Against all better judgment, I made the trip out to Q’enqo – a remote weaving community on the outskirts of Ccorao. I met Adrian at 6:00am at the white bridge (our usual meeting spot). I warned him that this would be a rather short trip, as I had been ill since Tuesday. “Also,” I added, “do not, I repeat, do not let me eat any form of community offering.” He laughed, recalling my experience with the potatoes in Q’enqo and agreed to supervise my intake for the day. We hopped into a combi heading along the Pisac route. The combi climbed the steep hill out of Cuzco at a snail pace. This enraged passengers who were expected at work by daybreak. “My grandmother can walk faster!” said one passenger. “Let’s go back to the terminal and board another combi” commented another. As the combi driver fought back, Adrian and I sat back in our chairs chuckling.
Adrian and I met Bacelio (the President of the weaving community) at the bridge on the side of the road and the three of us negotiated a taxi to Q’enqo. As we passed over a steep section of the mountain ridge, I felt my stomach in knots. I gazed out the window trying to disturb my train of thought. “Just a few months ago, a tour bus went over the cliff here,” Bacelio said. “Sorry?” I said. “A tour bus went over the cliff here – several tourists died,” he said nodding. “Oh,” I said, and turned my head back towards the window. My stomach now churning, I grumbled “not an opportune moment, Bacelio” under my breath.
We arrived in Q’enqo just after 9:00am and immediately I set to work. I walked up the road to Sonia’s house (a Mosqoy 3 student) and was given a tour of her home. I then proceeded to the Q’enqo school complex to examine the site where a new library was being planned. Mid-morning, Adrian and I joined Bacelio on a small patch of grass and inquired about logistics of the Kallpa K’oj projects requested the previous month. Reminding myself that this needed to be a short visit, I stood up, thanked Bacelio and signalled to Adrian that I was ready to leave. As we walked to the road, we were immediately struck by the lack of taxis – after all, it was Sunday, and taxis are few and far on Sundays. Adrian and I walked back to Bacelio’s home, wondering how we would find our way back to Cuzco. (Not having been well, hiking was certainly out of the question). Bacelio appeared from the kitchen and announced that a truck would be passing through shortly and suggested that we hitch a ride. “Why not!” I said aloud, and we made our way up the road to where the truck was loading.
We were introduced to the truck driver. He cleared the seats and suggested we occupy the seats up front. I examined the inside of the truck and decided that I would not survive the rocky/unmaintained road with my stomach in this condition. “Thank you, but I think I will ride in the open wagon” I said. The driver reacted with a blank stare. “I have been feeling very sick,” I explained, “if I need to throw up, it will be much easier for me to do so from the wagon.” He laughed and signalled for me to enter through the rear. I joined several locals in the wagon, who had already secured a seat on a large pile of straw-woven bags. “What is in the bags?” I asked. Adrian said something, but the word did not register in my vocabulary. I thought little of it and assumed it to be nothing more than rice or corn. “What is in the bags again?” I asked. “Excrement,” Adrian said. “Excrement?” I asked. “Sheep excrement,” Adrian confirmed. “Oh,” I said, “interesting.” I took a seat on a nearby bag of sheep excrement as the engine started.
As we drove down the narrow road, we had nail-biting encounters with cars trying to pass. One in particular had everyone on edge: a rather large van pulled up beside our truck wanting to pass. There was clearly not enough room for both vehicles on the road, and neither vehicle was willing to take the outside lane which overlooked a steep rock-face cliff. “You pass,” said the driver of the van. “No you pass,” said the truck driver. I was immediately reminded of the story Bacelio had told me just hours earlier and wondered if a similar situation had unfolded. “If I die,” I assured myself, “at least I will die doing something unique like riding in the wagon of a manure truck.” It took over 20 minutes of hair-splitting and measuring before the van passed and we were free to continue on.
Mid-point between Q’enqo and Ccorao, the other passengers signalled to the truck driver that this was their stop. I looked around, noting to myself that we were in the middle of nowhere. I wished them well on their way and we continued down the road to Ccorao. The truck let us off on the main road in Ccorao where we hopped the next passing combi into Cuzco. I was confronted with penetrating stares on the combi. At least a few minutes passed before I was able to piece together that the leers were in response to the strong odours of manure. I shrugged and took a seat near the rear of the combi. “Many visit Peru,” I thought to myself, “but few have the opportunity to experience Peru from the rear of a manure truck.” I smiled to myself knowing that these moments are the moments that stay with you.
I awoke to the sound of my alarm at 5:00am on Monday morning. Tears flooded my eyes as I knocked on the family’s bedroom door. The door opened and Tula appeared in the hallway. “Lindsay, it’s 5:00am, what’s wrong?” “Please, I need to use your phone” I said, “I need to call Elivra (one of the Peru leaders) and tell her that I am not able to travel to Amaru today.” “Of course, of course” she replied, “is everything okay?” “I have been throwing up all night,” I said, shaking my head, “I really don’t feel well at all.” “Take my phone,” Tula said, handing it to me. “Make your phone call and then I insist that you go to the clinic at first light.” “Okay,” I said, realizing that, after 6 days, I had finally reached my breaking point. I dialed Elvira’s number. No answer. I lost track of how many times I dialed her number, before finding the sense to call the cellphone of another Peru leader in the house. Adrian answered. “Lindsay?” “Yes, Adrian, it’s me” I said, “please tell Elvira that I cannot travel to Amaru today – I am really ill and need to go to the clinic.” “Okay, Lindsay, no problem” he said, “it is more important that you go to the clinic.”
And at first light, I did – I hopped into a taxi and asked the driver to leave me at Clinica San Jose. I waited only a few minutes before being seen by a doctor. He conducted a thorough physical exam, as I listed my symptoms. “Since Tuesday?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Almost a week,” he said, shaking his head. “Yes,” I said. The words did not cross his lips, but I knew he was thinking something along the lines of “You stubborn old goat!” “Wait here,” he said. He left and returned to the room in a matter of minutes. “Come with me,” he said. I followed him into the emergency holding room. “I am admitting you into the hospital for 3 to 4 days,” he said. Thoughts raced through my head, but I found myself too exhausted to ask why. I rested on the nearby bed. I watched as a mother tended to her young sick child in the adjacent bed; her eyes were weak and filled with sorrow. The nurse left and returned with a needle and IV line. She lifted my left hand, tapping it with her fingers to find a suitable vein. As she inserted the needle, tears came streaming down my cheeks. “It won’t go in, I’m sorry,” she said as she took my right hand. The pierce of the needle sent more tears streaming down my cheeks, though I was unclear as to whether my tears were out of fear or pain. “Don’t cry,” she said to me in a calm voice, “let’s take you to your room.” She guided me into a wheelchair and brought me to the sixth floor. “You’re burning up,” she said, as she put her hand to my forehead and helped me into my bed.
I awoke an hour or two later to a group of doctors standing at my bedside. “Lindsay,” he said, “we are very concerned about your symptoms and even more concerned that you let an entire week pass before being admitted to the hospital.” Not knowing what to say, I said nothing. The doctors made notes on their clipboards, as if I were a rat in a maze being judged for performance. I nodded and turned back onto my side as they left the room. I awoke again at 3:30pm, and rang the button beside my bed. A nurse entered the room. “When can I go home?” I demanded, “I want to go home.” She left the room, with promises to return with an answer. She returned half-an-hour later with another nurse, changed the IV line and proceeded to exit the room. I sat up in my bed and, out of frustration, I pulled the IV line out of my right hand. I walked out into the hall and confronted 3 nurses sitting at the desk. “Can I go home now?” I asked irritated, “I want to go home.” The nurses whispered amongst themselves and one left to retrieve the doctor. “When can I go home?” I asked the doctor.
He stood up from his seat. “You have salmonella,” he said in a firm, but calm voice, “you are not permitted to leave this hospital.” “Sal-Salmonella?” I stammered, “how?” “Yes, salmonella” he repeated, “you are not permitted to leave this hospital.” I shuffled backwards trying to absorb what I had just been told. “Okay…” I said, feeling beat, “…can I at least return home to gather some of my belongings?” I asked. “You have one hour,” he said irritated, “and give me your passport – I am going to hold on to it until you return.” Before I could ask why, he explained, “so you come back, Lindsay…so you come back.” “Okay,” I said and begrudgingly handed it over. I returned home, gathered a few of my belongings and hailed a taxi to the nearest internet café. I frantically emailed anyone I thought may be able to help me sort through my emergency health insurance in the one hour that I had been granted. I felt relief having been able to connect with a work colleague who kindly offered her assistance.
I returned to the hospital at 5:00pm. The doctor handed me my passport and ushered me into my room. I changed into sweatpants, effectively resigning myself to my hospital bed. A nurse entered a few minutes later. “Why did you remove your IV line?” “And why did you leave the hospital?” she asked angrily. “I am sorry,” I said, “I am sorry…I just…I just wanted some of my things.” She looked at both of my hands and shook her head furiously, knowing that she could not insert another needle into my swollen hands. She rolled up the sleeve of my left arm, patting my arm for a vein to appear. She inserted the IV line and left the room without saying a word. That evening, a nurse returned what felt like every 3 to 4 hours to change the fluids and increase the antibiotics.
I was woken at 6:00am by a nurse tinkering with my IV line. “Good morning,” she said cheerfully. “Good morning,” I replied. I spent the better half of the morning watching television and asking passing nurses when they thought I could be discharged. “Lindsay!” I heard from the doorway – “why didn’t you tell me you were in the hospital?” demanded Tula (my Peruvian mother). “I did,” I said, “I told your husband.” He must have misunderstood, we both realized. An hour later, I was surprised to see Kie and Elvira walk into the room. Kie recounted her week’s events at Casa Mosqoy. The morning turned into afternoon and my questions about when I could be discharged became more frequent. “When can I go home?” I asked one nurse. “Not anytime soon, my dear” she replied, “you are required to have 4 more IV lines before we release you.” I slumped back into my bed and spent the afternoon watching television.
I wasn’t released from the hospital until nearly 9:00pm. As I waited for my release papers, I struck a conversation with a small group of Italian tourists. I learned that their friend had fallen from the peak of Wayna Picchu earlier that day, breaking her arm clean. I wished her a speedy recovery and left the hospital. Eager to leave, I had forgotten to remind the nurses to remove the IV tube from my arm. I thanked my lucky stars that Eloy (my Peruvian father) is a jack of all trades and was able to safely remove the tube when I returned home. As I crawled into bed, I sighed with relief, “home at last” I assured myself.
I spent the majority of the week recovering in bed. I was eager to continue on with 5 days of rehydration and antibiotic treatments, though I had lost all remaining desire to eat. It took far too many words to explain to the family that nothing kills your appetite faster than a good bout of salmonella. Thursday came around and I found myself restless, eager to continue on with my work. Against my doctor’s orders, I decided to make the trip out to Huaran and Calca to meet with the community weavers. Although my visit was short, I was happy just to have left my bed for the day. By Sunday night, I was feeling much better than I had been over the past two or so weeks. That night, the family came over for dinner, allowing me the chance to say my goodbyes to everyone. I felt compelled to gift a picture of myself (together with my sisters) and chocolates as a small token of my appreciation for the hospitality they have shown me over the past two months.
On Monday morning, I set off for Ollantaytambo. I secured my spot in the combi beside a charming woman from the United States. As we got to talking, we realized that she knew and, in fact, was friends with my homestay family in Ollantaytambo. “Small world!” she said. “No,” I said laughing, “small Ollantaytambo.” I arrived in Ollantaytambo just after 4:00pm and settled into my homestay family. The family had ordered pizza for dinner, but, Nelson, the little rascal that he is, decided that pizza wasn’t enough, and so he ate an entire bag (sandwich-sized) of mayonnaise!
The next morning, I woke up with a strong desire to tackle the ruins that tower over Ollantaytambo. It was a 20-minute scramble to the top, and well worth it (the view was absolutely breathtaking). I sat at the base of the ruins for a while, reflecting on my experiences in Peru. I found myself smiling, reminded of the incredible journey I have had and of the importance this will hold later in life. I returned home later in the afternoon and stumbled upon Nelson in the plaza. He was eating ice cream – though, by the looks of it, he had gotten more on his face than he had in his mouth. I spoke with my homestay family and learned that Nelson had been ill all night. I reminded her that just last night he consumed an entire bag of mayonnaise. “You are right!” she exclaimed, having completely forgotten. I laughed and asked her if she wanted more children. She looked at Nelson and then back at me and shook her head. “No,” she said, “I think 3 is plenty…” I chuckled, knowing she probably could not handle another Nelson. I remain certain that he would be perfect for the role if a Peruvian version of Dennis the Menace was ever to be released. That evening, I sorted through some graduation packages in an effort to get everything in order for the Mosqoy graduation and induction ceremony on Saturday.
On Wednesday morning, I took to the streets of Ollantaytambo. I spent the day exploring the cobblestone streets of Ollantaytambo and the artisanal markets. In the afternoon, I went searching for Victoria, the President of the Cancha Cancha weaving association, in hopes that we could reschedule the meeting that I had missed the week prior. Unfortunately, I had no luck finding her or anyone who knew of her in Ollantaytambo. I laughed at the irony of it all. I returned home late afternoon for a bowl of white rice – the only thing I feel confident I can eat at this point - and Nelson and I played a game of soccer in the streets. I spent the evening closing out project tasks before turning in for the night.
The Journey Continues…
They say you haven’t traveled until you have taken on South America. I hope that my time here shows this to be nothing short of true. In reflecting on my experiences in Peru, I feel grateful to have been awarded such a unique opportunity and am proud to have contributed to something both tangible and sustainable. I have been humbled by my interactions with the weaving communities and remain hopeful that I have, in some way, impacted the lives of those living in rural Peru.
Though, I admit, I am sad to be leaving Peru, I find myself eager to continue on with my journey. I part now to Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Venezuela and, time permitting, Guyana. I anticipate and am sharp to take on more challenges. And I am ambitious to absorb new experiences ahead, because, for me, experience is the journey.
Education Generation Peru Fellow 2011