I’m intrigued by the contrasts that I daily encounter in Perú, one of them in the restaurants where I dine.
Last week I was in Bagua, Amazonas, a small, dry, scruffy city on the edge of the Amazon basin, always hot. After going out for beers with my obstetra colleagues I returned to the hotel suffering from the munchies. About 8 PM, around the corner I found a little restaurant, no name, just a little menu board on the sidewalk, 12 tables with a couple of older ladies in headscarves working in an open kitchen preparing a menu of 5 prix fixe meals. I was promptly served a well prepared heaping plate of white rice in a perfect dome shape, lentils, and an excellent broccoli omelet plus a glass of juice and a bit of fruit for dessert, all for $1.55. I don’t know how they do it.
Two nights later in cosmopolitan Lima things were a little different. After a day of meeting and planning we dined at Dondoh, a new Japanese-Peruvian restaurant in San Isidro. San Isidro is an upscale part of the city that could be easily mistaken for an affluent section of Miami, manicured parks and boulevards, 30 story buildings, luxury apartments and trendy shops. There were a few more tables than my Bagua restaurant and the young chefs with “Japanese” headscarves also worked in an open kitchen, one of steel, glass, and granite. The service was perfect and the cuisine well presented. I especially enjoyed a grilled avocado appetizer, not to mention an interesting whisky cocktail, an excellent Spanish red blend, and the several unique and delicious entrees that we shared. Even the desserts were sophisticated.
Last night in Magdalena I was at an old favorite seafood place, El Barquero. A gentleman, about my age, was sitting with his friend at an adjacent table and after several beers commenced to spontaneously play his guitar and belt out criolla songs (think sad latino country western) at the top of his voice, so loud that the waiter and I couldn’t hear each other and he moved me to another more distant table. After a few such songs the wait staff began to play recorded music over the restaurant’s sound system in hopes that the tipsy vocalist would retire but instead he sang along. On his eventual departure he needed a little help getting out the door, guitar in hand.
Ah, contrasts….. Buen provecho.
It has been a full trip.
I am on the plane boarding to leave Lima and I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn't offer a few words of success. Over the past month our team has been building bridges in a number of different directions. Dr. Bob Gehringer has been all over the country training trainers on neonatal resuscitation (NRP). Our Director of Nursing and Evaluation Karen Falkenstein, completed a conference in Lima and Arequipa, spent time in Arequipa planning for a anemia project in the community of Alto Cayma with Father Alex, and is busy this week interviewing potential new nursing care coordinators for the Ines Project. HBI's Perú Program Manager, Carmen Zavala is busy with Karen conducting the interviews, spent last week at the Union Biblica Camp Kusi in Yungay working with a team of dental volunteers, and completing a number of end-of-year activities. The HBI Director of Operations, Benjamin Grass spent the past two weeks assuring our projects and programs are running with efficiency. He traveled to a couple of key project locations and worked with the team on implementation and operational oversight. Needless-to-say, he has been a very busy person. Finally, Dr. Roberto Tarazona and I have been working on the expansion of the Ines Project and planning a trip we will be taking in early November to Rome for meetings with key partners.
The team held our fall retreat this weekend and spent the time building our plan for early 2018 and a future into 2022. We also added an extra day to our retreat this year and met with Father Alex in Lima to plan for the 1st quarter of 2018 and the speedy arrival of our first volunteer team from St. Olaf College in early January.
I am so proud of our team. It’s time like this past few weeks when I realize how great our impact is. We’ve gone from a dream and an outreach trip through Christ Episcopal Church in Lake Oswego, Oregon to a full-fledged international NGO working on a number of solid projects and programs with an extensive list of partners. And, all of this has happened in a little over 10-years.
We’ve got a lot to be proud of and a significant amount of exciting opportunities hanging just a little off in the horizon. So - as we plan for the final months of 2017 and the first quarter of next year, let’s work together and make 2018 HBI's most successful year of bridges. Let's work together to be a commitment of advocacy, collaboration and service!
It’s two hours before flight time and I’m checked in and sitting in the brand new, un air-conditioned, one departure gate, steel, concrete, glass, and bamboo airport terminal in the middle of nowhere about 20 miles outside of Jaén, Cajamarca, Perú waiting for my flight to Lima. Time to write a brief description of my trip from Tarapoto to Bagua Grande day before yesterday.
Dr. Wayne and I were in Tarapoto for almost three days collaborating with the Regional College of Midwives to facilitate the beginning of their ongoing teaching program in neonatal resuscitation. Hot and humid, definitely in the Amazon, but I liked Tarapoto and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of restaurants and decent coffee places downtown. The hotel was basic but reasonable and the deskman friendly and helpful. This whole area is driven by agriculture, rice, coffee, cacao, and a variety of fruit. Noisy mototaxis dominate the traffic, even on the highway. They’re nasty polluting with their overgrown lawnmower-like engines, but I rather like them. They’re used to haul everything from people to steel rebar to pigs.
Leaving Tarapoto, almost noon, already 90 degrees, big green mountains surrounding the city with vultures meandering overhead. I have the luxury of being the solo passenger with Alberto, an amiable guy from Moyobamba who worries that his healthy, well fed but skinny ten year old son must be sick. I congratulated him on avoiding child obesity. We’re in a decent car on good highway but with windows down and the early afternoon heat buffeting us for three hours. Just out of Tarapoto we follow a small pickup crammed with ten people in back and a lady with an upside down lime green plastic wash basin on her head trying to avoid the sun.
So many great photos buzz by too fast to capture. We’re driving through a mix of cleared agricultural land and tropical forest, then up into the green mountains still on good road but incredibly winding. There are lots of wash outs from the year’s heavy rains and flooding, and repair work is proceeding with highway workers in yellow cover-alls, gloves, and ear flaps on helmets to eliminate sun as much as possible. The attire combined with the labor looks incredibly hot. The sun is fierce and various strategies are used to avoid it, hats, arms crossed above the forehead, parasols (Spanish derivation - “para sol” - "for sun”), and of course the enterprising lady with her wash basin. Alberto uses a removable red sleeve on his left arm as it rests on the open window. We pass a wide variety of vehicles, trucks of all sizes and varieties, buses, motorcycles, a few cars, and still lots of mototaxis. Unlike Tamil Nadu, no bullock carts.
The mountainsides are steeper now all forested with a great variety of tropical tree species. We occasionally pass a small roadside house, corrugated steel roof, some with a large sheet of black plastic spread on the ground with light green/tan coffee beans drying in the sun. Alternatively, the beans are larger and yellow-orange in color, cacao. No cell coverage here. The washouts just have barriers and no repair activity. We’re descending a little now, beside the frothy rapids of the turbid brown Rio Mayo as canyon becomes valley, widening into the outskirts of the city of Cajamarca. More substantial cloud capped mountains loom in the distance. Cajamarca is a very old city with an amazing history and the place where Francisco Pizzaro murdered the last Incan king in the early 1500’s. We change cars and drivers, now with Lucas for the rest of the trip to Bagua Grande, over seven hours in total. We pass dusty nondescript highway towns on a broad plain, the road blessedly straight. Some fields have densely planted banana tress with an understory of coffee shrubs in quest of shade-grown beans.
Late afternoon and we veer left and climb into the mountains again, the air noticeably cooler. Little traffic but hairpin curve after hairpin curve. Lucas plays his recorded mix of salsa and criolla music the whole way. It’s the right sound. Higher still, the mountainsides are steeper with exposed rock and dense forest canopy, agriculture far behind. In El Progreso, we pass groups of laughing, blue-uniformed schoolgirls heading home. In Camacocha we brake hard to avoid a solid chanchito (pig) crossing the road. There are a few grazing horses hear and there, tethered at the roadside with hind-quarters partially blocking our driving lane, and all alone, no one around, a group of four wandering mules, clearly having an afternoon off. Lucas makes liberal use of his horn.
Dusk descends as do we, down the mountain, curve after curve after curve after curve, now dark. An hour and a half on the edge of motion sickness. Finally, the canyon of the Utcubamba becomes valley and we cruise into lovely (maybe not) Bagua Grande to my less than stellar hotel. However, the air-conditioner works!
So, that’s the “on the road" review. I did another teaching workshop at the local hospital yesterday and last night had a pleasant evening at an outdoor place with Francisco León, the president of the College of Midwives of the state of Las Amazonas, and 5 other obstetras sharing beers usually mixed with Coca-Cola. This morning a took a mototaxi from hotel to find a colectivo, colectivo about an hour to Jaén, and a taxi out to the airport. My stomach is growling as it’s lunchtime but nothing to eat here at the airport. Flight soon. Fasting builds character.
Two days into this trip and we’ve really hit the ground running. To start with, we’ve had HBI staff in-country for a few weeks. Dr. Bob Gehringer, HBI's Medical Director, has been busy with neonatal resuscitation trainings, Karen presented at a conference and organized all of the details for the emergency medicine project in the city of Arequipa, and Carmen Zavala, Perú Project Director, has been pulling all of the pieces together to make everything run smoothly.
Ben Grass, Director of Operations, and I arrived on Friday morning after a 24-hour commute from Portland. Our plane was delayed leaving Atlanta and we didn’t arrive in Lima until 6 am. After a few short hours of rest, we hit the ground running and haven’t let our feet touch the ground since.
We've already met with the administrator for a new social responsibility program at National University of San Marcos, the oldest and most respected university in Perú, facilitated a training of firefighter “super” trainers for the emergency medicine project in Arequipa (a less than 24-hour trip to Arequipa for myself) and, Bob and I are on our way to the jungle city of Tarapoto for three days of neonatal resuscitation training with a new team of midwife trainers. Needless-to-say, it’s been a busy trip so far.
Next week we will have staff going in a number of different directions, with Dr. Bob going further into the jungle to continue the NRP train-the-trainer program, Karen working tirelessly with our partners in Arequipa, and Ben and Carmen headed to Yungay to provide comprehensive dental care to the Girasoles at the Union Biblica home in Kusi. I will be back in Lima on Wednesday afternoon working with a few critical partners and getting ready for our team retreat over the weekend.
Speaking of the team retreat, the whole staff will be meeting over the weekend of October 21 to review our year-to-date, plan for 2018, and continue to build our vision and strategy for the future. It’s a great time for our whole staff to come together. I really look forward to our annual team retreats.
Stay tuned for further updates, but for now, please know that Health Bridges International is busy. Thanks for all of your continued support –
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.