CUSCO, Peru - A dried human lung is perhaps not the first thing that one would associate with a grand theft. Nonetheless, it’s been the cause of a great scandal in Peru during the last month.
Admittedly, a lung doesn’t have a lot of commercial value, but lungs don’t come around every day.
The lung is part of the internationally known “Bodies: The Exhibition.” After going missing, the left lung garnered a $2,000 no-questions-asked reward before being found in a car park in a plastic bag.
Because of the chemical processes preserving the lung, sitting around in a plastic bag didn’t really do it much harm.
The bodies go through a process that replaces the water in them with synthetic polymers, so the lung could take a little bashing around. The anonymous caller whose tip led to the reclamation turned down the reward.
Here’s where things get juicy.
Not long after the lung’s prodigal return, the Peruvian press began to get curious about Susan Hoefken, the manager of the company handling the exhibit.
After all, the exhibit became noticeably more popular in the wake of the Great Lung Scandal.
Then, in a dramatic gesture, Peru’s Prensa Libre accused Hoefken of stealing the lung as a publicity stunt. The Peruvian media has latched onto this idea, dubbing Hoefken “la robapulmon,” or “The Lung Thief.”
They claim that Katherine Seymour, who works as public relations director at the company that owns the exhibition sent an e-mail to her lawyer that allegedly confirmed that Hoefken had the lung in her possession the entire time and that she had said as much in a telephone call.
If that’s true, the Peruvians want some answers.
“She’s using us for publicity, making all Peruvians look bad,” lamented a man to a friend while drinking coffee.
Although the proof is shaky, the circumstances are suspicious enough that most of Peru is full of an angry buzz against Hoefken, who appears on the news to state her innocence and note that she has switched homes and receives continual death threats.
In fact, her appearances on the news are an opportunity to add to my repertoire of insults in Spanish.
“She makes everyone think that Peruvians are nothing but liars,” my host brother explained to me. “I just can’t believe that she’s a Peruvian.”
And with a society that built a pre-Columbian empire based solely on the idea of mutual reciprocity, robbery is a serious accusation that the people are taking personally.
And of course the question remains – who else would want a dried human lung?