Americas

Welcome to the Jungle (Part 2)

Patients awaiting treatment (photo credit - Alicia T)

This story is a continuation from last week’s ‘Welcome to the Jungle (Part 1).’

Just a day in the life

After hours of zooming up and down lush, green mountains, we found ourselves in the jungle at last.  The once crisp mountain air became heavy with humidity, each pothole sent us flying towards the steel ceiling, and the floor was burning hotter than ever.  We had lost all sensation in our legs ages ago.

I wish I could say that despite these inconveniences, we arrived in Quillabamba without incident, but charming Peru is nothing if not unpredictable.  And so, after the jungle luring us into a false sense of security, we came across a river.  This would not have been anything to complain about if it were not in the middle of the only road to town, and if our driver did not insist that our combi could make it without problems.

Now, I played my fair share of Oregon Trail in my youth, and I know how this works.  You encounter a roaring rapid in the middle of your path, and you have to decide if you should ford the river, try to float your wagon and have your oxen swim, or find another route.  Well, combis don’t float especially well and we were regrettably without oxen, so that option was out.  It’s fight or flight.  Ford or… simply find a better way to get across.

Our driver decided to ford.

I have never in my life, won a game of Oregon Trail after fording a river, and let me tell you why.  It doesn’t work.  Unless the ‘river’ in question is actually a babbling brook, the water will likely be muddy, fast, and deep.  This river was no exception.  As we all waited on the rocky banks and watched our tiny combi tried to gun it across the water, it was obvious that this would not end well, and indeed it got stuck.

I was beside myself.  After all that had happened- all the delays and mishaps and unwanted surprises- we were now stuck yet again in the middle of nowhere, with no help in sight.  I turned to the group of Peruvians, looking for someone to share my despair with me, expecting horror-struck faces and wails of defeat.  Instead, I saw seven grinning women darting towards nearby trees to pick oranges to eat.  They laughed and chased one another, apparently enjoying the delay, and taking the opportunity to explore their surroundings.  I was mutinous.  Despite my prickly disposition, the Peruvian doctors we were traveling with tossed me an orange, smiled, and kindly helped me back into the combi so we could continue on our journey.

Upon arriving at the clinic, we were divided into groups and told that we were to be working with doctors to care for the ever-growing line of patients waiting to be treated.  As I previously mentioned, we were all Spanish majors in our third year of college, so it was assumed that we would be teaching children how to properly wash their hands and brush their teeth and maintain basic hygiene.  We did not have any background in science or medicine, and surely would not be of use for anything other than taking patient information and keeping order.  False.  I was put on the gynecology team, meaning that I would be administering Pap smears to a winding line of Peruvian women.

Patients awaiting treatment (photo credit - Alicia T)

I assure you, administering this test is just as terrifying as experiencing it, and I was scared to death that I would hurt someone, or even worse, encounter a woman who tested positive for the cancers we were trying to prevent.  I doubt that these women were informed that I was in no way qualified to serve as a crude OB/GYN, and I wonder if they would have consented to the test had they known.  Many of them had so little that they were grateful for whatever help the doctors could give them and their families, despite inconveniences and set backs.  One woman walked for 18 hours with a baby on her back to receive medical treatment for the first time since childhood.    I complained that my combi didn’t have cushy seats.  Putting my fears aside,  I worked alongside a trained, experienced doctor to take down patient histories, and perform the procedure without any complaints or indignation.

Living in Peru taught me a lot about life, passion, and patience.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of intolerance- indeed it’s often easier to relate to people’s suffering than to their joy.  I often find that when I’m frustrated or upset, I want to surround myself with likeminded individuals who will complain with me instead of seeing the brighter side of things.  The moral to this story is- be here now.  Savor every precious moment that you spend on this Earth, and learn to see the good in every new situation.  Be happy.  Roll with the punches.  Is your combi stuck in an Amazonian swamp?  Wonderful!  Take this opportunity to pick some fresh jungle fruit.  Does your late bus/flight/train leave you hours behind schedule?  That’s okay!   The bus will get there when it gets there, and feeling anxious will not speed the process.  I’ve always loathed the expression when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, especially when said advice is gifted to me when I’m busy dwelling in self-pity, but it is sound advice.  There’s a time and a place to mourn your crappy, sour lemons, and oh, how I relish those moments, but there’s also a time to let them go.  So if life gives you lemons, or a beat up combi, or raging river in the middle of your path, make some positive memories to counteract the negative ones.

And if by some bizarre twist of fate, you ever find that life gives you a line of Latin women to Pap smear…  good luck, be gentle, and have a good laugh.  It makes one great party story.

allie
Allie first fell in love with traveling during a high school exchange program to Russia, where she stayed with a Russian host family, met Russian students and began pining for a life overseas. Five years later, this love for international relations has only increased (which has had an inverse effect on her bank account), and Allie continues to check flight prices more often than her email. In 2008, Allie spent a semester in Peru, studying at a local university and working with the NGO, ProWorld. After graduating from college in 2010, she darted off to spend a year teaching English at a middle school in Seoul, where she could be found making a fool of herself in Korean and wielding chopsticks like a pro.

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    2 Comments

    1. what an awesome story… your a hero!!! what an amazing life.. what are you going to do next??? after Korea?

    2. I’m trying not to make too many concrete plans, so I can leave room for improvisation, but right now it’s looking like backpacking Southeast Asia in the fall of 2011 and then heading back to Latin America for a while. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them! 🙂

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