24 years old from Norwalk, CA
Jackie and I were walking in the streets of Puno the other day when we saw a woman bump into a young child and knock him straight to the ground. The woman laughed and kept walking. Jackie then proceeded to follow the woman deep into the aisles of Plaza Vea (Puno’s less impressive version of Walmart) where she tapped the woman on the shoulder and told her in simple Spanish that she was a bad person and should apologize to the child.
During this incident and others, I am continually impressed by Jackie’s perseverance and fearlessness, especially since she is three months in to her first experience outside the States and this is no easy place to live in.
I can’t decide if I think she’s brave or crazy for choosing 6 months in Puno as her first travel experience, but I can say I admire her attitude about it.
Jackie’s determination and positivity even in the face of tough living conditions and a slow-moving project stem from her original goal to live abroad in Latin America. She studied at UCLA for undergrad and came to Hopkins as a graduate student with a lot of experience in clinical research.
She is a second year student in the MSPH program in the Health, Behavior, and Society Department. Most students in her department choose to pursue domestic practicums, but Jackie had other plans:
“When I got into Hopkins, I knew even before I moved to Baltimore, that I was gonna try to find somewhere in South America so I could get experience abroad and practice Spanish. I saw Dr. Checkley’s [cookstove project] site and made sure that they spoke Spanish and decided to apply. That was always my goal for grad school. I didn’t think it would end up happening – I thought they would need someone very very fluent. But yeah, Dr. Checkley took me so there we go.”
Jackie came to Puno in the beginning of June and has essentially been waiting for ethics approval to begin our study since then. She had already lived here for three months by the time I arrived.
She admits she has had a “mixed experience” so far – the beginning was more exciting: “If you had interviewed me when I was first here I would have been like this is so awesome. After 3 months of being here, it’s gotten pretty hard. I don’t have as many distractions anymore. I’m missing home, missing my boyfriend, and missing my cats.”
Speaking of cats, the contact with various types of animals has been the best part of this experience for her. “The animals are my favorite thing about this experience. The alpacas and the turkeys are my favorite. The turkeys are badasses. They’ll chase you. But the alpacas are all chickens. I have yet to meet one that’s not afraid at all.”
Perhaps in another life, Jackie would have become a wildlife conservationist. She loves trying to get as many selfies with different animals out in the campo (“the field”) as possible. So far she has one with a donkey, an alpaca, a pig, a chicken, a rabbit, a sheep, cats and dogs, and a cow. It’s quite the impressive list.
Even in the face of the challenges of living here – the worst of which has been “running out of things to do; getting through every day trying to figure out what you’re gonna do for the day” – Jackie stays positive.
You see it when she greets our study participants out in the campo: men and women in their 50’s-70’s or even 80’s who live in rural Peru on farms with no running water and mainly subsist on pastoralism. Some of them can barely walk or seem to have trouble seeing, and many do not speak Spanish very well (they speak an indigenous language called Aymara). At 5:30 am as the sun is rising, Jackie greets them enthusiastically in Spanish, she shakes their hands, pats them on the back, laughs with them and empathizes when they discuss their ailments (“Oh pobrecita!”).
Jackie and I go up to the roof of our building, a sort of ‘greenhouse’ room with skylights that let in and trap heat from the sun. (It’s the only warm place in the building and dammit it doesn’t have wifi!). We sit at the table and I ask her if this experience – her first time abroad – is what she expected.
“It’s hard because I think of people who have traveled and have gone abroad to places, as having tons of fun and doing this and doing that. But my experience is unique because I’m working in a pretty remote part of Peru. I feel like my experience is not as common as most people during their first time traveling. They go backpacking and they do all these things, they live in hostels. Most people go for the first time for two weeks; I went for six months.”
Do you have any travel plans for the future? I ask.
“I’ll never travel like this again. I’m just not at that point in my life. I have a stable relationship and I have my cats and some people think that’s silly like oh your cats are holding you back. I wanna travel, it will just be like typical travel. Hotels and hostels whatever. Excursion-type travel. It will never be living somewhere, seeing the ‘trueness’ of a city. It will be like sites. And that’s what I like anyways.”
It comes as no surprise that her travel wish list is all about the animals: “I really love animals so I wanna go to all these animals places. The Galapagos: I would die of happiness to go there. My aunt goes on safaris in Africa and she said she would take me on her next one. Aside from that, I don’t think I have a list of places I wanna go.”
For now, Jackie still has three more months in Puno to look forward to. This Friday is her official half-way mark and maybe we’ll celebrate with pisco sours, but more likely with hot, salty potato soup served up by one of our study participants while we watch the sun rise over Lake Titicaca.
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