We Are All La Ciudad
I have finally been able to set aside some time to reflect upon our project in Guatemala this year. This week, I have been asked many times by those following along, “How was your trip?!”. My default response has been “it was good,” or “it was a great trip,” or “we had so much fun” because it is difficult for me to find the words to adequately express our experience. For me, a big part of our time in Cobán was just observing and listening to the patients that came from near or far to see us. As many of the group have already shared, we heard some tremendous stories from our patients about their human experience.
It was the words of Dr. Felipe one night in discussion that I continue to go back to. After about the first or second day, he shared that many of the patients he had seen in clinic reported aches and pains, but what he found after listening to them is that many times the symptoms started after a tragedy or other significant event in their life. He made a poignant observation that oftentimes la tristeza (sadness, but I feel it has so much more meaning in Spanish) can manifest itself in physical ailments. He shared this can be difficult in medicine, because there are no exact medications or instructions to give for a hurting spirit.
Dr. Felipe was right, but the more I sat with these words and thoughts, the more I felt that there was maybe one solace to this pain– community. I think it is hard for everyone to accept that we cannot go through our lived experience alone, and inevitably tragedy or disaster will strike (looking at you, Covid) but we have to find comfort in one another. We have to be in community. By taking a new group of students to Cobán, we grew the community just a little bit bigger. It was comforting to see the students interacting with the patients at Ciudad, maybe in broken Spanish, but always with a smile and a hug or a hand shake. As our team worked through the week, we became assimilated with the team at Ciudad and by the end of it, we were all sharing a meal as one. Throughout the week, we listened to the students reflect on their experience and the stories they heard in the clinic, and I could sense that it touched them in a special way. Our time in Cobán was short, but as we lived in community and cared for our people, my hope is that we helped lighten their spirits just a little.
I write these words, mostly to myself, so that the next time someone asks me about my time at Ciudad de la Esperanza, I can come up with more than three or four words so that those stories continue to be shared and the support for our community in Cobán continues to grow to help the hurting spirits.
Dr. Christian Alegria