From Kansas to Peru with Love: Installment #1

As mentioned earlier, Ken Lassman (occupational therapist, writer and wheelchair clinic director, and my husband) is guest-blogging about his experiences working with the disabilities communities in Lima, Peru Oct. 26-Nov. 4. Stay tuned for more!

Hotel Melodia has a very modest presence along the six-lane divided street of bustling traffic in the San Miguel section of Lima, Peru. There is a sidewalk /driveway where folks who stay here pull out of the steady stream of vehicles to take up one of the half dozen parking spots or go down the ramp to park below, getting out to have the locked gates opened by the ever present key holding gate attendant.

I’m sitting on my firm twin-sized bed in a small but efficient 10 X 12 hotel room with a wood wardrobe framed by two small windows that overlook the neighborhood of cinderblock and brick homes and businesses. Since Steve and I are on the 5th floor, we can see the tops of most of the structures, many of which tell a story: pottery containers surrounded by walls that have not yet been finished adjacent to another room where the walls are done but have colorful fabric sheets instead of a ceiling; another roof well lived in with a ceramic patio, plants and clothes drying on a line; another with the old hot water heater and plumbing strewn about, left to the side of the newer, larger roof mounted heater.

My trip here with fellow Lawrencians Dale Huffman, a certified rehab tech specialist, and Mack Price, a lifetime appliance store owner of Price Appliances and repairman extraordinaire, began with the oft feared 3rd world experience of electrical shutdowns creating interminable delays, resulting in missed connections and an extra day in limbo at a small hotel, lost luggage and a delayed flight before finally arriving in Lima. Funny thing is that these things happened in Kansas City and Atlanta, not some overseas backwater. We found ourselves in the dark after an unexplained power outage at KCI shut down the entire airport and computer systems, resulting in the resourceful Delta airline employees belatedly processing us by substituting pieces of scribbled upon paper for our computer boarding passes, and going through security that whisked us through during momentary returns of the power, getting us to Atlanta 10 minutes after the Lima flight left despite a 3 ½ hour planned layover designed to avoid this problem. After some frantic calls from the complimentary Atlanta hotel room, we left a couple hours behind schedule for Lima the next afternoon, wondering why such a delay couldn’t have happened the day before so we could have joined the fourth member of our party, Steve Bolander who came down from Michigan and departed on time the previous day? Questions with no clear answers were actually a good preparation for loosening us all up for the days ahead, no doubt.

So far, Steve and I have taken a few walks down the street , with a mix of the

Ken earlier this year in the Northwoods of Minnesota

familiar—KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King mixed in with the local big boxes: Maestro, Ripley and Wong. The ever present Interbank and HSBC contrast with the street vendors: one selling candy and, drinks; another standing by a stack of colorful lighted whirlygigs that he slingshots into the air, catching them as they spin down to the ground, much to the delight of the children playing in the adjacent closed in park. It is spring here, warm, mostly cloudy, with some familiar flowers blooming like the oxeye daisy, and others that I must learn the names of from our hosts, Gladys and Raoul. We hope to spend some time at their small apartment as Raoul has told us about his 5 pet frogs that live in their garden, and Gladys talks about the home they have been building on the outskirts of this bustling metropolis for the past two years.

But as planned, most of our time since we arrived has been spent at CASP-Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru. It is within walking distance from the hotel, but Gladys and Raoul insist on picking us up every morning and bringing us home in the evening, requiring much traffic jostling, u-turns and honking buses, vans and motorcycles. We get dropped off at the brick wall gates which are opened by another attendant, walking up a ramp into the bustling 3 story complex that surrounds the central courtyard that is CASP.

It is hard to describe the palpable energy that permeates CASP, with its hundreds of children, energetic teachers and pervasive parent volunteers swarming through the halls and rooms on every story. The students wear clean, well taken care of uniforms, and yet each individual personality is honored as in the best of schools, belying a philosophy of nurturing each child’s potential to live with as much independence as possible. There is a waiting list for joining Liliana Mayo’s vision of what CASP has grown into, from its humble beginning to today’s ever expanding reality (see for yourself at www.annsullivanperu.org for its history and myriad projects). The mothers of the students are required to provide and excel at creating an amazingly proficient and patient support staff person for their child. Staff are selected for their intelligence, compassion and are highly skilled at what they do, with every Friday devoted to world class training from their peers and the parade of professionals that Liliana has created to help support CASP.