I’ve been here in Nieva for three days now, and right now is the first time it has rained since I arrived. And boy, it is just pouring. The noise is nearly deafening, which isn’t surprising given the other loud and constant noises I’ve heard here so far.
My first day here, I got settled in and met the head of the local health center, who agreed to give me some basic information on the disease trends here in Nieva and the surrounding areas. I got the information yesterday, and it’s great (or as great as a bunch of facts about mortality rates can be). Regardless, from her and a few others, I have started to piece together the health picture here.
Generally, the Amazon region is plagued by infectious diseases. Dengue, malaria, typhoid, and HIV are very common throughout the region. The leading causes of death are infectious diseases, and although I’m sure that there are chronic diseases here, no one is talking about them.
The dengue and malaria are related to the mosquito populations here. Actually, Nieva is in the high Amazon, a huge valley between the Andes and another small mountain range which separates Nieva from the Amazon Basin. Because of the increased altitude and generally cooler climate, Nieva doesn’t have many mosquitos and hardly has any cases of malaria.
Typhoid and intestinal issues come from the less than pure water most people use for everything. The house I am staying at uses the water from the rain in the showers and sinks. But a quick look at the other houses shows the same signs. Nieva, sadly, is very poor, and as such, access to the commodities of modern life are scarce.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t modernity here. You cannot walk down the stree without seeing vendors selling Inca Kola and Cristal Cervesa. Nieva is the largest city in the area, and I suspect that if it grows, health trends will change as well.
One last thing on health: Here, there is a ton of AIDS. Although I don’t have an exact confirmed number, a few people have said it could be as high as 50% (take it with a grain of salt). Another thing – 51% of the population here is below 14. There are kids everywhere and nearly every girl of age is holding an infant. The culture here, in part influenced by young marriages in indigenous peoples, seems to be very reproductive.
So what else have I been doing? The other day, a friend and I took a hike around a local waterfall, up to the top of a hill here, and back down to the city. Looks like some pictures from a friend in Costa Rica:
And yesterday I had my most Amazonian of adventures. The local Fe y Alegria school, run by the Jesuits and some nuns, educates students from indigenous tribes and areas without good access to education. I visited the school, and ended up going with a class across the river to the jungle, where the students had helped build a beehive.
What an adventure! The students kept pulling fruits out of nowhere, that had flavor and aromas I had never experienced. The plants were so diverse, as they all compete to get a little bit of sun in the overcrowded jungle. And the insects have stunning colors, are pretty big, and are pretty strong (go leaf-cutter ants)!
This is juane, a dish for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, which is a big day in parts of the jungle. The dish supposedly looks like John’s head on the platter, and is totally delicious! Moreover, across the river were festivities, including more dancing with fires (this might be a Peruvian thing) and a tower of fireworks! All in all, a fun, crazy night!
So now, I am off to visit a local community about 4 hours away by boat. We will see what they have in store for me, but if anything, it will be another adventure for the books!