Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Very Peruvian Day

Even though most things are pretty normal after a couple months down here, there are still some occasions when it really hits me that I am living in Peru.  This past weekend was one of those.

SAM_3420Saturday we had a free health clinic in Cambio Puente through the Posta Santa Clara (where I spend my Thursdays and Fridays).  We loaded our team into a combi that I was sure was going to collapse with the weight of the exam table on the roof and drove the bumpy, dusty road through the rice patties.  Somehow, we made it there (and more importantly, back) safely and unloaded all our supplies.  We had two general medicine doctors, countless nurses, physical therapy, psychology, a pharmacy and dental all for free.  Typically, I do not like just giving things away, but healthcare is a little different.  One of the ways to help encourage systemic change in Peru, is to help strengthen the local economy.  Having a healthy workforce is vital.  As I have said before (and probably will say another 39823 times), healthcare in Peru is seen as a privilege and the working class simply cannot afford the care they need.  That is why I love free health clinics.  I feel that rather than encouraging dependence, it prompts people to look at their health from a preventive standpoint.   While people were waiting to be seen by the doctors, we were able to slip in some general education on parasites.  Somehow, I was talked into portraying the parasite in our skit.  The Peruvians all said it was because the parasite had the fewest lines.  I believe it was because they wantedSAM_3446 to scare the kids and I am the tallest person on staff.  Our two doctors were able to see over 50 patients in just under four hours.  We were able to fill most prescriptions with the donations we have received over a couple months.  I was running the pharmacy and it broke my heart every time I had to tell someone that we longer had the medicine they had been prescribed.  We did not have any antiparasitics which was by far the most common prescription.  I had to remind myself that doing what little I could was better than nothing.

Sunday, I had a very Peruvian day.  My host family and I decided to go to the beach.  We originally planned on leaving at 9:00, so naturally, at 10:45 we loaded six people into a tiny Peruvian taxi.  To get to the beach, we had to drive through some sand dunes, requiring us to get out and push the taxi.  We got to the ocean and from there had to get on a boat to head to the playa.  The boat was full of about 30 Peruvians who do not know how to swim wearing life jackets that would maybe save a toddler.  After nearly capsizing twice and have the motor die numerous times, we hopped from our boat to another in the middle of the bay and puttered along the way.  At 12:30 we got to the beach safely where we set up camp for the day and watched three locals try to put up a tarp in the blowing wind for more than 30 minutes.  Needless to say, it was a very Peruvian day and I loved every second of it.

A huge thanks to everyone who has sent me packages and letters.  Not only does it ensure that my supply of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups never runs too low, but it keeps me going on those days where home and next fall just seem way to far away.  Likewise, all the emails are appreciated more than you can know!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Other Side of the Door

Time has really started to fly.  I feel like just last week was New Year’s.  The past couple weeks have brought some exciting occurrences and yet some more changes to life here in Chimbote.  First though, a few thoughts on health care…

I have tried really hard to paint an accurate picture of what health care looks like here in Peru.  The truth is, however, that even though I am on the inside of this system (so to speak) my view is still a little skewed.  I am very lucky to be able to afford the healthcareSAM_3000 that I would need down here.  I also know that if something were to happen and I needed more care than can be given in Peru, I would be flown home.  That is not an option for Peruvians.  As much as I would like to believe I am living in solidarity with the people down here, this one fact makes a giant difference.  Not a day goes by that I do not realize the privileges I have been given.  I had a rather lively discussion with a co-worker a couple weeks ago.  The debate was about healthcare as a right as opposed to privilege.  I strongly believe that everyone in the world has the right to receive quality healthcare.  Whether or not they are receiving such care is a completely different matter (and one I am trying to work on).  One of the reasons I like CMMB is exactly that.  Their vision as stated on their website is: A world in which every human life is valued and quality healthcare is available to all.  I strongly believe in this and have committed myself to attempting to achieve this for as many people as possible in Peru.  However, in Chimbote, healthcare is mostly reserved for the privileged.  If you can afford the ten sole general medicine visit, you are in pretty good shape (so to speak).  Just because this is the way life is down here does not mean that it should remain so.  As one of my friends said “the secret to change is leaving apathy at the door”.  My first step is to try and do some education with the nursing staff at hospice.  By educating other healthcare workers, I can hope to achieve a much more far-reaching effect and in turn, help more patients receive the quality care they deserve.  Like everything else in Peru, poco a poco.

In the Daly household, if we see someone walking up the driveway wanting to sell us something or preach to us, we run for the nearest desk to hide under, turn off the TV and the lights and hold our breath.  I now know what the people on the other side of the door feel like.  Last week, we ventured out to Cambio Puente to gather some missing data from our population and to let people know about the free health clinic we are hosting this weekend.  In itself, this would not be all that exciting except for the fact that this was the first time I was let off on my own to gather data.  I knocked door to door and talked to people about our project and let them know about the clinic.  While a little nerve wrecking, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I could understand everything being said to me and more importantly, that everyone else could understand me!  It took four nurses a day and a half to knock on every single door in Cambio Puente.  Afterwards, I guided my Peruvian co-workers to a ceviche stand in the middle of the market.  They were all surprised when I wanted my ceviche spicy.  As we say in our house, “Comida sin aji, no es comida (food without spice, isn’t food)”.

Witches market in Chiclayo.Last weekend, my fellow volunteer Amber and I decided to take advantage of this beautiful country we live in and explore the city of Chiclayo.  There are (supposedly) some great ruins up there (that due to time constraints we were not able to visit) and a huge market complete with a section devoted to traditional healing.  There were dozens of unidentifiable herbs, skunk pelts, amulets, voodoo dolls, dried lizards and much much more.  If I come down with some mysterious Peruvian illness, I will be heading straight for the market in Chiclayo.  We found a great little hostel in the beach town of Pimentel (after deciding not to stay at a not so great little hostel) complete with cable TV, a hot shower and toilet seat. 

A huge thanks this week goes out to my friend Kara Churchill who helped me laugh and cry my way through nursing school and continues push me to be the best nurse possible.

Congratulations to Heather and Jim Brennan on welcoming their newest addition to their family, Elliot John!

And finally, don’t forget to have a look at my pictures by following the link on the left or clicking here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Las Fiestas

Initially, I thought that saving my blog update until after both Christmas and New Year’s was a great idea.  I now regret that decision.  So grab yourself a glass of chicha, a plate of ceviche, maybe some paneton and tuck yourself in for a long one…

Our Christmas celebration started the morning of the 24th as I innocently went downtown to buy my gift for my amigo secreto (secret Santa).  What was meant to be a simple shopping trip ended with us purchasing our Christmas turkey.  Eleven kilos, white, fluffy and squawking, my host mom decided he looked delicious.  There is a joke here that on Christmas eve day, as you are getting ready to kill your Christmas turkey, you give the poor thing a shot of pisco to help ease the pain and make it easier to wrestle with the turkey.  CIMG2341As the turkey drinks the pisco, so does the butcher.  This continues all day until by the end of the afternoon, the butcher and turkey are stumbling around together and the butcher will not kill his new friend.  I did not see our poor turkey drink any pisco, but he was a fighter; it took three Peruvians to hold down our soon-to-be Christmas feast.  Very appropriately, the word Peruvians use for killing a turkey is pelear or ‘to fight’.  We walked away with our turkey in a large blue plastic bag and continued on to our Christmas shopping.  Christmas Eve is called ‘La Noche Buena’ which I find charming and simple.  I was introduced to many new Christmas carols, my favorite being ‘Cholito Jesus’ in which we sing that we believe Jesus was born in Peru.  I have to say, with the parties they throw here, I can hardly blame Him.  In the same song, Joseph was brought a charango and both him and Mary drank chicha.  A version of the entire song can be found here.  I was practically bursting as I waited to wish everyone a Feliz Navidad until after mass.  Christmas here is about family.  Gifts are minimal and the focus is on spending time with loved ones over good food, drink and lots of laughter.  At about 10 minutes to midnight, the festivities really began.  Baby Jesus was removed from his box, sung to and passed from person to person to hear our wishes for the coming year.  Midnight, on the dot, he was placed in the nativity and there was an eruption of ‘Feliz Navidad!’ from the family.  There were big Christmas hugs for everyone before we sat down to eat our Christmas dinner.  The table was filled with our giant turkey, paneton (there were six panetones eaten over the course of two days), candy, bread, potatoes, champagne and hot chocolate.  By Peruvian standards, our Christmas Eve was relatively tame.  Following dinner was the gift exchange and we were all in bed by the decent hour of 4am.  It was wonderful. 

Christmas day in the Daly household is traditionally spent lounging around in pajamas, eating too much candy and playing games.  While there were no games played here in Chimbote, we did laze around in pajamas all day, ate a lot of candy and watched some Christmas movies.

Last night, we rang in 2011 in style.  If everyone celebrated New Year’s Eve like Peruvians, it would easily be my favorite holiday.  ThereCIMG2472 are many different traditions down here for New Year’s.  Firstly, the color yellow is believed to bring good luck.  This means that there was yellow everywhere!  From flowers to underpants, the streets were covered in yellow things for sale.  Once armed with yellow underpants, you are at least minimally ready to welcome the new year.  With yellow balloons and garlands hanging from the ceiling, we sat down for dinner at 11:00.  At the strike of midnight, we each ate twelve grapes and made twelve wishes and then quickly ran outside.  To help receive the new year, Peruvians burn dolls (muñecas).  These dolls are made fromCIMG2477 old clothes and stuffed with hay, paper, firecrackers and all the bad from the previous year.  At the stroke of midnight, they are lit on fire in the middle of the street.  On my block alone, there were three muñecas.  Looking down the street in either direction you could see a line of flaming dolls.  Once the dolls had mostly finished burning, we grabbed our luggage and headed out the door.  Taking a trip around the block with your baggage brings you good travels for the coming year.  As we hugged and wished the neighbors ‘Feliz Año’ they asked us where we were going, to which the response was ‘Viajando! (Travelling!)’.  After our trip around the block, the neighbors were getting their party started with a visit from Woody (from Toy Story) and Jerry (as in ‘Tom and Jerry’).  The music and dancing began and a good time was had by all.  I hit the hay at the respectable hour of 5:00 after yet another great Peruvian party.

Here’s wishing my baby brother a belated Happy 21st Birthday!  Welcome to the big kids’ club.

A huge congratulations to my childhood friend Stephenie and her new husband, Jim.  While you were saying your ‘I do’s’, we were celebrating down here with you!

Wishing everyone all the best for the coming year!  Feliz Año!