Traveling to Tarapoto, Peru required two flights: our flight to Lima and another flight from Lima to Tarapoto. Honestly, I have not heard too many things about Peru and what it was like, so everything I saw was a bit of a surprise. When we arrived in Lima, it was very late at night so I did not see much. We stayed overnight for our morning flight and I got to see a peek of what Lima was like. It was very surprising honestly – much of the town was covered in smog. I was very anxious to see what Tarapoto would be like. One of our guides told us to expect “a lot of green”. I was wondering so many things – what would it be like where we stayed? What would the villages look like where we went? Where do many of these people live? Will we have a lot of patients at our pop up clinics? Who will our doctors be?
The Nicaragua Clinical Experience usually pairs with La Clinica Alabama Granada – a clinic started by Birmingham doctors. Throughout that trip we stay at the same clinic every day and rotate through different positions. Due to our change in trip location, Peru was going to be a lot different. Each day we brought our own pharmacy, glasses, and doctors to different villages – some on the top of mountains and some just around the corner from where we were staying. Through all the traveling, I did not get to take too many pictures during the first day abroad. My first picture was in our very first pop up clinic.
On the day of our first pop up clinic, I was in charge of our pharmacy and I was very scared. I did not know the flow of things yet, and I was hoping that I could communicate well with the patients. After the first few patients I figured out where all the medicine was located and I felt much more confident in general. I was able to give them instructions for each medicine and they understood!
Our guide was very much right about Tarapoto being green. We stayed in a hotel in the city, so I did not see it at first. But as we traveled out to villages that were further away, I noticed how beautiful the land was. Not even a picture could demonstrate the beauty of the nature here. I also loved the people. They were so thankful for us. I realized how truly fortunate we are. Many of these people cannot afford typical medicines that we use all the time like ibuprofen or tylenol. There is also a gap in the access to information regarding their health – I had to teach so many people what vitamins were and why they were important. Many of them simply do not have access to the information to learn about their health or the means to get better. I was in awe. But it felt amazing to help them even in the smallest ways. I also loved the kids at every clinic. They were fascinated by us – many of them have never seen Americans and loved to talk to us. We would take a little bit of time out of working to talk to them and put a smile on their faces.
Taking classes while abroad, specifically for this study abroad trip, is very meaningful to me. Everything that I learned in this class is to help me be able to better communicate and understand these people. Everything that I am learning has meaning. The more I learn, the better I can communicate and the more that I can help these people. Being immersed in the culture really shines a light on how important it is to put time into learning about it and learning the language.
We had one really amazing excursion on this study abroad – we went to Machu Picchu!!! I cannot put into words how incredible this trip was. The view was breathtaking. Our entire group traveled to Cuzco to go see Machu Picchu for a day. Cuzco in general was such an amazing city and was so full of color. There were alpacas and traditional outfits everywhere. Every street was full of history. Our trip to Machu Picchu was breathtaking. We learned all about the history behind this wonder and got to spend a lot of time exploring it.
We had the opportunity to meet many locals through working in the pop up clinic each day. Each student had to interact with everyone there in order to keep the clinic running. Like I said earlier, it was amazing to help these people. They were so appreciative. Many of them come from very little. They are appreciative for anything and everything that we can give them. It was definitely very different walking through the town of Tarapoto and being an “extranjera” – we stood out like a sore thumb. Anywhere we went everyone was staring at us. It is very eye opening to be the minority in a new place.
The official language of Peru is Spanish. I have spent a few years studying Spanish so I was very fortunate to be able to communicate with them. There was one language barrier when we went to a village on top of a mountain, where the people spoke Quechua – a language of the central Andes. Even the translators that worked with us could not completely understand what these people were saying. But we were able to get around this barrier with very basic words and body movements.
Everywhere I went in Peru, I saw color. Their culture is full of these colorful blankets and outfits and they are everywhere. The nature is beautiful and rich of greens and blues – especially when traveling up to Machu Picchu. I tasted lots of rice, chicken and plantains. The typical meal of a Peruvian consisted of these three staple foods. They would vary the seasoning and how they made it, but the meals were all very similar. They also had two common spices / sauces- one that tasted like peanuts and the other was very spicy. It was so weird to try these new sauces but I grew to love them. I hear the sound of moto-taxis speeding through the streets. Rather than regular taxis, a majority of the people travel in these moto-taxis that are motorcycles attached to something for people to sit in. We took them everywhere. I smell so much rich food. There were many food stands that had an aroma that spread through the streets. Some restaurants were even outside. I felt awake. I felt like I had to take in every new aspect and every new feel of this brand new culture. It was nothing like I had ever really seen before. I wanted to take it all in.
The only thing that I bought in Peru (other than some scrunchies) were a few small toy alpacas. They were too cute to pass up. It also was a huge part of the culture in Cuzco – alpacas were EVERYWHERE! It was adorable. I feel like I have finally started to fully understand this culture, and I am so sad to go. I have learned so much from the people here, and hope to use what I have learned when I am back in the United States.