Wednesday, July 17, 2013

6/19/13 A little about work…

                So, I have chatted a lot about impressions, culture, food and the scenic view, but I do have another purpose here besides pretending to be the next Andrew Zimmerman and Samantha Brown and that is to participate in an International NGO called ProPeru (part of ProWorld) that is committed to improving health and promoting development. So, over the last 2 ½ weeks I have traveled to numerous communities, such as Yanahuara, Tamboccocha, Che’Querecc, Puma Huanca, Chicon and Ollantaytambo and each community has had similar problems being in rural Peru, but have had different approaches to how they received us as an NGO coming into their community. Some of the communities stood side by side with us on helping to build their clean burning stoves to limit respiratory infections, which was stated in the Ollantaytambo strategic planning meeting to be the number one cause of morbidity and mortality in the region followed by diarrheal related diseases and parasitic diseases being number three. These communities that were heavily involved would participate in ways such as the mom, who helped prepare mud by stomping with her bare feet for use in the construction of her new clean burning stove, while her kids gather rocks and straw for us. These days, the community participation aspect of the program felt to be in full swing and was inspiring for me as a hopeful future public health advocate. 
                We have also gone to communities in which we didn’t see a single person and they didn’t participate in the part they were supposed to contribute to be active in their own development and be able to sustain these health initiatives while we are gone.  For a while this was really frustrating for me and numerous other volunteers, but then I started to really think about this from the communities perspective…It must be hard to have someone come in and tell you that your way a life, a way of life that you have been active in, your parents, your grandparents, etc. have been active in is, well, unhealthy and that there is a better way. I could imagine what my Quechua speaking host grandmother would say about my life if she stepped into my world…”Julia, why are you so lazy? I had to carry fruits and veggies up a mountain every day to eat and you spend your time staring at a computer or television screen. Don’t you know that is unhealthy for you?” or how about this one…”Julia, what are you eating? I don’t even recognize those items as actual foods, don’t you know that proper nutrition is fundamental for health”. I can just imagine the many conversations that could be reversed toward my own unhealthy behaviors, so I can’t be too frustrated that not everyone receives my good intentions here in rural Peru with open arms as I haven’t bought into all the health initiatives that are aimed toward my unwise lifestyle choices. I have learned that in order for the work we are doing to be accepted by certain communities it will take a lot of patience and a lot of work from the local staff members, whom the communities trust, to better receive the initiatives we are proposing to help improve health and quality of life. All I can say is I am feeling fortunate to be just a small part in the projects that are being implemented here and feel really fortunate to have this global health opportunity because every day is a new learning experience.  

Walking to work in Yana Huara
Construction of a ProPeru clean burning stove
Watching to stove move the smoke out of the homes

Inside a rural Peruvian kitchen

6/14/13 Living in the Unfamiliar

                So, I had a thought today as I walked through the market on the way to work and sat in the office that hasn’t had power for days….is life without my daily conveniences, such as a microwave to cook my dinner, or fast food restaurants on every block, or pre-prepared items that we pick up in the grocery store a bad thing? I’ve been watching my host mom cook three great meals every day of the week with fresh ingredients, fruits and vegetables that she probably knows the location from where they were harvested. I also haven’t seen them once go out to a restaurant to eat since I have arrived, whereas I on the other hand have made an effort to continue my American desire to try as many restaurants as possible.  The days I stay at my host families’ house have allowed me to really taste Peruvian foods…the paltas, or avocados, taste so much richer, the mangos sweeter and the gooseberries or aguaymanto’s, so delicious. Did we get away from what made food delicious and turn it into just a convenience? Yes, life here may be a bit more harsh…okay a lot more harsh and yes respiratory, diarrheal

So many varieties of Corn

and parasitic diseases are common, but there is a richness in this little town of Urubamba, based on culture, good food, a lot of bread, family, friends and focus on community; it’s, well, an absolutely beautiful thing to be a part of. Lunch isn’t eaten in your car here, people don’t spend half their time on a cell phone here, people have real human contact and I have to say that I really love the feel of the community closeness. But, hey I am feeling inspired for the moment…I will soon miss my episodes of Anthony Bourdain and Law & Order and the privacy to hide away in my house when needed because that is my reality. So, for now I’ll appreciate what I’ve learned in the Sacred Valley and maybe bring a piece of what I learned home.. It’s amazing how up and down you can go with you ‘re living in the unfamiliar. I haven’t taken the time to write about the days that I miss my family so much it hurts, or how much I miss summertime BBQ’s as I am freezing my butt off, or the days I feel incredibly lonely as I really don’t know anyone the way I do at home. I try not to talk too much about that because, well, no one wants to hear about that and those feelings come in short spurts and then something amazing will happen or something new will come along that I have never done before and I realize that this is just part of it…miss your home…miss your people, but live it up while the opportunity is present because when will this chance in life ever happen again and when will the moment you’re experiencing ever repeat itself???

Rural community in Pacha, Peru just outside Urubamba
My temporary home: Urubamba, Peru
Peru Tidbit: Definitely no toilet paper in the toilets, the system cannot handle it so all paper goes in the waste basket provided. Oh, and many toilets don’t have a seat, so the standing technique will be used…sorry ladies, but that is just the way it is. 

6/12/13 Inspiration at the Incan Ruins

Pisac, Peru looking over the Sacred Valley

Today I am feeling better about my drastic change in reality, at least mentally. My stomach is always a bit off and I have a slight upper respiratory issue, but so does everyone else here, so why complain. Anyways…over the weekend I had a chance to wander in the hills of Urubamba in hopes of hiking to the location of the white cross, which I already blogged about, so let’s get to the Incan archaeological sites. I’m not even sure I can explain what it feels like to stand among the ruins of what was once a massive empire. It’s an amazing experience that I feel fortunate to have been a part of, and the views of the Sacred Valley….spectacular, breathtaking, massive…so hard to describe the epic scenery that looks like it is coming straight from a fantasy movie. The anthropologist in me has been in high heaven to see both Pisac and Ollaytaytambo this weekend, but to hear about the history of the treatment of the Peruvian indigenous people and the fall of the Incan empire was a part of the tour that I can’t help but ponder with regard to the choices we make as humans in the name of religion, exploration and ownership in the world. Aside from my evolution of humanity rant, Pisac and Ollaytaytambo are small communities that are nestled in the Sacred Valley among the Andean mountains and sit on both sides of Urubamba, which is where I am currently living and are a must see for those visiting the Cusco region. The history and the pre-history is so rich at these sites and even for those not so interested in anthropology or history it is still a site like none other in which you can’t help but appreciate. 
Pisac, Peru
               Upon returning from my archaeological adventure and my opportunity to enhance my cultural and historical understanding of the area I am temporarily living,  the Public Health person realizes I am in the right place for an amazing global health learning experience, so today I am feeling better about my drastic change in reality. Of course I miss my home, my husband, my family, my fuzzies, and my friends, but I have learned and will constantly be learning what it’s like to go on a global health adventure and step out of my comfort zone. After a day of plowing a garden at a school and days of constructing clean burning ovens I am hoping that I am doing as much for the Sacred Valley communities as they have done for me, thus far.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Pisac, Peru

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

6/8/13 Just a light hike for the morning….

White Cross in Urubamba, Peru
Well, the day started with a simple stroll to a cross on a hill in Urubamba…okay try again…today started with a full on uphill hike cutting across a boat load of switchbacks to the top of a freakin’ mountain. Oh yeah, I am definitely out of shape, but once I got over the “I’m going to throw up” and “I am going to tumble down this mountain” phase it was quite a lovely view of the sacred valley; a view that my photos just don’t do justice. It is just breathtaking on the top of this peak and not just because of the altitude, but also because of the view. A view just full of a cascade of peaks and valleys, bright blue skies and what look like the smallest specs of human civilization below us. Well, worth the “I’m going to die trying to follow all my fellow youngsters” who are all in quite good shape by the way. After enjoying some photo op’s and good stories we headed down at the speed of a light jog (I do believe that I prayed to about 5 various deities to make sure I was fully covered on the venture down) as we decided to head to the city; Cusco that is! Six soles and we were on a combi headed to Cusco. It was a quick trip, but we splurged on some “American” food, such as burgers, fries, sandwiches and Starbucks. Yes, I know when abroad eat as the locals do and so far we have… soup and pan (bread) for breakfast; chicken, rice, papas, pan and queso for lunch; and soup, pan and rice of some sort for dinner…needless to say I needed a burger and I’ll return to my Peruvian diet at dinner. Cusco is a little more fast paced and everyone, and I mean everyone, is trying to sell you something, but there is a spirit there that is unlike no other and though we were only there briefly, our stroll through the Plaza de Armas was memorable. But, back to Urubamba we go with more time for Cusco in the future. On return, a little dinner with the family, a little stroll around town with friends and off the bed I go…another day of hiking ruins at Pisac and Ollaytaytambo in the morning. To be continued…

Peru Tidbit: Dress in lots of light layers that you can add or peel off as needed. Even though it is cool in the mornings and evenings, it can get quite warm in day. So, throw your light jackets in your back-pack during your mid-day journey, but expect to bundle back up toward the evening or during random storms and cloud coverage.

View from the peak of Urubamba, Peru
Plaza de Armas Cusco, Peru

Yeah I did the tourist thing in Cusco

6/5/13 Market day…

            Well, I am on day five of my Peruvian adventure and an adventure it has been. I am starting to semi-know where I am, but my Spanish is still a bit rough. I left my Peruvian home to walk to the ProPeru office this morning for work and realized that I was standing in a huge market….Wednesday is market day in Urubamba and I had no idea. The sights, the smells, the color, the life…it was beyond amazing to find myself standing in such an unfamiliar setting. There were vegetables and fruits that I have only seen on the travel channel and a huge community affair with an intense hustle and bustle that I could’ve never imagined on my own devices. I woke up a little defeated, a little lost in language, life and South America, but the market brought some much needed positive energy in me and got me out of my “out of element” funk. This is part of the reason I left my home…to find something different than what I know…to learn something no text book or national geographic episode can teach me…to learn to be quiet and be teachable even if I feel incredibly uncomfortable with my deficiencies in language and international travel experiences. Along with having a better understanding of global health, I hope this immersion helps me to grow into a more patient, well-rounded, compassionate and open-minded woman in today’s go go go society.

Peru Tidbit: Cuey is the Peruvian name for guinea pig; just a little FYI for all of you that are curious about what you are ordering at the local restaurant. Also, it is polite to greet everyone in a room when you initially walk into a room in a Peruvian home.

6/2/13 Breakfast with a Quechua speaking family...

            So, I awoke today in my new Peruvian home and walked downstairs for my first breakfast. I sat down with my family in a quaint kitchen and quietly listened to the family speak….at first I thought the altitude was really effecting me, but then I learned that the family was speaking a language called Quechua. It was the most amazing conversation to be a part of in the morning and although I have no idea what was being said my family included me as if I did. I am not sure that I will ever be able to learn the language…honestly I am having a hard enough time with Spanish, but regardless I was having breakfast with a Quechua speaking family in which the grandmother was wearing her traditional dress….when does that ever happen in our day to day lives? After breakfast we went to the Urubamba Plaza de Armas for church, yes you are reading this correctly, I said church, with all the kneeling and standing included…even better it was all in Spanish. The church was beautiful and ornate with a gold laced alter and statues of various Saints along the sides of the aisles. The proceedings also included the celebration of the 25th wedding anniversary of a Quechua couple and I couldn’t help but stand in awe as I was a part of the occasion. Following morning mass was, in good Peruvian fashion, a huge festival for Senor de Torrechayoc, who looks a lot like Jesus, but has strange looking eyes. We followed the festival from the church in the Plaza de Armas to the church dedicated to Senor Torrechayoc across town and watched as flower petals showered the festivities and a large banner on top of a wooden chest was carried throughout the streets in his honor. It was definitely a site to see and lasted for hours, so after working up an appetite we headed home for the biggest meal of the day…lunch! Choclo maiz, which is giant corn that you peel and eat, along with rice, chicken and queso fresca made for a great Peruvian meal. Of course after lunch I reveled in my first siesta and then headed to my families other home in which we relaxed and sat with our thoughts as we stared out at the scenic Chicon glacier from the rooftop. I am starting to settle in….emphasis on starting as I am not even close to knowing what I am doing or, most of the time, where I am, but I will get there and for goodness sakes it is only my second full day in this country.

Peru Tidbit: In Urubamba the water is undrinkable in the tap even by the locals, thus all water is boiled, filtered or bottled. Economically, the first two are more common for Peruvian families. Many families that boil water believe that the water must be consumed hot…thus it is rare to get a cold drink of water as it is believed to be bad once it has cooled down even when boiled first. So, prepare yourself for lots of hot drinking water and juice.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

First Impressions 6/1/2013

 So, the first lesson I have learned about rural Peru is that internet access is very limited, especially if you are hoping to use your own device through WiFi, but I have been writing in a journal and will add the blogs when the opportunity arises and most likely add pictures later, but hopefully I can still share my experience…

The Beginning of a Peruvian Adventure
After five airports and essentially two days of limited sleep I arrived in the city of Cusco. My first experience in Cusco included meeting a Spanish only speaking ProPeru representative who was more than accommodating with regard to my lack of language skills and helped me to a cab just outside of the airport. (Travelers tip in Cusco airport: Taxi cabs are cheaper if you walk outside of the terminal versus the airport cab pick-up…a 5 minute walk could save you about 10 soles!). If you have never taken a taxi cab in Peru you will be in for an eye-opening experience and one in which you may possibly have a heart attack, so just hang on and hope for the best because the experience is absolutely terrifying! Once grounded, we walked into the office and met with the other volunteers that were ready to complete the final stretch of our travels, which included a combi (a shared taxi van) ride to Urubamba, Peru. I have to say that the ride to Urubamba had an extreme dichotomy that is hard to describe. On one hand the landscape is breathtaking, with large mountains, scenic views and clouds that seem to dance on the tips of the snowcapped mountains. On the other hand you notice the harsh living conditions with families sorting through piles of trash on the side of the road, and groups of people sitting along the rail road tracks trying to sell vegetables that are piled on the dusty ground. Almost every house on the way out of Cusco seemed to be crumbling and the poverty I saw along the road was like nothing I’ve ever seen. We see homeless in the shadows or hidden in alley ways, but here it was easily visible on the short drive I have been on thus far.  I arrived in Urubamba after contemplating the short stent I have had in the region so far, but arrived to an amazing Peruvian family waiting for my arrival. The hospitality that my host family greeted me with was a much needed moment of human contact compared to the two days of being surrounded by hundreds of people in an airport with zero human contact. They all gave me kisses, hugs, smiles, kindness, appreciation for attempting to speak the language, and of course food. There was a great deal of warmth from the family during our dinner in the cold house we were eating in and I can’t help but wonder what adventures lay before me in this epic Andean region…
Peru TidBits:
-Packets of instant coffee are not single use…one or two teaspoons per cups (whoops). 
-Electricity is very expensive, so shut lights off and don’t leave anything plugged in unless you are using it (Dad...I didn’t forget your words of wisdom from my youth and now really understand saving).
-There really is no heat in Peru (at least in rural Urubamba), so bring warm pajamas and during the day it is warmer outside of the house rather than inside of the house.
-All hand soap smells like baby powder, so you will notice the aroma everywhere!    

Riding in the cab in Cusco, Peru

Let the Peruvian adventure begin

Many lined up on the train tracks...I missed the larger crowd earlier.

Houses on the way to Urubamba, Peru