Polls, dental chairs and mud


Today is Passion or Palm Sunday. It’s also election day as Peru votes for a president and other officials. By law no meetings can be held midday, so we had one very early Mass. So I’m using this time to write these words.

Elections here are very different than those in the States. When I was in South Carolina, I registered to vote over the phone and got an absentee ballot by mail. I was amazed it was so easy and, of course, free and voluntary.

Here a heavy fine is given to anyone who doesn’t vote — about $35. That’s a lot of money in this economy. It seems almost impossible to change your place of voting. People all over are traveling back to their place of birth to vote.

Taking advantage of this, the bus and travel companies are almost doubling their rates. Many people are asking the parish for help in getting bus tickets. Others ask for help in getting their documents so they can register to vote — another expensive process.

To make matters worse, none of the three top presidential candidates are expected to get a majority, so the two top contenders will have another runoff. The poor people will have to go through this again, and many will be fined again.

It’s 6 p.m., and I’m afraid to check the news to find out what’s happening, according to the polls. The third place candidate is the ex-president. He destroyed the country once. The inflation rate under him was up in the thousands and terrorism rampant. He left Peru and was wanted by the Interpol.

The first-place, favored candidate has had for almost 13 years a court case over a 13-year-old girl who claims to be his daughter. Despite some evidence indicating that he is the father, he refused to take a DNA test that would reveal the truth.

Amazingly the second-place candidate said that’s just a “personal matter.” However, that candidate does seem to be honest and everyone acknowledges that.

I just pray we get some leaders who can turn this country around. Please join me in that prayer.

Here in the parish we keep struggling to lighten the load a little for the people. People from the States have sent some dental equipment, and we’ve bought some for two local dentists.

They, in turn, have offered their services to help the poor. My sister, Sister Caritas, has taken them down the coast to little clusters of shacks on the beach called villages.

There lawn chairs from the parish become dental chairs, teen-agers become nurses, and the majority receive their first-ever dental treatment.

Many have no toothbrushes or toothpaste and a poor diet, so you can imagine the condition of teeth never seen by a dentist.

Our two dentists spoke of a tremendous amount of infection in the people’s mouths. They brought our parish motor in order to run their portable drills. They worked hard extracting and filling hundreds of teeth and cavities.

Everyone brave enough to face a dentist — some were terrified — received a toothbrush. They were extremely happy with the service, and we want to take this into the mountains. However, the rains make getting in very difficult.

We had the monthly meeting four days ago of our 26 parish councils. To our amazement most of the mountain villages sent representatives.

Would you believe that a number of them walked in the mud for 12 hours to an area where they could try to find a truck that would bring them here? One truck almost overturned in the river.

Going back was another 12-hour walk. Anyone on your parish council walking 24 hours to be in the meeting? Others, including women, had to walk six hours, or a 12-hour round trip, just to find a truck to take the hazardous trip.

When we learned of the terrible conditions in the mountains, we sent them off with food and medicine. They’ll run a daily soup kitchen for the third of their village that is the most desperately poor. That’s what we did during the rains of El Nino. Those from the farthest villages will return with a mule train to carry the supplies in. Pray that these rains soon end and that we don’t have a return of El Nino.

Just heard the news, and I can’t believe it. The polls were wrong. They ex-president thought to be in third place had moved into second place. He’ll soon face the first place candidate in the final election to determine who is the president. May God have mercy on us all!

Whatever happens we’ll all hang in there with the people and provide what help, prayer and guidance we can. We are very grateful for the prayers and help of so many people that keep us going and enable us to serve and assist so many people.

PHOTOS: Parish council representatives from the mountains pose for a picture. Many walked for 24 hours through rain and mud to take part in the meeting.

A boy leaves the dental chair after, most likely, his first encounter with a local anesthetic.