My host grandpa in Qreros is so well-buried in blankets that when I walk ito the kitchen I don’t even know he’s there. As I help peel potatoes, my host dad explains that the frozen tierra made his father sick. The family asks me for medicine and I don’t know how to respond – his condition definitely warrants more than Advil, but that is all we’ve brought with us. The next morning when I leave the family, I wish them well but feel conflicted – who is going to help heal this man? Will he get better?
Nación Qeros is a collection of small, indigenous communities way up in the desolate, high peaks of Peru. In Qeros, you eat potatoes for three meals a day that are grown in lower elevation chacras because hardly anything takes root up here. If you’re a mother, your feet are fierce; you walk barefoot through fresh blankets of snow and over rocky pathways to collect water from the communal tap. If you’re a kid over the age of three, you wake up, fold up your blankets, and help peel potatoes; you have better knife skills than the foreigners three times your age; you never complain.
On the second day of our Qeros visit when I got sick with a mild fever, my homestay dad buried me under a pile of blankets that rivaled grandpa’s from the night before. That night, I shivered myself to sleep cocooned under blankets and my 15 degree sleeping bag that probably cost more than my host family’s net worth. I woke up to find that I had pooped my pants on several different occasions that night, and by the morning, I was convinced I could not continue trekking.
A third family in Qreros welcomed my smelly self into their home while I waited for my evacuation entourage to arrive. There, my mute host mom read me coca leaves and gave me mugs and mugs of tea. From the coca leaves, she concluded that I had a fever and needed to leave Qeros because I would not be able to get better in the harsh, high mountains. Siwar Kenti, ex-president of Qeros, showered me with rose water to wish me good luck on my journey back to Cusco.
I mounted a horse and began the three hour trek to the closest road access point. As we walked, the horse and I periodically (and unexpectedly) pooped ourselves together, smelling up the scenery. From the horse, I piled into a car for the rest of the journey to the hospital.
When we finally got there, I was seen immediately (at 10pm) by a doctor who spoke perfect English. He suspected (correctly) that I was suffering from a particularly violent case of salmonella. (Later I learned that I also had amoebas – a strain that is the cousin of Kendall´s.) That night in the hospital, I drank up several thousand milliliters of antibiotics through my IV and felt 100x better by morning. After one more night of monitoring me and dousing me with antibiotics, probiotics, salt water, and hilariously dubbed Hollywood movies, I was in the clear, sent away with a week more of meds and a hefty hospital bill, also probably more than the net worths of all of my Qreros homestay families, combined.
Why did I receive immediate care for my sickness and my host grandpa did not? I was whisked out of harms way by my evacuation team of horses and humans to ensure my speedy arrival at the best hospital in the region. The cost wasn’t even a consideration. When I waved my US passport at the hospital, I was treated without question and before many Peruvians, ushered into a private room on the eighth floor with floor-to-ceiling windows and a shower.
As I vegged out in front of Groundhog Day and X-Factor, I thought about privilege. What makes me any more deserving of health care and medicine and good doctors than any other human? But at the same time, who am I to impose western medicine on indigenous folks who already have their own medical systems and beliefs? In Qeros, the families I interacted with had blended their indigenous medicinal practices with more western ideas, but they lack access to western drugs and doctors. Does Dragons have an obligation to bring western medicine to Qeros? Is there a more sustainable alternative? Does western medicine threaten indigenous culture?