Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Thursday, November 6, 2008
One of the starkest differences between life in the US and life here is the liberal interpretation of time frames, and the lack of a hurried feeling to do anything. It only took a few days to figure out that "I'll pick you up at 8 am" actually means anytime between 8 and 10. And even if it turns into 10, that's no reason to not stop and have a cup of coffee before heading out the door. The sense that there is no rush to do anything pretty much pervades every aspect of life. For example, there is no such thing as dropping someone off, in the sense that we think of it - you pull up at the curb, the person gets out, and you drive off (or, at the most, you go to the door or inside for a few minutes). Here, dropping someone off can turn into hours of sitting and eating and talking. Going along for a ride to bring someone home can mean I'll be sitting having coffee and bread (or sometimes lunch or dinner) for hours in someone else's home. What's particularly interesting is that even if a carload of people arrive unannounced at a home, there's always (always) enough lunch/dinner to feed everyone. I don't know of anyone in the US who makes enough of a meal to feed a potential family of 5 that might drop by without warning. Certainly there is a certain amount of efficiency that is lost when an entire country functions in such an unpressured way. However, what's so wrong with that? People are probably having fewer heart attacks here than in the US. Another example of not feeling pressured to function at a fast pace: at the hospital, there are several doctors who spend good amount of the day lying in the doctors lounge, watching tv. This occurs whether or not there are patients waiting at their desks. Also doctors (a rather hurried group in the US, I think we all agree) spend a good amount of time just sitting around and chatting with other people, or drinking sodas at the little cafe outside the hospital, or stopping to chat in the hall for 30 minutes while they're clearly on their way somewhere. It's quite a difference from the blur of white coats that I'm used to seeing at UMass. And yesterday, we were going to work in a clinic in a rural area, and we decided to leave at "8." I woke up at 8 (ok, let's be honest, someone woke me up at 8...I guess this culture is rubbing off a little...and lord knows I love my sleep....especially after late nights with rum....but I digress), and, figuring I didn't have time to take a shower and whatnot, just pulled on clothes and came out to the kitchen, apologizing, and ran into the other people (we were the entire staff of the clinic for the day...so it's not like it was up and running without us), in their pajamas, just making coffee. Then we sat around drinking coffee and eating eggs and beans, until one person decided it was time to go shower, and one by one they got ready. We left at 10. I asked my first patient what time she arrived at the clinic to wait, and she said 7 am. And yet...no one appeared particularly annoyed, either at waiting or keeping people waiting. My American self is still having trouble wrapping my brain around this. Like (last example...I could go on for pages) at the mall, there's one area where all the banks are, and some nights you go and the lines are snaking around the mall, and you have to wait for an hour just to get inside. Again, no one appears annoyed...they just wait, like it's totally normal, and that's just what you have to do to make a transaction at the bank. Normally I am a total type B personality, and don't get annoyed waiting for stuff for a while, but being down here makes me feel like a typical type-A American.
Since I did, after all, come down here to particiate in some medically-related activities, I decided to post some pictures of that part. Central American trips can't be all about tortillas and rum, after all (or can they??). The first four pictures are from the Hospital Nacional de Amatitlan, and the last one is outside a health center in a small town a couple hours north of here (the city).