year’s Nobel Prize. I also helped arrange for the Sanchez personal library to be purchased by Penn State years later.
At CETUC, I worked with a resident BBC producer on a video of my reading of poetry at the Japanese Garden in Lima. I was also invited to join the editorial board of Lexis, the journal of the university and still serve in that capacity.
On the days that I wasn’t teaching, I traveled the country on colectivos, thus visiting archaeological sites north of Lima to Trujillo, and as far south as Paracas and Nazca, where I met Maria Reiche, the devoted “Keeper of the Nazca Lines.” On that occasion, I flew over the amazing site.
I was able to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu twice when my family joined me in November after the Toque de Queda was lifted for Navidad; including Chan Chan, Ollantaytambo, Chavin de Huantar, Garagay, Chancay, Huaraz, Kotosh, Lambayeque, Pachacamac, Pañamarca, Paramonga, Puruchuco, Secin, Sillustani and, Bolivia, Tiawanaku.
On several occasions, I worked with archaeologist Tom Dillehay, a fellow Fulbrighter, on his dig. These sites inspired my book of prose and poetry, “The Rites of Stone.” After receiving an extension into 1977, I was invited to lecture at USIA centers throughout Peru. Back at Penn State, I examined potential Fulbrighters and became president of the Fulbright Chapter at the university until my retirement in 2002.
Robert Lima – Fulbright to Peru 1976