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.