Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Conference

The first day of the conference we are to visit two clinics, one private and one public. Driving by the public one yesterday, it looked from the outside not any better than the one I toured in Algiers. We have to skip that tour, however, because we are on a Peruvian VIP schedule, and arrive 45 minutes late at the hotel. We might have been on time but for two factors:
-        the bus leaves the house when the Professor is ready, and not before.
-        We have a bus (a small bus) with the most timid driver in Lima. Well, except for the time he almost ran down a small child while cutting through a residential district, but against cars and trucks and even scooters he's a wimp.
So we load up the bus with the rest of the group at the hotel and go straight to the private non-profit clinic. It's a rather nice place. It used to be a private mansion with extensive gardens, then a motel so the buildings were cut up into  lots of rooms with baths, and now this clinic takes full advantage of both the former lives of the site.
Here we have breakfast in the conference room, and a translated discussion with local doctors. Very informative. If there's a gap between 'the latest' at my university hospital and theirs, there's a yawning chasm between that and the everyday medical corps. We need to stay more than an hour, more than a 2-day conference.
Passing the free time before we gather for the afternoon talks at the meeting venue, everybody retires to their rooms to work on their presentations (didn't they do that yesterday?). All but me. I'm only talking ten minutes on next-generation sequencing and furthermore not until tomorrow, so I go for a stroll in the Miraflores neighborhood, reputed to be the nicest area of Lima.
It is nice. You could be in San Diego. The beach is a dozen blocks away. I stop for a Starbuck's coffee and head to the mall to see if I can pick up one of those colorful Peruvian bags as a carry-on, and maybe a cheap pair of sandals.
Nothing doing. The mall could be in California too: American-type goods at American-level prices (and you can even pay in dollars for those Himalaya sandals and that Rockport backpack). There are a few Peruvian souvenir shops along the street, and I do get a bag there, but I notice for the other souvenirs that interested me as gifts, that the prices were better at the airport. I'll wait.
I need the bag, though, because I'll be taking a bus and then a collective taxi to Pisco on the southern coast on Monday, and I figure it's both safer and less annoying to travel light. I'll leave my big bag with Mev's family's house, and stay there again my last night in Peru.

The afternoon talks are good, though there's not a whole lot for the European speakers to learn from each other. We're here more to impart information to our local audience, and to develop collaborations with them. Perhaps on this assumption that we have « nothing to learn », the translation of the talks in Spanish into English is lacking. After the last talk in English, the translator packed up and left.
In the evening the university has a surprise for Mev – we're not just eating in some restaurant; we're to be given a tour of some of the old university buildings, and dinner on the porch of one of the cloisters, with ethnic dancing and a live band to entertain us.
Quite the gala!

Getting there is difficult. Our bus is stuck in traffic, as usual, so eventually the visitors are paired off with the locals, either in taxis or personal cars, and off we go in 3's and 4's. Exiting the meeting center, there's a woman holding up traffic because she's trying to get adequate directions to our destination. Our driver kindly tells her to just follow us, and the relief on her face makes me suspect that this lifeline has instantly cut off all attention to how to actually get there. It's dark now. Traffic even on this small road is heavy, and we lose her after the first turn.
I'm in a carful of French speakers – Xana, Jean Baptiste, and an elderly professor at the School of Medicine. One of his daughters is a pediatrician in the US. He spent some years training in Strasbourg, and we talk of medical training in different countries for the 20-minute battle of the streets of Lima (for a mild-mannered professor, he's just what you need at the wheel in Lima - perhaps he'd like to drive the bus tomorrow). At one point I joke he's not taking us to the university at all, but kidnapping us to make us teach molecular genetics all over Peru. There is no need, I say, we will happily come back and give as many classes as you want.
Little do I know this is the Dean of the School of Medicine, he will joke about kidnapping us in his speech later, and that not only workshops among the elites (such as today), but classes for all the students will be suggested for a new meeting in two years.
You really can get as much done in a casual car ride as in an official meeting sometimes. More, even.

The original University buildings are no longer used for teaching, but have been preserved as a national monument, and serve for various functions like ours. We are ushered into what used to be a room for presenting one's thesis, with a head table & three gigantic armchairs on a raised area facing rows of high-backed wooden benches, and a lectern at one side for the postulant. Everything is opulently decorated, from the carved benches to the painted and gilded ceiling. Once everybody arrives there are speeches of welcome and we all receive certificates of Associate Professor for our participation.

Then comes a very long and scholarly – and dull – explanation of the history of the room. A little history is welcome, but one this long and detailed overruns interest by a good deal, especially when we cross a cloister to view another room. No, we're not ready for dinner yet!
This room is as austere as the other was opulent. There's nothing to distract us now from noticing that the speaker always closes his eyes to talk, and then pauses to look only at the translator. Not once does he look at his audience, and indeed he's not talking to us. He's not interested to see if we're interested. He's just talking to himself.
He seems very satisfied with the result.

We are seated at tables of 8 for dinner, and people stay fairly segregated. Only one person at our table doesn't live in Europe: Mabel from Columbia joins us. Her English is limited, as it is for many of the Peruvian guests, which is probably the main reason for the segregation. It's a shame we don't take more advantage of this social time to build links between our groups. At the same time, I know how tiring it is to spend hours communicating in a language you don't really master.
The band gets going, and it's time to dance.
Ah, here's the first round of Pisco Sours, and some little sandwiches. They're pretty ordinary little sandwiches, and we all try to hold out for the real meal to come. Except JB. Any plate with a sandwich still on it eventually makes its way around to JB's part of the table and is cleared.
As the last of the plates is emptied just as the waiter is trying to whisk away the last crumbs in order to serve the starter course, I say to Helle that JB's dog would starve, provoking hysterical laughter that infects our whole section of the table. Jenny vows to remind Helle of JB's dog just before her talk tomorrow. That should lighten things up.
The evening fills with food and drink and dancing, both on our part and by a group of a dozen students doing a traditional display. 

1 comment:

Titus said...

I want your job! Lima for a conference!!!