I was sitting under the Temple of the Sun, when I realized that Cusco had become one of my life’s many “homes." I’ve been in Peru for 8 weeks. Two months I’ve dwelled in a city of Spanish, vibrant festivals, and swooshing combis, and along the way I’ve discovered its underground pains of development. To say the least, it’s been eye-opening. 

Reclining upon a bench on the main street Avenida El Sol, I basked in the rare warm day, observing tourists passing by with outstretched cameras and bright llama chompas (sweaters). I knew I’d reached the point of Cusco citizen (rather than tourist) when the street vendors—selling everything from ice cream to fake Ray Bans—passed me by with a knowing eye. Success.

Moments before, I had just ended a brief, friendly convo with a peruano. We had both barely survived crossing the busy avenue, and the moment had causally bonded us. After quick, low-key introductions, we talked about Cusco—my view of Peru, his work, my work, and the state of the healthcare system. He was a mechanic, and had to go one way; I was meeting a friend and had to go another. We parted, and I smiled at the encounter. I had just conversed with a local, all in español.  

I leave this South American city in a few days, and it’s crazy to think in a matter of weeks I’ve gotten a thorough taste of this place. I’ll miss much, including:

  • My amazing fellow interns and roommates. The six of us all began as strangers to each other, only to discover that our distinct personalities combined to create many adventures and laughs. From Amy’s sarcasm and Anca’s honesty, to Joanie’s singing, Vanessa’s cooking and Jenny’s joyfulness, life in our apartment has never been boring.            
  • The infinitely cute faces of Peruvian children. It has been a tremendous blessing working in the pediatrics area of the health clinic, because I see beautiful babies and toddlers all day. In addition to this, the mothers I work with are generally so kind, patient, and respectful. I appreciate their eagerness about the Alma Sana bracelets, curiosity about my own life, and thankfulness for when they finally receive care.
  • The constant oldies music. For some reason, Peru is stuck in the ‘80s. Whether I was in the supermarket or in a restaurant, hits like “Take On Me” or “Like a Virgin” would be crooning in the background. Since I love that decade, I always end up smiling or singing along despite the looks I get from tourists and Peruvians alike.
  • The public transportation. Although I lost my iPhone on a combi, I’ve grown to rely on the rickety buses. I’ve followed “BAJA!” yells, memorized various routes and stops, watched and talked with Peruvians of all personalities, and I had the privilege of being cheered by bouncy Spanish tunes every morning and afternoon.
  • The panaderías (bakeries) on every corner. I like croissants. And alfajores. And empanadas. And pan dulce. Yeah, I’ve probably eaten more carbs than ever before. Where is the scale? Nevermind, scratch that. In this case, ignorance is bliss.
  • My times on the roof. Many afternoons and evenings I sat upon our apartment’s roof, staring at the humble Cusco skyline. It has been a haven of quiet, solitude, and sun. I would write, read the Bible, pray, dance… with random interruptions from other Peruvian tenants using the clothing lines. Then, before heading back down, I would gaze at city, absorbing the sight of construction against the backdrops of rolling brown hills and a glorious sunset. Sigh. 

In the process of swallowing Cusco’s South American charm and chaos, during the past two months I’ve learned an incredible amount about myself, the world, and God:

  • Godis always with me, and is deserving of praise every moment. From waking to dreaming, He is providing grace. I should appreciate every breath, the sun’s warm rays upon our skin, the food on our table. I should be amazed by how we are able to see the world He created, and serve Him within it. This has become more real to me as I arise every morning in Peru. Instead of feeling dread or homesickness, I praise God for His faithfulness, for His protection, for the opportunity I have here, and for the simple ability to get out of bed to love people.
  • Help with humility, act with passion. Interning with Alma Sana in the public health clinic here in Cusco was my first experience working in a medical context. Having no professional licensure, while seeing so many needs, it has been a mentally tough balance of offering assistance and learning, well, my room to learn. In the face of a developing healthcare system, I witnessed realities that revealed potential aspects of my future career, and yet reinforced my current limitations. Example? Seeing patient rooms crowded with mothers, children, and nurses running around ragged… and being only another body in the mayhem, desiring to improve the system and not even having the Spanish words to start the endeavor. Nevertheless, if 1 Timothy 4:12 and Alma Sana’s story have taught me anything, it’s that ingenuity, sincerity, determination, and faith behind a solution can defeat the heights of any problem. 

Overall, I’ve realized firsthand what Aristotle once said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” I’m still discovering all three components of that wise statement, and my time here has been a major step. 

This internship was truly the ultimate “field trip." During past semesters at Cornell I learned about social challenges, medical care inadequacies, cultural misunderstandings, inequality… and it now hits me that I’ve been witnessing these concepts for weeks. Don’t get me wrong, Peru is a wonderful nation of pride, culture, beauty, and progress. Yet I cannot let go of the little things. That moms wait for hours to see a nurse. That there is extreme governmental inefficiency, with strikes every other week. In some ways, the U.S. isn’t even that much better. I could go on and on, but in the end, I am leaving. I don’t know if or when I will return to Peru, but I do know that God blessed me with this summer to challenge every part of me. 

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AuthorTrish Braun

I stepped onto a bus at 9 ‘o clock in the evening, bundled in a North Face jacket, fleece sweater, and long johns to bear the Cusco cold. The overnight drive was suspenseful with dramatic twists and turns, and with only pitch-black windows at my side, there was no telling why.

Eventually, my sleepy eyes fluttered open at the first feeling of light. Outside, all was yellow and green. I stepped off the bus into a toasty, heavy morning. Humid heat collapsed on my shirt, but I didn’t mind. After weeks of frigid Cornell and chilly Cusco, the sun and sweat rekindled my Californian soul. Motorbikes, not cars, zipped up and down graveled avenues, while fruit vendors were everywhere. In a matter of hours, I had left the high Andes and entered the jungle-land of South America. I was in a different world. 

I, along with two other interns, had traveled away from urban Cusco to the southern Peruvian town of Puerto Maldonado, only 5 hours away from Brazil and surrounded by the Amazon rainforest.  Our itinerary included 4 day-3 night expedition in the tropical wilderness.

My ultimate expectation (and primary source of excitement) for the short trip was to see my favorite animal—the Capybara. Infamously known as the world’s largest rodent, the cute guinea-pig/beaver mix dwells in the Amazon alongside anacondas (one of its predators) and Cayman alligators.  Unfortunately, after spotting multiple species of monkeys, snakes, spiders, macaws, and countless other exotic birds, we had no luck seeing even one Capybara. According to our goofy tour guide, these elusive critters are the “masters of the grasses.” I will have to return to the selva (jungle) another time to see my prized mammal in the wild!

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Despite many relaxing (and nerve-racking) moments trekking through the jungle and skirting river water in a motorboat, I especially enjoyed hanging around the plaza of Puerto Maldonado. During the previous nights, while staying in a jungle cabin, there was only an outdoor orchestra of buzzing insects. Yesterday, however, I witnessed the Puerto plaza come to life.

Wandering with a smile, I approached vendors in the plaza’s surrounding streets, watched families play soccer in the lawn, and felt Spanish rock tickle the atmosphere. Despite hints of poverty, the community was relishing in a Sunday evening of social festivity. There were no rushing buses, crowds of tourists, or hectic sidewalks—it was the simple life. Puerto teenagers mirrored those in the U.S. with short, trick bikes and skater clothing, while toddlers took photos with makeshift mascots, and dogs walked on leashes beside caring owners. Meats and popcorns sizzled, permeating all the senses. I had missed Fourth of July in the jungle days before, but this scene reminded me of a summer night found in North America.

When the sun had finally settled, and electric lights glowed in the Amazonian twilight, I shivered with warm satisfaction. image

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AuthorTrish Braun

Why hello, it’s been awhile. 

Much has passed, but it wasn’t until now that I’ve had time for written reflection. *sigh* Here’s a few updates:

We survived Inti Raymi… by missing it.

  • After barely escaping the human insanity at the Cusco firework show, we learned our lesson about the lack of crowd control in developing countries. So, for this holiday, we witnessed a little of the street ceremonies for the “Festival of the Sun," relaxed, and then trekked uphill to skirt the edges of the giant after-party at an area called Sacsayhuaman. The problem was, by the time we made it up to the cliffside overlooking Cusco, the party was almost over. As we walked up the road toward the festival’s grounds, we were pushing against the current. Every Cusqueñan and his brother were streaming down the hillside, and us, the gringos, were the dumb foreigners wandering toward the ending event. We had missed the main ceremony with the sun god priest, and instead found grass trampled by left-over celebrations. Volleyballs and soccers were flying everywhere, random performances were nearing a close, and dark clouds threatened with rain. We marveled at the aftermath of Cusco’s equivalent to a Fourth of July field day, played a little bit of volleyball, and then joined the exit river along with the rest of the city. “Better luck next year?" I joked.  

All of us interns have started volunteering at The Meeting Place

  • When I attended church for the first time in Cusco I met a fellow American, here studying Spanish for one month. Despite the brief time of our friendship, she and I were able to bond over our faith and its context in a different country. One awesome opportunity that arose from it was the ability to work at a little cafe in Cusco.
  • Nestled in the touristy plaza of San Blas, The Meeting Place is a coffeeshop run by an American missionary family. It’s known for its waffles and milkshakes, and provides a culinary reprieve for tourists tired of Peruvian cuisine. What I love about The Meeting Place is that gives all its profits to two community development projects in Cusco, and is run almost entirely by volunteers. I am now a volunteer at the cute cafe on my days off. It has been a blast learning how to be a barista, taking orders from people from around the world, and concocting “grasshoppers" (mint cookie milkshakes) for customers… and all for a good cause. 

With the end of June, came the end of enrollment for the Alma Sana Study. 

  • We’ve hit July, and are now entering the second phase of the study. During June, we talked with over 400 moms in two clinics, explained to them the vaccine-reminder bracelets, and recruited around 100 into our study to test whether or not the little band would remind them of future immunization appointments. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Cusco for 6 weeks now, and that we are moving deeper into the research. This month we will still be in the clinics, but instead of asking moms to join, will be seeing if the participating moms return with their babies on time with the help of the bracelet. 

In the midst of all this, the clinic I work in has been experiencing paro madness.  

  • An unexpected (yet expected) roadblock to our research has been the confusing stoppage of service at the government health clinics. At my clinic alone, there has been four days of “strike"- meaning no attention to patients. And it’s so random. My intern partner and I will grab the bus early in the morning, to find the Centro de Salud’s blue doors closed. Why? The answer is unclear. Some say the health workers are demanding higher pay, while today it seems it was simply a regulatory inefficiency, since the clinic was behind on submitting paperwork. Whatever the reason, encountering the “paro" sign has been bittersweet. While it means a day off of work, it also means more and more moms, children, and other civilians are delayed in receiving treatment. Even worse, when the clinic reopens after a “paro," the place is chaos as the offices are overwhelmed with the stacked up appointments. At one point, another intern mentioned that when the clinic was accepting some scheduled patients and turning away walk-ins, a far-advanced pregnant woman walked in, saying her baby was no longer moving… and yet, in the madness of the place, the nurses were giving her little attention as to how to receive proper treatment. I guess witnessing these gaps in care is part of seeing the harsh reality of global health.  

On a positive note, I visited Machu Picchu. It’s a wonder of the world. #NBD

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By the way, I took this photo! 

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AuthorTrish Braun

They told us June is like a month long party in Cusco. And they were right.

Everyday at least one street closes to vehicles, and instead flows with festivals. Dancers young, old, and with vibrantly-colored ponchos spin down the roadway, as tourists and locals cram along the sidewalk in witness.

The past weeks of skipping girls and metallic marching bands in such desfiles (parades) all culiminate this Monday, June 24, for the major Cusqueño holiday  Inti Raymi ("Festival of the Sun")

A few days before the traditional Incan ceremony Cusco hosts a firework show, known as the “Noche de Luz y Sonido," in the city center. Yesterday three other interns and I ventured out to event, not knowing what we signed ourselves up for. 

Among hundreds of Peruvians, we stood inside the packed Plaza de Armas under the frigid (it’s winter here), full-mooned sky. At first, when the Plaza was filling in anticipation for the 8 o’clock fuegos artificiales, the crowd was porous and tranquil. I had room to shift around and stare at the surrounding cathedrals soaked in colorful lights, as well as the stage with a Peruvian guitarist. It was beautiful; one of those, wow, I am in a different country moments. However, by the time the emcees were done cracking jokes to buy time for the show, I was snugly trapped in a human mass.  

The fuegos went off at around 8:20pm, and compared to the Fourth of July, were for the most part unimpressive. Later, the other interns and I agreed that music makes a difference when it comes to firework shows, and here the tracks varied from traditional Incan whistles to Michael Jackson… with the emcees making unnecessary exclamations in the background. 

As soon as the last light in the sky flickered, my group decided to leave to avoid the rush. We were too late. The once peaceful Cusqueñan crowd suddenly became a whirlpool of humanity, as everyone began pushing to fight their way out of the Plaza.

Never in my life have I been so claustrophobic, so tightly squished by strangers, and so in anguish over human behavior. As I gripped onto the hand of one of the other interns, I shoved my shoulders into any empty spaces in order to make my way through the chaos. People pressed from all sides, to the point where I couldn’t even fully expand my lungs for air. And if that’s not enough, as I reached a near stage of panic, I noticed a man reaching into my pocket for my phone. 

My first thoughts were, no way! Not another phone lost! (I had already had one cheap Peruvian phone and my iPhone stolen from me in the past 2 weeks, see the post below.) Instead of fearing possible retaliationin the tumult of the human rapids I snatched the phone away from him, returning his smirk with a glare. Dear Lord, please let us make it out of here, I prayed. 

He answered. We followed the flow, and despite random cross traffic and pushing drunks, we made it to the outside. 

WHEW. 

Well, that was an experience. 

All of us walked away from the Plaza thinking, never again. 

____

So, with that story, thanks to all of you who have been praying for my safety and time here in Peru! Although the night was a wee bit traumatizing, it was also another adventure. Inti Raymi is just a few days away, and the crowds will most likely be the same. I definitely cannot miss it, but let’s just say I will be watching from a distance. :)  

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AuthorTrish Braun

BAJA! BAJA! BAJA! (Stop!)

SUBE! SUBE! SUBE! (Hop on!)

I scrambled onto the rickety bus labeled Saylla Huaso, only to be shoved into a dense pool of people. Every seat was taken, and every inch of floor and ceiling filled with humans, all holding fast to the interior’s railing as the vehicle rushed away from the curb. As I swayed with the bus’ sea of standing passengers, I gripped onto my purse, lost in thought. It was an early weekday morning, and another intern and I were headed to the clinic for work.

The combi bus commute never fails to be interesting. Every time it feels like we’re trying to beat the record for clowns packed in a car, and every time I enjoy seeing the stream of Peruvian faces—each face with a different story, soul, and purpose for the day.

In the beginning all of us interns took taxi cabs together, splitting the tab and traveling as a pack of six. Gradually, each of us transitioned to using Cusco’s haphazard bus system, which consists of random private buses with fun names (i.e. Batman) and a common route. Instead of paying 1 sole (when splitting) to 5 soles for a cab, each of us pay 50 centimos for a combi ride, equivalent to about 20 U.S. cents. Cheap, right?

But cheap rides come with consequences. In the madness of a packed combi, human nature is not at its finest. On one of my morning commutes, I was squeezed in a combi’s crowd when a man leaped on board and crammed himself next to me. I was preoccupied with maintaining a minuscule of personal space (a futile effort I must admit) and not stepping on others toes… before noticing that the same man left at the next stop. That’s odd, I thought. Once the crowd died down a little, my fellow intern reappeared, and I realized she was giving me a look of concern. 

“Dani, you should close your bag.”

“What? Oh, that’s weird, because I know I closed it before we got on…” 

I looked down at my purse, and saw the zipper wide open. My iPhone was gone. 

During the packed conditions, I was so focused on surviving the squeeze that, unwisely, I didn’t watch my bag. And so my precious little Apple device was probably kidnapped by the man who rode for one stop. 

This was a complete, complete bummer, mainly because I use my iPhone as a camera. That’s right, all the photos I take are with my iPhone, and not a fancy DSLR (I dearly wish I had one). 

So, that explains the recent absence of photos on this blog feed. The phone kidnapping occurred this past Tuesday, and now I must resort to using my ancient digital camera with a sluggish shutter speed and conspicuous red exterior. 

Oh well, it’s a part of living abroad, right? #losing 

—-

In other news, I had a positive cultural experience today at the clinic. Saturdays are usually pretty slow, with few patients wandering in. The other intern and I had shared the Alma Sana study with the total of 10 moms there, and were about to make our exit when a nurse beckoned us to the clinic’s little auditorium, a room that before today I didn’t know existed. 

We walked in, to see a priest and makeshift shrine on the stage. The clinic staff was about to have catholic mass. 

I was pleasantly surprised. Although I didn’t know many of the benedictions and sayings (especially since they were in Spanish), the service was a neat time of unity for the medical personnel. The priest led us in prayer and also gave a brief sermon on having the peace and love of God while we work, as well as patience. This ultimately meant remembering to think of the patients’ health before our own.

Such an event could never happen in a public workplace in the U.S. On one hand, I felt it was incredible that the belief in God was so common and uniform that a government entity could be allowed to worship Him together. On the other hand, I was wondering how many workers actually took their faith seriously, and knew Jesus Christ as their Savior.

After the mass, we were handed torta (cake) and a cup of steaming ponche (a cinnamon, fruit drink). The snack was delicious. Once finished, again we prepared to leave. And again, a clinic worker stopped us.

(In Spanish) “Wait, there are going to be dances!”

At first I thought he said the word descansar, which means to rest.

I nodded my head, “Yes, yes it’s finally time to rest!” My thought path being it was finally the weekend.

“No, no, stay to watch danzas!”

The other intern and I looked at each other. We were so ready to go, but didn’t want to be rude.

In near unison, we said, “Why not?”

Returning to the auditorium, we were followed by none other than 8 mascots. Yep, Mickey, Minnie, Tigger, and other random creatures (including a guinea pig!) took the stage, and started dancing to a medley of songs: from salsa to gangnam style! Recall that the room was full of adults, and every single one of them LOVED it. I was both confused and delighted by the performance. By the end, the doctors and nurses were dancing with the mascots, and I was inevitably thrown in.

Despite the long hours of crying babies and stressful patient cases, in that moment all the staff, including me, was bursting with joy.

#winning

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AuthorTrish Braun

I woke up early this morning with two thoughts. It’s finally June, and today is our first day in the clinics. 

It had finally come. After all those days preparing to live in Peru, in addition to hours of practicing Spanish and training, it was finally time to ask mothers if they would like to give the Alma Sana vaccine-reminder bracelet a try.

Today was particularly special for our director Lauren, the brain and heart behind it all. Four years ago, she ventured to Peru for the Cornell Global Health Minor, and worked alongside nurses to locate mothers who had not returned for their babies’ vaccinations. The experience inspired her to create a bracelet that would track and remind mothers of their niño’s required immunizations.

A few years later, after graduating from Cornell, winning various invention competitions, and applying for countless grants, she founded the Alma Sana Inc. we know today. And today, her health intervention became a reality. As you can imagine, it was an incredible moment for Lauren to see her innovation be placed upon a baby’s ankle.  

Her passion for the project—to possibly save babies’ lives with a bracelet—has been contagious from the beginning. To see someone start from an idea, and progress to a full-on pilot study funded by Bill Gates, is extremely inspirational. It has been and will continue to be an unbelievable blessing to be part of Alma Sana’s success. 

With this said, today, all of us interns headed out to our respective clinics with eager anticipation and no expectations. Our goal for the first day of recruitment was to have ten mothers take bracelets and join the study. 

Any anxiety I had was washed away after seeing Lauren’s earnest spirit and the sweet smiles of mothers and their infants. While watching Lauren begin to describe the bracelet to one mother, and another intern doing the same as well, I was pumped to pitch the project myself. My main concern was not appearing to a mother as an foreigner pushing a change onto her life, but rather as someone hoping to empower her responsibility of her baby’s health. 

A fellow intern expressed similar thoughts to me after we completed the day. When I asked how she felt upon approaching her first mother, she shared, I was kind of nervous about how [the mother] was going to accept me—my biggest fear is imposing on their lives. But, as I began to explain the bracelet, I conversed with her with ease and tried to connect with her as a fellow human being." 

The same feelings overwhelmed me as I initiated conversation with a mother for the first time. She had a beautiful baby boy, two months old. At first, when I introduced myself, she looked startled and confused. I immediately became conscious of how strange or intimidating I might have appeared, as a gringa with a white medical top and clipboard. Yet, as I presented about the bracelet, she gradually and genuinely became intrigued, and amazingly, warmed up. It was so encouraging that she remained receptive and patient as I explained in bumpy Spanish the purpose of the bracelet. 

AND after all the enrollment procedures were done… what a moment it was when I perforated the vaccine symbols on the baby’s blue bracelet, and then slid it past wiggling toes onto his ankle. The mother left smiling, and my heart was soaring. 

Now, the child will wear that tiny pulsera for six months. He should return in August for his four-month vaccinations, and our most dear hope, one that was solidified today, is that the pulserita will help his mother remember to do just that. 

Posted
AuthorTrish Braun

We were winding along the Andean highway toward Cusco, with the celestial universe floating above us. As trees, streams, and colorful villages rushed past, I leaned against the van’s window, peering at the navy sky spotted with pinpoints of light. 

It was the second time in my life that I was so deep in wilderness (and artificial light so absent) that the earth’s roof glimmered as a heavenly map. We were heading home after a long, but awe-inspiring day in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Today (5/26) was the day I fell in love with Peru.

While Cusco is a mini-metropolis buzzing with striking cathedrals, tourist traps, and societal vibrancy, in the Sacred Valley God’s creation quietly overpowers humble, rural communities. The tiny towns and mid-sized cities nestle among the walls of rock and vertical countryside. At one point I considered Sacred Valley to be an epic, extended version of Yosemite Valley. When you hit the outskirts of Cusco, you enter ‘Incan’ territory. The hills that once distantly surrounded you in Cusco are now rolling next to you at incredible heights, while the flat campo of the valley sits peacefully underneath. 

Most of that day was spent in the midst of ruins. Although the natural landscape appeared to have a proud, untouched aura, we saw ancient evidence of humanity. Nowadays, where humans are present nature is not. However, in many ancient cultures, civilization was one with nature and in a way enhanced it. I saw this firsthand by seeing Incan wonders—especially the manmade terraces stacking upon the mountainside, creating an illusion of stairs for giants. 

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That God enabled man to have such ingenuity and creativity kept me in praise of Him all day. And there are so many mysteries surrounding the Incan construction of perfectly sculpted stone buildings… without any known mechanisms to lift such heavy material. 

—-

That night of gazing at the stars in the Andes has now passed. Now we’re intensely reviewing Spanish as the start day (6/1) of our study approaches. Honestly, I’m anxious about flexing my español muscles and executing our participant recruitment procedures. I will continue to lift this up to God by prayer and petition, knowing He will guard my mind and heart with the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). The ability to show kindness and care to Peruvian mothers and their babies, in addition to the possible healthcare breakthrough of the vaccine-reminder bracelets, keeps me motivated and thankful to God. My blessings are as many as the stars in Andean sky. 

 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:3-9

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AuthorTrish Braun