Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Things in Peru are not all work and no play. Actually, judging by how much I love my work down here, I would say it is mostly all play. This past weekend was particularly fun. Let me start by saying that in the month of February, Carnaval is celebrated in Peru. This meant that the scariest sight in Chimbote was a group of kids with buckets and water balloons. It is fairly common for people to get hit by water balloons or have buckets of water dumped on them from second floor windows by complete strangers. Gringos make a great target. So most of my month of February was spent peeking around street corners or high-tailing it in the other direction to avoid being hit. Thankfully in Chimbote, only water is used. Some cities throw paint, flour or talcum powder on innocent passersby. The city of Cajamarca has a reputation of having one of the wildest Carnaval celebrations in all of Peru. Friday night I went to sleep in Chimbote and woke up Saturday morning in Cajamarca. I met up with some friends in Cajamarca and we walked to the plaza to get painted. Innocently thinking that we would get some face painting, I was very surprised when the first handful of paint was chucked at me. Within a matter of an hour, we were covered head to toe in paint. Not wanting to feel left out, we bought our own bucket of paint and left our mark on everyone else (especially those who lacked any color). The day was spent walking around the streets of Cajamarca, throwing water balloons, splattering paint on perfect strangers, banging on buckets, singing songs about Carnaval and dancing. It took three days to get all the paint out of my hair and I am still finding spots of paint on my skin. Not a bad way to ring in the season of Lent.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Sometimes it is the tiniest successes that make everything worthwhile. Josefa and her family are one of those successes. I love handwashing, which is probably why this particular event was all the more exciting for me. Over the past couple weeks, we have been conducting home visits (among other things). Our goal is to visit all our families in Cambio Puente on a monthly basis to see how they are doing and what kind of improvements can be made to their living situations in terms of safety and sanitation. At the end of a long day, we had one more home visit before we were going to call it a day. We knocked on Josefa’s door and she opened it with a big grin on her face and welcomed us inside. We started chatting about their drinking water and told her about the SODIS system which is a method of purifying water by putting it in plastic bottles and leaving it in the sun for six to eight hours. The UV rays purify the water, making it safe to drink. (My SteriPen does the same thing, but a lot faster and was a little more costly.) She was very excited to learn about this because it means she will no longer have to use gas or wood to boil water when it could be used to cook food. Part of the home visits is evaluating the bathrooms of our families. By US standards, the term bathroom is used very loosely. Nobody in Cambio Puente has sewage pipes so most of what we saw were pit toilets and latrines. Many had no walls or doors and were little more than a hole in the ground. There were quite a few families that do not have a bathroom and just do their duty out in the open fields. Walking back to Josefa’s bathroom, we noticed her hand-made faucet that our community agents had taught their neighbors how to make. This gives the families a clean place to wash their hands with “running” water. Josefa had taken everything to heart and not only had her soap and water tap but had put a bucket on the post with all the toothbrushes, toothpaste and other toiletries. We were beside ourselves. It is such a silly little thing, but is so nice to see our families actually implementing what they have been learning.
Besides rejoicing about Josefa, I have spent the majority of my days poking kids’ fingers. Last week we started (and finished) all of our hemoglobin testing for our kids. Only about 45% of our kids are considered to have a normal hemoglobin level. There was some frustration on my part because the ranges we are using seem much lower than what should be considered normal. This gives the ministry of health the impression that anemia is not that prevalent in Peru. (On a slightly different note, the same situation can be seen with heights and weights for kids. The tables used have been shifted to the left by 0.5 or 1 standard deviation making it seem like malnourishment is no longer a problem.) Due to all of this, we have decided that even for our “normal” kids, we are going to provide prophylactic treatment. Raising their hemoglobin levels a smidge will not do them any harm and it makes us feel a lot better about using these ranges. Win-win.
A huge congratulations to Krista Horejsi and Tony Linn who are tying the knot this weekend! I wish you both the best and could not be happier for the two of you. I will be celebrating with you in spirit!