He missed his family, his girl friend and his sport. He struggled with the language, the altitude, the food, the shallow plastic tub posing as a bathtub and the pages of an old Bolivian high school yearbook that doubled as toilet paper. He was supposed to be finding a way to touch people. He wanted to hit them. "I thought I was more patient," he says. "I was a laid-back Californian."
After the anger would come guilt for feeling the anger. How could he rant about the buses not working when one of every seven babies he saw suckling their mothers on the street would die before its first birthday, when gaunt-faced little girls walked up to his table in restaurants and held out empty hands? How could he sustain an American's need for control in a country where strikes stopped the mail and public transportation every few weeks, where shops closed unexpectedly and the owners hoarded goods because they couldn't keep up with the 4,000% inflation? Where desperate miners tossed random sticks of dynamite and farmers blockaded roads, and the 190th attempted coup in the last 160 years might be one burst of rhetoric or machine-gun fire away? Where the eye-sting of tear gas was commonplace and ants crawled through sugar bowls and old women on the streets sold llama fetuses over which witches might mumble incantations to change the people's unchangeable fate?
"What if I get hurt here?" he sometimes wondered. "What if I die here?"
"It's all made me realize how much I appreciate football and my family," he says. "Everyone in America should spend one month in Bolivia. Our mission president says it's the hardest mission in the world."
More than 90% of the people were Catholics, but it was a loose Catholicism with an underpinning of paganism. Many of the miners in his town worshipped statues of Satan, and most of the people left food out for the dead on All Saints' Day, sprinkling flour on the floor and later looking to see if their ancestors had visited and left footprints. But there were rewards. Many people invited Peterson into their homes to talk. Some were genuinely moved that an American would abandon his affluence to be with them. In their helplessness some yearned to attach themselves to something large and strong. They offered him strange-smelling brews and food they couldn't spare, and he risked parasites to gulp it and gratify them. In his first four months he baptized 42 people, helping Mormon membership in Bolivia swell to 45,000. He saw men who once drank beer to dull their desperation begin to abide by the Mormons' abstention from alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, and to take care of their families instead.
But God, how he missed the smell of autumn Saturday afternoons. "There's 65,000 people at Cougar Stadium, you're something special there," he says. And then adds, hastily, "But God wants me here now. It'll be my time afterward."
He hadn't brought a football to Bolivia. He played some basketball on Mondays, when the missionaries were free until 6 p.m., did some push-ups and sit-ups, some sprints and one-legged bounding, but not as much as he knew he should. Physical activity only made him think more of what he was missing, and made all the children stare and point. "Look, grandote is running fast. Did he steal something? Now he's stopping and walking back and running fast again." They imitated him hopping on one leg. It hardly seemed worth the trouble, especially when eight hours of walking at 12,000 feet left him exhausted every day.
On Dec. 21, while he listened as BYU sealed its No. 1 rating in the Holiday Bowl, he could repress the conflict no more. Some of the names he was hearing were people who had urged him to stay in America. "Don't leave, Pete, you can play next year," they had said.
Usually, he had received the scores a few days late from American Mormons living in Bolivia or through letters from home, allowing him sufficient distance from what he had given up. But now, lying in bed as his companion slept a few feet away, he was taking it intravenously. He hated the part of him that didn't want Brigham Young to win the championship while he was stranded in the Andes.
By 2 a.m. the game was over. He clicked off the radio and worked hard to hush the inner voice. "If I'd stayed in America, I wouldn't have played pro football," he thought. "Before, I just did it because I was good at it. Now I know I love football. Now I know what's important. Before, I had trouble tackling; that was my only real weakness. Now I'll just go home and pretend every offensive player is a Bolivian calling me a huevo." He smiled.