Saying goodbye to Mark that time was one of the hardest things knowing he was sick. Our last embrace before I boarded the plane was filled with emotion. I think we both knew that we were both headed into a very unknown direction.
The flight was long and I slept most of the way. We arrived in Lima, Peru. The place where we stayed in the inner city was dirty. There was no chance at sleeping through the horn honking and dog barking. It was deafening. It certainly reminds me now of why I live out in the country. I like the peace and quite the country offers. I went with a group of college students. This trip changed my world. I never saw poverty like poverty in a third world country. When you are poor, you are poor. They do not have welfare programs or disability checks. The first time I laid eyes on this man, I was so moved.
He had no arms yet he found a way to provide for his family. In the photo you can see how he carved beautiful things by placing a carving instrument between his teeth and holding the board with the arms that are half way gone. It inspired me because it showed me that no matter what your situation looks like, there is always something to thank God for. What a hassle to have to carve this way. How much easier it would be if he had hands. And most of us have hands and we don’t even try to carve things. We have so much ability, yet this man with a disability does more for his family than most of us will ever understand. We have it so good. I bought things from him. I wanted to help him support his family and in return I was able to have some of his beautiful creations that I will always cherish.Many things were hand made, from the tapestries by the hands of nearly blind, impoverished grandmothers to jewelry and nicknacks.
Each day we would have to walk to our class. I thought it very strange that they do not feed you in the mornings. In this country, the main meal was around noontime. Everything thing in the town would shut down so that families could come together and have a meal. I had to adjust to that schedule. In the morning I would pour a cup of hot water that the handmaid would prepare ahead of time and I would add a tea bag to it. You can’t drink the water unless it is boiled. It could make you sick. After tea, I would walk to class and find a vendor who baked fresh bread and buy some to sustain me until noontime.
The bathroom had a toilet with no seat and the water only went on one time during the day. It was a trickle that you could get during the time it was turned on. There was no toilet paper so I am not sure what they did about that. All I know is that my first phone call home, I asked my mother to send me a box of toilet paper and baby wipes. Baby wipes are invaluable in such conditions as this. I used them for cleansing my hands when the water was not working. I hated the thought of using the restroom and not being able to wash my hands.
Each home in the city seemed to have a young lady that did the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. She was a very meek and quiet lady who had her own living quarters. The homes were made of clay and they were surrounded by their own walls. If you had a window, it was just a hole in the wall that revealed the wall around the house. On the top of the walls there were sharp shards of glass protruding to stop a burglar from coming in to steal. The bed that I slept upon was made of hay and covered with a sheet. Laundry was done by hand. I mean, by hand. You were given a bucket of rain water and a bar of soap. I learned to conserve my clothing and rarely bathed. The shower was another issue. If you could get your head to line up just right, you could get a trickle of ice cold water to stream on your hair, but the part when you apply the soap proved difficult. You can’t get the soap out. I would grab for the rain bucket and pour that over my head to rinse it more properly. It is a rude awakening to us spoiled Americans.
The smell in the streets was nauseating to me. It smelled like dead animals and urine. I think they had issues with waste management there. The food was terrible. It was all boiled in water. Did you ever have water boiled meat? Meat was boiled in water and then put on your plate with no salt or seasonings. It was all flavorless. Papaya was a common fruit served with the noontime meal. And Papaya juice which was unsweetened. I never could get used to it for some reason. My house mother would point her crooked finger at me and nag me to eat. She would say in her language, “Eat! Eat! Eat!” It made me nervous to face her each day, the food, and that dreadful crooked finger pointing at me. And yet I felt like I was such an ungrateful person not to be more thankful for what I had. One time I was served a guinea pig! It was staring at me with its teeth glaring. I could not. That is where I drew the line. There was a
reason she was making me eat and you will find out soon enough…
The next day we traveled by train to another village. The train ride seemed endless. The wooden seats that shook as the train shoved through narrow passes. 10 hours of sitting on a wooden bench was difficult. The bathroom was a closet with a hole that revealed the great wide open tracks below flickering like a strobe. As fast as we were going, you could barely see the wooden beams that laid across the tracks and the rocky surface. But when you go, everything just has to be aimed in the hole and then it just goes on the tracks. Very primitive.
We were in a market train. There were stops every so many miles. People would barter with those that came on from that stop. The lady that sat beside me had quite an odor. I was feeling very sick. I was not sure what was in the bag that she was clenching in her fists. When all at once at a particular market check point, she stood up and unveiled her creature. It was some skinned animal that had been dead awhile, yet she proceeded to hang it for it weight and sold it to another passenger before exiting the train. I just hoped the buyer found somewhere else to sit than right by me. That smell was awful!
On one of the stops there was a woman who was selling oranges. She was yelling out, “Naranja! Naranja! Naranja!” Which meant orange in Spanish. She had these oranges all gathered up in a big blanket that she had tied around her shoulders. Like a flash, there were police officers coming from all directions after this lady who happened to be right in front of me. There were guns and lots of yelling. She was guarding her oranges with her life. Not sure why, but I thought I would help. I stood up and grabbed her belt loop and pulled her away from her oranges so they could take them. After she left hold for a moment, they seized the blanket, dumped the oranges and out came the cocaine. It was a drug bust and I was there to save the day! Not really, but I helped.
They left with the lady and her oranges and off we went again. This time we stopped somewhere for the night. It was another hostel. It had plenty of rooms and an entire animal sanctuary! Wow! I was in my element. There were monkeys, and all kinds of exotic animals of the jungle caged there. Some went free, like this black spider monkey. He became my new friend. I would feed him little bits of rolls and he followed me all around the complex.
That evening I went out to find fruit to feed to the animals. I found Plantains and bought a bunch of them. We were in a tropical zone so there were lots of fruits growing. We passed a church on the way and decided to go in. In there I saw Jesus in a casket. He looked real. It was like a wax sculpture of him laying in a casket with his arms folded as if at a funeral. It was very strange. I have never seen him depicted that way. What is even more strange is that it was a little, ratty, old church. It was some convincing artwork on the depiction of him, yet very sad because I serve a living God, not a dead God that is buried.
When we got back to the place, I went out to feed the animals. I started handing plantains to the raccoons and the monkey, when I felt a crushing thud on the top of my head. I looked up thinking a coconut had dropped. And then
BAM, BAM, BAM! Another few knocks to the head. It hurt! I turned around to find an angry white tailed deer, wild on its hind legs with its ears all the way back to show its fierce temperament toward me. He wanted my plantains. I threw the rest of the plantains at the deer and ran for my life. I did not know you could get attacked by a deer at that time, and let me tell you, they are brutal. Those hoofs are strong and to prove it, I had little knots all over my head from each blow. From that point forward, I had a respect for wild life!
The next morning we all had planned trip that was about 10 hours away. It was a small ancient ruin up in the mountains called, Vilcabamba, the hidden city—a place that the Inca people escaped to when the Spanish Conquistadors were there to kill, steal, and destroy them. We loaded up into the back of this dump truck to get to this place, some 10 hours away. Are you kidding me?! Try it. Not fun! I think my mom and dad were a bit shocked that we all paid money to have such a struggle. Think about 10 hours flying around in the back of that truck, bumping into others, not to mention the one lane roads that led there, shear cliffs on either side—one straight up and the other instant death of the shear cliffs that when straight down for thousands of feet. It was a little freaky, let me tell you! We were given 5 bread rolls for the trip. That was all we were given to eat. Next time you complain about sitting in a comfortable car for 10 hours, remind yourself that it could be worse! You could be in the back of a dump truck with no seat, no food or water, on a one lane dirt road up the mountain for 10 hours straight!
When we arrived at the village beneath the hidden city, we were already not in good spirits. I know I was not happy about my parents having to endure that ride. They obviously did not know what they were signing up for that morning! The adrenaline that was needed to survive that level of anxiety and fear of plummeting down the side of the mountain every time a vehicle passed and we felt like we were dangling over the side just barely, was still running through our veins. The smiles you see in the photo before we left in that truck were wiped off by this time. Everyone was grouchy. Try holding your urine for 10 hours in that truck to use the outhouse that was just a dirt floor and a hole. Ready. Aim. Fire! See if you can manage to make the target. Oh and there was no toilet paper. Then we found out where we were going to sleep that night. And you guessed it, on the dirt floor crawling with guinea pigs! Did I mention that those little creatures were there for our food? Why yes, I looked across the room where the handmaid was knocking the little creatures over the head and putting them into the oven, fur and all! That was our dinner! I became a vegetarian that day and proclaimed it loudly for all to hear! Those that had enough energy went on the hike up the mountain to see the hidden ruins. I was not in the mood! I found allies to work with me to overturn the decision to sleep on that floor. We banned together to make the 10 hour dump truck ride that night. We got our way, but had not thought about how scary it would be to ride in the back of that dump truck in the pure darkness with a dim headlight to guide the way through the winding mountains on the one lane dirt road. None of these students were Christians, but there were prayers going up, and when the choir major started to sing a hymn, we all heard it as if it were an angel of heaven singing. I will never forget the way we were all huddled together that night holding hands and praying to return alive.
Thud…what was that! The truck stopped and the rear end started to float. Yes, we were floating and drifting to the right! We were stuck in a river that actually was a huge water fall! And you could hear the water rushing down the mountain into the darkness. You could not see where it was or how close we were, but it sounded like we were inches from flowing down the waterfall, truck and all. We all screamed and jumped out of the back of the truck. My mom and dad on there special anniversary trip were also jumping out the back into the river. Mama was not happy! We could see nothing except the dim rays that came from the headlights shining on some rocks. Now what?! You guessed it, we all had to push the truck out of the river and back on the road ahead. There we were, half in the water, half in the cold night air, scared, pushing a two and a half ton dump truck up the bank.
If you think we felt safe after that, you are mistaken! We still had another 5 hours to go and no idea if we had more unexpected adventures to come! If you are ever around me, can I please ask you not to complain about enduring your long trips with your nice heating and cooling system, the nice seat belt you get to wear to make you feel safe, the nice padded seat that leans back if you need to take a nap, and your snacks when you get hungry. On this trek back home, you only had a full belly IF you ate guinea pig. I was not only scared, I was cold and hungry.
We did get home safe, thank the Lord! The next morning we were stuffed back into the market train for another 10 hours back to Cusco. My mom and dad were a bit stressed and were glad to be flying home where things could be normal again. My only regret was that they left me there. I told Mark about the crazy adventures and if he could have he would have jumped through the phone and rescued me back home. I was there to stay for another couple months. That crooked finger and force feedings were in full force again.
I started to get really sick. I mean I was seriously sick. I needed to go to a doctor. I was not sure if it was the food or the pills that that lady was giving me. I called up my professor and told her how sick I was. She promised, “Be ready tomorrow, I will come with a taxi and pick you up to bring you to the clinic.” One more day until I can get help. My body was weak. I felt like I had lost some weight and I think I had a fever. The next day, I gathered myself together and made my way to the gate on the wall surrounding my house and waited for that taxi. A taxi pulled up and in that taxi was a lady I had never met. She told me that my professor was not able to make it so she came instead. That seemed fine. What could happen? Oh boy, I should have never gotten into that car! We did drive to the clinic. It looked like a normal clinic with a waiting room, tile floors, and pretty pictures on the walls. I sat there until the lady brought me back to the doctors room. We looked at the doctor for just a moment and kept walking. She said we had to go this way. Okay. I just keep walking down this long hall until we get to a door. She opens the door up and it appears to lead into a dark ally. Still, I think, okay, that is weird, but chalked it up for third world country backwards methods.
As we walked down the ally, it never crossed my mind that I would be in danger. And on the left there was another door. She opened the door and led me in. It was a very fancy home. Marble floors with a grand staircase. We walked past the staircase and entered a library. Books lined ever wall and there was a pretty fancy desk sitting there in the middle of that room. I was standing there admiring the beauty of this home when they wheeled a dentist chair into the room and instructed me to sit on that chair. I sat there when I heard another cart rolling in from behind. It was an ultrasound machine. What on earth is going on? I was sick but why on earth would they need an ultrasound machine? Again, I just figured at this point it had to be normal in that country. They put the cold jelly on my tummy and started to roll that instrument all over my stomach, chest, sides, everywhere!
“Vamos a operar,” they said in their language which meant, “We are going to operate!” Oh! What?! I was learning to speak pretty fluently, but medical terms, not a chance. I had no idea what they were saying, only bits and pieces I could understand. I started to become very anxious. “Can I call my family?” I asked in Spanish, of course. They said, “No.” No is the same in most languages, so no meant no. That is when a red flag started to go up. Why would they not want me to call home? They told me to undress and put the hospital gown on to prepare for surgery. I did. I can’t believe I did. And then, in the dining room, the grand dining room, with 15 foot ceilings and a huge chandelier hanging down over a 10 foot table, I was wondering why we were in a dining room. The table was fancy, with carved wooden chairs, and they proceeded to move it to one side of the room. After the servants moved the table, they left the dining room for a moment. In they walked with a small stainless steel table that looked like one of those tables they have in a morgue. They told me to lay on that table and I tell you what, at this point I am thinking, I must really need surgery that they are going to all this trouble.
I got on the table and as I laid there, tears rolled down over my temples and started to soak my hair. I look over at the big painting of Jesus on the wall across from me. The wall was this bright aqua blue around that painting like the sky. It made me think of my life. I had a good life and I know as well as anyone else, that we are only here for a short time and you never know when you will draw your last breath. People die during surgery and I could die. So I thanked my God for all that He did in my life, for Mark, my family, and the many other gifts I was so graciously given. It was weird. I kind of felt like I was on my death bed that night. Was I? Do you know when you are going to die? I thought that was it for me. I really did.
They grabbed my arm and plugged in an IV. I took a deep breath, prayed, and had to have faith enough to go home to Jesus. I was ready. Something was fishy about the whole ordeal and I just knew I was not in a good spot. I just knew I was going heaven when I closed my eyes. It was not because I was good, or did anything that warranted a heavenly prize, but only that I had great faith. I knew that Jesus shed his blood to make me pure. He took that punishment for my sins so that I could be called a child of God. It was a sweet moment of peace as my number was drawn for the last time. Yet my last prayer was that God would save me again, this one more time and give me a way of escape if it was His will.
All of a sudden the people were scrambling and the surgeon called because he could not make it until morning. Oh heavenly days! Did you think I was allowed to leave, not a chance! I was put into a tall structure that could have been a baby crib in a horror movie, but kinds of looked more like an animal cage. Just know it did not look like I was going in there to freely enter and exit as I needed. It was at the height of a normal bed and the metal bars went nearly to the ceiling. They locked me in that cage structure and gave me a bed pan since I was not free to get out at any time. The room was more like the size of a large walk in closet with a tiny window, not much bigger than a standard sized piece of computer paper. I knew I could not fit through there, but I knew that I needed to come up with a plan to get myself out of there. The lady that brought me there, sat on a chair staring at me for a while until she decided to go home. There I sat in the utter darkness, cold, alone, and frightened about the morning. I had to get out of there. I laid awake all night long waiting for the first light of dawn. It is that subtle light that barely shines the way, yet enough to see your surroundings. And there it was. The dim purple light of dawn. My salvation! I could not see the metal bars clearly and I needed to get busy devising a plan of escape.
First, I needed to get the IV out of my arm. I ripped it out and clenched my hand over the spot until the blood clotted. I did not need to leave a trail of blood. You have to think of everything. I climbed up the side of the metal bars and hoisted myself up and over, squeezing myself through the pass between the top of the cage and the ceiling. Good thing I was little. Being little comes in handy when you are trying to escape. I let the weight of my body pull me to the floor and I was free! Free from the cage, but I still had to get out of that place somehow. There was a pile of my clothing. I reached into my pockets and wouldn’t you know, all my money was gone! Go figure! I quickly put my clothes on and ever so quietly opened the door that led to the dining room. No one was there. I peeked my head out and looked both ways.
Down by the grand staircase I could see a big door. I waited. There were some footsteps. They echo when you have marble floors throughout. I heard them from that direction and held my peace. Pulled my head ever so slowly back behind my door. The room was beginning to light up by now with the morning rays of the sun coming breaching the horizon. You only saw buildings out the window, but it was much brighter and you could see everything by that time. I heard the door, the big door open in the hall. I
peeked my head out again until I could see the servant grab a newspaper or some wad of papers, anyhow, from outside the door. They kept walking down the hall away from the door and further away from my room. All seemed still and quiet except my heart beating louder than a drum. The door was still closing as you could see that stripe of light on the floor getting thinner and thinner. I made a mad dash for the door. I never ran that fast in all my life. I grabbed the handle of the door, shoved it open, and made my way out into the street. My heart racing, I kept running. I heard in the distance behind someone coming for me. I would not look back. I could not. I just kept running down this ally and then that ally, I wanted to be hard to find. Not knowing where I was or how far I ran, nor whether anyone was close behind, I flagged down a taxi. With no money, I had to pretend that nothing was amiss. I had the taxi take me back to the house that I was staying at.
When I got there, I jumped out of the car and pushed through the gate as the taxi driver was out there yelling at me to pay him. I just ignored him. I could not pay him anyhow and I could hear him peel away in a fury. I did not have money. I came to the door of the inner house and the door was locked. That was unusual and the other strange thing was that no one was home. The day before, no one told me they were leaving on vacation. Strange. I knew that in the house parents bedroom there was a phone. I could only enter through the window on the side but the window was boarded up and locked. I had to get in so I looked around the patio area for a chair or something. There was a chair and I quickly picked it up and began to smash it over the boarded window until it popped open! I crawled up and over the hard window opening. I was running solely on adrenaline at this point. No food. I was still sick and weak otherwise. Adrenaline is a powerful chemical not to mention the strength of the Lord.
I got in and found the phone. “Mom, you are never going to believe this!” I went on to tell her everything. She was worried that maybe I needed surgery. What if I had a ruptured apendix. Being a nurse, she had concern that this could have been a legitimate surgical need. My sister in law was Dominican so she told me to get to a real doctors office and get the doctor on the phone with Michelle so she could hear the Spanish and know what was going on. I went in my room, I had enough money to get to the doctors office. They looked at me and talked to Michelle. They told her I had Camphlobactor but no need for emergency surgery.
My parents wired me the money to change my plane ticket and I got on the first flight back to the states. Still concerned, I scheduled a doctor appointment with someone who could do an ultrasound on my guts. I just wanted to be sure that there was not really something wrong with me. The doctor said, “You are lucky they did not harvest all of your organs! There is nothing wrong with you and your organs are perfect. You would have been a perfect host for them.” I was sitting on the edge of my seat as I took a long hard swallow, “AND…what they do is, take all your organs out, sell them for millions of dollars on the black market, and then they just get rid of your body. Erin, it is a miracle you are alive!”
I knew that God saved me. When I prayed for a way of escape, he provided it. It is a miracle. I am sure I would not be here to write this if God had not intervened.
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able;
but will with the temptation also make a way to escape,
that ye may be able to bear it.”
1 Corinthians 10:13
And that is my crazy story of my adventures in Peru. There are tons more crazy stories as I go. If you liked this one, you will find that I attract unusual adventures as I go through life. I thank God that He keeps teaching me things through them. What an adventure life is.
I leave you with a few questions that still probe my mind. Why was the house mother so urgent about feeding me and giving me pills? Why was my professor sending someone else there when she took a plane to Texas? And why was my Peruvian House family mysteriously gone when I escaped without giving me notice? I still do not have answers to these questions, just thankful to be alive today!