Aissa & the Phone Call
As I have mentioned in a previous story, Aissa is the five year that I live with. In order to further illustrate her cunning and mischievousness I share the nickname the family has given her, Choocki. It took hearing it a few times to understand what my host family was saying and then I asked Aissa’s aunt what the meaning of “Choocki” is. She said, “You know, Chucky, like the doll.” Yes, I know what you are thinking “the evil processed Chucky doll from the movies?” Yes one and the same. It seems crazy to me that her family would refer to her as Choocki, but then again they call my host mom, La Rubia – the blond, when she is clearing not blond. Also they call me Katita – little Kate, when I tower over most of them.
Now as previously stated, Aissa is a smart, slightly evil, curious, little girl, especially when it come to the tall (relatively speaking, I am well aware that I am not tall) white lady living in her house. She not only has taken to following me out to the latrine but also to the bathing room. Now when I say bathing room, I do not mean a bathroom, where there is a shower and tub. No, I mean a room where everyone goes to bath that also doubles as storage. It is a room in the back half of the house and the door opens to the back expanse of dirt. The room is more fabulous than I sure you can imagine. I am pretty sure that it has a cement floor, but I cannot really tell for all the dirt on it. The door does not close completely and between the frame and the wall part of the mud has warn away. To top it off, there is not light in the room. So if you start the bathing process to late you end up fumbling around in the dark. I almost forgot the most important part, I stand in a bucket in the middle of the room with a sketchy stool to one side that has my toiletries on it and then I use a solar shower back that my host mom happened to have as a shower. The bag is hung from the ceiling on a meat hook. There is one large one, actually metal hook, and many others protruding from the ceiling, which are coat hanger type wire fashioned into hooks. And yes, it is a little weird bathing in a bucket in a room with meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. And my biggest fear of all is falling over onto the dirt floor. Words cannot describe.
One fateful day I went to bath and had avoided Aissa on my way to the bathing room. I was well into the bathing process standing there naked in the bucket when Aissa appeared at the door. I of course quickly said, as assertively as I could in such a vulnerable state, “go away.” She replies, “but Teigan is on the phone” and holds my phone out. I slipped into my flip-flops and grabbed my towel then went over to her and to the phone. She then scampered off with a grin on her face and a twinkle of the devil in her eye. When I put the phone to my ear there was no one there, so I set it and the towel down and finished bathing. When I was back inside I called Teigan and when she picked up I said, “Hey, you called.” She replied, “No I didn’t.” Curses.
On a Friday a little while ago I had some warts (berugas) removed by a Peruvian dermatologist in Lima. Now I am not a fan of going to the doctor, but it was time to get rid of the warts and I have gotten warts removed in the past, so I figured I knew what I was getting myself into. I arrived at the hospital at 9am for my appointment and went to the front desk as instructed to do by PC. I waited for a nurse to guide me through the Peruvian medical system. As I waited I had a lovely chat with a dad and daughter from Canada while the Peruvian mom and grandfather handled their medical paperwork. After half an hour the nurse arrived and we proceeded downstairs to an entryway filled with desks and lines. I am still not sure what was going on, but it was something to do with insurance. Then we went up to the second floor and she left me to wait for my name to be called.
Now waiting to see the doctor is normal, but after two hours it was time to say something. The ladies at the desk assured me that I would be seen soon. After three hours of waiting I was escorted to the inner sanctum. The doctor’s office was nice; it was a combined office and examination room. She looked at my paperwork and warts, and then said she had nine more patients on her list that she was supposed to see before noon and asked if I could come back later. I obliged and she sent me with a list of stuff to pick up from the pharmacy downstairs. After finding the correct pharmacy I left with a syringe, a vile of some liquid, gauze, a topical cream, and a pair of rubber gloves. I was to return at 5pm so to fill my afternoon I lunched, coffee-ed in little America, and returned to the PC office to use the internet.
I arrived at five and went through the paperwork dance again and after a much shorter wait found myself sitting once again in the doctor’s office. I handed her my medical goodie bag and laid down on the examining table. The vile of liquid was a local anesthetic. She started with the wart I had on my knee. She gloved up, cleaned the area and injected the wart with anesthetic. This was an uncomfortable feeling, but soon the area was numb. She then pulled a tool off the wall and proceeded to burn my wart off. I do not think there is a word that really describes the feeling or thoughts running through my mind as I could smell my flesh burning with the knowledge that this was the first one. She then moved on to my left hand. The application of the local anesthetic to the knee was not really any different from getting a vaccination, but when applied to the fingers excruciatingly acute pain ensues. I had six warts on my left hand, two on my thumb, one on my pointer finger and three on my middle finger. As the smell of my burning flesh wafted through the air, all I could think about was how in the past when I have had a wart removed usually the doctor uses liquid nitrogen to freeze it to death and how this was a whole other level of attack on my warts. After getting through five sticks and burnings she went for the sixth and final wart on my thumb. I could no longer hold back my reaction to the pain and jerked my hand away when she stuck me, only to be stuck again. If I were to attempt to describe the feeling I would say it is like sticking a callous. A callous that is really tough and filled with nerves so that there has to be extra force behind the needle to get it to go in, and then a slow flow of liquid as the anesthetic permeates. After she burned the crap out of my hand, I had holes. The doctor then applied the cream, put a band aid on my pointer finger and covered my middle finger and thumb with gauze. She then proceeded to tell me that I needed to add the cream three times a day and not to wash my hand for 5-7 days (That was fun especially living in the campo). As I gathered my stuff to leave she picked up a silver canister said, “Normally we use liquid nitrogen, but not on Fridays.” While pondering my unfortunate luck and the brutal attack I just experienced on my fingers I heard a voice from the many people sitting in the waiting area say, “¡Ay Dios mío, mira a su mano!” (Oh my god, look at her hand!) I thought, I know; it’s Friday.
I have had some pretty amazing Easters in the past, but this year takes the cake. I traveled with three friends to the great department and city of Arequipa. The city is exquisite, especially the Plaza de Armas and surrounding area where all the buildings are made of a beautiful white stone. I unfortunately got the ‘Peace Corps Plague’ the first day I was there and spent it between bed and bathroom. Ultimately, I took the mighty Cipro because I did not want to spend my vacation sick in bed. Having conquered whatever plagued my digestive tract I woke the next morning to a very unwelcome head cold. Well I did not let it get me done, but I certainly was not up to par. I roamed the city with Karen and Megann and we visited a convent. This convent was not a normal convent where the nuns take a vow of poverty. Each nun had their own apartment and the wealthier ones had servants. The place was a city. Now the nuns that live there are much more your standard nuns vow of poverty and communal living. We then spent our evening resting because we had an early morning ahead of us to head out to Colca Canyon.
We rose at 3am and were picked up 20-30 minutes later by the tourist van. After we stopped at several other hostels for other tourists we headed into the mountains past Misti Volcano. We stopped in a town near the canyon for breakfast and then headed to a lookout point to see condors the fly over the canyon. Then we drove a bit further, dropped off the day trippers and then were dropped off after a couple for kilometers. We were a small group: guide, Karen, Megann, me, a Spaniard, Italian and American. After walking down switch-backs for three hours we reached the bottom. My knees were wobbling and my head was pounding – clearly two days of hiking with a head cold after intestinal issues was not the best decision – but I continued on. We then hiked up for about an hour and stopped for lunch. Aside from the shaky legs and pounding head the canyon was beautiful and the company was great. After lunch we hiked to camp and arrived there after nightfall. I took a cold shower, ate soup, drank water, had some vitamin C, arranged to take a mule out of the canyon the next day and then put myself to bed. The next morning I met with the mule riding group to get started for the day. As I walked around my mule she bit my on the arm and after my initial reaction faded all I thought was, “fair enough, you are going to carry me out of this canyon and I respect you for setting the tone of our next couple hours.” I met my friends at the top and then we walking a mile to breakfast. After eating we strolled around this beautiful town and I learned that it was a Peace Corps volunteer’s site. I admit a streak of jealousy flashed because this site was gorgeous and had green!
Karen, Megan and I made our way back to Arequipa after a stop at the hot springs. We had a bus to catch at 8pm to head back to our sites. We had dinner in Arequipa, got money and bought some chocolate. We boarded our bus and got underway on time. At this point I would not say that the vacation was fantastic, but I did get to see a different part of Peru and hang out with people that I did not know very well. On the bus I took a sleep aid because sleeping on buses is not easy and I needed some much needed rest. Because of this I did not really think much of the fact that we stopped around 3 in the morning in a small coastal town. At 7ish I awoke for breakfast and learned from Karen that we had been sitting there since early in the morning because of a strike. We spent the entire day in this town and the bus moved back every hour or so as the miners who were striking would advance. As the day progressed and we heard news we learned that the miners were striking because of poor working conditions. In Chala, the police were on the roofs with guns and the miners were in the hills with rocks. By lunchtime the town was running low on water and food and there were 30 buses and their passengers roaming around. As the sun started to set over the ocean the people on our bus began a meeting to decide what action should be taken. The consensus was to walk across the strike line and switch places with passengers trying to head south. Karen, Megann and I decided that there was no way in hell that we were going to cross the strike line. Finally the bus company sent instructions to move a couple miles back down the road to a complex. This was not the greatest solution, but at least we were moving in the right direction, away from the strike. After buying some overpriced crackers, Karen, Megann and I settled on the bus to sleep and around 11pm the buses started up and headed south, back to Arequipa.
Now the first night on the bus I did not know that I was sleeping next to one of the loudest snorers off all time, but this second night without the sleep aid and the crazy snorer next to me sleep was merely a dream. I slept for a little while but sometime around 3am the snorer started and I stopped. In order to prevent any roomers, Karen and Megann were not sitting next to me, they were on different rows. I spent this time listening to music to try to drown out the reverberating growling sounds coming from my neighbor and gazing out my window at the moonlit landscape. There was a line of buses flying down the road with a police escort. After some time we were stopped by another strike and our bus was hit by a miner’s rock and broke one of the windows on the second level. I looked out my window a bit, but after seeing miners and police walking around outside I closed my curtain. After a little while we finally got the caravan underway and arrived in Arequipa around 10am. The buses went directly to the airport. Word spread quickly that the Peruvian government/police would be flying passengers stuck in the strike to Lima. We proceeded to sit in line for several hours and then our bus was called to go in and receive boarding-passes. We spent about an hour in line having to resist getting shoved out of line. After we got our passes and headed out to the tarmac to await the arrival of our plane I received an unfortunate call from nature. I made my way back inside to the restroom and got a second surprise, just icing on the cake at this point, fortunately I learned to be prepared early on in life. I returned to my place in line and we watched the plane land and passengers exit looking about as disheveled as we did. We boarded a police plane from the rear ramp. We sat down on the metal benched that lined the sides and our luggage was in a pile down the center of the plane. There were about four windows. After everyone was seated we took off and spent an hour and a half listening to the engine roar. We landed at about 7:30pm and made our way to a hostel. We chose to travel via combi with packs and all. During our ride I could not see Karen, just her bags. After showering we got food and tried to relax after our crazy journey especially since we were still not home. We all made it home the next day, but we had to get back on a bus to get there.