Peru 1994

As part of my medical studies we got to spend an 8 week medical elective, anywhere in the world. I chose to head to Peru. It had been my dream to get to Latin America one day, one of the reasons I went to Spain was to learn the language in preparation. So I packed my bags and headed out to work with a Latin Link Dr in a town called Moyobamba, in the northern part of the country, on the east side of the Andes.

On my way through, I spent a couple of nights in Lima with a team member there. She took me to visit one of their friends who was interned in Lima prison. He had once been in the drug business but had come to faith during his last internment, however some drugs had been found on a bus whilst he was on it and he had been imprisoned without trial, that was a year previously. This was my first time inside a prison, he took great delight in spooking me on our way to his cell by coming up from behind unannounced.

The road to the prison took us past the city rubbish dump. This was the first of many developing world city rubbish dumps I was to see.  I looked wide eyed at the make shift shacks tottering on the edge of dump, the kids playing on the mounds of rubbish, or no, wait, they were scrounging for food and bits of scrap metal and plastic that could be sold. A whole community living on the dump and scraping sustenance from city refuse, whilst plumes of fumes, smoke and steam rose from the smouldering heaps.

I don’t recall if it was Peru or Guatemala, but one of those places, someone took me to see the poor man’s cemetery. It was a bit like an outdoor library, instead of books though, coffins drawers. Imagine row upon row of small doors a foot and a half square, stacked 5 or 10 high. Some with little bunches of old flowers on them. If a family was able to scrape together a small fee they could pay for their relative’s remains to be held (sealed) in one of these ‘drawers’ for 5 years, 10 years, depending on the sum paid. Ladders were available for visitors to reach the doors of their loved one’s burial draw. After the time had elapsed if no further fee was paid the body would be exhumed and disposed of, I don’t recall how.

After Lima, I headed off to Moyobamba. It was this journey that I disembarked at the wrong air strip!! Thankfully a small boy asked me where I was going, realised I had gotten off at Tarrapoto which was the stop before my final destination, and went running across the run way waving at the plane which had already turned around and was revving its engines!! They wheeled the stairs across the airstrip and I sheepishly climbed up and took my seat again! Otherwise it would have been a lonely, scary night at the airport or worse until the next flight came through the following day!

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