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 :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stop and Smell the AJI

“I didn’t really grow until I learned how others live.” –Ben Sollee

I'm sure I've commented before about how the slowness of the Peruvian culture is simultaneously frustrating yet fantastic. I’ve had to adapt in a number of ways from my prior fast-paced western-culture ways – Here, several hours late is on time, and many aspects of life are not as efficient as could be – tasks that used to take ten minutes in the US can take hours or even days here, between transportation, procedures, communication mix-ups, detours, lines, etc.

But, there’s a glorious two-hour lunch here – generally everyone comes home in the middle of the day to eat with family, and lunch is the biggest meal of the day. And, at night, we sit around with a lighter fare- usually coffee and something small – and often stay around the dinner table talking for hours.

It’s a nice change from life as I knew it in the US. We get so caught up in rushing from point A to B to C to D throughout our daily lives – and how much of it really matters? Why are we okay with spending hours each day in our cars alone, yet unable to set aside more than 20 minutes for a rushed meal (often not even together)?

I’m still super busy as far as work goes here, but my spare time feels different – full of aimless but very enjoyable moments “doing nothing” with the people I am close to. In the book “Eat, Love, Pray” Gilbert talks about the joy of doing nothing. It’s something I’ve come to really savor about this culture. In fact, I feel like Perú is my own personal secluded island - it transforms me into a place where stress is all relative and I mostly just feel calm contentedness. (Okay, maybe the opposite of secluded, but you know what I mean).

I would even go as far as to say that my Peruvian island is slowly sucking the type A personality out of me. Really, you don’t believe me?! Exhibit A: walking speed. Just ask my sister- it drove her nuts that I was walking so slowly when she came down to visit... I now generally amble about, true to Peruvian style. Another example, I don’t stress out when I don’t have time to exercise as normally as I’d like – I’ve long ago accepted that with long work hours and few places to safely exercise, this one I’ll take for the team for a year. (Exhibit B: rice baby.)

Speaking of eating, I’m starting to panic as I realize that in 3 months I will have to do without my top ten Peruvian foods (to be announced- stay posted). At the top of my list - anyone who’s ever tried Peruvian cooking knows that aji (a concentrated liquid of hot pepper) is a staple to the diet – and it’s delicious. Peruvians take a great deal of (justifiable) pride in their Aji. I’m proud to say that I can now tolerate a moderate to strong blend of aji without batting an eye! (Another step closer in operation: become Peruvian).

Beyond the incredible culinary impact, I hope that this taste of how others live that’s led to so much personal growth will stick with me long after my time in Peru is gone. I think we could all use a little time to “stop and smell the aji”… What do you think?

(PS: visitors still encouraged!)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Photo Journalism

Earlier this year I shared photos and experiences from Cusco and Cajamarca, but lately I've been slacking off. I’ve been fortunate to use several vacation days in these last few months to explore different parts of Peru… all I can say is, what an amazing country.

Maybe someday I'll have time to write about all of these places. Today, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

Machu Picchu!
Lago 69 - Cordillera Blanca
Playa Máncora
Playa Pimentel
Parque de Los Enamorados, Miraflores



Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I want to give a big shout out to two friends and colleagues, Layna Shorter and Keri Vonkalinowksi, who came down here to help me out last month! Also, a big thanks to Beth Calder and Preferred Home Care for their equipment donations – much appreciated! And, thank you Cathleen Daly for organizing our work out in Chimbote and letting us crash at your house!

My volunteers were here a week helping with assistive device modifications at a school, work in the clinic and in Winchinzao, home health visits in Cambio Puente and various educational projects. We did a session with teachers talking about preventing disabilities in children and later a session with Clinica Santa Clara healthcare workers in the theme of prevention of disabilities in adults, with a focus on body mechanics and lifting techniques. It was so great to have other sets of hands, eyes and opinions in patient care and they did a fantastic job in the educational sessions too. And, we even managed to squeeze in some time for the beach, Pisco Sours and archaelogical ruins. :)

My only complaint is that they left so quickly. (I miss you guys! Come back soon!)

Assistive Device modifications..
& After!

 Clinic work...

Home health visits in Cambio Puente...

 Educational sessions...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Quien ganará?

Keiko vs. Ollanta. Democrat vs. Dictator. Woman vs. Man. The 2011 Perú Presidential elections will reach their final historic ending today, June 5th. The candidates are pretty different and like the first round of elections a few months ago, there is no clear leader in the polls.

Keiko stands for education – building schools and improving access to education in rural areas. She’s promised to change unemployment rates, and wage a fight against crime. She’s also the daughter of prior president Alberto Fujimori, who was inn office from 1990-2000. “A controversial figure, Fujimori has been credited with uprooting terrorism in Peru and restoring its macroeconomic stability, though his methods have drawn charges of authoritarianism and human rights violations. Even amidst his 2008 prosecution for crimes against humanity relating to his presidency, two-thirds of Peruvians polled voiced approval for his leadership in that period.” ( Many of Keiko’s critics oppose her for her family history and also claim that since she’s become involved in politics, she in unexperienced and has failed to take any significant action.

Ollanta is a big advocate against crime. Rumor has it that if he wins, he will completely re-design the constitution, install a country-wide nightly curfew, and send all boys age 14 and up into the military. He also claims to improve the education system by providing financial access to university education for young people, regardless of ability to pay. He also plans to change international trade agreements, particularly with the U.S., and shift Perú into a system of national-only companies for all exports. His military career had some accusations of human rights violations, and he also receives criticism over his past leadership within the Communist Party of Perú and the Movimiento Ethnocacerista, “an ethnic nationalist group composed of former and current Peruvian soldiers many of whom are veterans from the domestic conflicts against the Shining Path, and to a lesser extent against the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and the brief Cenepa War between Ecuador and Peru.” (

In polling friends and family, it appears that there’s a pretty even split on who will vote for who. Many of my patients claim they will select neither, because they do not approve of either candidate. As I mentioned in a prior post, Peruvians are required to return to their hometown to vote (if they don’t, they incur a large fee). The school systems gave the kids Friday and Monday off school in honor of the elections, and since Thursday the city has been on a “dry” status- no purchasing of alcohol and the closing of all bars. The streets have been a flourish of activity these last few months, and this week it got even crazier as Trujillo had a special visit by Keiko. I’m looking forward to an end to the political adds, loudspeaker messages, painting, chanting, etc. – looking forward to life going back to “normal” here in La Esperanza.

Who will win? I’ll post an update later today!