Monday, November 21, 2011

No Easy Answers

“¡Regalame uno!” aka “Give me one!”
      In my last week spent in the little community of Agua Salada, I got asked for everything from my watch to money to soccer cleats. Hearing this phrase continually, I couldn’t help but think about the way the culture has changed here. The members of the University of Wyoming brigade told me that in their five years of visiting the same community, the way the locals approach them has shifted. Brigades come to this little community, set up a health clinic in a church for a week and typically see over one hundred patients a day and pass out free toothbrushes, shampoo, lotion, toys, and other various objects.  They are no doubt helping the community and developing relationships there but through this aid, we have in a way trained them to rely on outside influence rather than change from within. I am reminded once again that development work is hard. We need a sustainable solution instead of a band-aid. Shoulder to Shoulder has definitely done a great job of this in our two main clinics where the idea is that we work side by side with locals and don’t just give out services and free stuff but work as a partnership.  
Some local kids at an English class offered by the brigade
However, in the smaller communities where we come and provide free medical care and give free things, it gets a little trickier. If the gringos come to town, give out services for a week and then leave, it is no wonder that the locals ask for things. It is what they are used to and we can’t blame them. I look at the influence of development here; the endless Coca-Cola signs, the millions bags of chips in the corner stores, the Coke bottles all around, the continual TV watching now made possible by electricity, and I wonder..... To me, what this has produced is more pollution, less time for relationships, and more stuff clouding the lives of the people here. We want to make their lives better and healthier by putting our United States influence in the mix, but the truth is that if we were to bring every country to the economic status of the United States, we would not be able to sustain ourselves.  So what’s the answer? As I am approaching five months here, these are the bigger questions I struggle with. We no doubt need to improve the status of living here, but there are also many beautiful things that I have learned from this way of life. The systems here are different and can be unjust but this doesn’t necessarily mean our system is better. As I recognize this and see our influence and how it affects life here, I realize that is a lot more complicated than it seems.
With some local girls at a home visit
Patients waiting outside the church clinic
 Undoubtedly, I am continually challenged and inspired everyday. My time with the University of Wyoming was a great reminder that what I will take away is not necessarily the work (although I am really enjoying this too) but the relationships I am building. I got to help translate and observe in the medical clinic and was able to see some interesting cases. The doctors and nurses pulled a lot of wax, dirt, and larvae eggs out of ears (which I enjoyed seeing a lot…maybe a little too much!). We did a few home visits and one memorable one was to a woman named Maria’s house. She was the cutest eighty-four year old woman and was so full of life and affection! Her house is on top of hill, you have to walk up steep mountain hills with lots of big rocks and she has been doing this for sixty years!  I went with two family medicine residents and they injected her knees (which clearly hurt for a reason!) and her shoulder. She told us about her husband who had lived to be ninety-four years old. She was so thankful for everything we brought her and I’m so excited to visit her again in March when the other group from University of Wyoming comes back. It is these little moments that reaffirm why I am here and make it all worth it!
With Maria at her house in Agua Salada (I loved all her necklaces!)
 I am finally “home” in Santa Lucia and it is so nice to see all the people I have been away from for over a month. However, I leave tomorrow on my “mandatory vacation” to renew my visa (hey, I’m not complainin’). We are probably going to take the ferry north to Belize and then go down through Guatemala but are currently playing it by ear. It should be a great trip! I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! I have so much to be grateful for and am so thankful for everyone in my life. I am thinking of you and missing you all!

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