Monday, August 1 Cock-a-doodle-do! I hear a rooster’s call in the distance. As I rise, the sheet sticks to the grime covering my body because I have not showered yet. Dustin snores. It’s loud. The stench of my nine other similarly greasy male roommates fills the room. I tip-toe to the bathroom so as to not wake them…and to get to the shower first. AGHHHHH, no hot water. This is my first experience with the military shower.
Ding-dong. The bell calls us to the dining area. Mhhmmm, our hosts cooked us caramelized French toast, hard-boiled eggs, fresh local mangos and papayas and ham. I down it. I get in line to pack my lunch (a sandwich and nuts) in preparation to travel to the barrios. We gather our medications, purified water, food, clothes, athletic supplies and everything else that we are bringing to the people of the Dominicano.
Silence. Everyone on the bus takes in the view and ponders to themselves. No one knows what to expect except for our translators, the doctors and those who have been here before. We pass horses, goats, cows and other animals tied to the side of the road as they graze peacefully. People stare, I wave back and get no reaction. Occasionally, a smile will grace their face and they wave back…except for some of the military guards.
LOUD NOISES! The market is packed. People are everywhere but we stand out. Stalls of clothes piled, shoes assorted, rice bagged and fruit stacked are everywhere. Haitians from across the border are allowed across to this specific market, but are sent back across before nightfall. We walk together with our translators. One of them, Richard, gets distracted by a nice pair of jeans. We continue on. The other translator, Rudy, walks toward a stand and barters with a local vendor for some limoncillos. About the size of a ping-pong ball, I bite down to tear the skin off. Wow! It tastes like natures jolly rancher as I suck the juice from the fruit. Gracias Senor. “Los chinos tienen karate!” A young boy yells at my two friends of Asian descent. LOLs. We get back on the bus and continue towards the barrio.
Screeeech. The bus grinds to a halt. We’re on a dirt road with one-story houses lining one side, awall with barbed wire on the other. I get out and walk into a shack made of straw walls and a wooden frame. There are four tables for us to set up on. I’m in charge of the water cooler. Men, women, children and babies line the street as I move through them towards the clinic. “Lo siento” I mutter. I am unsure of my Spanish and the only words I hear are foreign and meaningless to me.
Amen. We have finished our group prayer and are ready to begin. The pastor reminds us of why we are here, to help those less fortunate. The first two patients enter. Nick takes the blood pressure of his. I look towards mine. He is a young boy helped in by his mother. I notice a large lesion on the heel of his left foot. I take the blood pressure of the mother while Nicole, our nurse, asks both of them some basic assessment questions. She sends them to the next station to see the doctors. “Proxima”. The next patients enter. I take the blood pressure of mine while Nick does the same. Hours pass…and I barely noticed it. I look to my left and see Natalie and Lauren both are holding babies as their mothers are being waited on. I look to their right; the pharmacy station is backed up. Whew, temporarily relief as we hold the crowd back. Nicole allows us to go eat lunch.
“Wow, it’s hot here” says Dan. These are the first English words I’ve heard in a while and the first time I’ve seen him since arriving. He is fluent in Spanish and has spent the morning outside with all the children. We eat in silence under the shade of a single tree. Two old men are sitting across the street from us. “Let’s get a picture” someone says. A boy of maybe five sits right by us. Dan asks if he would like to be in the photo. “Soy feo” he says jokingly…translation, “I’m ugly”. We all laugh at this.
Splash. I step in a puddle. We are about to start working again. I notice a child. He stares at the nuts in my hand. I give him the bag. His mother looks at me smiling and tells his child something. He says “Gracias.” I guess giving thanks is universal. We begin admitting more patients. Baseball players, field workers, the young, the old, a girl my age with sickle cell anemia all come through my station. I still remember their faces.
Lub-dub, lub-dub. I hear it through the stethoscope. AHHHHHH, I hear behind me. I turn around and see Christina run by outside the clinic. About 15 children run following her screaming. Smiles are on every one of their sticker-covered faces. I chuckle to myself and look back towards my station. Hilary, another P5, takes over for me and I am given an opportunity to step outside. I grab some Indian headbands and head out. The children swarm me. Tiny hands grabbing, snatching…I can’t move. “This is crazy” I think to myself. Nick and I proceed to play volleyball with them. We count off “uno, dos, tres, cuatro” with each hit of the ball. I notice I boy doing a handstand. I try to one up it as I walk on my hands. They blow me out of the water as they proceed to do one-handed hand stands, flips, cartwheels and round-off back handsprings. My mouth drops. They are between the ages of six to eight.
Music is playing from a house. The children form a circle as two young boys start a dance off. They bounce, shuffle to the beat and move to the beat in ways that I have never seen. It is funny, talented and I can’t stop watching. Natalie, Dan, Lauren and Nick all come out and start laughing as they watch this crowd of about 20 Domincano ninas dancing to Latin music. Natalie gets a video of it on her camera.
Vroom. The engine of the bus roars to life as we take off. I am covered in sweat and filth from the day, my throat is dry and yet I do not want to leave at all. This has been one of the most interesting and unforgettable days of my life, and this is just the first day. As we drive home, I think to myself, “I cannot wait for tomorrow…”