One Year. One Physical Therapist in Trujillo, Peru.

Combining passions of global public health with travel and cultural immersion... With the help of the Catholic Medical Mission Board, I was afforded the opportunity to live outside of Trujillo, Peru for one year's time (2010-2011). Check out old posts about my experiences as a PT working in hospitals, a school, an outpatient clinic, doing research/community based rehabilitation, and a little teaching too. And my experiences with an entire calendar year of holidays, cultural customs and new culinary experiences!

I make it back about once a year with university students/CMMB projects, so I will periodically provide updates :)

Saturday, February 26, 2011


I’ve been keeping a journal while I’ve been down here. My entries are a bit sporatic- but here’s a little sampling of random thoughts from a quick browse:

-Chicken foot soup for breakfast!
-Bright pink hot dogs (unidentified meat) = LIKE!
-Very public defecation! (not me…just observation)
-Flea bites. Again.
-I found myself crammed in a combi (think: old falling apart VW van) with 32 other people, chickens, and a bag of guinea pigs. New record!
-The nuns were robbed at gunpoint on the way home from the bank today.
-Now using toxic amount of deet bug spray in order to survive the hour of insect attacks sitting in church.
-Good looking man and then… I see the fanny pack. Dang it.
-Peruvian karaoke parties are wildly popular- think Backstreet Boys or Beyonce + Spanish accents!
-A wild dog ran across the altar and trotted through the pews in the middle of mass, but nobody batted an eye.
-Guns…armed people everywhere.
-Peruvians like to whistle, and to publicly nurse babies on bumpy combi rides.
-...looked down to find a huge cockroach on my foot!
-“No, the mosquitoes attack you because you are WHITE.” - Nun 
-Overfed by three different sets of aunts and uncles today!
-One step forward, two steps back (the birds pooped all over my hand-washed laundry again).
-Facial paralysis caused by stress? Back pain ‘all in your head’? Starting to wonder about these doctors…
-Fingerprints to sign work documents!
-…where I consumed one quarter of a whole chicken, a mountain of French fries, a huge salad and a liter of Inca Cola in one sitting…

I like to try and bring a little humor into my experiences here, but the honest truth is I am completely enamored with the culture, the good BUT also the not so good. It’s an incredible place and while transportation and sanitation realities may not be ideal, what I don’t put into lists are the people that make this culture so unique and beautiful…

The woman with a large hat and three teeth who gives me a big grin as she shucks corn in the market. “Buen dia” from the old men who sit and talk outside the corner house. My favorite lady who sells me freshly squeezed juice from her cart on my way to work. My 90-year old patient who sings to me in Spanish. My patients, co-workers, colleagues and friends who share their stories, their lives, their food, their hospitality with me. Uncensored observations included, these people and their tough, hard-working, family-based values are the face of Perú I’ve come to know – and love.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ghosts, re-incarnation and Coca-Cola

I’ve had some interesting conversations here in Perú about the after-life. I’m not sure if this reflects the cultural beliefs of all Peruvians, but it seems that many I’ve talked to believe in ghosts and re-incarnation. As for me, I’ve been on the fence about whether I believe in ghosts … that is, until about a month ago…

A few days ago, I noticed a full glass of coca-cola sitting on the mantel in front of the picture of my host family’s grandmother. Apparently, the night before, my host sister locked her keys into the living room part of the house. She had to get up early for work the next day and needed the keys to leave the house, so she lifted up some silent pleas to her grandmother (who passed away 11 years ago) to bring her the keys. In the middle of the night, she awoke to loud noises coming from the living room (which we lock every night). She thought we were getting robbed and (bravely) crept toward the door. What she found, however, were her set of keys placed outside of the (barred) kitchen window! Thus, the cup of coca-cola, her Grandmothers’ favorite beverage, remained on the mantel as a gift of thanksgiving for several days.

Okay, this all sounds a bit crazy, right?! Well, I believe it – and here is why. Last month, we took a trip to Tembladera, a small beautiful community in the mountains northeast of Trujillo. My host family has relatives there, and we stayed overnight in the house that used to belong to the grandparents, but is now abandoned. Staying in the house itself was quite an adventure – sleeping on the floor (no furniture), no bathroom or running water, rats, etc! (see picture)

Haunted House in Tembladera
That night, it was extremely hot and buggy, and while we lay awake trying to sleep in the miserable heat, we began to hear things. First, loud noises that were definitely coming from within the locked kitchen. Host sister #1 fled to her aunt’s house out of fear, and host sister #2 went with her for a moment, leaving me alone in the house. After they’d left, the room changed drastically from unbearably hot to ice cold. I began to hear and feel a man’s raspy respirations on the right side of my face. I heard footsteps outside of the bedroom door. The bedroom door (which was a few feet from the edge of my sleeping bag) began to move – opening and closing slowly. I lay there, paralyzed, not sure what to do. I put on my headphones, but I could still hear everything.

When host sister #2 returned (after what felt like an eternity!), everything, room temperature included, went back to normal for a moment. I decided not to tell her - I didn’t want to scare her. However, for the rest of the night, we both experienced the same phenomenon – air changes, footsteps, breathing, door movements. Needless to say, we barely slept. The following morning, the heavy door that leads to the unfinished part of the house (which we’d locked the night before) was wide open. Yup… I’m now a believer!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Seeking website designer!

Hey there, friendly readers! I’m looking for a little help here…

Peruvian Alpaca
I’m not especially internet-savvy and one of my goals this year is to create free access to PT-related educational materials (that are my creations) in Spanish. I’m looking for someone who would be willing to help start a web-site for me… ideally one where people could easily download (pdf, powerpoint, word) documents and access links to videos.

If you have any experience and are willing to give it a shot (it doesn’t have to be fancy), please comment or send me an email ( I’m thinking a good reward would be an Alpaca (okay, maybe an Alpaca hat/blanket) or some other really cool Peruvian artifact (open to suggestions!) I open the bidding… NOW!

Prize Alpaca

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Beware of Dog(s)

There are a lot of wild dogs that roam the streets here. Some of them are big and scary but others surprisingly look more like lost grungy domesticated poodles! There's a breed called the Peruvian Inca Orchid, or Peruvian hairless dog (see picture below) that sometimes makes an appearance in my neighborhood too.

Peruvian Hairless Dog Spotting near Trujillo

Generally, they pay little attention to me, and vice-versa. However, the other day, I had my first dog attack! I was out running in my neighborhood (yes, with someone else, and yes, with my pepper spray, mom!) Luckily, it was just a little guy who chomped on my shoe and didn’t break the skin, and one big kick to the face was all it took to get it to stop. Suddenly wondering if I should have considered that rabies vaccine after all.

So, in addition to watching out for water balloons and other Carnaval acts of mischief, I now have a heightened wariness for the dogs. I try not to let my guard down for people either… I’ve had a few attempted robberies in my neighborhood. Most recently, I was carrying a bag and a guy in a moto-taxi swung out of the back trying to snatch it as they drove by.

Ah well, never a dull moment here… but between dogs, water balloons, motor vehicles, and people, let’s just say that neighborhood strolls are not exactly relaxing!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Practicing techniques in last month's talk on low back pain
Public speaking is definitely not one of my favorite things… and especially in Spanish. However, my comfort zone boundaries are changing rapidly with my experiences here in Peru! What began as one PT asking me to do a little chat on Scoliosis has turned into a whirlwind of monthly courses, “lecture/lab” sessions at different hospitals, and the planning of a 2-day international conference. Tonight over forty people attended a 2-hour talk on shoulder examination in physical therapy. I’m excited by the interest and each month seems to get better and better as far as the speaking part goes. (Although tonight, I accidently said “hombre,” man, instead of “hombro,” shoulder, at one point… Translated, “It’s important that we do a neurological check with every man that we see!”) Whoops! I’m glad that Peruvians are so patient, and have such a great sense of humor!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Pisco Sour

Perú’s most famous beverage is the pisco sour. It also happens to be a personal favorite. February 5th was an important holiday here, National Pisco Day! We celebrated with home-made Pisco’s and a game night (“Uno” was a big hit!) Pisco sour is grape brandy mixed with lime juice. It’s got a nice kick to it, and the egg white froth sounds strange but makes the perfect finishing touch. I’m pretty sure they sell bottles of Pisco in the US… try one yourself:

¼ cup Pisco
1 tablespoon sugar – dissolved with a little heat and water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon pasteurized egg whites
3 ice cubes

Mix all ingredients in blender. Serve with a wedge of lime and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Water Balloons

Last week I was walking to work when I rounded the corner and was faced with two little kids, a cooler, and a bunch of water balloons! I froze for a moment like a deer in the headlights, as one of the kids had a balloon in the “fire” position and looked ready to launch it! I think they were just as confused as I was, only they were puzzled simply from the sighting of the elusive tall white gringa roaming the neighborhood. I used this to my advantage and quickly dashed across the road, narrowly missing a bus (and the water balloon attack)!

I thought it was an isolated freak incident, until a few days later I was walking with my friend Cathleen (an even taller gringa) and out of nowhere, we were attacked by water balloons thrown from a moving vehicle! I was further away from the car… but poor Cathleen wasn’t so lucky!

As it turns out, the entire month of February in Perú is Carnaval. From what I’ve gathered, the big celebration is at the end of the month/early March up in the town of Cajamarca, but there are hints of the festivities all month long - and all over the country.

Customs for the entire month of February: Children throw water balloons at the women (strangers included). Women throw water balloons at the men (strangers included). People throw water balloons into open windows of public transportation. People dump flour onto strangers’ heads. People smear shoe-shine all over strangers’ faces. Some sort of a tradition with a (live?) chicken dangling from a pole. Other tradition where you hang gifts from a tree, dance around it, and then axe it down. And I’m sure there’s much more I’m bound to find out!

I’ll be sure to take photos…