It's been a busy but fun last couple weeks. My last few days in the community of Amina were productive. Monday, I completed my talks in the packing plants on proper posture, lifting techniques and low back pain management. On Tuesday, I held a Pap smear clinic in the classroom of one of the schools in the community. The patients were all Haitian women, none of whom had previously had a Pap smear. At first just a few showed up, but those few reported back to their communities that the procedure didn't hurt and soon the line was longer. I reviewed the results with women last week; just a few were abnormal and required follow-up which they will be able to get with the assistance of Dr. Yari and Banelino, and therefore hopefully prevent progression to cervical cancer.
Wednesday I was asked to give a presentation on teen pregnancy, STDs and sexuality at the high school across the street from the Banelino office. I assembled a quick powerpoint presentation (thanks to a cool website called SlideShare) and proceeded to present to a rowdy group of some 75 teenagers. Turns out a teenager in a sex ed class is a teenager in a sex ed class, no matter the language or the culture, and I found myself drawn back to memories of my own junior high school days. I guess the school appreciated it though, because they asked me to give another presentation next week!
Thursday marked the moment for a midweek mini-vacation. I joined Jose and his visiting friends on a trip back to the paradise beach, La Ensenada. This time, we made a deal with Yari's cousin to take us on a boat out to a tiny island called Cayo Arena, surrounded by a coral reef. If La Ensenada was paradise, Cayo Arena was indescribable. I wish I had had an underwater camera with me because it was some of the most incredible snorkeling I've ever experienced- the brightly colored fish and coral were breathtaking. It would have been even nicer if the wind and waves were a touch less choppy- I kept having to blow water out of my mask. Having a guide holding my hand certainly helped! After visiting the island we took the boat through some mangroves, a unique natural phenomenon in the DR. Lunch was served back on the beach and then we had a few hours to lounge before heading home.
Friday was an early morning. I went with the driver from Banelino to Amina to pick up 4 Haitian children and one adult, all with hernias of some sort. We rode together up to Monte Cristi where a surgeon from Nebraska was doing consults for a hernia brigade that will be coming in November. Just arranging the transport for the patients, most of whom didn't have passports was quite difficult. Unlike in the U.S., children born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented Haitian immigrants do not automatically qualify for Dominican citizenship. I am so glad we were able to work through the paperwork, however, because it turned out three of the four children were appropriate candidates for surgery and will be operated on in November. As a bonus, the doctor was very willing to teach and I learned a great deal about diagnosing and treating hernias!
On Sunday, I was fortunate to experience yet another Dominican Carnaval celebration- this time in the town of La Vega, the location of the oldest and most well-known Carnaval in the country. Carnaval in La Vega is a several block parade of people in very elaborate devil costumes, somewhat of an irony considering the very Catholic population of La Vega. Anyone who is not dressed in costume is considered fair game to receive a “vejigazo,” a hard hit on the butt with a sort of bludgeon made originally from a cow's bladder (“vejiga”). What this creates is a palpable sensation of fear for anyone wandering in the streets of the parade. It was a sort of thrill to have to constantly look over my shoulder to make sure I hadn't caught the eye of any devils, and every picture I took with a devil (the costumes were so amazing, it was hard to resist!), I had to position my butt in front of the devil so as to avoid getting hit from behind by another devil during the picture. I know all of this sounds strange but it was truly a fun whirl of energy, sweaty heat, colors, music and dancing. And the good news is I survived with no black and blue marks on my rear end- I almost feel like I should have a T-shirt to proclaim that accomplishment!
I took a bus from La Vega back to Mao on Monday morning and was pleasantly surprised when a Dominican woman on the bus actually asked ME for instructions- what town were we in and how much longer till we arrived in Mao? Even more surprising was the fact that I could respond confidently and reassure her. Nice to be on the other end of this situation.
Last week I began working in my next community outside of Mao, called La Caida. It has been a fairly similar situation to my volunteering in Amina, spreading my work between the banana packing plants and the community itself. The difference is that there are many Dominicans seeking care in the town of La Caida, and I haven't been able to reach as many Haitians on the surrounding margins of the town due to the high demand in the town itself. My goal in the next 2 weeks is to reach more of these Haitians who are the higher risk population, with their barriers to accessing health care (as described in my last blog entry). I did manage to get a few Haitians to come to the community center yesterday for Pap smears- we did 22 in total over a few hours. And I'd have to say I have fallen hard in love with some of the locals in La Caida- here are just a few pictures! =)
One of the best things about working in La Caida has been collaborating with the health promotor, Elsa. Elsa is originally from La Caida but currently lives in Mao, coincidentally only four blocks away from my apartment. She is also a nurse which is super helpful! Over the last week and a half, she has become not only a co-worker but also a neighbor and a friend, allowing me to do laundry at her house, offering me meals, and even accompanying me to Zumba classes (exercise is always more fun with a partner!). I'm grateful for her energy, positivity, and kindness.
This past weekend, I went to Santo Domingo and experienced the fireworks show downtown in honor of Dominican Independence Day. Apparently this country has had several independence events in its history, but the one celebrated on the 27th of February is independence from the Haitians- ironic considering the current vast socioeconomic disparity between the neighboring nations.
I also had the opportunity to take a road trip from Santo Domingo up to Samaná with my friend Marlon. The drive itself was one of the most beautiful I've ever taken, straight through a rainforest type landscape. And, despite the overcast skies, the view of the Samana bay and the beach were both amazing. This country certainly has no lack of scenery!
I think this catches me up on blogging for now… Thanks for reading!