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On the last Monday of the month, when I arrived at the clinic in the morning, I found the waiting room full. There were two families from Catalan Urco, a community downriver that is rife with malaria, and they said they all had malaria. Not exactly, I pointed out. They may all have fever, but it remains to be seen whether it is indeed malaria. We set about making that determination.
Edgardo took, and Juvencio read, twenty-one malaria smears that day (two were follow-ups on patients with malaria a week or two ago). One of the two families had come with seven children, three of whom had malaria. Their mom was pregnant, and did not have malaria, nor did their father. The other family brought eight children, three of whom had malaria. This mother was also pregnant, with her tenth child at the ripe old age of 34, and she and her husband both had malaria. There was another case of malaria in a fourteen year old girl from the same community, who came with her younger brother who had malaria a week or so before.

Meanwhile, the ground is each day a little dryer and the mud a little firmer. In most places it is now at least to the consistency of modeling clay, which is certainly manageable, and many spots are even becoming solid. Also, the grass is beginning to grow … when the water first retreats, the land is primeval, barren and mucky and uniformly brown, without signs of life. Now, it is beginning to green up, and to look like it might become inhabitable.

In mid-July I was in Iquitos, doing the usual dashing from place to place. I now have a cell phone, which makes it possible for the clinic to call me and tell me what they forgot to put on the shopping list. On this trip, however, that phone got itself lost or stolen, or more likely both. It wasn't grabbed from my hand, but I somehow mislaid it, and then someone else took it from there. I was hoping I had merely misplaced it among the multitude of papers and receipts and purchases and shopping bags which I pile up in Pam's office, but Pam called the number from her phone, and it did not even ring, just went straight to voice mail. She explained that when a phone is stolen, it is immediately opened and the chip (whatever that is) is removed, and then when you call, it does not ring.
So, add a new cell phone to the list. Just go to a store where cell phones are sold, pick one out, pay for it, and start using it, right? … well, not exactly.
In Peru, everyone has a DNI, a Documento Nacional de Identificación. (Being a gringa, I have a resident visa instead, but it serves the same purposes.) To get on a plane, you must show your DNI. To buy a television, or to get medical care, or to enroll in school, or to vote (which is mandatory, not optional), or to open a bank account, you need your DNI.
As it turns out, you even need an identity document to purchase a telephone.
But that's not all.
The phone happened to disappear on the 15th of July, the day when everyone receives their big July bonus (in honor of Independence Day, a holiday which Peruvians take deeply to heart), and everyone heads out at once to spend that cash infusion on everything, including new cell phones. Jerry is always non-plussed that it takes three steps to make a purchase in Peru: first, you choose the item you wish to buy, and a sales person writes up a slip for you. Next, you take the slip to the cashier and pay up and receive a receipt. Finally, you take the receipt to a third person, who delivers the merchandise over into your hand.
Telephones, though, appear to be a special case.
As mentioned above, all the stores were teeming, including the Movistar phone place. First, I stood in a short line to reach a young lady who heard my tale of woe, took my name and identity document number, and convinced a machine to spit out a numbered ticket. K141. (Note that without an identity document, you would be out of luck right here at the start.)
Armed with my ticket, I was sent to a large room in the back of the store that looked like a bank, with a row of people behind a long counter, each station numbered. At least nowadays they have seats while you wait for your ticket number to show up on the screen overhead. I waited half an hour or so, then up came K141, and I presented myself to another young lady who again listened to my tale, requested my identity document, filled out a whole pile of papers, and asked what model telephone I wanted, showing me a flyer in which the various phones were listed. I chose the cheapest, simplest one I could find, and she typed it into her machine. Do you want a chip, she asked? Will the phone work without one? No. Well, then, sure, a chip, yeah. Then she said, come with me, and we passed to the far end of the long counter.
There, I was instructed to press my right index finger onto a red-lighted pad, which evidently correctly identified me as the person I was claiming to be. (Pam always points out that in the US, we generally only fingerprint criminals; but here I have been fingerprinted numerous times, and I guess the records eventually went digital.) Having passed this test -- I am who I say I am, not that I can imagine why that should make a difference when buying a cell phone -- we returned to the young woman's numbered space and she finished her typing.
We then moved to the front window where I was able to choose between black, white or red phones. Black, let's keep it simple. The order was placed, and we returned again to the young lady's counter. She put the finishing touches on the papers, made a copy of my identity document, and had me sign in two different places, noting the date and printing my name, and … fingerprinting me, on both copies. She was done with me now, and sent me on to the cashier's counter.
I stood in a short line there, waited while the woman figured the cost of the phone and the chip, I paid, and she gave me a receipt. Two receipts, actually, one for the phone, one for the chip.
Almost done. I proceeded to the storeroom window and handed over my receipts. The attendant disappeared into the back room and emerged with a small box in hand. She opened it and showed me that it contained the phone, the charger, the data board, a set of earphones, and a few instructions. Well and good. Do I have to put all this together? Oh, no, she does that, thank goodness. She blithely inserted the "chip," and the battery, and snapped it all back together, tucked it into the box and presented it to me. But we weren't finished yet, there was still more paperwork. She produced additional documents which required a date, my printed name, and yet another signature, all in my handwriting … and, on each sheet, she impressed another fingerprint.
So, to buy a new cell phone, I had to produce my identity document, have my fingerprint read by the digital identifying machine, and be fingerprinted a total of six times.


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