Well, today I had 3 minutes of glory. In front of hundreds of Peruvian faces, I marched in the “professions parade" for the Cusco district of Santiago!
Yesterday marked one week of working in a Centro de Salud (government health clinic) for Alma Sana’s vaccine-reminder bracelet study. Coolly enough, the head nurse Estelle invited us interns to join the clinic staff in the festival celebrating the district’s employees.
We were honored by the invite, and although it required us to wake early on a Sunday, Anca (another intern) and I decided it would be an awesome opportunity to bond with the nurses and support our clinic. As Estelle instructed, we bought blue dress pants for the occasion at a local market.
Then, bright and early, we arose and rushed to meet everyone at the clinic at 8:30am… to find no one there.
However, the clinic’s doors were open, and we waited. It was odd to see the place so empty. During the week, its halls echo babies’ cries, Spanish whispers, and footsteps of medical workers. People, all of ages and with all problems, line the walls and fill the benches as they wait for treatment. While the Peruvian government provides healthcare for free, the system is extremely inefficient. The Centro opens at 8am, but mothers and their toddlers, frail elderly men and women, and everyone in-between, trickle in at 7:30 to wait for a cita (appointment). It appears to be first come, first serve. Yet I’m not so sure. I speak with mothers about participating in the study early in the morning, and often realize they are the last ones to leave. On the other hand, a couple and their baby will show up 5 minutes before closing, and they will be seen just fine. Maybe the mothers, who are usually low-income and/or street vendors, wish to be there in the am to free up afternoon hours for work.
On the one day the clinic is closed to patients (Sunday), the floors sigh with relief and sit peacefully silent.
Around 9, 9:30am, the nurses gradually came strolling in, making us feel like we missed the memo. Despite the time mix-match, Estelle and the others were excited to see us. The staff gathered, and we all walked away from the clinic toward the Plaza of Santiago.
The plaza was packed to the brim. As you can see from the photos, a cathedral stood on one side of the square. A large bleacher spanned its length, filled with Santiago residents. Opposite of it, my group stood with our Ministerio de Salud banner, waiting for our turn to march in the procession.
We waited for two hours.
My expectation was that we would walk along the roads of Santiago, waving to standing bystanders like an actual parade. However, when it was finally time, we turned the corner of the plaza and marched (very professionally I must say) for 3 minutes in front of the cathedral and the surrounding crowds.
One little block.
Even in its brevity, marching with the Peruvian doctors and nurses was an experience. While we were stomping past the people, an announcer thanked us for our effort to better the health of Cusqueñans. I will never forget my part in that little foreign parade. It’s neat that the city recognizes the specific careers of its citizens. Each worker guild, from construction workers to yard cleaners and Quechuan farmers, had those 3 minutes of fame. Does that ever happen in America? Not that I know of. Cusco Peruvians definitely take pride in their work, and appreciate the power of employment in showing culture and community.
Afterward, Anca and I lost the clinic staff in the crowd, and ended up exploring the backside of Cusco. We stopped for some street churros (one of my favorite sweet treats!), looked through a few food markets (complete with cheese and flowers), and rode a combi bus home.
What. A. Morning.
And what a good one.