Today's entry might as well have been left in the biff with the rest of the dung:
Our next location was in an old Catholic church not far from the center of Cuzco. The courtyard was filled with waiting people who eagerly greeted us with hugs and handshakes. After carrying the supplies inside, we formed an assembly and sang the hymn that everyone seems to know: "Alabare" meaning "I shall praise". It's a pretty tune. With harmony, echoes and clapping, it always begins our day.
[Image: Exterior of the Iglesia Evangelica Peruana.]
There was plenty of space. Doctors had curtained areas upstairs, with small tables set up for examinations and another for supplies. Long benches ran alongside the outer wall for waiting patients, and at the end of the hallway were two private spaces for optometry and pediatrics. Pharmacy was downstairs in an alcove next to the main floor and patients there could wait comfortably in the pews. It reminded me of a clinic we had in Arequipa where they had arranged all the spaces for us - putting the dentists next to the confessional, which seemed fitting to me! The only problem here was the stairwell. Many people were elderly and a couple were in wheelchairs, so other arrangements would have to be made. The watchword "flexibility" meant there was always a way!
[Image: Patients queuing up for the clinic.]
[Image: MMI physician.]
[Image: MMI physician.]
[Image: Physician with mother and child.]
By now, we were starting to bring some of our personal belongings to the clinics, knowing we would find the right person for the right gift. An elderly woman who had no electricity in her apartment complained of falling over things in the night. I gave her my wind-up flashlight and showed her how to use it. Another couldn't see. I had a pair of reading glasses which were well received. A dear woman, wearing the only clothes she had, accepted the gift of my burgundy and turquoise sweater and another took my flip-flops which were new, had sparkles on them and fit perfectly.
Good shoes are a luxury that few can afford in this part of town. A woman whose job was to carry heavy bundles up and down the hillsides wore broken "penny loafers" which already looked to be second hand. Pam told her she had to have new shoes. She looked at us respectfully, but her expression said "How can I buy new shoes when I can't even buy food?" I asked how much a good pair of shoes would cost. "60 soles" she said. We gave her 60 soles and I made her promise she would buy shoes for herself. When she promised, I made her promise again. The problem with not going straight to the store and buying the shoes with her was that she might be tempted to take the money home. Being beaten for spending money on yourself when you could have given it to an abusive husband is always a possibility. We hoped she would buy the shoes.
The day was filled and went by quickly. After we had seen our last patients, Liuba and I went into the village to look for a mochila (a backpack) and were told we would find one at the Paraiso Mall. The Paraiso was about 4 blocks from the church and was a walk I'll never forget! Small street-side shops, windows open to the wind, offered everything from freshly butchered animal parts to layers of just-plucked chickens, their yellow feet protruding from counters and sills, piled into neat, fleshy rows. Quechua ladies in their wide layered skirts, white top hats and long, black braids walked arm in arm with their friends, gossiping and laughing behind gnarled brown hands. Children played on the sidewalks, lovers quarreled, boys peed on the walls of the buildings while cat-calling to chums who ducked into and out of the traffic. A warehouse receiving a delivery was open. A truck blocked half the road and men were throwing sacks of grain to others inside, oblivious of the pedestrians who waited for the right moment between flying packages to dodge past. Dogs ambled undisturbed from streets and alleyways looking for anything edible and folks hawking breads, corn and candy on sticks happily obliged. A boy with a handcart pushed a load of pumpkins. Ladies selling fresh chicha held plastic glasses out to passers by and everywhere, traffic and dust and people made this a constantly changing spectacle - and I wanted to remember everything I saw!
[Image: Street scene, Cusco.]
Unlike the tourist shops, the Paraiso Mall catered to everyone. There were the usual rows of stalls and vendors, but their wares ranged from hi tech video equipment to plastic pails, beauty aids, bikes and baking. It was a social place for friends to gather and chat. Little kids seemed to be everywhere: on shoulders, in slings and in carriages. Young women held out plates of flan and rice with dark red sauce for us to sample, but the chance of something not agreeing with our North American guts held us back. It was a busy place - and less than half the clients seemed in the mood to buy!
The mochila vendor was eager to do business and soon Liuba was sporting a new Nike knock-off bag with zippered pockets and space for a water bottle. A back pack is such a useful thing on these trips; you almost live out of it. Every foray away from the hotel requires you to take toilet paper, hand wipes, hand sanitizer, a sweater, fresh water and, of course - a camera. A regular purse will hardly do the trick!
Toilet paper is a commodity rarely found in the average establishment. Likewise, the toilet seat is a rare and coveted adornment, thus allowing one to be creative during private moments and mindful as well that Peruvian plumbing is finicky at best.
During the day, November weather in Cuzco is warm and comfortable, but a chill settles in before sundown and by nightfall, it's quite cold. Layering is the best way to dress and wearing the same thing every day soon becomes fashionable.
Dinner in the basement of the hotel was a ritual we all looked forward to. This evening was our "talent night". MMI (Medical Missions International) has always had a talent night. This is saved until such time that we have all become well acquainted and the ones prone to theatrics have been outed and pressed to perform. Some need no coaxing. I volunteered to tell a couple of stories and was waiting to do so when the Mariachi band arrived. There was a birthday to celebrate first and this was part of the surprise. The band played for a long time. Dancing began and a sing-song and more music filled the night. I had begun to lose my voice during the day and it was gone by the time La Bamba was shaking the walls for a second time. I felt cold and clammy, excused myself from the table and gratefully slipped away to my heavily blanketed bed.
Now, I have to tell you that being with a group of doctors and a travelling pharmacy is a very good thing. Whatever ails you can be dealt with quickly, sans appointment, and the necessary pharmaceuticals are handed to you in a bag. I had been given something to clear my head and help me sleep. It was good stuff, whatever it was, and I drifted off despite the band, the dogs and the machine shop next door. It was a perfect ending to a very interesting day, and I looked forward to what the morrow would bring.
- How nice to see that she can still make unflattering jokes about dentists. I'm sure they love her too.
- It's equally nice to see her gender bias and knee-jerk racism are still as strong as ever.
- Again with the biff?
- It's too bad that the MMI people didn't make her wear an oxygen mask; maybe if they had, enough would be able to get to her brain to make her stop saying stupid things.