Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What to see... at Bybee!

Yes, I'm back! My writer's block may be thawing slightly (plus my computer has been fixed to nearly peak performance), and I have much more written in store for tomorrow with a recap of 2009. I couldn't resist a quick mention of my stop today at Bybee Pottery (Bybee/Waco, KY) while on my way to pick up our son at church camp in Eastern Kentucky.
I've always loved Kentucky's Bybee pottery pieces for their simplicity and traditional, somewhat primitive appearance. I hadn't realized that the Pottery celebrated 200 years in operation this year, with the same location used throughout to make their hand-thrown pottery with local clay.
If you visit, it's best to arrive early when shelves are stocked on "either Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Monday and Thursday". Call the week before you visit for best shopping days. Serious shoppers arrive before their opening time of 8 AM. Tours are encouraged, and I enjoyed taking a few minutes to meander through the place.
While I was meandering around, the phone rang. I heard the owner say, "No thanks," and then mutter, "We don't need no web page, if people haven't found us in 200 years they're not gonna!" So, no web link here, but you can call ahead at (859)369-5350. Yep, I did leave with a small haul- a baking dish, 8 cereal/dessert bowls, and 4 ramekins... for $21.00, can't beat it AND it's LOCAL (gotta love that!).

P.S. Photos are from my iphone, could be worse! Pin It Now!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Alpaca Heaven- Peru!

If you want to learn more about alpacas, or to see a LOT in one place (even more than AOBA Nationals!), go to Peru! That's what took me there the first time, in 2000, when I went with Paul and about 25 other alpaca breeders to see the International Alpaca Fiesta in Arequipa, visit the famous Accoyo Ranch near Macusani, and to have personal instruction from world-renowned judge, Dr. Julio Sumar. As it turned out, I found myself even more captivated by the people and culture there which is what truly led me back, to volunteer with Quechua Benefit and to ultimately adopt our daughter.
Most of the country's alpacas (somewhere between 2 and 3 MILLION) are located in the high-altitude areas of Southern Peru, the altiplano. I was mesmerized on that first trip by the huge herds we'd see along the road and sometimes even IN the road. It is fascinating to observe the sparse vegetation on which the alpacas and llamas thrive there when we try so hard in the United States to optimize their nutrition (and ultimately overfeed, "the American way!").
On this working trip we had very little leisure time to observe alpacas except from a distance while driving, though our team did spend one night at Pacomarca and an afternoon at Accoyo. Pacomarca is a private ranch owned by Grupo Inca, one of the large fiber companies in Peru. Their breeding operation, overseen by our friend Dr. Renzo Morante, DVM, is very progressive in their use of artificial insemination, embryo transfer, and EPD's (Expected Progeny Differences, a statistical analysis of breeding results, in a nutshell). Pacomarca has a beautiful facility for teaching and examining the animals, set up somewhat like one of the luxurious thoroughbred breeding farms close to us in Central Kentucky! It was brightly lit with natural light, and had lush sod which accentuated the beauty of their high-quality studs. We had a short time to look at several, and all of us were very impressed with the depth of quality in Pacomarca's herd!
We also had the special opportunity of visiting the Accoyo Ranch near Macusani, which feels like driving to the moon! There was one spot where we had to get out of the van so the driver could move rocks and get through a narrow spot, and it was spitting snow. Once we arrived at Accoyo (at nearly 16,000 feet altitude!), the telltale rock formations around the stone corrals stood out to accent the group of white suris inside (nealy all of Accoyo's alpacas are white). This black "wasi" (magical unshorn suri) is included with the herd structly for good luck. Since few of us breed suris, we were anxious to get our hands on some huacayas. There were many spectacular animals for us to check out, and we felt very welcomed by Elena and Guadalupe Barreda, daughters of Accoyo's founder, the late Don Julio Barreda. The Barreda women are now running the ranch. Our friend Marcus, who has been in Peru for over 8 weeks overseeing the construction of Quechua Benefit's new orphanage, Casa Chapi, joined us for the day and although he had been very ill that morning he felt good enough to fulfill one of his dreams... to shear an alpaca at Accoyo! It was fun to experience this with him as just the right animal was selected and he hooked up his shears to a truck battery. The staple length on this gorgeous 5 year old male was around 9-10 inches after 14 months growth, and we all put money into a pool to guess the total fleece weight. I guessed the closest to the 21 pounds, estimating 21 pounds 5 ounces.
I later tried to engage Mike Safley in a conversation about the effect of environment on fleece growth and fineness, but we got sidetracked and I hope to continue that conversation with him another time! All I can say is, we have some phenomenal genetics in our herd at Seldom Scene Farm, many full Accoyos that excel in the show ring for us, and none have ever sheared close to that weight.
The workers at Accoyo seemed apprehensive about Marcus with his electric shears at first, but he did an outstanding job and they appeared satisfied! Although this alpaca looks a fraction of it's orginal size, we were pleased to see it in very good body condition.
After the Barreda family graciously fed us, our team's doctors examined and treated several of the workers at Accoyo, and we left vitamins and parasite medicine for them. It was an awesome day, and we all felt very fortunate for such a great day with alpacas in Peru!
Yes, we did eat alpaca on our trip-it's a healthy red meat and can be prepared many different ways. Here, alpaca pizza that we had in Cuzco!
Alpacas are certainly important in many areas of Peru, and they have enhanced my own life in countless ways and led me to great friends and global adventures which I will never forget!
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Quechua Benefit- 1st Medical Outreach

Quechua Benefit, the group which which Mirian and I volunteered, has provided a variety of services to the Quechua (native people, original alpaca breeders) of Peru for over ten years, with an emphasis on dental care and support of orphanages and food programs. They have also supplied emergency food and blankets to remote areas during extreme weather, etc. This was their first general Medical Outreach trip, and it wouldn't have been possible without the persistence of Dr. and Mrs. Dwight and Deborah Bailey of Seven Springs Alpaca Farm in VA and the volunteers they recruited. Having led medical mission trips in many countries around the world, the Baileys had the experience and enthusiasm to help make the trip happen and Quechua Benefit's leaders were willing to give it a try.

We all paid our own airfare, and were requested to bring along medicines that had been donated by various international charities as well as some paid for by Quechua Benefit or donated by individuals. Each of us carried two large suitcases, mostly stuffed with meds with only a little room for our clothes and supplementary food. After two full days of travel, we gathered on the eve of our first clinic to organize the mobile suitcase pharmacy.
The entire team was divided at this point to work in two different villages, and everyone began to get acquainted a bit. We had two doctors (Mary Beth and Jim), two nurses (Ursula from Maine and our awesome team leader, Dewanda, from Virginia), myself and Mirian, two interpretors from Peru, and Mirian's brother Yodi, who had met us at Juliaca airport with flowers in hand.
We were happy to be staying at beautiful Malkini, a private lodge and ranch at 12,500 feet, owned by Michel fiber company- they fed us well and provided comfortable surroundings for the three nights that we worked in the area. The altitude had its way with me in terms of insomnia for nearly the entire trip, but the medicine we took (Diamox) prevented other problems such as severe headache and nausea.
The first day we worked in Munani, a small village about 30 minutes from the lodge. As is typical, there were people waiting already when we arrived at the clinic. The dirt streets were filled with piles of rubble (construction is everywhere), dogs, and the occasional pig. We were stationed in a multi-use building that is a medical facility and town hall- we scoped it out and quickly moved furniture and supplies for our makeshift pharmacy room and arranged cots into exam rooms. The doctors got started examining patients- a little bit shell-shocked and slow at first as they worked through interpretors to determine the source of each patient's complaint.
Those waiting in line were eager and friendly, though sometimes the children were wary of our gringo faces- some having never seen light-skinned or blue-eyed people before. My job on the majority of the clinic days was to fill prescriptions. This entailed trying to read the doctor's instructions (MB and Jim wrote legibly, the others...!), counting out pills into a ziploc bag (or mixing antibiotics), and then either writing out instructions in Spanish and putting them into the bag or finding the corresponding instruction slip which had been made up ahead of time. My Spanish is a work-in-progress, so special instructions were challenging. Sometimes the patients only spoke Quechua, and our interpretor Inti would normally interpret the instructions for them. Mirian was a "runner" for the prescriptions, and she passed out stickers, pencils and balloons to the patients and played with the children. Her familiar Peruvian features and sunny personality were a comfort to the children, and she enjoyed her popularity since she loves kids.I didn't work directly with the doctors, but always enjoyed hearing about their challenges and successes. One challenge was simply getting the patients to quickly peel off all of their layers for their physical exams. The babies were bundled up soooo heavily (no wonder the moms are protective, only 5 of every 10 survives to age 10), and were adorable in their handknit hats. One of MB's patients held the record for most skirts worn at one time.... 10! The nurses observed early on that the patients had nearly universally low blood pressures and pulses... walking everywhere at high altitude does have it's benefits. There was virtually no obesity or diabetes, the afflictions which are so common in the U.S. That's not to say that the Quechua didn't have their challenges... intestinal parasites, aches and pains, horribly chapped skin, cataracts from years in the bright sun and other afflictions were very common. Serious cases such as heart murmers and cancer were referred for more specialized help in larger cities, and hopefully Quechua Benefit can help to facilitate some of those referrals. It was interesting to me that there was virtually no H1N1 (yet, and all of our team members had been vaccinated so we couldn't spread it), though in some areas lots of the children had upper respiratory infections. The doctors prescribed many medicines for pain that we all have in our purses and medicine cabinet and completely take for granted. Common antibiotics, ibuprofen and aspirin were treated like gold by those receiving them, and the recipients were extremely grateful for the little bit of hope in each bag, dispensed with a smile. Things went a bit more smoothly as we worked each day. The second clinic day we made a 3 hour trek (each way) on switchbacked dirt roads to the tiny village of Picotani. I figure I may be the only American to have ever had the privilege three times to see this remote cooperative where endangered vicunas are carefully managed. They have huge alpaca herds here, too, and we all appreciated the challenges of trying to raise something and survive in such a harsh place. This was likely the first time many of the patients had EVER been examined by a doctor, and they seemed to appreciate the care and attention given to them by each person on our team. I really enjoyed the great attitudes and encouragement with the team members while we were doing serious work. We had a good laugh with Dewanda over her trying to weigh this precious baby in all it's garb!

There were some sobering events as well, such as one toddler that was seen by Jim that has cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk, well-cared for by his young mother who was in tears. The realization sunk in that there weren't more children like this one seen as most don't survive. MB saw a patient with advanced melanoma, and tried her best to prescribe appropriate pain meds and give her some comfort and attention.

The memories began to run together as we worked at Mirasol orphanage and Accoyo and then joined the team for three clinic days in Macusani where Mirian formerly lived. There were many loooongg days and lots of moving suitcases filled with meds, and it was particularly cold at the hostel where we stayed in Macusani, where we slept in full clothing. (At least I didn't experience any strange critters on my bed as one team member did one night in a different hotel!)Mirian and her cousin, Katarina

I hope they won't mind my telling it, but Mary Beth and Jim were part of an awesome story... MB (our good friend who describes herself as NOT a very touchy-feely person) briefly came crying into the pharmacy on the 2nd day and said, "It may not be like adopting a child, but we are buying hearing aids for one!" She went on to relay the situation of a young girl and her mother and the sad story of this girl not attending school for two years due to her hearing loss. MB felt called to do something for her, but before anything could be arranged the girl and her mother were gone. In discussing how to find them, Mirian overheard the conversation and said, "Oh, that girl was my cousin!" Not an hour later we ran into them on the town square and requested that they come back to the clinic the following day so that arrangements could be made for her hearing aids. It's going to be awesome to follow this touching story, the answer to Katarina's mother's prayers.

I'm sure that every other volunteer on this trip is feeling as we do- especially grateful for our recent opportunity to serve and also glad to be back home in our comfortable and familiar environments. With over 2700 patients seen by our team's doctors and dentists, the trip was a huge success and a lot was learned that will help Quechua Benefit to do an even better job in future endeavors. As we go about our Thanksgiving, enjoying abundant food with family and friends, I know that my sense of gratitude will be more full than ever.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Where to begin? Peru, 2009

After mostly just sleeping since we arrived home yesterday (plus enjoying my own good-ole home-cooked dinner to celebrate Paul's birthday last night... yum!), I'm unpacking, washing aromatic clothes that can stand and walk on their own, and wondering how I can begin to blog about our joys, tribulations and accomplishments in Peru. I've decided I'll try to "chunk it", with a quick overview today and then subsequent blog posts about:

Quechua Benefit Medical Outreach Clinic Days- what we did, how it worked, the numbers, MB's little miracle, the happy and sad. Coined by some "the best Quechua Benefit trip ever" (among dozens), you'll hear why it was so successful.... and challenging and exhausting working at high altitude! Alpacas in Peru- See photos of alpacas and llamas along our journey, hear about my 2nd trip to the Accoyo Ranch in Macusani, learn how our friend Marcus fulfilled his dream of shearing a 21 pound fleece off of an Accoyo alpaca, and hear about how the workers of Accoyo were seen by our team's doctors (many for the very first time in their lives). The Inca Princess- How one Inca Princess (Mirian), accompanied by 16 gringos (plus her brother and 4-5 translators), got to visit her birthplace and homeland, celebrate a memorable birthday with some family and old and new friends, make a significant contribution of herself on a medical outreach trip, and travel back to her home and family here in Kentucky... happily! Textiles and Fiber- Learn about the afternoon we spent with an antique textile dealer in Cuzco, see the weavings we purchased and hear their history, learn about how acrylic is finding its way into the "alpaca" products being sold in Peru's handcraft markets, preview the items we hand-picked for sale at our holiday open houses here on the farm! Macchu Picchu- Always sunny and beautiful on my previous visits there, the intermittent fog on this visit piqued one's imagination and enhanced the famous views of this beautiful and mystical lost Incan city. Twelve of us travelled there after the work of the Quechua trip was over. It's always soooo good to come back home after travelling; one's priorities and perspective are sharpened and I always feel more acutely grateful for what I have. As a fellow traveller said, you can almost feel guilty for having gotten more from the blessing of giving on the trip than what one can give. I highly recommend it, and am most grateful to God for the opportunity.

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