Icy weather and a warm reception in Kelccanka

As the sleet started falling on the tin roof of the community meeting room, Escolastica leaned over to me and whispered, “Jenny, I don’t think we’re going to get down [from the community] today. We’ll have to start out early tomorrow morning.” We were two hours into Kelccanka’s General Assembly, still waiting for the promotoras to give their presentation. I had just gone out to use the bathroom when I accidently sat on stinging nettle, and as of yet, no cars had arrived to make the trip down to Ollantaytambo. Luck was not on our side.

Rewind 52 hours to Saturday morning, when Escolastica and I stepped off of the market truck into the cold drizzle of Kelccanka. After a short wait, which we occupied by watching the women set up their fruits, vegetables and mountains of yarn to sell, we were greeted warmly by Beatriz, one of the two promotoras we had come to visit. She took us down the hill to her mother-in-law’s house and explained that we would stay here, since her own house was far up the mountainside. She left to go back up to the makeshift market to buy the things she needed for the week, and Escolastica and I stayed huddled by the indoor fire making a pot of soup. Beatriz’s mother-in-law, Francisca, sat alongside us, cleaning a guinea pig that she later roasted over coals of burning alpaca dung. Like Beatriz, Francisca spoke no Spanish—only Quechua—so she chatted mostly with Escolastica. Every now and then, when I had a question, Escolastica would translate the query and her response. “How old are you?” I asked. “She doesn’t know,” Escolastica said. “She’s going to get her ID card in a minute and look.” Before long, Beatriz came back from the market with Ana Cecilia, the other promotora for Kelccanka. Together, we passed the rainy afternoon indoors. The women were focused on their handiwork: knitting, spinning sheep’s wool on a drop spindle, beading a new chinstrap for a montera, a traditional hat. Meanwhile, I watched, almost in a trance, listening to Quechua conversation and the rain on the roof.

Francisca, Beatriz’s mother-in-law spinning wool on a drop spindle.
Francisca, Beatriz’s mother-in-law spinning wool on a drop spindle.

That evening, Ana Cecilia gathered a few women from the community to help us with our creencias project. We sat in the main room of Ana Cecilia’s home, and I asked them questions about conventional herbal treatments they used or knew of. At first the women were timid and slow to answer, but they soon warmed up. Ana Cecilia translated my questions; I asked about everything from the treatments they use for cuts or burns (answers: herbs, guinea pig blood, fresh cow manure) to their remedies for urinary tract infections (answers: herbal teas and baths). We sat around talking for about an hour. Later, I made spaghetti for Ana Cecilia, Escolastica, and a neighbor, and we all shared some hot tea. After the meal, Escolastica and I settled in for the night at Ana Cecilia’s house, buried under piles of wool blankets to ward off the cold.

The next day, I spent the morning reviewing the most recent capacitación with Ana Cecilia and Beatriz. The were all smiles as they practiced using their thermometers, and Ana Cecilia’s eyes widened as she listened to a heartbeat through her new stethoscope.

Ana Cecilia listening to Francisca’s heartbeat.
Ana Cecilia listening to Francisca’s heartbeat.

Later we went into Ana Cecilia’s kitchen where Escolastica helped her and Beatriz prepare herbal pomades and tinctures for a presentation on natural medicine they would give at the community’s General Assembly the next day. Soon the smell of wood-smoke was overcome by scents of eucalyptus, mint, and a dozen other herbs that filled the air. As we were cleaning up and preparing to make house visits in the community, Ana Cecilia looked at me and asked shyly, “Do you want to wear a skirt?” “Sure!” I answered, “If you want me to wear a skirt!” She handed me one of hers and helped me put it on. She looked at me, beaming. “Here, you need a manta and montera, too.” I completed my ensemble, and as we were walking through the fields, Beatriz and Ana Cecilia kept turning back to look at me, then at each other, and giggling. “You look so beautiful,” Ana Cecilia said. Beatriz nodded, grinning.

We made our way up and down the mountainside, stopping from home to home. During house visits, promotoras connect with sick members of their communities, helping when they can, referring people to the clinic when needed, and providing health education to families. It’s a way for promotoras to be more aware of health issues in their communities, and it’s a good way for people in the community to become familiar with the promotoras’ roles as community health representatives.

Promotora Beatriz, Community Coordinator Jenny, Community Coordinator Escolastica, and Promotora Ana Cecilia just before going out in the community on home visits.
Promotora Beatriz, Community Coordinator Jenny, Community Coordinator Escolastica, and Promotora Ana Cecilia just before going out in the community on home visits.

That night, after a potato soup dinner, Beatriz, Escolastica, and I slept together on the floor atop goatskins and under layers of wool blankets. “Beatriz wants you to know that she’s very happy to have us sleeping here, and she wanted to stay with us to be able to share this time, too,” Escolastica said. I gave Beatriz a big smile and thanked her for her hospitality, assuring her that we were just as glad to be there with her, and we all snuggled in for the night.

Early the next morning, we woke up and got ready for the assembly. After a number of delays, the assembly finally started around noon. A couple of hours in, not long after the sleet had started, Ana Cecilia and Beatriz were called to give their presentation. The room listened attentively as they instructed about the plants their tinctures were made of and the uses of their pomades. Jars and bottles were passed around the salon as samples. Men and women took sips of the tinctures and rubbed pomades on sore muscles and joints, looking at each other and nodding in approval. Beatriz and Ana Cecilia smiled, proud that their work was being appreciated.

Promotoras Beatriz and Ana Cecilia presenting about natural medicine at Kelccanka’s General Assembly.
Promotoras Beatriz and Ana Cecilia presenting about natural medicine at Kelccanka’s General Assembly.

When they came back to their seats, Ana Cecilia leaned over and told us a truck had arrived and could take us back to Ollantaytambo that evening. The sleet had stopped, and Escolastica and I smiled at each other in relief. As we were standing outside after the assembly, I hugged Beatriz, thanked them both again for everything, and handed Ana Cecilia my folded skirt, manta, and montera. “Until next time!” I said, and we parted ways to return home to Ollantaytambo.

– Written by Jenny Jordan, R.N. 

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