Can you shimmy your way into Peru?

Trip Start Jan 20, 2010
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Trip End Aug 08, 2010


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Sunday, July 11, 2010

EC-O-NO-MI-A! SAN CRISTOBAL! EC-O-NO-MI-A! SAN CRISTOBAL!  I looked over my left shoulder, laughing, to see Abby's face mimicking my expression of disbelief.  The young Peruvian boys on both sides of us cracked a smile, gave each other a mischievous look, and gripped our hands more tightly and took off running.  Abby and I stumbled over our feet trying to mimic the intricate three beat dance pattern that naturally reverberated from the bodies of the other students in the parade. 

How did we end up pulled into a parade for the university students?  By following that South American pulse, those swerving hips, clapping hands, shimmying shoulders, and vibrating energy of musical life.  I don't mind this new symptom I acquired over the past 5 months in South America; this feeling of home when I hear reggaeton, a compulsive smile of happiness that spreads across my face when I hear the an old man singing in the street, and the feeling of a warm embrace when I hear from a mountain ridge three different love ballads drift up from the city.  For awhile amongst the 32 other American volunteers, I felt as though I had left South America, yet the second I heard those cheesy overly passionate words drift up the mountainside, I was right back in Peru.

So what is life in Peru like?  Around 6 AM, the sounds of the roosters on our neighbors roof wake me up.  I drowsily nudge the dozing body in the top bunk and Abby and I head up to the roof top of our community house.  Streaks of dusty blue clouds reflect the morning slumber of the rolling Andes and they slowly evolve to a vibrant revitalizing orange hue as the sun rises during our morning yoga session.  The scent of dirty laundry water, screeching roosters, and guitar solos rolling out of the garbage trucks (to hinder street dogs from eating garbage, the garbage trucks play music to notify people when to bring out their trash) would normally create a tension filled atmosphere, but for me have become the tranquil start to my mornings. 

I'm feeling far more comfortable in my placement in the clinic where I work four mornings a week.  Seņora Patty or Seņor Boni and I push through the twenty patients (or thirty on Mondays) allotted to see the clinics one doctor.  The amount of access I have as an undergrad with little training is a bit frightening.  The nurses, Patty, and Seņor Boni laugh at my apprehension to giving injections.  Picture this: a woman walks in with a small box containing two viles of liquid, one vial of white powder, and two needles.  Seņor Boni passes it off to me and asks me to lead the woman behind the semi-sheet curtain to give her an injection.  My quizzical look of panic matches the rambling Spanish that pours out of my mouth asking to observe a few times.  Now I'm working my way up to pro status and can joke around with most the staff.  Oh and on Fridays, I join Abby and a few of the other volunteers in the women's prison where children are allowed to live with their mothers for their first four years.  Many of the women have sentences of 20 years for drug trafficking.  Although its tragic the kids rarely see their mothers after four years at least they do have that time with their moms in a community environment (the medium security prison feels far different from a US prison.  The women spend much of the day in a community courtyard doing each others hair or working on crafts).  Many of the kids afterward live with other family members or live in orphanages/foster care houses.  I've fallen in love with a young girl named Miriam who apparently is the bully troublemaker most the time.  I only see a sweet smile and hear a snorting giggle.

After morning placements, everyone heads back to the house for an unbelievable lunch.  My portion sizes have tripled to platefuls of fresh vegetables and fruit.  I tell myself it's to make up for nutrient deprivation in Chile, but I think I've far surpassed the food content I lacked those four months and should probably relearn that unhappy feeling of self-restraint.  Afternoons are often free or we have guest speakers come in to teach us about the history of the coca plant in Peru or the horrors of the Shining Path.  I'm getting bored sitting around on our free afternoons and have asked for a second placement.  Soooo hopefully, this week I'll be helping a couple afternoons in a physical therapy program for children with disabilities and teaching English in a secondary school on the other days.

The group remeets for dinner in the house again.  Spanish and Quechua classes are offered before dinner, but I've decided learning Spanish from Paulina, Lydia, and Vicki (the three amazing cooks) suits me better.  As traditional 1950s housewife as this sounds, my place is in the kitchen.  Now I can not only learn Spanish from three sassy and sweet women, but will bring back some of these delicious Peruvian recipes.  The group hangs out watching movies and chatting for the night hours.  I won't lie; I was a bit apprehensive when I saw that 12 of volunteers were from West Point.  I wasn't sure how much we could chat about comfortably, but I'm learning just as much from them about American culture as I learn from my placement about Peruvian culture.  And in a very non-confrontational way!  I really enjoy the company of the other volunteers, although the composition changes as people come and go.  They've been humorously sympathizing with me as I've been battling my third bout of food poisoning and high fevers.  Alright, I'm starting to blather, but get ready for next week's saga of what these afternoon activities are really like.
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