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Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Chilly Days of Spring

To all you Pacific Northwesterners and Minnesotans dealing with your first tastes of winter, I feel your pain.  Seriously.  While we may not be dealing with snow and ice down here in Chimbote, everyone is still all bundled up.  I actually had a patient come into the clinic last week wearing a pair of fleece pants under his jeans.  Today was a chilly 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  And while the Peruvians may still be bundled up in their sweaters and scarves, I'm wishing it was culturally acceptable to bare my white legs and wear shorts.  I fear I am in for a long summer…

If someone had told me two months ago that I would walk into a house with a dirt floor, cardboard walls and no running water and think nothing of it, I would not have believed them.  But that is exactly what has started to happen.  It appears that I am adjusting to life and work in Peru.  My views on luxury and comfort have changed considerably since I first got here.  I feel very fortunate to be living where I do and not a day goes by that I am not thankful for all my blessings.  It is humbling to go into a patient’s house to bathe them only to find the family searching for a clean shirt or towel, and here I was worried about being able to live off my few t-shirts for the year.  My fear is that these experiences will start to become normal and that the poverty I see will start to become acceptable and standard.

My favorite days of the week continue to be those in which I work out in Cambio Puente.  This week, we went to see one of the families and have a quick visit.  I should know by now that nothing is ever quick in Peru.  Our visit ended up being over an hour where we were invited into their home and got to talk about their hometown and their health.  The hospitality here continues to amaze me.  This is the same family that could not afford the fare to get to the hospital in Chimbote for suspected appendicitis and here they were, offering us slices of watermelon.  I think we could all stand to learn a little from these people.  This was by far one of my favorite days in Peru to date.

I hope everyone back hope had a wonderful holiday.  Thanksgiving was celebrated in style down here with way too much food, plenty of Peruvian wine and an anxiously awaited viewing of Harry Potter.  I am thankful this week for the continued support of all my loved ones back home, for everyone who has pushed me to reach my goals, for clean drinking water, for a real cement floor in my house, for my roots and for the fact that I found a chicken feather in my bed, rather than the whole chicken.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Perfect Ten

I have learned a lot in the short time I have been in Chimbote, but there is only one thing I have mastered.  The judges give it a 10 out of 10 for effectiveness, 5 gold stars for execution, a happy face for creativity and an A+ for originality.  I have perfected my blank stare.  My deer in the headlights look.  My state of shock.  It is my pride and joy and apparently the only thing I can do absolutely perfectly in Peru.  Admittedly, my Spanish continues to improve, especially with the help of my host family, but there is still much room for improvement.  A month ago, I could probably carry on a fairly decent conversation with a three year old.  Now, I like to think that I’ve advanced to the speaking abilities of a five year old.SAM_0637

I love Cambio Puente.  Every time I start to get frustrated or tired with hospice, I go out to Cambio Puente and get so excited about being here.  Hospice is really a needed service, but it has been a distinct challenge for me these past two months.  I think it takes a special kind of nurse to really enjoy working in hospice (even in the States).  It is hard going into the homes of people who are actively dying every day.  I am glad that I have other worksites that are so life-giving.

Last week we went out to Cambio Puente to start some health assessments on a couple of the families in the community.  The families we talked to only have running water from 5am to 9am everyday, use pit toilets, drink untreated water, cook over wood or kerosene and many have only attended primary school.  With our neighborhood agents in Cambio Puente, we are working on finishing these health assessments on all of our families involved in the project.  One family we talked to moved here a couple months ago from the Sierra.  They speak Quechua, one of the native languages of the Andes.  We went to their house hoping to speak to the 15-year-old daughter who has a baby of her own.  After waiting for a long while and being sent on a wild goose chase by her youngest brother, we saw her walking down the street.  She had just come back from the clinic where she had seen the doctor for severe right-sided abdominal pain.  Diana and I instantly thought appendicitis.  She was given a referral to go to the hospital in Chimbote and confirm the diagnosis.  ‘Oh good’, I thought, ‘she has insurance, she’ll be fine’ (I am still pretty unclear how the state insurance system works here because most people are not covered).  Yes, her hospital bills would be taken care of, but what about her S/. 1.50 (about 55 cents) transportation cost to get to Chimbote?  After a couple phone calls, we were able to arrange her transportation through our project and get her to the hospital.  The doctors at the hospital decided to do a couple last tests before taking out her appendix and discovered that it was not appendicitis.  They are still unsure what has been causing her so much pain, but at least surgery was avoided.

My host family has really been wonderful.  I can tell that my Spanish has already improved in just the short amount of time I have lived here.  My days are full and I am exhausted when my head finally hits the pillow.  If you have never realized it, I generally like pretty stupid, cheesy jokes.  So does my host family.  We typically eat miel de vieja (as opposed to miel do abeja) with our pancito every night.  When someone answers ‘nada’ to a question, the appropriate response is always ‘¿Donde?’.  If a joke is just too stupid, family members are often seen tickling themselves to make them laugh.  If there is one thing Peruvians have mastered, it is their sense of humor.

A big thanks this week goes out to my Aunt Mary, Uncle Paul and cousin Rebecca who have been on my cheering squad since my days on the St. Thomas swim team.