Introducing San Francisco

I’m back in Piura, a little less than 3 weeks since I arrived in San Francisco. I’ll try to give you an idea of the life in San Francisco and then explain a little about where we are with the project. San Francisco is intensely remote. This makes it beautiful, but alone and underserved, at the same time. One of the most amazing parts of being here is the natural beauty. It’s really stunning – mountains, sky, rivers, mist. I walk every day for at least an hour and take it all in.

Infrastructure is almost nonexistent. We have solar electricity in the health post and a telephone line. That’s about it. Relative to San Francisco, I’m living well. My basic needs are provided for and my health is protected to the extent that you can reasonably expect in a remote village. My water is boiled, I have a sanitary bathroom with a toilet and shower, a hole in the roof to let the smoke from the cooking fire escape and the kitchen has a sink with running water. It’s a sign of injustice that we can’t take these things for granted, but these improved conditions are unusual in San Francisco.  

I live in an adobe house with Zoila, Isaac, Meliza and Esgardo. They are incredibly sweet, friendly and gentle people. I understand Isaac’s Spanish brilliantly, which lifts my spirits. I’m pretty sure that Zoila has the Spanish equivalent of a thick Southern drawl and I struggle to understand her. I’m so ready  to understand her, and the others in the village, with fluency. I’m really on the outside looking in until then. It’s an isolating feeling made worse by the fact that I’m the only foreigner and at this point there’s no Curtis and Carly to experience this with. Anyway, there’s no other situation which could push me harder to learn the language. I’m constantly chasing words, breaking down the grammar, trying every day to push through this linguistic barrier that keeps us from interacting as whole personalities. We talk a lot, I’m understanding more and more of the conversations they have amongst themselves and I can definitely have almost any conversation that I need to have with them – it just might be faltering and broken if the subject is difficult.

I have two rooms to myself, with an independent door to the street. It’s kind of like my own little dirt-floor, mud wall apartment. It’s cute and it’s my home now and I’m happy. The food is amazing. I’m eating from the chacras (fields), drinking the café and cacao that my family grows, eating their bananas and oranges, and that’s something really amazing. They fry everything and there’s not a lot in the way of veggies, but most people do have enough food. The life is tranquilo . The men work hard in the chacras, women do housework. There’s a lot  of front porch sitting going on. Sometimes they shoot the breeze, and I try to understand. Other times we just sit.

I have my computer with me and a digital camera, which has generated a lot of technological curiosity.  Sometimes at night, Isaac and Zoila will gather around in the candlenight to watch while Meliza types everyone’s name in Microsoft Word or draws a casita azul in Paint or goes through my photos of Peru. They still laugh every time they see themselves. With the days passing by so gently, with little noise or diversion in my free time, I find myself being increasingly entertained by the smallest things – someone doing construction on their home or a dog chasing a chicken or a really bad Spanish telenovela in the health post. Small.town.life.

The preparation for the youth health promoter classes is going well and I am very  ready to start doing the classes. I had an informational meeting with the youth, explaining who I am and the idea of the project. We put together a twice a week class schedule – Wednesdays and Fridays from 5-7pm with the 15 youth who are going to participate. They are very timid right now.  Some were too shy to tell me their names in front of a group to be put on the list of health promoters. I have a feeling that in the beginning coaxing participation is going to be very challenging. 

Since then, Javier and I have been visiting all the homes of the students, obtaining consent forms from the parents and gathering baseline data on the socioeconomic status and health attitudes of the families. We’ve also had a meeting with the entire community to discuss the project and its potential here. There is no trash or landfill system here which is a big problem. People just throw their trash in the streets or high in the mountains. This was immediately raised as a community need and I think it’s going to become an important side project. We have a meeting in Piura with doctors and health authorities from Canchaque on Saturday. We are going to review the class material to get suggestions for changes or additions and update them on what’s been accomplished so far. We also want to explore the potential of getting support and technical assistance from the municipality to create a local landfill. At the very least we can start a recycling program, get some public trashcans out and start separating organic and inorganic trash.

It’s been really exciting that all of the parents have been enthusiastic about participating in the Escuela de Padres that the students are going to help us teach after the completion of their own courses.  I thought they’d be more reluctant, but people are eager to participate and eager to learn – even from their own kids! I think this comprehensive approach, involving the entire family, is an integral part of really sparking change for better health in a core group of households. And as advocates of health, those youth and their parents can be the beginnings of deeper change, demonstrating and encouraging healthier behaviors elsewhere in the community. At the end of the day, people do what other people do, so the more health-focused homes there are, the better. I also think that conceiving, planning and executing a community health project is going to be very empowering for the youth and might really be the push for them to become confident leaders and activists for better health conditions in their own community. It’s a small start (a pilot  project after all), but I think that we really can create opportunities in San Francisco, generate interest in community development leadership and provide support to help people live well and be well.


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