COVID-19 in Cusco: Quarantine Week 12


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June 6th 2020
Published: June 7th 2020
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The Covid Relief Project at Sut'uc-PacchaqThe Covid Relief Project at Sut'uc-PacchaqThe Covid Relief Project at Sut'uc-Pacchaq

The Covid Relief Project had a very successful second event! We took food aid to 50 families who are out of work because tourism has stopped while the borders of Peru are closed to slow the spread of Covid-19.
For more information about the Covid Relief Project go to https://heatherjasper.com/covid-relief-project

Sunday, 31 May, 2020

78 days of quarantine down, 30 to go

Today I got the wonderful news that Canoe Island French Camp directors Meg & Ben had their baby last Wednesday and will bring her back to the island today. I spent a fair amount of time on Canoe Island when I was a baby and am so happy that there will be a baby living on the island full time. As sad as they were to cancel camp this year due to Covid, the silver lining is that they will have more time to spend with baby Odette during her first year.

Also born last week, Miriam and Henry had Samin on Tuesday! His name means lucky and blessed in Quechua. Unsure how much time he would have for the Covid Relief Project, last week our friend Auqui took over for Henry in the organization of this Saturday’s delivery of food aid. Auqui found the next community and has been working with community leaders on arranging transportation. I just heard from Henry today that he thinks that he’ll be able to leave for a
The road from UrubambaThe road from UrubambaThe road from Urubamba

We drove from Cusco to Urubamba, and then headed out of town on a small dirt road to where the families had hiked down to meet us.
day in a week, so we’re hoping that he can join us on Saturday.

Today my aunt Laura sent a Seattle Times article on exactly what I’ve been hoping that people will see! From the Andes to Tibet, the coronavirus seems to be sparing populations at high altitudes

The article starts out with “When tourists from Mexico, China and Britain became the first covid-19 fatalities in Cusco, Peru, it seemed as if the onetime capital of the Inca Empire might be headed for a significant outbreak. … Yet since those three deaths, between March 23 and April 3, at the start of Peru’s strict national lockdown, there has not been another covid-19 fatality in the entire Cusco region, even as the disease has claimed more than 4,000 lives nationally.” The article also cites the study published by the National Institutes for Health that I’ve been quoting for weeks now.

Monday, 1 June, 2020

One week ago today, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police. How can this still be happening? Why have we not been able to eradicate racism, at least in the people who are meant to protect and serve us?

I understand that racism is a pervasive and entrenched part of American culture that will take a lot of work to actually eradicate. But
Food!Food!Food!

Thanks to our generous doors, we were able to buy for each family: 5kg rice, 5kg oatmeal, 5kg sugar, 1 liter vegetable oil, 1 large tin of powdered milk and a panettone!
with the increasingly high profile of the cases of police killing black people in the past few years, why haven’t police forces done the necessary work to educate cops on implicit bias and white privilege and fired any cops who demonstrate that they 200 percent understand the problem and will actively work to eradicate racism in police forces? Why is my country still so racist?

Trevor Noah released an insightful video about what he calls the dominoes of Ahmaud Arbery, Amy Cooper, George Floyd, the protests in reaction to George Floyd’s murder, against the backdrop of this pandemic hitting Black Americans so much harder than whites. He said a lot of profound things, but this is one quote I have to repeat. It’s a bit long, but bear with me.

“There’s no right way to protest, because that’s what protest is. It cannot be right because you are protesting against something that is stopping you. I think what a lot of people don’t realize, is the same way you might have experienced even more anger, and more just visceral disdain watching those people loot that Target, think to yourself, or maybe it would help you if you think about that unease that you
Hiking upHiking upHiking up

From the end of the road, community members walked down to the bus to carry the food up to where the families were waiting.
felt, watching that Target being looted, try to imagine, how it must feel for Black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day. Because that’s fundamentally what’s happening in America. Police in America are looting Black bodies. I know someone might think that’s an extreme phrase, but it’s not. Here’s the thing that I think a lot of people don’t realize. George Floyd died. That is part of the reason the story became so big because he died. But how many George Floyds are there that don’t die? How many men are having knees put on their necks? How many Sandra Blands are out there being tossed around? It doesn’t make the news because it’s not grim enough. It doesn’t even get us enough anymore. It’s only the deaths, the gruesome deaths that stick out, but imagine to yourself, if you grew up in a community where every day someone had their knee on your neck, where every day there was someone out there oppressing you. Every single day. You tell me what that does to you as a society, as a community, as a group of people. When you know that this is happening because of the
ValerioValerioValerio

Community president Valerio Rozas Estrada gave us a list of 50 families in the community who need help the most.
color of your skin. Not because the people are saying that it’s happening because of the color of your skin, but rather because it’s only happening to you and you’re the only people who have that skin color.”

The whole video is worth watching and I hope that if you haven’t seen it already, that you’ll watch it. If you don’t know who Sandra Bland was, look her up, too.

The murder of George Floyd has overshadowed the case of Amy Cooper, a white woman, who threatened a black man who was birding in New York’s Central Park. She was letting her dog run loose in an area of the park reserved for birding, with strict leash rules. After he asked her to leash her dog, she said that she was going to call the cops and tell them that an African American man was threatening her life. The cruelty and blatant racism of that statement is so terrible that I bet lots of people wouldn’t even believe that she had said that if he didn’t have her on video saying it to his face.

She clearly demonstrated her awareness of police brutality towards black people, especially
SpeechesSpeechesSpeeches

Valerio introduced us and explained about the Covid Relief Project before we started distribution to the families.
black men. She also clearly demonstrated that she was willing to exploit that police bias against black men in response to a birder asking her to leash her dog. Her fear, faked or real, also clearly shows that she has learned and believed that black men are dangerous. The incident is so crushing and needlessly dangerous for a person who is trying to watch birds.

In response, Corina Newsome, a biology graduate student at Georgia Southern University launched Black Birders’ Week. Day Scott, an incredibly talented wildlife photographer who I met at a NOLS Wilderness First Responders training, has been using her platform on Instagram to promote what Newsome started. Follow her at wilderness_goddess and follow #blackBirdersWeek to see some of her most recent posts.

Tuesday, 2 June, 2020

Today is BlackOut Tuesday and while many people are well-intentioned in their Instagram posts with the hashtag Black Lives Matter, I’ve read that it’s drowning out the messages that need to be seen with the BLM tag. There are so many ways to respond to the current protest on racism in the US, that I think it’s inevitable that some will be misguided or somehow miss the mark that they’re
Community supportCommunity supportCommunity support

Several community members helped with both the organization and distribution of the food.
trying to hit. There is an infinite number of opinions and viewpoints on all of the protests that I can’t possibly cover them all, especially on a blog that is really about the Covid pandemic in Cusco.

But if you’ll allow me just one more example of the responses to the murder of George Floyd, there is a vigil tonight in Boise, which my mother is going to. The organizers have asked people to come and stand silently on the steps of the State Capitol building. The only signs allowed are the names of people killed in police custody. Every 30 seconds one of the organizers will read out the name of a Black person killed by the police. Just like the opinions and viewpoints, there are an infinite number of ways to respond to the racism crisis in the US and I am glad that people are working to organize protests that are both peaceful and profound. I am also glad to see in the news how many police around the country are joining these protests, taking a knee and working with organizers to help people get their voices heard. A big part of these protests is just
DistributionDistributionDistribution

The woman in the lavender hat called out names so each family could be checked off the list as they received the donations.
that, people trying to get their voices heard in a country that has stifled their voices for centuries.

Wednesday, 3 June, 2020

Coming back to my life here in Cusco, and my attempt to organize assistance for those put out of work by the Covid pandemic, I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of donations that came in just today. Despite the focus on protests and riots in the US, many teachers from the school I used to work at in Redmond, Washington, have responded to my plea for more donations for the people of the Comunidad Campesina de Sut’uc-Pacchaq.

I am so, so thankful to my friend Kelli, who blasted out information about the project to the staff and faculty of Overlake. I brought Overlake students to Cusco to hike the Inca Trail in March of 2017 and 2019. It was last year’s trip with students that was the final catalyst for me to move here. I was only back in the US for four months after hiking the Inca Trail, before I up and moved to Cusco. So, I have Overlake to thank in part for me moving here, which obviously led to me working
Milk and sugarMilk and sugarMilk and sugar

These families live so high up in the mountains that they have to walk two hours to the nearest town. Very few of them can afford milk or sugar even when they do get to town. I was so happy that we had enough in donations to buy a big tin of powdered milk!
on the Covid Relief Project.

Besides the project, the other big event happening this week is that my housemate Andrea finally found transportation to Lima. She has been unemployed since the restaurant where she worked at closed on March 15th. The owners have decided to open up again next March. With no other job prospects in Cusco, the best option for her is to move in with her brother, who lives in Lima. He has been working from home, so at least she won’t have to pay rent while she looks for another job. As hard as it might be to find a job in Lima, it will be much easier than finding anything in Cusco. 80% of jobs in Cusco are directly tourism related, with the other 20% more loosely tourism related. There are no jobs here.

Since transportation is technically still illegal (I need police clearance for the project this Saturday) we were a bit suspicious of this offer for a bus to Lima. Knowing that she was trying to get to her brother’s place, her boss called on Monday to say that her lawyer knew somebody who could help get her to Lima. Andrea called
The panettoneThe panettoneThe panettone

Panettone is a sweet Italian bread, which is more like cake than bread. It is a very popular gift during the holidays in Peru. Being able to take a treat like that meant that we could take gifts, not just handouts.
the lawyer, who gave her the phone number for Jorge, the manager of the Inka Express bus company. Jorge said that he would let her know if there was any transportation. Today she got a message at 6am from Jorge. He said to go get a Covid test asap. If it’s negative, she should deposit s/300 (Peruvian Soles) in a bank account as payment for the bus, about three times the normal price. She was given an account number and code but not a name.

Even though it seemed sketchy to me, she went for it. She has been trying for almost three months to get to Lima and this was the first opportunity that presented itself.

Covid tests here aren’t that hard to get, which surprised me. Jorge told her to go to the public hospital or one of the main clinics in town. At the hospital she was turned away (which didn’t surprise me), so she went to Clinica Pardo. It cost her s/150, cash only,which is expensive, but not surprising. After a pile of bureaucratic paperwork, she got a pinprick to get a drop of blood from her finger and was told to wait for
Two hours from the roadTwo hours from the roadTwo hours from the road

Hike two hours up this valley, and you will get to the communities of Sut'uc-Pacchaq. Before Covid-19 they worked with tourists trekking through the Lares Valleys. Most of the families own horses, which they rent out as packhorses to carry all of the camping gear for the trekkers.
20 minutes. Only 25 minutes later, she walked out the door with a very official document proclaiming her free from any Covid.

Considering what I’ve heard about how hard it is to get a Covid test in the US, I was very impressed with both the process of how she got a test and how fast she got her results.

The next step was depositing s/300 in somebody’s bank account. Again, she had been given an account number, but not a name. There’s no way to know if it’s the company’s account, Jorge’s personal account or some other account. She went to stand in line for an ATM, which refused to accept the deposit. Even though she had waited over half an hour for the ATM, she had to get in the back of the line to see a teller for the deposit.

While waiting in line again, a line that stretched around the block, she saw a woman across the street confronting a group of four police officers. She couldn’t hear what the woman was saying, but everybody in line gawked at the spectacle. More and more cops joined the scene while Andrea strained to hear
Everything is a toyEverything is a toyEverything is a toy

As we emptied the boxes of panettone, powdered milk and vegetable oil, kids came forward to pick up the empty boxes. It seems so universal how much kids can play with cardboard boxes and reminded me of the endless ways Calvin & Hobbes used cardboard boxes in the comics I read as a kid.
what was happening.

The police in Peru do not have a good reputation. It’s definitely not as bad as how cops in the US have a reputation for failing to protect and serve Black people, but it’s still not good. From what my Peruvian friends have told me, the Peruvian police have a reputation as corrupt, abusive and flat out unhelpful.

While those waiting in line at the bank stared, a police vehicle drove up next to the woman. Andrea said that it took eight officers to get her in the vehicle, screaming all the while. They drove off, leaving everybody at the bank wondering why they had taken her away, and what they were going to do to her.

Having such a strong police and military presence in the streets during quarantine has been unnerving for a lot of people. There are so many more reasons now for being arrested that it does open up more opportunities for corruption and abuse. I haven’t heard of anybody I know feeling that the cops have abused their extra power during quarantine and curfew, but there are probably a lot of stories that I’m not aware of.

Coming
ValeriaValeriaValeria

Valeria was very helpful in organizing families during the distribution and we were so thankful for her assistance!
back to Andrea’s saga, she managed to deposit the s/300 and messaged Jorge that she had paid. He told her the next part of the plan for tomorrow, which is for her to go to the bus station at 11am, for the 18 hours bus ride to Lima. She is allowed to take 25 kilos of luggage, which should be enough for everything she owns. She is planning to move indefinitely to Lima to life with her brother, so there’s no reason to leave anything behind.

Since transportation is still illegal without police authorization, I’m a bit doubtful about the plan. However, for her sake, I really do hope that it works!

Thursday, 4 June, 2020

This morning, Kerry helped Andrea take all of her stuff to the bus station, then waited with her until 11am, when the bus was supposed to leave. There were only three other people there, for a double decker bus. At noon, they told her to go have lunch, then come back in an hour. She and Kerry came home, unsure if this was actually going to work. They left all of Andrea’s stuff at the bus station, hoping that it would
Inca ArcheologyInca ArcheologyInca Archeology

This is the end of the road, and as far as we would go with a bus loaded with food.
be fine, especially since there were only three other people there.

After work, with Andrea back at the bus station, I walked back to the wholesaler who is supplying the food aid for this Saturday. Last time, with Henry and I buying for 200 families, we bought the rice and vegetable oil at Economax, which is like Costco or Sam’s Club. It worked really well, but I wanted to support a small, local business this time. There are five wholesalers on a street only a 10 minute walk from my house and I went around to all of them last Friday, looking for one who would be willing to work with me. Economax does not allow me to negotiate prices, or care at all that what I’m buying is a donation.

Jorge, (not the same one Andrea is dealing with) owner of Wagner’s Licoreria, definitely was both willing to negotiate prices with me and support the Covid Relief Project. I had negotiated with him for prices on rice, oatmeal, powdered milk and vegetable oil last week. With the donations that have come in already, I had enough to pay for all of that and also negotiate for some
Police EscortPolice EscortPolice Escort

Returning to Urubamba, we thought it was a bit of an overkill to have a giant bus to drive just two people back to Cusco. However, the police had only given permission for the bus to drive back and forth to Cusco. Rather than try to get permission for another vehicle, the police decided to drive us themselves. I got a police escort from the Urubamba town hall right to my house in Cusco!
sugar. We struck a deal for everything to be ready Saturday morning when the transportation from Urubamba arrived and I also negotiated for sugar for each family, which I would be able to pay for on Saturday.

After my negotiations with Jorge, I went to withdraw more money from the bank, trying to get the last of the donations. Unfortunately, my atm card was refused by bank after bank. I had to go home with only half as much as I needed. I spent about an hour on hold with my bank before we got it all sorted out and I was assured that I would be able to use it tomorrow.

When I got home, I was surprised to find that Andrea was back, having been told that the bus company had been unable to get the final permission required from the police. They apparently had permission to leave Cusco, and permission to arrive in Lima, but not permission to get through all of the checkpoints in between.

At least she gets one more night in her own room. She has been informed that once the bus arrives in Lima, she will be taken to a
Travel during quarantineTravel during quarantineTravel during quarantine

It is illegal to travel between towns during quarantine, but the mayor of Urubamba got permission from the national police of Peru for me to travel from Cusco to Urubamba and back. Even with the police escort, I was required to show my permission to travel and Peruvian ID card to get back into Cusco that evening.
hotel where she will be in solitary quarantine for two weeks. Even if they do get the final police permission tomorrow, arriving in Lima will be far from the end of her journey.

Friday, 5 June, 2020

Andrea had one last relaxing morning at home and made arepas for Kerry and I for breakfast. I loved Andrea’s arepas and will miss her cooking after she’s gone. Arepas are a very traditional food in Venezuela, made of white corn masa. They’re basically round, flat corn cakes, but salty and much thicker than Mexican tortillas.

After work today, I went for a walk back up to the Temple of the Moon. Last week I walked up there four times, but this week I have been so busy either going to the bank after work or going to negotiate with Jorge the wholesaler, that I haven’t had any time to go for a walk.

I said goodbye to Andrea again, since she was supposed to be back at the bus station at 3:00 this afternoon and I wouldn’t be back from my hike yet.

It was a cloudy, cold day, which is very unusual for June. It’s normally cold and sunny from May through most of September. We have the cold alright, but not the normal sun. This is anything but a normal year, so somehow the unusual weather isn’t that surprising.

Andrea messaged Kerry and I throughout the afternoon, updating us on the continued delays for departure. Finally, the bus that was supposed to leave at 11am on Thursday, then 3pm today, actually left at around 6pm. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they actually get through all of the checkpoints between here and Lima. I’m also very curious about what the hotel will be like when she eventually does get to Lima.

Saturday, 6 June, 2020

Today was the big day! Wagner’s Licoreria opened at 8:30 and the vehicle from Urubamba arrived just after 8:30. Three weeks ago, the mayor of Yaurisque sent a truck, but all Urubamba had to send today is a bus. The guys who work for Jorge, the driver from Urubamba and Auqui started loading all of the rice, oatmeal, sugar, vegetable oil and powdered milk while I did some last minute negotiations with Jorge. We received a couple last minute donations last night and I had another s/600 to work with.

We went through several options. I was most interested in pasta or another bottle of vegetable oil per family. We looked at what he already had in stock in the quantity we needed. Besides the pasta and oil, he also showed me options for hot chocolate and several other things that he already had on sale and could give us at a greatly reduced price. I had been wishing that we could take something festive, something that would really make people smile. Rice and oatmeal and vegetable oil are basic necessities that we knew were not available to the people in the villages of Sut’uc or Pacchaq, but I wanted to also bring something that would feel like a present, not just a donation for desperate families.

Jorge finally agreed to drastically lower the price on panettone for us. Normally, a panettone is about s/30. He had them on sale for s/23 and I bargained him down to s/12. Next, I asked Auqui to talk to him. Auqui has been filling in for Henry, since Henry and his wife Miriam had their second baby on Tuesday of last week.

Earlier this week, Henry had said that he would be able to join us today. However, he texted me around midnight last night, saying that Miriam was not feeling well and that he wouldn’t be able to join us today. I was worried about Miriam, and glad that Henry had decided to stay with her today. Besides, Auqui did a great job communicating with the mayor of Urubamba, and finding a community that really does need help now. They can’t wait for the government to pass another assistance package and get around to sending help to people.

Auqui spoke to Jorge some more, telling him more about the community that we were taking the food to today. He got the price down to s/10 per panettone and I told Jorge that we would take 50 panettone, plus an extra 5 bags of rice. Last time, it was really helpful to have extra bags of rice, for people who weren’t on the list, but who needed food anyway.

With the bus seats and aisle stacked with bags of rice, oatmeal, and sugar, and boxes of vegetable oil, tins of powdered milk and panettone, we set off. The driver, also named Henry, got us through the checkpoints leaving Cusco and arriving in Urubamba. It’s about an hour and a half from Cusco to Urubamba.

Leaving Urubamba on a small road, headed north, we drove about another hour to the end of the road, at the Inca archeological site of Chupani. We were met by the mayor of Urubamba, who was just leaving. Since the communities of Sut’uc and Pacchaq are a two hour walk from Chupani, he took the opportunity to have a community meeting while they waited for us to arrive.

The community had gathered in a beautiful glade about 10 minutes walk from where we could get the bus. Several community members helped carry everything from the bus up to the glade, where Auqui and I were offered lunch before we started the distribution. Lunch was boiled potatoes with a delicious spicy pepper sauce, thinly sliced purple onion and mint leaves. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but knew that we likely wouldn’t get anything else to eat all day and gratefully accepted their offer.

I love sharing food with people here and honestly do love boiled potatoes. June is potato harvest time and the fresh potatoes that we were served today were delicious. The fresh potatoes here, compared to what you buy in stores are like the difference between fresh garden tomatoes and what you buy in stores. Or perhaps like the difference between home baked bread and store bought bread. The beautiful mountain valley, festive mood of the gathered villagers and speeches by the community leader Valerio, made me feel truly wecomed. I felt like they were happy to have Auqui and I there, regardless of what we had brought with us.

The actual distribution went quickly. Like the mayor of Yaurisque, Valerio had a list of the 50 families who he had chosen as the most in need. He got a few others to help with distribution and one woman to call out the names from the list. Valerio and two other guys handed out the 5 kilo bags of rice, oatmeal and sugar. Auqui balanced a tin of powdered milk, bottle of vegetable oil and panettone on top of the three 5 kilo bags.

Some people had brought lengths of cloth to tie everything to their back for the 2 hour hike back up to their homes. Some took the larger sacks that had contained the bags of rice, oatmeal and sugar, as they were emptied. Others took the boxes from the oil, powdered milk and panettone. Nothing was wasted and none of the packaging was considered trash. One of the reasons I had been so insistent on a tin of milk, rather than a bag, is that I know how useful those tins are. They’re like the big tins that people used to buy Folgers coffee in. Outside of Seattle, people probably still buy Folgers coffee.

The day involved a lot more speeches than I had expected. Since the rural areas outside of Yaurisque were so spread out, Henry and I made five different stops along the road to distribute aid. This time, everybody had come to us, in the same place. Valerio and Auqui spoke in Quechua and I added a bit in Spanish, before we distributed the food. Afterwards there was another round of speeches.

Valerio talked about various initiatives to improve the lives of the villagers and thanked Auqui and I for bringing so much food. Auqui explained about the project, who we were, why we were doing this and where the donations came from. I thanked them for allowing me to take photos of them. Many traditional Quechua people here are shy about having their photo taken. I explained that they had the people of Yaurisque to thank, in part, for the food that they were receiving today. It was easier to raise funds for today because donors saw photos of the people of Yaurisque receiving aid last time. Allowing me to take photos today would help raise funds for the next community. The concept of Ayni, usually translated as “today for you, tomorrow for me” is a very important part of traditional Quechua culture. Everybody understood exactly what I meant about the people of Yaurisque helping them, and how they can help the next community.

It was a beautiful day, and Henry drove Auqui and I back to Urubamba in the empty bus. It seemed silly to us to drive us back all the way to Cusco in an empty bus, so we stopped at the main Urubamba police station to see if there was a smaller vehicle that we could use. Since the Urubamba town hall had gotten police permission for the bus to go back and forth to Cusco, we would have to get police permission for another vehicle, if we didn’t want to go back in the bus. The police said that it would take too long, or be too complicated, to get permission for another vehicle. However, they offered to drive us back in a police vehicle.

Auqui and I sat in the back seats of a pick up with an extended cab, our two police escorts sitting up front. We actually did get hassled by the national police at the checkpoint entering Cusco. They said that local police forces had to get permission from the national police to move between two towns. Eventually, they let us go, saying that they were going to call the mayor of Urubamba and warn him to get the proper authorization next time.

I was so grateful that the police drove us right to my house in the gathering dark. I was so happy at how successful the day had been. Good news on top of good news, I got a message from Andrea, saying that she had arrived safely. Not only is she safely in Lima, upon arrival her temperature was taken and she was allowed to go directly to her brother’s place. Kerry was surprised that she didn’t have to be in a 2 week quarantine, but I thought it made more sense to let her go home. She just tested negative for the virus and shared a double decker bus with only seven other people on a bus ride to Lima.

Nobody should be worried about Covid getting imported to Lima from Cusco. While Lima continues to be a disaster, we still haven’t had any deaths since the three tourists in March. I feel very safe in Cusco, with our low case count and practically zero percent mortality. I am still so thankful to be in Cusco while we wait out Covid-19.

This blog and information about the Covid Relief Project are on https://heatherjasper.com

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