March 15, 2012

History 101

Peru is a nation rich in history, tradition, culture, and of course turmoil. Francisco Pizarro landed on the northern coast of Peru in 1532, conquering the region in the name of God and the Spanish crown. Little did he know that the Andes had already witnessed the rise and fall of various civilizations including the Chavin and Wari. However, why would Pizarro care? He only had eyes for Incan gold. The clash between the Spanish and the Inca was tragic in many ways. Scholars estimate that the indigenous population was ~10 million when Pizarro arrived but reduced to a mere 600,000 within a century of colonial rule. His actions and the Spanish irrevocably altered life for everyone in the Americas. The language, food, economics, political system and even the capital (Cuzco to Lima) changed as a result of this conquest.

Foggy Lima served as the port from which tons of Inca gold were shipped, the site where the liberator Jose de San Martin declared independence from Spain in 1821, and has since been the home of countless palace coups and dictatorial regimes. Despite these tumultuous circumstances incredible things have emerged from Peru including: new cultures, new races, new voices, new cuisine (gastronomy’s a big deal here dude) and perhaps even a new civilization.

Peru’s history is extensive to say the least. No blog could ever do it justice. However, here are a few quick facts for inquisitive minds:

Peru (a democratic republic) encompasses an area of 1,285,216 sq km and has a population of 29.5 million people (including Amerindians, Europeans, Africans and Asians). It’s bordered by: Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, the country is divided into 25 regions and the province of Lima (home to >8 million people). Its regions contain diverse geography that include arid plains and desert along the Pacific coast and Amazon jungle east of the Andes.

Regarded to be a developing country, it has high Human Development Index score with an estimated 31.3% of its population living in poverty. Main economic activities here include agriculture, fishing, mining of gold/silver and manufacturing of textiles. Spanish is also the national language though Quechua and Aymara are still widely spoken among indigenous Peruvians.

(Obviously, there are many gaps here. However, I do hope to write more about Peru’s dictatorships, revolutions, "Fuji-shock", the current government, prior terrorism and military in the future. I can already hear the yawning :-)

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March 11, 2012

Bienvenidos a Miami

I’m currently at the Miami International Airport (MIA) and en route to Lima, Peru. Yes, I’m thinking about Miami Vice and Don Johnson (like any normal person). The layover here is long (7 hours) but at least it gives me a chance to write and of course think more about Miami Vice.

These last few days have been filled with a hub-bub of activities as well as emotions. Getting organized and packing one suitcase for a 3 month trip is no easy feat. (Ex: Do I pack the bikini or go skinny dipping instead? Decisions, decisions. --- > I hope you all know terrible jokes are my forte.)

Its taken me a little over 2.5 years of internal medicine residency to reach this point and I’m grateful for having the chance to spend 3 uninterrupted months abroad. I sincerely hope it will be an enlightening experience, afford me the opportunity to interact with those successful/active in international medicine and determine if this is a path I too wish to pursue. Experience opens our eyes to possibilities, right?

Many of my medical and non-medical colleagues/friends have different perceptions about what international medicine is. Frankly, I don’t think there’s a simple answer. It encompasses such a broad array (i.e. developing health policy for the WHO or CDC, serving in the Epidemiological Investigating Service, being a Fogarty fellow, assisting with disaster relief in places like Haiti, working in a refugee camp, performing clinical/basic/translational research abroad and in the States, etc).

The idea of it attracts many individuals. However, only a few ever commit. For me, international medicine has various attractions. These include the ability to become an expert in a disease that afflicts large populations throughout the world (like TB, Malaria, Chagas, HIV etc), perform scientific research, collaborate with others, learn of course and travel. Do you think I’ll take the plunge? I guess only time will tell. ☺

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