The New Year
Just over one month in-site! 686 days left, but whose counting! The holidays have just passed here, though there are still a number of fiestas coming up, among them the anniversary of my town and also the 168th anniversary of the department of Tumbes, which is today. The weather is getting hotter, and with February being the hottest month, temperatures are climbing toward 100 F also with more rains. Neighbors tell me that the streets flood in the rainy season and some roads become washed out. Hopefully things stay pretty tranquilo and I'll still be able to get to the capital, as I´ve become used to looking for things there that I can´t get in town or at least for a banana juice with milk. Alot of talk of these mosquitos too, but nothing yet. Everyone hopes there won't be a strong El Niño which would damage the local economy which depends heavily on fishing. Seeing the abundance of fishing boats and pescaderos while cruising along this part of the PanAmericana or visiting the fish market in Tumbes is allows you an estimation of how badly the economy could be hurt (as it had been in the past, e.g., 1990) if the cooler water temperatures pull the fish further off the coast and north.
Still developing my role as a health volunteer at my post, I've decided to fill the role of community psychologist- at least part time, starting in a couple of months. This decision has come after some deliberation and hesitation, due to my long-term hope that the projects that I can help develop here are sustainable, long-lasting efforts to improve the overall health and development of the community (e.g., stuff that will stick around when I´m gone). In reality, the manager of the health post had already decided that "psychologist" would be my role, most notably when I allowed him to snap digital photos of me having an awkwardly staged consultation with a youth in my community which was later presented PowerPoint style at an important regional service provider review! Although taking this role is not "sustainable" in the formal sense, I can likely build in some workshops or training sessions around mental health in the community with health promoters or at my health post while utilizing and building my own experience in the field. I have decided that since the need exists in the community and the current structure of the Ministry of Health does not include paying for a full-time psychologist, then, as a volunteer, I ought to take the opportunity, while advocating insofar as this is possible, for the permanent addition of a Peruvian from the mental health field to be salaried and positioned in this role. The majority of work in mental health here focuses on prevention, reduction and elimination of "violencia familiar" (domestic violence), alcoholism and depression. There is an overall lack of trained psychologists here as well as services available for people suffering from mental illness.
Other work continued to be house visits with the Malaria-Dengue prevention team, a total of 95 visits in December walking out to houses in 10 of the 12 surrounding barrios to drop larvicides and provide basic education on the prevention of dengue through their the use. I met at least one family, new to the area, who was altogether too skeptical of the prevention efforts to let us in the door although the vast majority are responsive to the efforts of the health post. I am inspired when I do the house visits. My first goal here was to get to know the communities which this allows me to do, plus it sheds some light first hand on the living conditions of each family. I was also inspired by an article about Paul Farmer, a North American doctor and founder of the NGO Partners in Health, who works in Haiti (and also here and in Russia) doing 6 or 7 hour hikes out to remote houses to help treat TB and other transmitable and non-transmitable diseases. Even though the process takes awhile sometimes, the alternative is not reaching people, not doing anything. I think back to my supervisor at the mental health clinic in the states who helped me learn the importance of calling clients (or sometimes even visiting) who had not shown up for counseling and her attitude of resislience and toughness. I think that same attitude is important in development work, accompanied by the openness required for seeing things done in ways you are not used to seeing.
I continue to work on organizing for my World Map Project in the tecnical high school here. I´m soliciting materials for the project, hoping to get as much community investment as possible, despite a changing local government (including a massive loss of jobs from the previous government due to, according to my understanding, either illegally made contracts which promised positions well into the new term of the incoming administration and/or nepotism on the part of the new administration !). I have also scheduled some radio time here with a local station run out of a neighbors house, both to help promote the Map Project and to continue to get the word out about my being here and how I am not here to proselytize Mormonism!
A major life challenge also continues to be the different conception of time here and the resulting felt-sense of "inefficiency" which is salient coming from my own culture where time can feel like a "perpetual present... a succession of episodes hygienically insulated from their past as well as their future," (Bauman, Globilization) and where people are perpetually "short of time." I often find it particularly difficult to organize even informal meetings; a person won't show up when s/he said, but five or six hours later (or a week later!) and the person will, without hesitation, assume that you are ready, willing and available to drop whatever activity you might then be doing, in order to finally do what was originally agreed upon. Ahh! I could go on...
Wrapping up, some highlights of the New Year so far have included my first taste of the Pacific, in Zorritos, where we found the warmest waters on the Peruvian coast, a nearly full moon, and fish directly from the sea to the plate in the form of heaping piles of ceviche (the regional speciality of raw white fish and/or calamari, shrimp, crab, octupus served with onions, sweet potato, fried plantains) and chicharron de pescado (fried fish) doused in ají and limón. Although the beautiful Andes are at least a days trip away by bus, us Tumbesinos have the sea at our front door...
(Above) A muñeco burning tradition for New Year´s Eve, symbolizing the exit of all misfortunes of the past year; Plaza Chilimasa in my site; Centro de Salud (Health Post).