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Family time in Peru: Taking the kids to an other-worldly Andes mountain village

By on May 31, 2017 in Travel with 0 Comments

By Mary Schramm

Family time in South America was the reason Tony and Meleah Butruille took their children, Sarah and Evan, to Peru for much of February and March.

The trip was Tony’s sabbatical — a time away from his medical practice at Cascade Medical Center in Leavenworth and for Meleah, a time away from teaching clinical nursing at Wenatchee Valley College.

On a cold and cloudy day, Meleah gives a child some vitamin A and a medication for parasites. This was part of their medical volunteer work. The village was up at 14,300 feet.

On a cold and cloudy day, Meleah gives a child some vitamin A and a medication for parasites. This was part of their medical volunteer work. The village was up at 14,300 feet.

In the past, Tony had spent time in Guatemala and Cambodia working as a doctor, but this time the couple was determined to have a family adventure in South America.

Yet, Tony and Meleah also wanted to share their medical skills.

Connecting with an organization called Sacred Valley Health they chose a small mountain town in the southeastern part of Peru, 20 kilometers from Machu Picchu. Sacred Valley Health’s mission is to promote health in the underserved rural communities of Peru’s Sacred Valley.

The village, called Ollantaytambo was steeped in ancient Inca culture, pre-dating Machu Picchu. It is located in the Andes Mountains at an elevation of 9,200 feet.

Most of the villagers dressed in similar clothing, much of it made from wool the women had carded, treated with natural dyes and woven into fabric. They all filtered the water they used, cooked the same kinds of food and used traditional village methods to discipline anyone who had stolen a chicken or another man’s wife.

“It took a lot of time just caring for our own needs,” Meleah said. “There was no refrigeration so we spent much time at the market. We had to sterilize the food we ate and then cooked it inside over wood fires.

“There was no way to take a hot shower and washing clothes was done outside in large, colorful plastic buckets and hung on lines to dry.”

Evan Butruille, age 11, came to Peru loaded down with school work assigned by his teachers in Leavenworth. Each morning was study time and through the miracle of Skype, he and his classmates in Leavenworth conducted experiments for their science class, simultaneously comparing the length of time it took water to boil at the elevation of 9,200 feet where Evan was living, and the altitude in the Bavarian village he had left.

Nothing binds cultures together quicker than sports. Evan, an avid soccer player, soon learned where to find where soccer games were played. He asked to join a team, only to discover his coach was Carlos Lugo, a world famous soccer hero.

The coach was happy to have the tall, young American as part of their team, which went on to earn a regional trophy.

Between sports practice and basic living, the family hiked, fished for trout in mountain streams and got to know the villagers.

Sarah, a freshman in high school, is also a soccer player but there were no girl’s soccer teams in Ollantaytambo.

She quickly became a magnet for girls wanting to improve their English (as she did her Spanish) and enlisted this tall girl for their volleyball team.

Meleah said when she rode the bus with Sarah to a volleyball game in a neighboring village, no one had a smartphone. The girls spent the time singing, laughing and sharing conversation.

The apartment the family rented was often full of young people who would arrive late in the evening on old motorcycles — two or three to a bike. “The girls were very helpful to me,” Sarah said. “Those I really wanted to know and share things with would help me with my Spanish and not correct my grammar.”

Both Sarah and Evan took Spanish lessons, enjoying the rhythm of each day. There were limited activities available in the small Peruvian town, but they learned to like the simplicity of life there. Compared to their experience four years earlier of living in Cambodia where their dad volunteered with direct medical care, they felt safe and more relaxed.

Sarah commented that Cambodia had hundreds of un-detonated land mines and Evan remembers the battle with insects “and huge red spiders.”

Tony brought with him a stack of medical journals to read but emphasized the two months were basically family time, not practicing medicine.

Nevertheless, he and Meleah participated in the non-profit Sacred Valley Health organization. It was started by several individuals, not to do direct medical care, but to train women to be leaders in their communities.

The Butruilles helped train women to assist in diagnosing and treating the basic health concerns in their villages. Though most spoke both Quechuan and Spanish, many did not know how to read or write. Much of the teaching Meleah did was through pictures.

Nutrition, worm-caused diarrhea, respiratory diseases (because of cooking with wood) flea bites and water purification were the basic problems they addressed. Anyone giving birth to a baby was required by law, to go to the nearest medical clinic.

These women health providers worked as volunteers, in exchange for food.

On occasion the family traveled via bus and by hiking to villages located as high as 14,500 feet. To say it took time to adjust to the altitude is an understatement.

“When we would look across the mountains to see terraced crops growing high above the villages, it’s hard to exaggerate the beauty of the area,” Tony said. The irrigation system is well coordinated and the water is shared equitably.

Meleah explained there are 2,000 varieties of potatoes grown in the region and when baked or steamed, taste delicious. Nutritional problems arise, however, because potato diets are so basic to these people. The natural health food, Quinoa, is also grown and there are occasional corn fields and herb gardens. A few cows and sheep graze on the mountain sides.

Traditions, such as the water carnival, similar to our Mardi Gras, takes place in the days before Lent. A parade of bands and dancers and people in colorful dress march along the streets. During the celebration, people gather buckets of water from the canal and drench unsuspecting villagers who walk by.

The Butruilles stayed healthy, although there seemed to be a contest to see who in the family had the most flea bites.

Tony said, “We have great respect for the people in Peru. They are resourceful, live joyfully, support one another and are very hard workers. We felt privileged to be there and any medical help we were able to give was secondary to our family participating together in an adventure outside of our culture.”

Mary Schramm and her husband, John, moved to Leavenworth 23 years ago where they, in their retirement, managed the fair trade store Jubilee Global Gifts

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