¡Mira, yo he estado en lima por cinco días, y mi tiempo acá ha sido increíble! Las personas están tanto amables, y me siento que estoy en un inicio acá. Y todas las personas han estado muy útil con mi proyecto y mi español imperfecto y mi vida aquí. Yo podría hablar sobre esto por horas, pero yo no voy a hacerlo, y no voy a hacerlo en español totalmente.
The language barrier has not been as bad as I thought, but also has been worse than I thought. But after five days, I feel like my Spanish has improved a hundred fold, and I hope it keeps doing so throughout my trip. Despite my less than perfect Spanish, I have had an incredible time here so far. Over the weekend, I visited the city center, where there are a number of beautiful colonial buildings that are hundreds of years old, including the Iglesia San Pedro de Lima, the Jesuit church here, which is just magnificent. The Iglesia de San Francisco is just as impressive, with huge walls, beautiful decorations, and a crazy catacombs underneath. I forgot to take pictures of these, but I am sure I will see them again before I leave (and if you want, there are plenty of profesional photos on the internet!).
Besides this, I have made some great headway on my project. For those of you who don´t know what I am doing or why I am in Peru, I am a Brueggeman Fellow at Xavier University. This fellowship is an incredible program in which one studies any topic of their choice for a year and then gets to travel abroad to continue studying it for the summer. For more information, you can go to www.brueggemanfellows.org. My project is on evolutionary medicine, which was largely inspired by Daniel E. Lieberman´s book The Story of the Human Body. I explain it a little more on the Brueggeman Fellows website, but in short, I am interested in the ways that diseases manifest themselves in light of our history, culture, and environment. There are a number of diseases (arguably, all diseases) that can be explained from a more ultimate standpoint, which includes the social and environmental conditions one is in (for example, the prevelance of communicable diseases as a result of raising animals and living in close conditions), and which adds to our knowledge of the proximate causes of disease (for example, a virus entering a cell and taking over the cell´s systems to reproduce itself).
So here, in Peru, I am following around doctors and going to health care facilities around the country to try to ascertain the most common diseases here. Peru is really a perfect country for this kind of study because it contains (broadly) three distinct environments, each with their own culture, history, and ways of life: the coast, with the largest cities, including Lima; the sierra or the Andes; and the Amazon. I am going to travel to all three, to see what the major differences in health are, and try to rationalize these from an evolutionary perspective.
What have I done so far? Through a family friend´s cousin´s friend´s friend, I have ended up working at the Hospital Nacional Arzobispo Loayza, the largest hospital in Lima and the country. It is a teaching hospital, owned by the government, and there are a number of residents there learning about medicine. A physician there has been kind enough to let me follow his residents around for the next two weeks, and I have learned a ton in just three days (Limeñans work half days on Saturdays). For example, one of the most common types of cancers in Peru is gastric, which is not even listed among the CDC´s list of common cancer types in the United States. Why is this? It is hard to say for certain, and this is but a brief hypothesis, but there could be two reasons, and probably both play a role: a kind of genetic predisposition, which is exacerbated by environmental factors. Perhaps (as one doctor noted) the high amounts of acidic foods play a role in this, for ceviche, ahi peppers, and soups are incredibly common parts of everyone´s diet (I have eaten all of these so far, pictures later). Or another example: Limeños have a high rate of developing a kind of scarring over the corona of the eye, which is due to the high levels of air pollution in the city.
At any rate, the doctors have all been incredibly helpful, kind, and fun to be around, and I can´t wait to spend more time with my new friends! Here are some pictures we took today.
And of course, you can´t talk to me about another country without bringing up the food! This weekend, a friend and I went to a buffet Criolla (criolla is a word for the sons of the conquistadors or original spaniards here, but the vast majority of people are mixed, so the word has come to mean Peruvian) with tons of awesome food! The plates below have the food, which include tamales, anticuchos, papas a la huancaina, maize, and ceviche! And the other picture is a huge dish of causa, which is a mixture of potatoes and the ahi pepper stuffed with vegetables, meat or fish, and mayonaise! Que rico!