Peruvian Cure for a Prickly World War II Vet: La Comunidad

One of the surprises of bringing my 86-year-old father to Peru was seeing how much he ultimately thrived on having lots of human contact. To be blunt, his being doted on by sweet-tempered Peruvian women helped transform him from a vain, self-absorbed, prickly old man into a calm person who was actually kind of nice to be around. (Getting him on antidepressants—which I suspect he had needed for years–also helped.) Being part of la comunidad (the Spanish word for “community”) was an integral part of his emotional care.

Never a physically demonstrative person, my father had lived a rather solitary life in the United States. Widowed at age seventy-seven, he lived alone in a four-bedroom house in northern Florida and resisted having me, Jorge and Sam come live with him when we proposed the idea. His interactions with other people were limited to weekly church services, monthly Masonic meetings and brief transactions with grocery clerks, bank tellers, doctors and nurses. This wasn’t really that big a change from the way he had lived when my mom was alive. For decades my mother had been the center of his emotional life; when she died of lung cancer in 2004, he bought a toy poodle and lavished his affections (and Krispy Kreme donuts) on that. He had no close friends to speak of, just people he had known up north long ago and with whom he exchanged annual Christmas cards.

Moving my father to live with us in Peru put us in a different, more humane, paradigm.

In contrast with the United States—which prizes, above all, independence and individualism—Peru is a country of collectivism. Continue Reading

Eldercare Is Easier in a Nonlitigious Society

This quote, by 17th-century French satirist Jean de la Bruyere, might be said to sum up the attitude of many Peruvians toward civil lawsuits.

I knew when we brought my father to Lima in 2011 that it would be cheaper to give him personalized care there. What I didn’t anticipate is how much easier it would be work with doctors, nurses, health aides and hospitals—in contrast with the bureaucracy and complications of the U.S.

After thinking it over, I’ve come to realize what, exactly, made these interactions easier: Peruvian culture is not very litigious. Unlike in the United States, people don’t generally sue others and institutions over civil matters. And when it comes to medical issues, people rarely take doctors or hospitals to court, even when things go very wrong. For instance, the whole seven years I lived in Lima, Continue Reading

How to Make Traditional Peruvian Apple Water (Recipe)

I explained in my last post the benefits of agua fresca [fresh water], an economical drink that is popular in many Peruvian households. You boil fruit and spices in water, strain it, and sip the liquid throughout the day to stay hydrated. The health aides who took care of my father in Lima used to make this for him daily, and he took to it immediately. He hadn’t been in the habit of drinking much water in the U.S., but I think that the mild flavoring of agua fresca was what made this drink so easy for him to consume.

There are many methods for making agua fresca. Here is a recipe for agua de manzana [apple water] that my husband’s family used back when he was a boy growing up in Miraflores. More often his mom would make apple juice, but this recipe served nicely when fruit was less plentiful.Continue Reading

“Fresh Water”: A Peruvian Tradition for Healthy Living and Eldercare

One of the healthiest habits that my father picked up when he was an Alzheimer’s patient in Lima (2011-2012) was drinking agua fresca throughout the day. Agua fresca, or “fresh water” as it is translated into English, is a popular drink throughout Latin America, but a bit of research on my part turned up an interesting fact: The Peruvian version that my father consumed day in, day out, differs in several ways from the agua fresca served elsewhere in Latin America. And those differences are what I’d like to explain for North American readers because this drink can benefit elders, their caregivers and people in general.Continue Reading

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