Week 3 – how lucky am I?

I’ll be honest…I have no idea how 3 weeks have gone by already. It really makes me feel like I’m going to have nowhere near enough time here!!

I had a bit of a rough start in my first 2 weeks – I’d never travelled alone and I guess I expected it to be easier to meet people and make friends. I changed my placement, and now I’m changing my housing. It sounds bad, but it’s really not. All of this is part of the experience – it’s part of learning how to be ok being alone (something I’m not sure I’ve conquered), learning to go with the flow, and learning to find the balance between asking for what I need, and making unreasonable demands.

One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed is how much I feel entitled to. Let’s take housing, for instance. I feel entitled to a roof over my head, a clean space, and enough room to put out at least most of what I’ve brought with me. I expect 3 meals a day, that have not only sufficient food to make me feel full, but enough protein to keep me going. Compare that to what I’ve seen in the clinic and on my bus rides to/from the clinic – many people do not have ANY of those things. I’ve noticed that while the women who come into the clinic look quite large, they actually don’t weigh that much…in fact, I weigh more than most of them, even though their body sizes are larger than mine. Obviously, they do not have the muscle that I do…and that is probably because they do not get enough protein and other nutrients in their diets. One of the most common things that people are treated for at the clinic is diabetes, difficult to control given that they don’t have the money to eat a balanced diet and be choosy about what they eat.

Coming from a country with public health care, I feel entitled to a certain standard of care. I feel entitled to the care of a family physician who understands my medical history, and I expect not to have to wait that long to see them. I feel entitled to properly kept records and to be able to afford the medication that I need to overcome an illness. I feel entitled to the services of not only a doctor, but a dietician or psychologist if I need it. The people here, have none of that. These free clinics are all that most people have. Their records are kept on paper, can’t be transferred to another clinic or hospital, and I’m certain that they get lost regularly. In order to see the doctor they have to start lining up at 7am, and wait a long time. This makes it a big deal to come see the doctor, or to come get your kid weighed (to make sure they’re growing well) or to get their vaccines. Not to mention that many people would have to walk to the clinics from more rural areas – there are big problems with not following through with treatment, or not vaccinating their kids. Seeing the doctor is pretty much a split-second thing. It’s kindof like being in the ER at home – these doctors have SO many patients, and very little time to see them all, so they give you the bare minimum of attention (this isn’t anything against the doctors, they don’t have any other choice). While that might be OK in an ER, when this is the closest thing to a family physician you have….that’s a different story. There is a pharmacy at the clinic, but sometimes they run out of something, leaving people to buy medications that they may not necessarily be able to afford.

This all being said, things are pretty good here considering. The clinic has an emergency, pediatrician, general practitioner, pre-natal care, family planning (where they give birth control for free), vaccines and a dentist. I have to say that I’m very impressed at what they’ve done with the little they have. I’m just glad to be able to lend a hand where I can, and learn as much as possible.

This week I also got the chance to hike Volcan Pacaya. I don’t know what is going on with me, but I found it an incredible struggle. I was SO slow, and felt bad for holding the rest of the group back (luckily though I was not alone, as another person on the trip was having a hard time with her athsma). In the end though, it was SO worth it!! The view at the top was amazing, and since it’s an active volcano, there are hot spots where we roasted delicious marshmallows. Then, we went to this hole in the volcano, where it is HOT like a sauna…awesome!! Was sooooo unbelievably tired when we got back, but we went out for dinner to a great restaurant. I had been craving cheese for like a week, so I got a quesedilla and got my fix. so. delicious. mmmmmnom.

This morning I had a lovely chat with my friend, Tara, about all the cultural differences, etc. that I’ve noticed here. I realized that I should start writing these things down!! I do believe that is what my next blog post will be about….hmmmm….

It’s taken a while, but I’m finally starting to be really excited about being here. WOOOOOOOO!!!!

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