Sipo, Yapo, Fuimos a Peru! Sipe, Yape!

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

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Flag of Peru  , Tacna,
Friday, April 9, 2010

In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert tries to sum up the voices of every city she visits with one word.  Rome is sex, New York is Success, etc.  After strolling the streets of Arica and the sorry abyss of my vocabulary, I've decided Arica lacks a defined summary word.  Instead, Arica has a sound, a drawn out suctiony kissy smoochy squeaky sound.  You'll hear it from the three young guys piled into the cab of a truck that almost hit you, from the old man standing outside the panaderia with his granddaughter, and from the junior high crowd that swarms my neighborhood on weekend nights playing their reggaetone and looking years older than they are.  In my best David Attenborough voice, I call it the mating call of the jote (jote literally means vulture and it's a Chilean modismo used to describe creepy guys who swarm in on unsuspecting prey).  This slurpy sound is so prevalent that I can't snobbishly say that I'm above it; the culture has infected me and I've adapted my own non-mating jote call...for puppies, kitties, and tiny humans.  I'm only writing about this because it's a condition that has and will surely continue to put me in awkward situations.  For a teaser, imagine me walking to school one morning.  It's a kind of broken down residencial neighborhood.  Me with a schoolbag, braid, and a skirt walk on one side the side of the street barely shaded from the sun.  Two rough mechanics walk on the other side littered with bags and bottles.  They hoot.  They holler and in my automatic response I look away as though I didn't hear them...until I notice something that looks like a small gerbil bouncing behind them.  It's energetic, adorable, and positively irresistible as it trips over it's big paws.  My lips pucker and the squeaky elongated smooch sound escapes.  It's quickly followed by my own whistles and then the high fives and hollers of the two joyful forty something mechanics who didn't notice the puppy.  Guhhhh, I need to control this before I return to the states.

My program went international since I last wrote.  We drove the long hour over the border to Tacna, Peru to experience a different country's public health system.  I guess I should first mention that one of the coolest parts of my program is the access we've had to experience Chile's public health system.  Every week we've shadowed doctors in the public consultorios of Arica that provide free primary care.  I've got to chat and sit in on patient consultations with nutritionists, psychologists, children's infectious respiratory specialists, doctors, and dentists.  To say the least, it's been pretty incredible.  In comparison to shadowings I've done in the states, all of these health professionals have really devoted a lot of time answering my questions and without strict HIPPA restrictions, I've seen a lot more than I expected.  Anyways, our first morning in Peru was dull and uncomfortable as we listened to lecture after lecture in a dark, hot hospital room.  Later that afternoon, we split up into smaller groups and visited houses around the area.  For most of us, this was the first time to walk into the homes of poverty.  My group joined a new mother in her house whose two rooms were roughly the size of an American kitchen.  Even though this family lacked everything we would consider comfortable, they were so friendly, hospitable, beautiful, happy, and wow, so well educated.  The mother could recite every warning signal at every stage of pregnancy and child development and clearly understood the complications and the causes of those complications of her pregnancy.  The experience really underlined the importance of education in health care because without it, that impoverished, but beautiful family would have lacked their happy connected glow. 

The following day in Tacna brought us even closer into the realities of Peru.  We passed the morning helping out with a health campaign in an area of Tacna that housed people whose houses were destroyed by the 2002 earthquake.  It's been 8 years and while the houses have cinderblock or cement walls, there's still rebar protruding from the walls and tarp ceilings.  All fifteen of us came back with very different experiences.  Some girls passed out information on rabies, Tb, or STDs.  Other helped with registration.  I helped a doctor by calling in patients.  He had so many patients to see.  We had a stack of over a hundred patients' papers and they all had to wait for hours outside in the bright sun for their turn.  I was pretty impressed with his compassion and thoughtfulness despite the lack of resources (the hospital room was a table with two chairs and a bed. When he stood up, I had to walk out of the trailer so he could move to the bed.)  It's tragic that Peru has a pretty decent infrastructure that could support a healthy population, however, the extremely uneven distribution of wealth exacerbates the problem of poverty.  Poverty comes hand in hand with the lack of education and the lack of sanitation.  As a result, Peruvians suffer from infectious diseases like Tb, fungi, and constant respiratory infections instead of chronic diseases like their neighbors an hour away in Arica.  The stark contrast of the epidemiological profile between Arica, Chile and Tacna, Peru blew my mind away.  In Arica, the patients I saw had high blood pressure and diabetes.  In Tacna, they had excellent blood pressure, but infected open sores from fungal infections. 

Later that day we headed to a night club with female escorts for a sex education class on STDs, AIDS/HIV, and how to prevent them.  Submerged in this machismo culture, I've been finding my feminist side constantly irked.  After this afternoon, I felt demolished, heartbroken, and furious.  The club technically offers female escorts for non-sexual favors and doubles as a strip club.  All the girls are "technically"over 18 and well treated.  In reality, some looked as young as 14 and worked in brothels as sexual workers during other hours.  They lived in the night club even though many had children that lived with their mothers or other family members.  The woman leading the class had to shout over the music that vibrated all our chairs and I'm not sure how effective the class was.  Luckily, many of the we talked to said they had seen similar presentations over and over again so they already knew the information.  Actually, that could just be a sign of how long they had worked there so maybe that isn't lucky.  Well no, it's better because then they can relay the information to other girls. Ah, okay you can see I'm still upset by this.  A couple of guys came down from upstairs and stumbled into our group of 50 some women.  I hoped they felt shame, embarrassment, depression, terrible, but in all honesty if they can disrespect the women as much as we heard from their stories, they probably didn't. Agh, and as we were leaving we saw some sixty year old man pushing one of the girls around down stairs when she didn't want to dance with him at all.  I know prostitution is the world's oldest profession and it will not go away any time soon.  I just wish it were legalized so these women could have some rights and demand respect.

Our last day in Peru was spent at a vineyard for wine and Pisco, a sweet liquor made from grapes.  It was a lesson in preparation, consumption, and the effects of pisco and traditional peruvian foods, like ceviche (raw fish cured with lime with onions and cilantro).  It's a lesson that stuck around with us painfully through our bus ride home, class the next day, and for many girls the rest of the week as we suffered our first group food poisoning. Wahooo, I loved ceviche before hand, but now my stomach won't let my mind think of eating seafood...or much of anything.

Oh this past week was my birthday as well.  If you know me well, you might know I am..well extremely awkward with my birthday.  I generally like to disappear off the face of the earth and avoid all the social situations where people feel obligated to celebrate this narcissistic day of mine.  Okay, yeah, I'm being bitter. I would just enjoy my birthday much more if it weren't such a one person centered event.  If everyone got presents, shared food, and could essentially make a Christmas picnic in April, I would love it.  I didn't have big plans to celebrate my 21st birthday in Chile, but I figured whatever would happen would be..interesting.  It started out well in the middle of the night at this huge welcome new students concert sort of thing at the university.  My friend Shira and I met up with a bunch of guys we met while volunteering for Un Techo Para Chile.  We sang a lot of Guns and Roses and Michael Jackson (of course...) and this was the first time I've really got to hang out with guys in a relaxed hangout friends only situation.  God, I needed a night like this and the next morning was more of just what I needed.  With my brother at school, I swiped his bike to bike and later hike out along 30 ft waves pounding into the shore and sending salty mist into the air, bellowing sea lion colonies, vultures comingling with pelicans, seashell beaches, and cranky lizards.  Actually, this is kind of analogous of the night I had.  We had three birthdays this week and there was a triple surprise birthday thrown in honor of it.  Instead of bellowing sea lions, there was a surprise mariachi band.  Instead of salty mist, there was a lot of Chilean microbrews.  And instead of a cranky lizard, there was unfortunately me being reclaimed by the after effects of bad Peruvian ceviche.

We're nearing the rigid academic part of our program.  Our final class is tomorrow and we are leaving for the southern end of Chile this Friday.  After all this desert and beach (yeah, I know what a terrible life right), I am homesick for friends, cold, and rain.  I'm stoked to go to the south because it looks a lot like Valdez.  This time we will get to learn the secrets behind the Mapuche cultural and see how the intercultural health system works in Temuco.  Afterward, our independent study projects begin.  I haven't really written much about this yet....  I'm spending a week in Temuco by myself to talk with occidental and Mapuche health practitioners to talk with them about their perceptions and recommendations about birth control methods.  I'll also survey Mapuche youth for their perceptions and usage practices.  A few of my friends will be in the area and we're planning on getting in some camping/backpacking in for the weekend.  Allow me to share some enthusiasm for this and send you to check out pictures of Parque Nacional Conguillío!!  The following week, I'll return to Putre in the Northern Andes to essentially repeat my surveys and interviews in rural Aymaran communities.  AMAZING, no?

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