Sunday morning. We gathered in the basement of the hotel for greetings, prayers and breakfast. All of the suitcases we had brought full of medicines, clothing, toys and medical supplies were stacked at the back of the room, ready to be emptied and organized. The first order of the day was to attend a church service at the Mennonite church on the other side of town. There are many Mennonite families living in Peru and from what I could see, their presence is much appreciated. Churches, clinics, schools and other services are maintained through volunteerism and donations.
This church was a small, tidy hall and open to all denominations. A group of young musicians was performing heartily and a congregation of perhaps 50 people was already in attendance, singing and clapping, swaying and holding their hands up high. I always enjoy services in Latin America. The hymns are melodious and uplifting. The sermons are personal, positive and often funny. People take part with heart and soul and you come away feeling refreshed, surrounded by people you'd love to get to know. At least that's my experience!
Back at the hotel, we enjoyed a strange watery chicken soup and plans were made to sort through the supplies. Having just one free day before the work began, some of the group decided to go and check out some ruins and asked us to wait until they got back. Liuba and I, having caught a cold and feeling sort of ruined ourselves, opted to go for a walk instead.
Cuzco is about 11000 ft above sea level. We had been advised to take some pills before we arrived to help with altitude sickness, so we didn't feel woozy. What we did feel was tired and out of breath. The sidewalks are crumbly and the traffic is fast, so you take your time when you're exploring...but still we had to stop to rest, feeling light headed and wondering why our legs felt so rubbery. I bought a warm Diet Coke at a confectionery. Refrigerators cost too much to run, so a cold one is a find!
Back at the hotel, they were opening the supplies. I worked with the pharmacist, counting vitamin pills and putting them into small bags. I was not good at this. After failing to master the stick and the counting board, I moved to labeling and picking up empty cartons, bottles and bags. It looked like we had a lot of stuff, but there is so much need - no matter what you bring, it's never enough. People were organizing toys and clothing on one side of the room and others were dividing supplies into pediatrics, optical and general practice. Everyone soon found his niche and before long, we had a rhythm going. The rest of the evening was spent getting to know each other better, and discussing the way our teams would work.
The hotel was far from soundproof and there was no heat. On each bed were two heavy, felted blankets and we needed both. The bathroom though tidy and clean was attached to all the other bathrooms through a central ventilating system, so you could hear whatever was going on in biffs nearby. Blowing noses, loud emissions, conversations, flushings and a few songs made toiletry interesting. I thought about Wikileaks as I bounced around a shower that was either cold or scalding hot, glad that there was some anonymity...at least until we knew which noise belonged to whom! Outside, the proverbial roosters and sundry street dogs kept time with the mechanics in the shops next door and I was more than grateful to have earplugs.