During our first days in Chiapas
The beauty of places like this is that time matters a little less, and that makes every passing second worth more.
I understand now what people mean when they say that a study abroad experience will change you. I wouldn’t give up mine for the world.
In the mountains of the Sierra, I had a chance to reacquaint myself with a different manner of living–not as someone who is going about life only writing her own story, but as someone who is also stumbling upon hundreds of unread ones that she will continue to discover as time passes. Every passing stranger will say hello as you walk the streets in a community of the Sierra, and in traveling with doctors, you quickly learn that there are many life stories apart from medical histories that people are eager to share with you.
My host family
To never know who you will run into, but that you will, without a doubt, run into someone whose story will be another lesson in living is an incredible gift and one that I know I will miss.
Just another day at the office…precious twin baby boys!
I remembered in Mexico what it was like to live with a family at a time in my life when I spend vast expanses of the year away from my own—these are the people who insist that you eat another helping at every meal and advise you against all the dangers out there in the world even though they know that you’re adult enough to take care of yourself.
In the span of one day in the Sierra, I would have spoken with a 23-year-old patient with Neurofibromatosis and his entire family, sat on the porch and chatted with the local doctor and a man who has a mental condition for which he has been ostracized by his community, eaten a lunch of tortilla and pollo while learning about both the immense opportunity and the tremendous nervousness that accompanies a newly graduated Mexican medical student’s social service year, learned the proper way to perform simple injections, and listened to a neighbor’s four-year-old daughter demonstrate her ability to count to 10 in English for me while her parents look on proudly.
As I walked from home to the clinic each morning, part of me remembered my seven-year-old self walking through our old neighborhood to the school bus. I used to think that it was the most beautiful walkway in the world (bursting as our neighbors’ lawns were with gorgeous Azaleas) and the simple happiness I felt in knowing where I was going, and where that bus would take me, was one I had forgotten–until now.
It was that I’m-on-my-way-to-the-bus stop feeling again there in the small community of Honduras. I may have traveled to quite a few big cities since my elementary school days, but the small town girl in me still lives on.
Outside of the Clinic in Honduras
The reality I’m facing now (and will face in full next fall) is realizing that it is unlikely that I will ever have a semester like this one again. Everyday life is more of a game of staying put, though admittedly that too depends on one’s point of view. So, at this time next year when I’m reflecting on the end of my four years as a college student, I hope I’ll remember these words written by my junior self.
When you’re a child you really do think it’s possible that multiple worlds exist–the ones that stay with you like the most memorable vacations and birthday celebrations, others through which you’re just a passing ship, and still more that you dream up. But now as an adult, I’m not so sure that I was wrong to believe it.
Sitting back here in a Harvard dining hall can feel surreal–like being part of something that is at once deeply familiar and also part of another life. Admittedly, it was just 3.5 months ago that I was here regularly. Hardly another lifetime ago. And yet, after having lived to a different rhythm for the past few months–surrounded by people who taught me not only about medicine, public health, and community relations, but too about true, raw humanity–I’ve come to realize that the reintegration process is going to be a slow one.
I already miss Chiapas dearly. I’m the kind of person who prefers to experience the “letting go” process in stages–makes it easier on the soul, I figure. It’s also just the way that I think, and write. For me, the prospect of leaving the physical place where I had my Chiapas experience meant that I subconsciously (or consciously, I’ll never know) began playing my memory reel in my mind well before I left. I wanted to remember these moments always, and I believe firmly that you can will your mind to remember what you think it should never forget. It might be a childish notion–this idea of squinting really hard and willing a time and place to stay with you–but I believe in it (minus the squinting, perhaps). It’s my assurance that I’ll be able to recall those memories when I need them most or–more likely–when I miss the people who helped me create them. Chiapas is many miles away from Boston, and with no finite plans to return of yet, it can seem even farther. But I have to believe that I will return and that the other world where my Chiapas experiences exist is one that I can carry with me, regardless of whether I am physically there or not.
And so, I suppose there aren’t really “things” that I’ll miss. I miss all of it.
I am so grateful to the many people who made this semester possible–Vicky, Tilsa, my incredibly dedicated professors, Partners in Health/Compañeros En Salud, the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Harvard Medical School Department of Social Medicine & Global Health, and so many more people whom I cannot venture to include in a single blog post. Thank you for one incredibly memorable semester that I will always remember as the spring that I spent learning, living, and falling for an entirely new community of people in the mountains of Chiapas.
And with that, here’s to SUMMER 2014! Hard to believe it’s that time of year again–here’s hoping that these warmer months are filled with just as much joy, laughter, loved ones, and learning :)