It’s a 4,000 year old site and is the only one still in use today.
As I write this slowly making my return to America after 3 months, a process which includes a sleeper bus, 6 planes, and a detour in Europe. In one of my first posts I referenced India as wild, and the more I see of this place the more that thought has been confirmed. I have never been somewhere that is so equally overwhelming and beautiful.
After working with my organization for 2 1/2 months, I decided to leave two weeks early to travel some. Half of the nursing students had switched to a different center to do their practical training, and with 3 volunteers at the center, there was less for me to do during the day until the evening school students arrived. The kids seemed to be confused about my leaving and kept telling me “No Allison America.” When I explained to Umamagaeswari (Dhandapani’s 10-year-old sister) that I had to go back to America because that’s where my family and friends are, she just bobbled her head and then later came back to me and said, “You daddy, you mommy, you friends, all India coming.” We all said goodbye that night and I got lots of hugs and cheek kisses and was told to dance in the street one last time. After that I went back and laid on the floor for an hour, moping heavily and only getting up when I was promised poori and 3 mangos by the other two volunteers for “all my feelings”.
As I was walking out of the bathroom the next morning from one of my last bucket showers for (hopefully) awhile, I saw Uma walking down the street on the way to school. We both ran towards each other and hugged for a few minutes until she looked at me and asked “America?” When I said yes she went back to hugging me and started crying. So we sat on the porch for a hot minute, hugging and crying and wiping each other’s tears and promising we would be strong girls and that we would see each other again.
It is strange to go from that to here, where I am boarding my flight to leave India. This place that has challenged me and confused me and loved me so well. When I first arrived, got off the plane, and went to the train station, I was terrified. I clearly didn’t belong and all the warning stories people told me before I left were running through my head. I avoided eye contact with men, clutched my things close to me, and paced a lot. I sit here now with conversational Tamil skills, traditional Indian silver anklets with bells on them, fading henna on my left hand, and soles of my feet that are hardened and cracked from walking barefoot so often. I sang my Tamil song to the man who made me my fourth cup of chai for the day and he laughed and told me to go back to America. I slept curled up on top of the engine of the bus in the middle of the night when there were no seats and only moved when I was elbowed by the driver as he changed gears. I have held baby goats and coerced donkeys out of the house with mango peels and been told “don’t worry, be happy!” by a man as I was being followed in a park by a vicious monkey. I have ridden down village roads in the back of strangers’ trucks, side-saddled a motorbike with two other people on it, and ridden the bus so many times that only a few stand out and are referenced as “that time with the fight” or “the one with the goat” or “when the cute bus driver stopped the bus because I was running after it and said ‘Hi Allison’ and laughed when I got on” (swoon).
As I was sitting in the airport today,I met a guy from America who told me I was brave for coming alone and I just laughed and said that wasn’t it really. I think I was more just hopeful of what could happen. Of the beauty that can occur when you rely solely on the grace of strangers you have yet to meet. Was I disappointed at times? Sure. But that’s life. Was I pleasantly surprised? That’s a understatement. 60 giggling and honest children, 7 driven and caring girls, a thoughtful and receptive yoga teacher, a creative and level-headed German, a ridiculous and chivalrous Englishman, a strong and beautiful cook, a boisterous and deep friend, and countless others. So many people that have taught me such different things. I am sad to leave this place and these people but I know it’s not the end. I believe that once you know what’s out there waiting for you, you’ll always want to find it again. All my love!!
My summer in Kasuva, Tamil Nadu India has come to an end. I feel like time has completely flown by since I’ve been here, and yet I have so many new memories and experiences to look back on that could easily fill up a year. I have loved immersing myself into this place and becoming friends with the children, teachers, kitchen staff, watchmen, and even dogs. I’ve made so many new and surprising friends that I am dreading to say goodbye to. Most importantly, though, I learned a lot about myself and the world. There are still kids out there that spend their free time drawing and riding their bikes around to neighboring villages to see friends and it’s been so refreshing to see. We haven’t had tv all summer except for the few weekend nights we stayed in a hotel and caught a World Cup game and that has been a really nice change, though I do miss CNN. My life has been so simple, challenging, and beautiful here and I am so grateful to these people for opening up to me.
These are just a few of the countless people and things that touched my heart these past few months.
My sister and future archaeologist.
*Sadly, I am now home from India but have a couple of blog posts I wrote over there that I was unable to share before.
We’re finally starting to get some nice weather in India! Monsoon season was really late this year so the rains that bring the cool breezes have been scarce. Right now I’m sitting outside enjoying probably the most beautiful morning I’ve had yet. The sun is shining, the sky is clear, but there is also a light wind swaying all the palm tree leaves and keeping me cool. Some nights we now need to cover up with our towels because the winds are so strong and we don’t have blankets (never necessary before when it was 95+ degrees). The nice weather is pretty short lived because by noon it heats up again, but it’s nice to go to bed cool.
This week we went to a volleyball tournament in a town about twenty minutes away. It was so fun to go cheer on about 40 of our brothers. We rode the bus with the boys and then watched the games outside for hours. This pretty much solidified our positions as having the worst farmer’s tans in history, but it was worth it. We had so much fun cheering them on and treated ourselves to ice cream, soda, chips, and this bread/whipped cream sandwich thing from a shop down the street to cool us down.
I also had the best time talking to three of the young teachers at the high school. Two of them are 22 and 23 and I think the third may be just a little older. We started talking because I’m interviewing people for my honors project and they all speak good English but we got off topic very quickly. They all pulled up chairs next to me in the staff room after school was done for the day and asked me about differences between the US and India, my interests, friends, family, and favorite Indian food. They also said they would dress me up in a sari, the wrapped fabric or silk outfits that Indian women wear here once they turn 20ish. I don’t think there’s enough time left in my trip for it but the offer made my day.
Today we went on an epic cycle excursion to check out the area around our campus. We asked the office staff if they knew of any bikes we could borrow for a few hours and they immidiatly dropped their work to brainstorm who they knew that had bikes and called people on the phone to arrange them for us. One thing I really love about Indian culture is their generosity and hospitality. They will do absolutely anything for their guests and friends. Once we got the bikes we took off down a dirt road and explored around for hours through pastures, sand dunes, and little villages enjoying the scenery. It was so nice to get out and see the country side of Tamil Nadu before we leave in 2 short days. We saw some of our students riding around on their bikes enjoying the three day weekend we’re having and they were all so surprised to see us. We usually draw some attention when we’re in bigger towns so I’m sure it was quite odd for the farmers of the tiny villages to see four white girls riding bikes in the middle of nowhere. We also finished painting the mural of the world in the boy’s hostel. They did a lot of the painting and we aren’t perfect artists so things came out a little skewed (Florida is half the size of Central America, for one example) but I absolutely love it and it brings so much more color and life to their compound.
This post is raw. I just got to my host family’s home after leaving the hospital for the last time. I’m ripping the bandage off just like I had to do for a few patients in the past two months. I’ll start with this week and work my way to a summary of my journey here Nicaragua.
This week was a week to see the parts of the hospital that I hadn’t experienced before. I started the week off in the Emergency Room’s Gynecology and Obstetrics area, then spent a day each in Labor and Delivery, the Intensive Care Unit for new babies and surgery again. In each of them, there was little that I could do to help so I used the week as more of an educational week. Being in the room for a delivery of a baby was a brand new and exciting experience for me, for example. I also had some great conversations with people at the hospital. I always end up talking with some fellow med students, asking them where they are in their studies, what they’re thinking about specializing in, etc. The head doctor in the infant ICU was an interesting guy who talked my ear off about all the technology that they’re lacking and all the things that I could bring back from the States for them. Although it hurts me not to be able to provide for their every need here, these are the kind of conversations I have enjoyed having because the lack of supplies and technology are a main point in my capstone project.
I did get to provide for one need while I was here, however. The boss of the nurses in Pediatrics, the area where I spent about a month, mentioned to me recently about the lack of chairs for mothers and family members to sit in while they stay with their children. I checked my finances and, finding chairs for a good price in the local market, sponsored the purchase of 8 of them. Today, my last day, I delivered them and was greeted with smiles and thank yous from my nurse friends in Pediatrics.
Today also included my last English class. I turned the tables on my ever-generous English students today and gave them all a small refreshment at the beginning of class along with Certificates of Participation for the class and a small gifts I put together. My Spanish-English medical dictionary will also stay in the nursing office to help them translate and sort the donated packages of medical supplies that often come printed in English. It was tough to say goodbye to my new group of middle-aged female friends but I let them know that I hoped to return one day when I had some more medical knowledge and shared my gratitude for all they had given me over the past two months.
I’ll miss many things about the hospital and about Nicaragua in general. I’ll miss the vast amount of hands-on learning opportunities I had everyday; heading back to pre-med classes will probably feel like going backwards in my studies. I’ll miss teaching English and doing what doctors tell me. I’ll miss sitting and enjoying the breeze in Central Park after a long day at the hospital. I’ll miss stopping for at a pulperia (small store) to buy a fresco (homemade fruit juice) on my way home. I’ll miss the food. I’ll miss being able to walk or ride my bike anywhere I needed to go. I’ll miss the challenge of speaking Spanish everyday. I’ll miss the prices and the lack of consumerism. Most of all, I’ll miss all the friends I’ve made and the host family that has taken care of me all this time.
Looking back on my overall experience here, I can’t say that it opened my eyes about any great need. I knew there was need in the healthcare system and I wanted to find out exactly what it was. I can’t say that Nicaragua transformed my views of the world, although it definitely refreshed my ideas about injustice in the world and my desire to work towards a change. I can’t even say that my 10 and a half weeks was enough to fully immerse me in the culture. I’m still not comfortable in every situation here and my Spanish remains imperfect. But when I look back on this summer, I will be able to say that it was a defining experience in my medical career, that I was shocked by many differences between the hospital here versus those of the States, that I learned more than I ever thought possible, that I made and strengthened treasured relationships that I hope to continue, that I taught a useful skill to some nurses, that for one summer, I ate and lived and breathed like a Nicaraguan. It all adds up to an incomparable experience about which I have no regrets.
Today, as I walked out of the hospital, I looked down at the lab coat I was wearing and the stethoscope draped around my neck. I looked up at the bright blue sky and the Central American sun beating down on me. I looked around at the dusty street and then back at the green building that I had just exited for the last time (this year at least). Then I realized something: I had never taken a picture in front of the hospital that I called my place of employment for the last few months. I found someone on the other side of the street willing to indulge me. Here is the picture from my last day that looks like a picture of the first day. Yes, I was truly here at Hospital Escuela Oscar Danilo Rosales Aguillo in Leon, Nicaragua during the summer of 2014.