Quick Update

Let’s see, it’s been a while since I’ve updated. Since the end of May, I’ve:

  •  Left Perú
  •  Attended my brother’s graduation
  •  Attended my dear friend’s graduation
  •  Arrived in Australia
  •  Visited the 12 Apostles at the Great Ocean Road in Victoria
  •  Reconnected with childhood friends
  •  Found a tree full of grumpy koalas
  •  Watched the Opera House trip out to Vivid Sydney
  •  Hunted down a quokka in Western Australia
  •  Tried a cronut
  •  Worked with one of my favorite med teams ever
  •  Broken my foot
  •  Celebrated my sister’s engagement
  •  Celebrated my friend’s wedding
  •  Climbed halfway up a mountain
  •  Chilled out with my horse
  •  Studied way too much
  •  Taken another licensing exam
  • Come back to Peru

And now I’m off to Iquitos!

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Facts about Australia

  • Despite what Australians may tell you, Seattle is not in Canada, and Peru is not only a real country, but it actually exists.
  • Beet (beetroot) is an appropriate burger topping.
  • Slices, fresh pastries, and meat pies are taken seriously.
  • The turn signal lever is on the wrong side of the steering wheel. Sorry, whoever is following me!
  • If you say ‘quokka’ fast enough, it sounds like a squirrel with a lisp saying ‘cracker.’
  • There are differences between lattes, flat whites, and cappuccinos.
  • The one dollar coin is twice as large as the two dollar coin.
  • Train timetables are more like guidelines. Really flexible guidelines.
  • It would be easier to sneak drugs past the Customs officers than a single piece of fruit.
  • Short words are popular. Prime example? Arvo=afternoon
  • No one looks at me funny when I say ‘thong’.
  • Everyone looks at me funny the rest of the time I’m speaking.
  • McDonalds has been rechristened “Maccas”
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Taryn’s Travels

Hullo from Melbourne! Friends have alternately commented that keeping track of me is like Where’s Waldo? (Where’s Taryn?) or Taryn’s Travels (in the vein of Gulliver’s Travels but “with less little people and more blood and guts.”) I’m going to try to be better about updating and hopefully this summer, I’ll get around to fixing all the broken links and photo links on the blog. In the meantime, here’s a brief update! (If you get my email newsletter, this is almost word for word, so you can either play the ‘spot the differences’ game or you can skip it! If you want my email newsletter, get me your email address and I’ll add you to the mailing list.)

Since January, this is what I’ve been doing

  • I spent January to May working with a public health research group in infectious diseases in Perú. We look at a number of infectious diseases, but the ones I’ve been involved with are tuberculosis, malaria, neurocysticercosis (a parasite that can cause seizures), and Chagas’ disease (a parasite that can cause heart or intestinal disease).
  • While in Perú, I developed an addiction to ceviche (a lime and fish dish served for lunch), got to visit the sierra in the northern part of the country, tried my hand at sandboarding (thinking snowboarding…with sand), and am slowly *slowly* learning Spanish.
  • I found a lovely church in Lima that has a great congregation of ex-pats and a joyfully active Assemblies of God church that I attended sporadically to remind me that it’s okay to celebrate God by dancing in the aisles of church. (I’ve never seen anything like it. The auditorium must seat 600 or 700, and people line up, outside in the heat, for 30 minutes before the service just to get in — and there are five services a day! It’s fun to see so many people excited to worship God.)

Here’s what I’m doing now:

  • A rotation in vascular and trauma surgery at a hospital in Sydney, Australia. This is giving me a chance to brush up on my clinical skills, see medicine practiced in yet another country and culture, and, more importantly, visit my adopted grandma and our good family friends. Also, eat meat pies.

And here’s the big news: I was offered a position to stay in Peru as a research associate for another year. I’m so excited to see what God has in store for me over the next year! This means I’ll return to New York in the summer of 2014 to complete my fourth year of medical school, and I’ll graduate from medical school in May, 2015.

So I’m finishing up here in Australia, headed back to the US for a few months this summer, and then packing myself back off to Lima for another year! Looking forward to many more great adventures in the next 12 months.

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Oh, Lima.

Lima is a pretty easy city to live in, if you’re going to move abroad. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments when you scratch your head and stare confusedly into space. These are “Oh, Lima” moments. For instance:

On the metro it’s fairly common to have someone’s head in your armpit while you accidentally spoon the rider in front of you because so many people crammed onto the bus. It was under such situations that I had the following conversation:

Slightly Creepy Middle Aged and Balding Man: So, where are you from?
Me: The US.
SCMA&BM: Do you like it here?
Me: Yes, Lima’s great.
SCMA&BM: Do you have a husband?
Me: Yes. (Never say no. It leads to instantaneous marriage proposals. Also, have someone in mind to whom you can be married in case pressed for details.)
SCMA&BM: Do you have kids?
Me: No.
SCMA&BM: Do you want them?
Me: Someday, that’d be nice.
SCMA&BM: Are you practicing?
Me: Um, I don’t think that’s a question I should answer on a bus…

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To Practice Sitting

Many articles have recently been published on the plague of being busy, on our self inflicted and horrific schedules, on the self worth people find in the implicit importance of always having too much to do. This is blamed on the rise of internet-caused narcissim, on the loss of religion and the associated meaning it gives to life, on the rise of the individual’s need to be unique and important. We’re told to slow down, learn to relax, find space in silence, all by experts who are, themselves, busy speakers, writers, physicians, analysts and bloggers, looking to bump their own social networking profiles and wrapped in their own cult of importance that comes from never having time. After all, if your time is scarce, that must mean that it is valuable and precious.

I spent a week in Joras, sitting on a bench that was built of mud and a part of the foundation of the house. There were no other chairs. I sat there, under the eaves on the front porch, and watched as life passed in front of the hedge flanked garden gate. People would wander by, herding children or stopping to gossip with my host mother. One of the two trucks that connect the village to the outside world might slosh past, wheels spinning and chased by boys giggling as the drivers throttled the engines and coaxed the four wheel beasts through sticky mud. Often though, there would be nothing. A hen might carefully pick its way past, going to locations unknown both to me and the chicken. A pig, its Y-stick carefully tied into place, would wander along the road, appearing around the edge of one bush and disappearing behind the next, and I would sit there, perhaps with a cup of hugely sweetened tea, perhaps not. I sat and watched and thought. I didn’t think of anything in particular. I was not meditating or trying to have epiphanies. I was just sitting. It takes some practice to just sit, and of practice, I need a lot.

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Por Ayabaca

19 March 13

Por Ayabaca

The bus winds up a well maintained dirt road, barely clearing soil outcroppings and skirting a long, tumbling fall of hill on our right. Every time we hit a bump, I land into my seat and a little poof of urine-scented air escapes the cushions. I spend five and half hours debating ‘would I rather be in this extremely comfortable seat that smells overwhelmingly like pee, or on a clean but uncomfortable wooden bench?’ Every time I think I’ve settled on the comfortable recliner, we hit another puddle, the stench assails me again, and the thought of a numb tailbone sounds better and better. We keep climbing higher, the bus stalling when our driver shifts gears as the vehicle crawls into la sierra. The views are strangely familiar – rice paddies terraced into the mountains, the small white houses clinging to places barely flatter than a ski hill, corn growing in fairly straight rows. A few banana trees are scattered here and there, but I can’t find any elephantine taro leaves. We pass a vulture. He and I are on eye level because his tree roots somewhere down the cliff, so his perch barely clears the road’s altitude. A brown river rushes by, carving the valley ever deeper. There’s a proper bridge crossing the chasm, but next to it is a small zipline with a one person pulley attached. It looks equal parts fun and terrifying. We cut through a village; eight houses clustered on both sides of the road, and guanabana and popcorn are sold to los pasejeros through the open bus windows. We start off again, zigzagging up a series of switchbacks. All I can think, when I’m not debating the comfortable urine seat v. the clean wooden bench, is ‘please, bus, don’t tip over.’ I spare a moment to think about what would happen if we flipped into the hill on our left instead of the empty space on our right. It’s patently obvious that the right wheels would barely leave earth if we leaned against the cliff, so steep is its ascent from the hard packed dirt of the road. The power line cuts a cleaner path up the gorge and we crisscross underneath it. The lowest line is covered in air plants, happily perched on the metal and soaking up the sun. Occasionally, we sidle past cows, horses, or burros hanging out on the side of the road. They hear the honk of the horn and scatter to the edge, ignoring the autobus careening by. Trees are silhouetted against the skyline and suddenly we’re inside a cloud. I revert to childhood whenever I’m in cloud, and, tickled pink, smile to myself. ‘I’m in a cloud’s belly!’ The mist grows thicker until I start praying that the bus driver can see better than I can, because to me it looks like the road ends five feet in front of us, and he’s flooring the gas. We cross the spine of the mountains and suddenly it starts raining. Welcome to Peru’s microclimates. The temperature drops from the mid nineties to the low sixties and I’m very glad I packed my chaqueta in my daypack. Suddenly, we’re headed down and I’m irrationally upset. ‘All that work going up and now we’re just going back down?’ But that’s it. We’re here, and I suddenly become self conscious. Do I smell like urine now?


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A Story About A Cow

This is a story about a cow. This cow tried very hard to keep me from going back to medical school.

You see, technically, there was internet access in Joras; it’s a 3G cell-based signal from an antenna on top of one of the nearby mountains. When something got in the way of a direct line-of-sight to the antenna, the internet (and cell service) didn’t work. Small children often got in the way, but I could ask them to move. The cow, on the other hand, which was halfway up the mountain? The cow didn’t move.

With the cow blocking the internet signal, I was in a bit of trouble. My school registration period changed, due to technical difficulties in New York and suddenly I was in the middle of the sierra with a cow-blocked internet signal and I needed to register for my fourth year medical school classes.

The first day, I caught a ride with the profesores back into Ayabaca, the provincial capitol, to use an internet cabin there. Of course, then my school’s website was down and an email told us they would notify us when registration became available again. Receiving said notification, however, would require internet.

Back we went to Joras, and the amazing disappearing internet signal. Two days later, the cow herd moved long enough for me to check my email and find out, “Surprise! You have to register for classes ASAP! Or you won’t get what you need and then you won’t graduate.”

5:00 am the next morning, I was catching a ride back into Ayabaca to try to register for classes again. And then, my personal profile doesn’t work on the school website. Often times, a profile problem takes several hours to fix, and I had about forty minutes. I emailed IT and said “Please help or a cow will block my internet again.” I can only imagine that they appreciated that comment, because magically my profile was fixed and I was able to register for classes.

When we got back to Joras, it started raining and then the internet started working. If anyone knows why rain makes the internet work, I am interested in hearing theories. Maybe the cows went inside?

But truly – I was late registering for med school because a cow blocked the internet. Beat that excuse.

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