Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mis classes, mi casa, y las comidas

31 enero

Buenos dias!

Yesterday was quite a long day.  We got up early to take the 8 am charter bus to Xela.  Got a ride to the bus station from Alberto, who had also picked us up at the airport.  The bus ride was long (about 3.5 hours) but pretty comfortable except that there were no bathrooms.  Despite deliberately water-restricting, both Mariah and I had to pee by midway through the trip. Luckily, the bus stopped in a mid-sized town with a sanitario, which is basically a ceramic hole in the ground that costs 3 quetzales. It does include paper towels.

We arrived in Xela around noon and immediately took a cab to Celas Maya.  The school is really neat - it's basically a big open courtyard surrounded by tables and some extra rooms where students have their one-on-one lessons. I'll try to include a picture tomorrow. We got a whirlwind orientation to the school and then were quickly scooped up by my host mother, Elida.

We met Elida's 4-year-old son, Ricky, who is very funny.  I told him el puede ser mi profesor en la casa. Elida will be a good teacher too - she speaks slowly and corrects kindly.

We figured out who belonged with who and she got me set up in my room while she took Mariah across the street to her host family.  Our home is lovely.  The kitchen and a small sitting area are adjacent to the garage on the first floor and the main floor of the home has the family's rooms and bathroom.  My room is actually on the roof and is connected to Michelle's room (Cara's roommate).  She's only here until Sunday but it's been great having her to orient me a little more.  Also, we can have conversations through the partition between our rooms.

That came in handy early this morning, when I heard a couple rounds of fireworks versus some sort of vehicle noise versus gunshots.  I doubted it was the latter but Michelle confirmed through the wooden wall that it was definitely just fireworks, which is very common.

I had my first lesson already yesterday afternoon with Monica, my teacher.  She is truly wonderful - very patient but persistent in speaking almost only Spanish.  I think I learned as much in 5 hours as I did in 2 semesters of medical Spanish at UNC.  We reviewed all the basics and she said repeatedly "no te preocupes" when I did silly things like say Guatemala was in South America.  She is also quite pregnant and is due in early April so we spent awhile talking about her pregnancy and plans for her delivery.  (Mostly I listened and once in awhile inserted a "Si, es normal" or a pearl that I could muster in Spanish like, "Cuando tu eres embarazada, tienes mas sangre en el cuerpo."  I feel fairly pathetic but I'm glad I had the small amount of background that I did.  I will work with her in the afternoons at least through Friday but I might switch teachers next week so I can have my lessons in the morning.  The school organizes various activities in the afternoons, like small hikes, tours, cooking lessons, etc and the afternoon lessons preclude us from going.

Michelle and I had dinner with Elida, Ricky, and her daughter Alejandra, who is 14.  Alejandra is pretty quiet but Ricky rode around in the living room on a new bicicleta with training wheels while we ate and asked repeatedly to eat the chocolates from the Southern Season gift basket I brought.  The food in general is very carb heavy - spaghetti, tamales, bread, rice, potatos - and I think I'm going to give up on being a vegetarian while I'm here, at least in our home.  I had some meat patties yesterday that tasted good but I have no idea what the meat was.  I decided it was better I don't ask and try everything as long as my GI tract is ok with it.

After dinner, Michelle and I went to an Indian restaurant for another student's birthday.  It was nice to meet some of the other students, most of whom were from UVA med.  We actually had unintentionally segregated into a medical and non-medical side of the table.  On our side it was me, about 5 UVA MS4s, and one 4th year med-peds resident from Vanderbilt.  The other side was much more interesting - a computer engineer, crisis line worker/musician from Portland, one of the teachers from Celas Maya, and a couple others.

Mariah and I have this morning to do some work and errands so our plan is to work at the school, go to the market to get notebooks, snacks, and tuition money, and go for a run.  There's actually a yoga studio nearby as well that I'm going to check out tomorrow!


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Estoy en Xela

30 enero

Buenas tardes!

Very short entry today because I'm on a very short break from my very awesome first day of Spanish lessons with my very wonderful and very pregnant teacher.

Made it to Xela without a hitch on the bus this morning and will write more tomorrow when I have more time in el cafe con internet.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013


29 Enero

Buenas noches a todos!

Thank you all for your encouraging responses to the big blog launch. 

I´m writing from Patricia's hostel in Guatemala City, the capital and largest city.  Patricia and her son work with the language school to pick up students from the airport, provide lodging, and get us to the right bus station tomorrow to head to Xela.

The day started out on the wrong foot, unfortunately, when I tripped over my coat or a backpack strap and tumbled down a few stairs at home.  I of course immediately took some ibuprofen, did a self-neuro exam (no focal deficits), and looked up "me duele el cuello" in case I landed in a Guatemalan clinic on arrival but I'm doing much better now.  I nearly left my passport on the copier in Olney too but luckily my mom said something to the effect of, "as long as you have your passport..." at which point we turned around and grabbed it.

Everything has been lovely and gone very smoothly since then.

I met Mariah and Nicole, two other UNC medical students, in Atlanta and we had entire rows to ourselves on the flight to G.C.  Nicole headed straight to Xela today but Mariah and I had a lovely afternoon lounging around Patricia's neighborhood and the hostel.  We had lunch at a comedero around the corner, which was essentially a small restaurant. I'm not sure if I spelled the word correctly but comedero means like a feeding trough.  We had omelets, beets, rice, and tortillas and sat with a woman from Lancaster, PA who has worked in El Salvador as a missionary most of her life.  She was headed back there from PA, where she was visiting her mother for her 106th birthday.  I asked her her secret: onion sandwiches and no pop.

Took a nap and sat in Patricia's garden.  There are some really squeaky sounding birds, a citrus tree, waist-high basil plants, and pretty blooming vines.  It doesn't feel like January. 

The squeaky birds, as it turns out, remind me of my thought processes around forming our rank order list.  Lots of competing interests that get louder and squeakier depending on the day.  For those of you who are reading and feel some of this, I'll leave you with what Tyler wrote to me today.  Amy L., I think there's something to our dating/interviewing theory!

I just sat down on the couch and started reading this magazine that was open to an article about online dating. Pretty interesting. One paragraph in particular was fascinating for its translatabity to the match:

"At the selection stage, researchers have seen that as the range of options grows larger, mate-seekers are liable to become 'cognitively overwhelmed' and deal with the overload by adopting lazy comparison strategies and examining fewer cues. As a result, they are more likely to make careless decisions than they would be if they had fewer options, and this potentially leads to less compatible matches. Moreover, the mere fact of having chosen someone from such a large set if options can lead to doubts about whether the choice was the 'right' one. No studies in the romantic sphere have looked at precisely how the range if choices affects overall satisfaction. But research elsewhere has found that people are less satisfied when choosing from a larger group: one study, for example, subjects who selected a chocolate from an array of six options believed it tasted better than those who selected the same chocolate from an array of 30."

I'll grant you, it's not a perfect comparison, but pretty interesting.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Counting down...

Hello friends and family!

As many of you know, I'm leaving in a couple days for Guatemala.  I am going primarily to study Spanish, since I've often felt frustrated at my inability to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients,.  After attempting with limited success to learn through coursework and podcasts, I realized that nothing could substitute for a true immersion experience.

In that spirit, I'm heading to study at a language school called Celas Maya, which has come highly recommended by lots of fellow medical students.  It's in the second largest city in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango, which most people refer to as "Xela" (pronounced Shay-la).  I will be spending about 5 hours a day in tailored, individual Spanish lessons and will practice what I learn with my host family, patients in a local public health clinic, and the community.

Quetzaltenango is located in Guatemala

Several other UNC and UVA medical students will be there at the same time as me, which will be great!  In the evenings, we can hang out in town and on weekends, participate in school-organized or independent excursions.

In making my packing list, I'm excited about the variety it promises - gifts for my host family, a camera, stethoscope, "just for fun" books, hiking boots, scrubs, sunscreen, and lots of layers for the warm days and cold nights.

I hope to post regularly on this blog so feel free to check in or email me if you're interested!

Be well,