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The Privilege of Fearing Heights: Intern Journal by Noor Chadha
By Noor Chadha
The view from Mercedes’s house.
Through this internship, I have had many opportunities to reflect on privilege in ways I have never conceptualized before. One day, I accompanied Janet, a MEDLIFE nurse, to a follow up appointment with Mercedes, who lives high up in the community of 15A1, Nueva Esperanza. While MEDLIFE has worked with 15A1 to build many staircases in the community, the final portion of the path leading to Mercedesâ€™s house, when I visited, remained undeveloped, steep, and dusty. Excitingly, MEDLIFE already has a plan in place to build a staircase on the path to Mercedes’s house.
MEDLIFE Nurse, Carmen, and Mercedes stand on the path to Mercedes’s house, where a MEDLIFE staircase will be built.
After watching several women go up the path they traverse everyday with buckets of water and other materials in hand, I somehow stumbled up to Mercedesâ€™s house on all fours, refusing to look behind me until I reached the top. Then, after we finished speaking to Mercedes and her children, we had to go back down. To me, this was definitely scarier than going up. So when Mercedes recommended a different path around the back of her house, I was relieved. However, the “safer path” meant narrowly walking along a wall built of seemingly unstable rocks.
Two of Mercedes’s daughters play outside of her house.
I was only able to take a few steps along the rocks until my feet did not want to move further. I knew I had come to Lima specifically to work with impoverished communities, and I did not want to let fear of heights stop me. However, as much I told myself about the reasons I wanted to move forward, my feet did not seem to agree. Then, a little girl, maybe eight years old at most, ran down from the house above to offer to hold my hand. I was simultaneously embarrassed as the other MEDLIFE workers waited on the other side and amazed as this young girl tried to instill confidence in me. For the first time, I realized that even my fear of heights was a privilege. The people of 15A1 did not get to exercise the same fear. Even if the mothers, fathers, and children of 15A1 falter in the face of dusty slopes, they traverse them everyday to access basic resources. The young girlâ€™s unhesitating kindness, while facing the same height that had my heart racing and palms sweating, taught me that my fear was entirely mental. If the girl could unwaveringly run down just to help me, I could at least take baby steps to continue to work in her community. I am grateful for the opportunity to support families during my time in Peru, and I am excited to continue to reflect on my own life along the way.
Noor works on painting a staircase like the one that will benefit Mercedes and her family.
Noor Chadha is the co-president of the MEDLIFE at UC Berkeley Chapter and a 2017 MEDLIFE Summer Intern.