Monday, July 14, 2014

El Coco: Tierra verde y cielo azul (Part 2, Monday Week 6)

"Green earth and blue sky"

Only two weeks to go now, and I still have to finish writing about my visit to the rural clinics.

Getting ready to give our vaccine charla
Wednesday marked the middle of the week, and I the morning we gave a charla, or educational talk, about vaccines in the waiting room of the clinic. The vaccine program is actually one of the stronger elements of the Dominican health system. The vaccine schedule is quite similar to the one in the US, and all of the vaccines are free for everybody. They recently made available vaccines against rotovirus, a major cause of infant deaths from diarrhea, and pneumococcus. These vaccines are fairly expensive, but people who work in the health system are proud that the government is now able to provide them. During our charla, we ran through the different vaccines and the different ages when they are given. We also talked about the importance of the vaccination card, which serves as the child's official government ID and permits them to enter school.

On Thursday, we went out and filled out more fichas (family information cards). The process was the same as on Tuesday, but we visited some Haitian families in addition to Dominican ones. In general there is a lot of animosity between Dominicans and Haitians, and many Dominicans are especially upset that many Haitians are here illegally and using services like healthcare that the Dominican government provides. During our visits, the Haitians were clearly more suspicious of the clinic staff, and the clinic staff was much less patient with them when they didn't understand questions or were missing documents. Even more concerning, some of the clinic staff implied that the families wouldn't be allowed to visit the clinic until the forms were filled out, which I'm fairly certain is not an official policy (in any case, it was never mentioned when Dominicans were missing their documents). It's small interactions like these that, when added together, create the huge social, economic, and health inequalities between Dominicans and Haitians.

Enjoying our last afternoon at Sylvia's house--right before we met Stefhani
In general we were only busy in the clinics until lunchtime, so we had a lot of free time in the afternoons, when the clinic is open but most of the patients have already come and gone. We did a lot of reading, writing and sleeping, and one afternoon the nurses taught us to play dominoes. In the evenings we cooked and ate dinner at the clinic and then visited with Sylvia, our host for the week, or other families in the community. We went to the home of one of the nurses twice--her name is Altagracia and she's been a nurse for 24 years. She is very opinionated and a little loca, but I found her entertaining to listen to. She told us about herself and her family, other American students who visited the clinic and stories about people she knew. She was also a great source of information for our vaccine charla and for a class assignment on alternative medicine. On our last night in El Coco, we visited a young woman named Stefhani and her two month old baby Justin. We really hit it off and had been talking for more than an hour when we realized that Stefhani was only 16 and married with a baby--I had been thinking she was about 21.

Painting of Las Hermanas Mirabal
On Friday morning we packed up and headed back to Salcedo to meet up with the other groups and head back to Santiago. On the way, we stopped at the Museum of the Hermanas Mirabal. The Mirabal sisters were three women who were part of the resistance to the Trujillo dictatorship, which lasted from 1930 to 1961. They were assassinated while returning from visited their husbands in prison, and the national outrage from the event helped bring about the fall of the dictatorship and turned them into national heroes. Their family home is now a beautiful museum, and I enjoyed getting to learn a little more about that part of Dominican history.

The tropical flowers and plants are gorgeous.
Overall, I learned so much during my clinic experience. The region and the people are absolutely beautiful. The land is very green and the mountains in the distance create postcard-worthy views wherever you look. The houses are very colorful and the people are friendly, generous and content in a way that I've never experienced in the US. However, if I had to do it over again, there are a few things I would do differently. I feel like I let my shyness and struggles with understanding/being understood hold me back in many situations. I think it sometimes prevented me from learning things I was genuinely interested in and building better relationships with the people I met, particularly the doctors in the clinic. However, realizing this gave me the motivation to take advantage of the short amount of time I have left in the DR. Even though it's been more than a week since I got back, I'm still looking for situations to push myself outside my comfort zone and reach that place where I'm truly thinking in Spanish as I'm conversing. At this point I wish I was staying for longer, but I am beyond grateful for every opportunity I've had and I am savoring each day I have left.

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