Back Stateside

Well, I arrived in the States a few days ago, so I’ve been really busy catching up with everyone and everything here. Of course I was very sad to leave Perú and all the people that I’ve grown so close to there. However, it was also really great to see my family and friends again. I took a redeye flight and it got delayed for four hours, so I didn’t end up leaving Lima until 2:30 in the morning. Here’s a photo from my plane just before we landed:

One thing that I’ve always really liked about arriving in the States after an international trip is Customs. I know that probably sounds strange at first because most people just think of it as a hassle, but I always feel such a rush of happiness to be home when the Customs officers say “welcome home” as I cross through this last part of my journey. I snapped this photo on my phone while I was leaving the airport. The poor quality is due to the fact that I was trying to balance four bags on an escalator while I took it:

Now it’s time to focus on getting ready to head back to Holy Cross to start my fourth and final year! I cannot believe that I’m already a senior in college. Anyways, this will be my last blog update (unless I remember something else that I can’t resist sharing).

I’d like to end with a thank you to Dr. Richard Matlak and the Holy Cross Student Grant Program for funding my experience and making it all possible, to the Holy Cross Web Communications department for allowing me to keep this blog, and to all my professors and mentors at Holy Cross who helped me develop this project and encouraged me throughout the whole process. Finally, I’d like to thank my family, and especially my parents, for their endless support, patience, concern, and love. My experience this summer has been one that I will never forget, and I am so glad that I will be able to look back on this blog in the future to remember my time in Lima. Thanks to all my readers as well for following me on my adventure. Besos para todos!

Final Weeks

Well, I’m down to just a few more days in Lima. I can’t believe my time is almost over. I just ordered my textbooks for the fall semester, so it’s really starting to sink in that it’s time to go back to the United States and start my senior year!

As promised, here are some photos from the tuberculosis lab that I work in:

Carlos on the microscope!
Centrifuge with cooling.
One of the biological safety cabinets.
The other biological safety cabinet.

Since TB is an airborne disease, we have to be really careful not to let air that’s in the lab get exchanged with air in other rooms of the building/outside air. So, we have to walk through a series of doors to get into the lab, and through a different path to exit the lab:

Also, if we want to pass samples or supplies between the different labs, this has to take place through a special chamber that exchanges the air before the cabinet is opened on the other side:

Finally, we could, under no circumstances short of a fire or earthquake, open the emergency exit doors:

I’ve also been trying enjoy my last few weekends in Perú. For example, I traveled with my host family mother, brother, and a family friend to a city called Huacho, which is a few miles North of Lima by car. We went there on July 28 to celebrate Peruvian Independence Day. We had a night lunch and then went for a row boat ride on the ocean; it was really beautiful!


One of the things I think I’ll miss the most when I leave Perú is the food! It is, by far, the most delicious food I’ve ever had in my life. Anyways, here’s an example of a typical market in Lima:

I guess that’s it! This will likely be my last post from Perú, but I do plan to do one once I settle back in in the States. Besos desde Perú!

Tuberculosis, 44th Anniversary, and Peruvian Cuisine

A lot has happened since my last post. I started my rotation in tuberculosis, and I absolutely love it! It´s very interesting work. Most of what is done in the lab involves processing samples in order to determine whether or not a patient does indeed have TB and, if so, if the bacteria are resistant to four different drugs commonly used in the treatment of this disease. Secondarily, the lab also aims to develop more time and cost efficient methods of processing samples that involve less equiptment and less training of lab technicians. This is of interest to a large portion of Perú, since many TB cases occur far from large cities. Therefore, it would be advantageous for small clinics to be able to process samples of patients suspected of having TB. This could be relevant to other less-developed countries as well.

TB is an airborne disease, meaning that it’s transmitted through the air. So, we work in a biological safety level (BSL) 3 lab and take a lot of precautions to prevent contracting this disease, including wearing N95 masks like this one:

Last week I had a bit of a head cold, so for two days I wasn’t allowed in the BSL3 lab. This was a precaution taken not only to protect myself while my immune system was occupied, but also to prevent me from contaminating the samples with whatever microbe was infecting me. So, I was confined to the microscopy room where we look at smears that have been processed using Ziehl–Neelsen staining. We use both light and fluorescent microscopy to determine if the samples do in fact contain TB. If the samples are positive, we use a +/++/+++ system to approximately rate the confluency of the bacteria.

The other day we had a earthquake drill during which we practiced what to do in the event of an earthquake (it really just involves getting outside as quickly as possible and standing away from any buildings/trees). Thankfully there have only been a few minor tremors since I´ve been in Perú so I haven´t had to worry about this yet. Regardless, it´s still good to know what to do in case one did happen, especially since I have no experience with earthquakes from the States.

La Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, the institution at which I´m working, is celebrating its 44th anniversary this week. So, there have been a lot of activities, including soccer tournaments and parades.

Cuy (guinea pig) is a Peruvian delicacy, so of course he showed up for the celebration!

Traditional Peruvian dress

In rereading my previous posts, I realized that I haven´t addressed one of my favorite aspects of Peruvian culture — the food!!! In my opinion, Peruvian food should be internationally renowned. A few of my favorites are lomo saltado (beef served with french fries, vegetables, and rice), aji de gallina (chicken in aji (a type of sauce) served with rice, egg, and olives), and chifa (Chinese food served with a Peruvian flare). There are also a lot of American foodchains here, including Chilis, McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King. However, these restuarants are fancier here thank in the US, and the food is of better quality. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the food to post right now, but I will be sure to add those in the future.

Perú celebrates its independence day on July 28, so that’s coming up soon! All the houses now have flags on them (one of my Peruvian friends told me that it’s mandatory to have a flag on top of your house during this time of year. If you don’t comply, he said you have to pay a fee to the government). Anyways, the city is absolutely covered in red and white. I was in Perú last year for their independence day as well, and I’m really looking forward to celebrating it here again!

“Dos soles no pueden brillar juntos en el mismo cielo”

Everything has been really busy. On the work side of things, I finished up my time in the parasitology lab this week, so Monday I will be starting in tuberculosis! I am a bit sad to be leaving parasitology, but I met with the TB doctor on Thursday to discuss what I’ll be working on in that lab and it sounds really great. So, I am looking forward to that! Besides, the TB lab is only about a two minute walk from the parasitology lab, so the people I worked with in parasitology said I have to come back to visit them often.

Yesterday was a feriado (holiday), so we didn’t work. A couple volunteers from Australia arrived at my house late Wednesday night and will be staying with us for three weeks. I spent most of yesterday showing them around Lima. Then, last night I met up with my work friends because we wanted to show the two students from México that just arrived to work at Cayetano around Barranco, which is the district of Lima in which I live. Neither of the them speak any English, which is actually a good thing because it forces me to use only Spanish without replying on English when I’m having a hard time explaining something complicated in Spanish.

A couple weekends ago, I traveled to Lunahuaná with three friends from work (one from Argentina, one from India, and one from Switzerland). Lunahuaná is a very small town about two and a half hours south of Lima. We went white water rafting and 4-wheeling. Both were a lot of fun!

Lima is located right on the western coast of South America, so it has beaches on the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

A couple of my friends wanted to try their hands at surfing, so on Saturday we took a trip down to the beach.

They seemed to have a lot of fun while another friend and I watched from the shore!

One other bit of culture: the title of this post, translated “Two suns can’t shine together in the same sky,” is a quote from a movie call Las Malas Intenciones (Bad Intentions). This film takes place in Perú in the early 1980s and is told from the perspective a little girl who finds herself growing up in a time of great turmoil, both personal and national. During that time, Perú was suffering from terrorist acts by groups such as El Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path). Anyways, it’s a great film that gives some really good perspectives of Peruvian history, life, and culture, so if you have a chance to watch it, I highly recommend doing so! Nos vemos!

Week 3

I reread my first two posts and I realized that they are incredibly verbose. While I think it was necessary to use so many words in order to give the appropriate background for what my time in Perú will entail, I am resolute to use fewer words (and more pictures!) in this post. Hopefully I will be able to do so throughout the rest of my blog as well. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

El Fútbol (Soccer)

Well, Perú lost the soccer game against Colombia last Sunday (0-1). Regardless, it was still a really awesome experience to go and see the game, as well as witness all the pride that the Peruvian people have for their national soccer team. They have at least a dozen of chants/songs that they all know and enthusiastically sing throughout all 90 minutes of play. This is a photo of the stadium right before the game started:

The stadium, called “El Estadio Nacional del Perú”, is huge. It seats 60,000 people, and it was sold out for the game.

El Trabajo (Work)

Things in the parasitology lab have been going well; I am slowly but surely learning the ropes. There are a lot of different parasites to know, so it can be overwhelming at times, but the people who work in the lab are very helpful. Here are a couple of pictures of the lab!

The parasites we work with range in terms of their means of transmission and the severity of the symptoms that they cause in humans. Thus, we have to be careful to keep our skin covered, as some of the parasites, including Strongyloides stercoralis (which I mentioned in my previous post) can burrow through your skin and enter your circulatory system. So, we always wear lab coats and gloves. Gloves are actually pretty expensive here, so sometimes we reuse them (there is a technique for doing this that the people in the lab have developed and perfected). However, the other undergraduate student working in the lab and I bought a few boxes of gloves for the lab so that we wouldn’t have to worry as much about reusing gloves, since we don’t want to risk getting a parasite because of our poor reusing technique! I look pretty disheveled in the following photo, but I just had to include it. I know my parents and brothers will get a kick out of it at least (hi Mom, Dad, Joe, and Peter!).

Mi Cumple! (My birthday)

I suppose that the only other big thing I have to report on is that I celebrated my 21st birthday last week! It was a little sad because it was the first birthday that I have spent away from my whole family, but Skype brings the world together. I had a nice birthday nonetheless. My friends at work brought in my favorite kind of Peruvian cake (sauco) and we shared that at lunch.

I went out to dinner with one of my Peruvian friends and then came home to celebrate with my host family. They made finger sandwiches and got a delicious chocolate cake to share!

All in all, it was a great week!

“Y con tu espíritu”

This week was full of adventures.  I accomplished my goals of figuring out the banking process and how to get to work each day.  I take something called El Metropolitano, which is a fairly new addition to Lima (I had only utilized it a few times last year).  The “Metro” is a system of buses that run throughout 16 of the city’s districts, traveling in their own lanes of the main roads.  It’s about an hour commute each way, so it’s a long trip, but I don’t mind; it’s a great way to see the city.

My first day at La Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH) was filled with trying to find the doctor I was looking for, getting a tour from her, and then meeting the people in the parasitology lab that I’m working in. There is a medical doctor in charge of the project who sees the patients as well as several biologists who do the lab work.  There have also been a lot of medical students/residents coming and going in the lab. Additionally, there is one other undergraduate student from the United States working in the lab.  The people there are really nice and are incredibly eager to teach us!  There’s an overwhelming amount to learn, not to mention that this is my first exposure to technical laboratory vocabulary in Spanish.  We spent all week learning how to recognize the different parasites in each of the stages of their life cycles.  We do this by looking at samples (usually fecal) under a light microscope.  The following link includes most of the parasites that we commonly see:

Most of the samples we’re analyzing are from patients that live in the jungle, as that is where these parasites are most commonly found (although they are found in Lima and other parts of Perú, as well).  The lab I am working in is focused on further understanding the life cycle of an organism called Strongyloides stercoralis, so once I become proficient at detecting this parasite in samples I’ll be ready to move forward with the project!

Here’s a little more information about S. stercoralis:

I’m usually pretty tired by the time I finish with the lab each day, but I’ve been doing my best to enjoy Perú as well.  I’ve returned to some of my old “stomping grounds” such a Polvos Azules, a huge market in Lima. It was somewhat surreal being there again, as some of my most vivid memories of my time in Lima last year were made there.

Last Sunday I went to Mass and I had forgotten about the unique aspects of Mass here that make it different than how we celebrate it back in the States. For example, as soon as the priest offering the Mass begins giving his homily, another priest emerges and stations himself in the confessional. Then about half of the congregation rushes over to that side of the church to wait in line to go to Confession. Also, only about 35% of the people receive communion, while the others just remain seated in the pews. It was also interesting to see how the recent changes in the English Mass compare to how the Mass is said in Spanish. For example, the change of the response by the congregation to the priest when he says “Peace be with you” from “And also with you” to “And with your spirit” more closely matches the response as it is given in Spanish (“Y con tu espíritu”), which is literally translated “And with your spirit”.

A few days ago we bought tickets to the soccer game on Sunday.  The Peruvian national team will be playing Colombia as part of qualifiers for the World Cup to be held in Brasil in 2014!  Like I mentioned in my first post, soccer is a major component of Peruvian culture, so I can’t wait to partake on Sunday!

Last night my host family and I went to a theater production that my host family sister, Marita, was in at her university. She attends La Universidad Del Pacífico, one of the premier universities in Lima. The theater was beautiful, and the play was great. Although I couldn’t understand some of it, I followed the general idea and really enjoyed all the dancing. It was really nice to spend this time with them and get to support Marita in her performance!

Well, I guess that’s it for now. I’m going to meet up with a couple other American students working at UPCH and show them around my corner of Lima. Chau chau!

“Welcome home!”

Returning to Lima still feels surreal.  Having less than a week between finishing finals and touching down at Jorge Chavez international airport made for quite a whirlwind.  I’m vaguely familiar with most things from the month I spent in Lima last year, but it still feels so different than home.

It’s been really great seeing my host family and all my other friends again; the Peruvian people are very warm and welcoming.  So far I’ve just been settling in and getting everything set up to start my work at the medical school (UPCH) on Monday.  I still have to figure out how to get there.  From what I hear, it’s about a one-hour bus ride from my house.

Last night Perú played Nigeria in soccer, so the streets were alive with screams of “GOLLLLLLL” (goal).  Perú won 1-0, so that was pretty exciting!  Soccer is incredibly popular throughout Latin America, and Perú is definitely no exception.  The whole country seems to come together over the games, and as you walk through the streets, you can see all the restaurants and bars packed with people huddled around the TV, all sharing in the game together.

After the game, my host family mother, brother, a family friend, and I walked around Barranco, which is the district of Lima in which I’m staying.  It has a reputation of being the “Bohemian” part of the city, and it’s even more beautiful than I remember (pictures to come soon).  We ate picarones, which are kind of like donuts that are served hot with a sugary syrup – delicious!  But Peruvian food never disappoints.

Today I hope to finalize banking details and reacquaint myself with the Lima bus system – it’s pretty hectic and takes some getting used to, but I’m hoping it comes back to me and I get the hang of it again quickly.  I haven’t taken any pictures yet, but I really should, so hopefully my next post will include some photos.  Until then, be well.  Un beso!