COVID-19 in Cusco: Quarantine Week 9

South America
May 17th 2020
Published: May 17th 2020
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The Covid Relief ProjectThe Covid Relief ProjectThe Covid Relief Project

This really was the most incredible day! We were able to five 5 kilo bags of rice to over 200 families! We worked with Genaro Quispe Gutiérrez, the mayor of the town of Yaurisque. He identified 186 families in the rural areas outside of Yaurisque. We bought rice and vegetable oil for those on the list, plus an extra 24 bags of rice for those in need who were not on the list.
Sunday, 10 May, 2020

56 days down, 14 to go

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I started today by calling my Mom for Mother’s Day. As with the birthday call, it’s hard to have any conversation without it turning to the pandemic at some point. It sounds like in Idaho people are starting to go out a bit and more stores are opening up. There are lots of people in parks and on the hiking trails near town. Her county hasn’t had any new cases in a couple days, so maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about things opening up there.

I’ve been checking in with friends around the world and no matter who I call, they say something similar.

From a friend in Lima: People here aren’t respecting the quarantine. Peruvians just won’t let the government tell them what to do. People in Lima never follow the rules.

From a friend in Paris: Parisians don’t let anybody tell them what to do. They’re going out all the time and not respecting the order to stay home. The French just don’t follow rules.

From a friend in Seattle: There are so many
Any family member could receive aidAny family member could receive aidAny family member could receive aid

The mayor had a printed list of 186 families and put the word out that any family member could receive the aid. We checked them off as they picked up the donation, partly to ensure that every family on the list got something and partly to not double donations to one family, which would leave another family without. This woman picked up for both her family and her brother's family.
people in the parks! They’re walking too close to each other and not respecting the 6 feet rule. Americans just won’t let the government tell them what to do.

From a friend in Morocco: People here are still going out walking in the streets with their friends. They’re not respecting the quarantine at all. Moroccans are terrible at following rules.

From my parents: The Lieutenant Governor of Idaho went to a bar that is open illegally! The state is threatening to revoke its liquor license. The Lt. Governor is not following the rules set by the Governor. The bar was full! Idahoans are not following the rules.

At some point we are going to have to drop the nationalities from our complaints: People don’t want the government telling them what to do. Human beings don’t like to follow the rules.

I will concede that my friend in Shanghai did not say the same thing as everybody else. Apparently in Shanghai at least some people are following the rules.

Monday, 11 May, 2020

My morale is down as I start the work week. It’s the same cancelations and postponed trips, the same disappointment at not
Rice and cooking oilRice and cooking oilRice and cooking oil

Initially, I hadn't imagined buying for 180 families, let alone 200! I had hoped for 20 to 25 families, planning to buy rice, pasta, cooking oil and taking requests from community leaders. With such a large number of families, we only had money to buy rice and vegetable oil.
getting to see Machu Picchu this year. A few ask me if they can reschedule for this July or August. I don’t have the heart to tell them that I don’t think Peru will allow international flights to land until September. If the airlines won’t let them rebook their flights, then I don’t have to be the one to cancel their trip. If by some miracle they can get to Peru, we will take them on a trek. I can figure that out, but I don’t see the government opening Machu Picchu or the trains running again until international flights are back.

The worst news this morning is that my housemate Kerry lost the job that she was supposed to start June 1st. She was hired as the director of a summer camp in California and has spent months hiring counselors on Skype and Zoom, getting ready for camp to start. Even if summer camps in the US are able to run this summer, she can’t get a visa. The US Embassy in Lima is closed for everything except repatriation and emergencies. Getting her a work visa doesn’t qualify as an emergency.

After several calls to the hospital
Thank you donors!Thank you donors!Thank you donors!

All of this was made possible by seven people who donated a total of $1,000 and s/150. With a very favorable exchange rate this week, that brought us to s/3550!
in Cusco, I find out that I’m not an emergency either. Buying medication I take regularly is not an emergency. When I answered no to questions about fever, difficulty breathing or exposure to a person with Covid, they just about hung up on me. When asked, they did say that I could come in if I was having a heart attack, but that’s about it. I have a friend who has been able to get to see a doctor every two days since his dog almost bit his hand in half. So, I know it is possible to get into the hospital for something other than Covid. I’ll just have to keep trying.

Thankfully, I got some good news tonight! Henry has been in contact with several mayors in the Cusco region about us taking food donations to families in need. One village has 180 families and are in a desperate situation, according to their mayor.

Last Friday, when Henry and I brainstormed up how we can help people during the pandemic, I was imagining fundraising for 15 to 20 families every couple weeks. I had no idea our first project would be for 180 families! We got
Best co-founder ever!Best co-founder ever!Best co-founder ever!

Henry Quintano co-created the Covid Relief Project with me only a week ago. He worked all week, calling mayors of various communities in the rural areas outside the city of Cusco to ask about conditions in each community and find the one that needed help the most right now.
a $500 donation today, which seems like a great way to start our fundraising. Maybe we will actually be able to bring enough food to make a difference, even if we’re trying to make a difference for 180 families.

Tuesday, 12 May, 2020

There were very few emails this morning, so I started working on the subtitles for a video that my manager made about them taking food aid to the village where my employer hires their porters for the Inca Trail. Our company owner contributed some money and we had donations from two people who contacted the company, wanting to know how they can help the porters. Those are the kinds of emails that I love to answer! I’m glad they were able to do that last Friday, even if I’m a little disappointed that I wasn't invited to go along.

The disappointment just fuels me for my own project with Henry this Saturday. He has settled on the village of 180 families and the mayor said that they would provide transportation. That’s really the kicker. Henry and I can buy food. That’s easy, and legal. Going from Cusco to any nearby village is illegal. Henry
Forming partnershipsForming partnershipsForming partnerships

In the white shirt is Genaro Quispe Gutiérrez, mayor of Yaurisque, who made the list of 186 families and helped us find a member of each family to pick up the food aid. He knows all of the families in the rural areas outside of Yaurisque and his organization made the whole operation much easier for Henry and I.
and I have no way to get there on our own. The mayor said that they can get permission from the police and also provide transportation. I’m just going to trust Henry on this one. If he says we can do it, then I’m in.

After finishing the video subtitles and emails I still haven’t worked my full 4 hour shift. I edit the company website for a while, then take a peek at the news on CNN. It looks like Peru has hit another jackpot in terms of Covid. (Last week’s blog includes a link to a study about why the virus is weaker at high altitude, which is a jackpot for me, living at 11,000 feet). Some researchers in Belgium are studying how antibodies in llama’s blood can help vaccines, specifically a Covid vaccine. Peru has both high altitude and llamas in spades. If both of those things are truly helpful in this pandemic, I am more and more happy to be here now.

Of course, that’s only looking at the public health of Peruvians - which is absolutely the most important issue right now. However, bringing tourism back is also a very important issue. As many countries around the world are
All smilesAll smilesAll smiles

Culturally, most people in these rural areas are very shy. Most adults were hesitant to pose for photos, but the kids didn't hold back!
wondering where the line is between letting people make a living and keeping them from dying from the virus. Most people can’t work from home or work online the way I can. Granted, I’m now part time on half pay, but I do have a job. One article that made my heart drop is the idea of a 2 week quarantine upon arrival to another country. Even people who still have jobs and have the money and nerve to travel this summer, do they want to be in a hotel quarantined for two weeks before they can come to Cusco to see Machu Picchu? If those people exist, I bet there aren’t very many of them.

Another article on the future of tourism floats the idea of immunity passports as a way to cross international borders. It also goes into the idea of travel bubbles between countries, like the proposed travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand. Like last week, the only nearby countries with small enough outbreaks that I would be comfortable having in a Peruvian travel bubble are Chile and Argentina. However, even if things are going well in Cusco, Lima is still a disaster. I highly doubt anybody will want flights going in or out of Lima for a

Some of the elderly people who came to pick up the aid for their families weren't actually capable of carrying 5 kilos of rice. Mayor Genaro Quispe Gutiérrez had a great team of helpers with us all day, so we always had an extra person to carry the food to the homes of those who needed help.
while. I wonder if we can get international flights to land directly in Cusco. Before the pandemic, I believe the only international flights from Cusco were to Colombia and Bolivia. I just don’t see the international tourists coming back at all this year. I’m afraid to say that to any of the guides I know here and really hope that I’m wrong. I just don’t know what we're going to do in Cusco without tourism.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Today started with some fantastic news! Two more people want to donate to the Covid Relief Project! We actually have enough now to buy something for all 180 families. With a little more, we could do better, of course. Still, we can at least take 3 kilos of rice for each family. Depending on how you stretch it, that can get a small family through a week.

After a flurry of thank you emails and discussions with Henry about how much he can get with the money we have, I take a minute to look at the news, hoping for another article about miraculous antibodies in llama blood. Instead, I find 2020 is a catastrophe for the tourism business. Yes, thank you, I am very
Traditional waysTraditional waysTraditional ways

Many people came to us with their traditional blankets, which they use to carry everything. Henry was great at helping people carry home the donations in any way that worked for them.
aware of that.

The article claims to know “what the industry needs to get back on its feet.” Unfortunately, the answer is not llamas. Or alpacas. It’s domestic tourism. That is very unlikely to do much for Cusco. The only domestic tourists we used to get were from Lima, which is currently such a disastrous outbreak that I’m worried the international news will pick it up as the next Guyaquil. One reason I scan the international news is to reassure myself that Lima hasn’t been called out as the next New York or something terrible like that.

After the hopeful start to the day with the new donations, I got bad news from home. Dad went fishing and fell on the slippery rocks at the side of the river, causing a big bruise on his left hip. Yesterday, he could walk. Today, the swelling is so much worse that he can’t walk and Mom took him to the ER. Under the new Covid rules, she wasn’t allowed to go in with him. She just had to leave him there. The nurse promised to call every hour with an update. It’s late enough here that I’m not going to
The elderlyThe elderlyThe elderly

This is the end of corn harvest and the beginning of quinoa harvest, so many of the younger people were working in the fields. Those at home who were able to come pick up the donations were often the grandparents or great grandparents in each family.
try to wait up to hear what happens. I’ll just hope for good news tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 14 May

Good news it is! Dad is home with a terrible bruise and terrible swelling, but no broken bones. The cure is rest, hydration and a good diet. I am so relieved!

My poor housemate Kerry has been posting on Facebook to try to find a new charger for her laptop. She has gotten some legit responses and some people who tell her that she can get it fixed just about anywhere. One person actually told her to just go look for open doors, after Kerry pointed out that most shops are closed due to the pandemic. I am having a hard time imagining a pharmacy offering to repair a broken charging cord. After all the ridiculous responses that she got, I was very doubtful about somebody who replied to her that he had a cord and would sell it for 100 Soles.

Nevertheless, now that she lost her job in California, she has had to double down on teaching English online. Obviously, if she can’t charge her laptop, she will lose that job too. So, we set
How lucky am I?How lucky am I?How lucky am I?

It was such an incredible privilege to be able to take food to these families, even if 5 kilos of rice is not as much food as I had initially envisioned. To be able to help over 200 families is due to the donors who gave generously for this first project.
off to find this person in the hopes that they really had a cord that would work for her computer. I was enlisted in the operation as the Spanish speaker.

Of course, today has to be the day that they have made new rules about public transportation. Now it’s only from 6am to 9am then from 3pm to 6pm. Yes, busses are still running in Cusco. It sounds scandalous to me too, but they are at less than half capacity, with every other seat marked as off limits. After lots of busses passing us by because there were already ten people in the bus, then the wrong bus, which eventually turned out to be the right bus, we got to the corner that the guy had sent as his location. We texted him and he said he would be there in ten minutes, then wrote back again to ask us to walk down the street, cross a bridge and wait for him in front of a hardware store. I was starting to feel like this was a wild goose chase. Did this person even exist?

Eventually, a guy came out of a nearby alley and waved to us.
Along the wayAlong the wayAlong the way

Since we were able to buy 210 bags of rice, we still had some after we donated to all 186 families on the mayor's list. Driving back towards town, we were able to give to people who lived outside of any community and therefore didn't have a mayor to advocate for them.
Despite being almost the only people in the street, I wasn’t sure that he was waving to us. He called out “para el cargador” so we followed him. He went in an unmarked door and asked us to wait. A few minutes later he emerged with gloves on and a spray bottle of alcohol. He sprayed our hands and the soles of our shoes, then led us into what could have been a car repair shop or a bar. It seemed to have everything for both. Then he went into a little side door, down a dark hallway. It was the sort of place that I would hesitate to go alone.

All of a sudden, we were in a video arcade. There were lots of new computers for gaming, but also some old arcade games that looked like they belong in a museum. He went through boxes of cables and chargers, none of which worked. Finally, he pulled the cable off his printer. Jackpot! Then I had to convince him that we had come all that way and he was going to have to sell us his printer cable.

Mission accomplished and the right bus found for the
Times are toughTimes are toughTimes are tough

These two children were waiting by the side of the road, hoping to sell firewood that they had collected. We didn't want to buy their firewood, but we still had a bag of rice to give to them.
way back, we were walking up the hill to our neighborhood when I noticed the sky getting a little pink. That had taken all afternoon but at least we were getting home before dark. Looking down the valley towards Mt. Ausangate, I was surprised to see the snow covered peak with sun still on the very top. It has been so cloudy for the past couple weeks that I haven’t seen Ausangate in a while. It was beautiful.

After dinner I got more good news. A friend here in Cusco told me that the results of the study I’ve been so excited about the past two weeks finally broke on the local news. All the local news stations were talking about how the Covid virus is weaker at higher altitude and how those who live at higher altitude are also less susceptible. This is better than the miraculous llama blood story.

Friday, 15 May

Henry just sent me a copy of the document that will allow us to leave Cusco tomorrow - leave and come back! It looks super official with the name of the community we are going to and our names at the bottom. It is also for the Covid Relief
Rainbow seasonRainbow seasonRainbow season

We are still getting rain showers here and there, since we're in-between the rainy and dry seasons. One the way back to Cusco, we stopped to get a quick photo of the rainbow behind us, coming up from the valley where we had just been. I take it as a good omen for our next project. We now start fundraising for food aid for another community.
Proyect, which is close enough to Project that I’m going to let it slide.

Unfortunately, back in Boise things are not so great. My Mom told me this morning that she had to call an ambulance to take Dad to the hospital because the pain is so much worse that he can no longer sit or stand. Considering that right after the fall on Tuesday, he could walk, albeit with a limp, he is definitely getting worse. Mom wasn’t able to go with him because of Covid, but she is getting regular phone calls and promised to update me as the day goes on.

Here in Cusco, things are going really well. I made the last ATM run to get another s/700 from three donations that came in yesterday, which added up to $200. Withdrawing s/700 from the ATM took $207.48 from my account, but that will even out another donation. Wednesday I took s/1000 from the ATM for a donation of $300. It took only $298.88 from my account, so I have a couple dollars here and there to even it all out. I am so thankful that my credit union refunds all atm fees and foreign exchange fees, so I can actually receive donations without losing any of it to fees.

Also, one of my housemates and one of my neighbors donated in cash soles also, which brings us to a grand total of s/3550 to spend on food tomorrow morning! Henry and I are going to a wholesale place and I am going to bring out my Moroccan bargaining skills to see how much we can get for that s/3550. At a minimum, I am sure we can get 5 kilos of rice per family.

I called Henry to talk logistics and he mentioned that we would be passing isolated homes on the way to the village. He has been calling mayors, getting information about the needs of various communities. However, there are people who live out in the country and don’t really have a community or mayor to advocate for them. When he suggested giving food to people we pass on the way, I was quick to agree. We are expected to buy food for 180 families, but if we can help 200 or more, that would be incredible.

The late afternoon news from Boise isn’t great, but also not the worst possible scenario. My Dad will have to stay in the hospital over the weekend, since he can’t sit or stand. By Monday the blood thinner that he takes for a heart condition will have worn off, so they’ll be able to operate. He didn’t take it today, so with Saturday and Sunday also, the blood thinner won’t complicate the surgery on Monday. The worst part is that because of Covid, Mom can’t even go visit him. Tonight she took him a book and homemade cinnamon roll, but she has to leave it with the nurses.

As sad as it is for my Dad to be alone in the hospital, he is healthy besides this one injury. He is not dying alone like so many thousands of people around the world who are dying of Covid. I still wish Mom could go see him. She tucked a note from me in the book, but she can’t give him a hug for me. As sad as this is, I can’t even imagine how frantic I would be if something really terrible happened now. I don’t think it’s possible for me to get there if I wanted to.

I mentally send hugs to Dad, roughly 5,000 miles away, then start packing a backpack for tomorrow. It is going to be a very big day!

Saturday, 16 May, 2020

Today was amazing! You can see a lot of what Henry and I accomplished today in the photos of this blog. We started early with the shopping, buying 210 bags of rice and 180 bottles of vegetable oil for cooking. It was almost a 2 hour drive to get to the rural area where we distributed the donations, which made for a very long day. Especially after sitting on the couch for about nine weeks, it was exhausting. I’ll post more information and photos on my website.


17th May 2020
How lucky am I?

How lucky am I?
A wonderful thing to be able to exclaim in these uncertain times. Heather. Your work sounds very rewarding for the providers and the recipients. Coming from Australia we can say 'How lucky are we?" as our death rate is incredibly low compared to the rate of infection, yet this is due to the stringent rules and testing by our Federal and State governments and that most people follow the rules. We know how contagious this virus is as our outbreaks indicate it only takes one infected person to create a cluster. It is a lottery and the rates of infection and death rates in some countries appear to be a reflection of their attitude to risk. It saddens me that some countries' attitude is more political than caring. Keep well, keep smiling and keep saying, "How lucky am I?"

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