A Warm Home
First of all, let me be clear that, at best, my words can only show a shadow on the wall of the real Ciudad de la Esperanza, Cobán, and what this trip truly is. I can describe the actions of this first day, but I know as I am writing this that there are beautiful things here that either I cannot yet understand, or that I would not be able to translate if I could. I will try my best.
Today was the day. After all of the anticipation, all of the preparation, and all of the suspense, we finally got to turn our potential energy into kinetic energy and start our first day of clinic.
Into the gates, off the bus, and straight into the warm embrace of Esperanza as Nurse Esme greeted the medical team with smiles, hugs, and tears. Esme showed no less warmth to the students, even as unfamiliar as we are. Then straight into good, grounding, physical work, unloading and unpacking all of the supplies that we’d packed and carried less than two days before. It was refreshing, and it felt right, like there was no question that whatever we could do to help get things moving meant something to this community. When I wasn’t smiling it was only because I was focusing hard to understand the Spanish all around me. We set up, we laughed, and we tried to get ready for whatever might happen when the day really began.
I have to say, although I enjoy every member of Team Guat and I am lucky to have so many talented, caring, and dedicated people around me, I got especially lucky today to have Diego with me for our first rotation in Dr. Felipe’s office. See, Diego has a great sense of humor, he is an excellent friend and teacher, and Diego. Speaks. Spanish. I don’t even want to think about how difficult it would have been to stay afloat at the very beginning of the day through Dr. Felipe’s long medical interviews with patients had Diego not been there too, cracking jokes, encouraging me, teaching me, and helping me connect with Mateokggh, Felipe, and Esme. Muchas gracias mi amigo, si lees esto.
Clinic began, and we got to shadow the wonderful Dr. Felipe as he showed us what a great doctor does: Listens to and speaks to his patients. I couldn’t understand half of the language and I could tell the care that Dr. Felipe put into finding out what his patients needed. In-between, he would teach us in Spanish and English about the interviews, and I swear between Diego, Mateo, Dr. Felipe, and the patients, I learned how to use more Spanish in two hours than I ever learned in my three years of classes. My brain was smoking out of my ears.
Mateo of course also deserves his own mention. Our photographer from Ciudad, he has been nothing but kind, patient, and funny since I’ve had the courage to try to talk with him in Spanish. His humor is sharp, which is great both because you need to be able to laugh at yourself when you’re practicing a new language, and because it is motivation to learn enough Spanish so that I can finally crack a little back. I asked why he’s studying philosophy instead of photography in school, and I learned that he is trying to open up his mind’s eye more to enhance his photography even further (or however else you can say that without being so flowery, that is definitely not verbatim). Anyway, I think his approach to education is ingeniously creative, and I hope that I can learn to think about my goals the way that he plans out his.
Finally there was triage and the rain, the former overseen by Dr. Steph and Nurse K.K. (the latter obviously overseen by something else entirely). Triage was my first real opportunity to practice my Spanish and medicine with patients independently, and boy was it fun. I felt like a mess, don’t get me wrong, and the most common Spanish I used was “lo siento”, but I also felt like I was really doing something helpful, that I was challenged (mostly) without help, and that I was learning. Every single patient that I encountered today was kind, overwhelmingly patient, and with good humor in a way that I have never seen in any of my healthcare experience in the U.S. And watching a little girl’s and boy’s eyes and smiles light up when you all start blowing bubbles: priceless. My number one lesson today is that nothing transcends the language barrier quite like bubbles. For my number two lesson, I found an even deeper admiration for Dr. Steph and Nurse K.K. today; I have never seen two people who are so tired, stressed, and busy, show so much compassion, understanding, and kindness to a bunch of kids that only have a vague understanding of what they’re doing. Thank you both. Without your patience we may not have the courage to be here.
If you haven’t noticed, kindness has actually been the theme of this ramble. In fact, I believe it is a large part of what may be one of those beautiful things that I said I could not understand at the beginning of this post: Ciudad de la Esperanza feels like a warm home. Seriously, I know that’s corny, but hear me out okay. Imagine your best friend’s home, or maybe your favorite cousin’s: you walk in, and people are happy to see you, and you are excited to be there; people are joking and laughing and smiling; people are listening and trying to help each other; we’re sharing our meals together; you know that people have your back. They care. I’m not exaggerating, that is what Ciudad feels like. You can relax, even when you’re working. It feels safe.
The rain rolled in, and I stepped outside to decompress and get some space at the end of the day. And I thought to myself, this is the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. I will do everything that I can to earn getting to experience this view, getting to meet these people, and getting to learn this work. I felt more energy running through my bones today than I have felt in a long time, and that’s even after the 15 hour travel day.
Anyways, it is way too late, and I will regret not turning this in sooner in the morning, but I felt that there was a lot more that I needed to say than I originally thought. No one really gave me any guidelines for these blog posts, so to whoever this may concern, I hope you find some value here. I did at least. Goodnight.