Hello again friends!
Two days until take-off on the next trip on the road! Due to a serious turn of events in the region of West Africa, my previously planned trip to Ghana was cancelled. Fortunately enough, my college supported my decision to go to Cuba in exchange. Thats right – CUBA! Its interesting that it happened this way and so soon. I had been saying that I would love to go to Cuba for a few years. Not only does it have the allure of a Caribbean island, it also happens to be shut out of existence by our country due to an unfortunate series of events that occurred nearly sixty years ago. Well… that is what we all thought until about two weeks ago – diplomatic relations have begun anew between the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, and our president, Barack Obama (as if this guys couldn’t get any cooler).
Anyway, to keep with the ever growing demands of my career aspirations and global interests I am traveling to Cuba under the flag of an economics trip. Legally you ask? The trip is sanctioned by the US state department as an educational cultural exchange. We will be visiting the country for 18 days in which we will traverse the better part of the central and western sections of the island. This takes us through the cities of Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Havana amongst others. I am really looking forward to the interesting time capsule nature of the islands infrastructure, architecture, and modes of transportation. Thats not all … Cuba boasts an incredibly rich cultural heritage, amazing history, and most of all one of the greatest health care systems on the planet. This may be part of the allure of my upcoming trip.
To give a bit of background past what we all know well. You know, blah blah blah – the Cubans are bad blah blah blah communism … blah blah blah castro blah. To give you the real picture, the US and Cuba are the most tightly connected nations in the history of our great nation. What you probably didn’t know was that Cuba was more than an economic interest of the US when it came into our general realm of influence in the late 1800’s. In 1898 the Spanish American war broke out … why you ask? Must have been because the two powers were sticking their noses in the business of the other… In reality, some nasty (and nasty is a vast understatement) and incredibly large epidemics of Yellow Fever were moving across the trade routes between Cuba and the US. The Cubans couldn’t really help it, nor did they care that much for that matter. By the way, the Cuba that we are talking about at this moment is the Spanish colonial government that were fighting the native cuban rebellion. Now back to Yellow Fever. It turns out, the native population of the southern US coast and the same population of the Cuban island were immune to the disease as small scale infections typically occurred during childhood. These infections produced minor symptoms of the disease that rarely caused the rather high mortality rate of adult infections. Why is this important? Well… this meant that the non-native … or first generation inhabitants of these general areas typically caught the deadlier adult infection of Yellow Fever and a large portion of the infected died. This posed a large problem, especially to the federal government of the US who were increasingly trying to improve their domestic development. So … with several warnings and strict quarantine guidelines, the outbreaks continued until the point of war. The US invaded Cuba with the primary interest of eliminating the Yellow Fever outbreaks.
A little aside on the understanding of Yellow Fever at the time. Yellow fever is a virus a particularly nasty one as i previously explained. The virus is spread via infected mosquitoes through the consumption of human or primate blood. Primary infection results in fairly generic symptoms; muscle pain, weakness, nausea and vomiting. The secondary infection, which develops in only a portion of the infected individuals, includes some much more dire symptoms including profound weakness and multiple organ failure (including the liver – causing jaundice – turning the patient yellow – hence, Yellow Fever).
Sorry for my rant… I get really excited about these kind of things. What you need to understand is this … One – Yellow Fever = Bad. Two – The facilitation of a public health venture led to the original relations (and animosity) between the US and Cuba. So Cuba – yellow fever – lots of death in the US – bad turns in the US economy – US gets angry – US invades Cuba – US (Army) spends a lot of time, money, and expertise figuring out how to eliminate Yellow Fever from the major Cuban ports – leads to animosity between the now “independent” Cuban people and the US. Tada! We have the makings of a REVOLUTION!.
So I go to Cuba with an open mind and “nearly” empty stomach. I am really looking forward to again advancing my Spanish language skills, learning a fair bit of Cuban cuisine (COOKING!), and most especially meeting some great people along the way. This time Im bringing a camera along. Although I have not done an overwhelming amount of anything during my vacation (and boy does it feel great!). I will be putting up my darkroom before I leave so that I have a good space to develop all of the “great” pictures that I take.
Also – you won’t really be hearing from me until afterwards. Cuba does not have a great amount of internet access. Therefore , I am going computer less for the duration of the trip. This time we are going pen-to-paper with some manual photography. Until we meet again!
Hello all within and outside teh United States. Happy Independance day! Its interesting to be away from home on such a holiday, at least in some ways. Independance day is one of those holidays that yes we celebrate, but it is no where near as big as Christmas or Thanksgiving, at least when it comes to asthetic family appeal and nostalgia…. Wait, I take that back. This is all that Independance day is within the United States. It like all of the other holidays of the year, represents a time to get together to enjoy eachother – its a reason to see and gather with friends, family, and yes even almost complete strangers for the sake of a good time.
Truth be told, I hesitated to even write this post. Although against my better judgement I sought to express my thoughts, briefly (yeah right), about the past week for the benefit of any of those out there who happen to read this in the future. I am located within the small community healthcare clinic in the vilage of Dzoncauich, Mexico. This town, or pueblo here, is located about 80 kilometers outside of the capital of the district, but acts as a political seat for the surrounding smaller villages. This is an amazing and beautiful location, and I am happy that I was able to take advantage of this opportunity. During the day I shadow the doctor (Eddie) who is doing his social service for the Mexican government, at least in part, at this clinic, as well as other parts of the healthcare staff as they go about their daily routines. Usually this involves seeing 15-20 patients with everyithing from gastritis to congenital heart defect follow-ups.The clinic day is relatively short, 830-2ish, so we have the rest of the day free. For meals, we have been eating at the house of Doña Irma and Don Porfi, a local family who is just absolutely incredible. This couple are definitely one of the closest pairs I have had to truly close grandparents in a long time. For example, If I have learned anything this week, it is that you cannnot argue with a Mexican Abuela about eating more food… you just have to eat those last two panuchos or you will be in trouble. I mean, even after a week I feel like I have been prepped to auction at the market. All of the traditional Yucatan meals that I could want, in the fantastic space of great conversation and incredible family feeling.
This is what I have enjoyed most in my short time here, and it is certainly what would convince me to return in a heartbeat within the future. The compassion and sense of belonging with the people of Dzoncauich is the same as my own home. I have spent a lot of my free time wandering through the streets and the countryside within and surrounding the village and I cannot express the unhindered beauty of the Yucatecan jungle. First and foremost however, I made a new friend in my host Dr. Eddie. Normally he stays here along Monday through Saturday night before returning for sunday to his family in Merida. His relationships with the people of Dzoncauich have really brought the sense of family that I am so openly shouting at the moment. Remember, family always matters most in the end. However, this doesnt have to be biological family… I have a ¨Rental Brother¨at home who is just another of the herd of my siblings. This is what is important, that you make these connections to people.
As a last note in this rushed and not so eloquent passage, I cannot wait fro home in soem ways, and In others I never want to leave this village. I wouldnt mind learning how to be a town doctor here, although I am not sure what the people would think. For all those out there – enjoy your time together, enjoy the holiday. As I started and now I will end this saga … for the moment..
¨Be well, Do good work, and keep in touch¨
Here I am… with one week to go in Mexico. The fact that this trip went by so fast kind of scares me. Actually whats even more scary is the fact that I graduated from high school a year ago today. Rest assured, this is not a statement of OH IM GETTING OLD!, its a mentioning of the fact that time goes by whether you realize it or not. There is nothing that you can do to stop it, or slow it down… besides maybe watching grass grow. So what do we do about this great depressing passage of time? We enjoy it!
I think that the thing that people leave out of their lives most is happiness and a general appreciation for the time they have with the people and the place around them. This is not just a personal statement, really other people notice this too. My question for the world at this moment is… why would you do something you really do not like to do? Is it that you are being responsible? Maybe its time for a change for a lot of people. This trip has thus far taught me a lot of things (and reenforced others), but the thing I have really enjoyed is the fact that humans are humans and despite our differences physically and culturally, in the end none of that matters. This sounds like something out of a Hallmark card, but its true.
To catch up on my story briefly… I have kinda bummed around this week – which has been nice. I woke every day to get to the hospital at 7 (just like at home) scrubbed up, and headed into the pediatric ICU to observe for a good five hours. Then, I returned, ate some lunch and took a lot of time to read. The group definitely feels the trip winding down… and there have been a few strange disagreements along the way. Regardless, I have spent my final Saturday in Merida getting to explore some more of the mercado, packing all of my stuff up, and writing/reading/researching. Tomorrow I think that I will take one last beach trip and monday I get to start on another amazing journey. I leave at 6am to go to the village clinic where I will be living/ working/ studying until friday afternoon. In some ways this seems like such a schedule, but in others my days have blended in the hustle and bustle of each and every moment of free time. I have definitely enjoyed the break in the “work”.
I have finished the cook book, bought the gifts, learned some of the language, and am now taking the time to write some solid comparisons between this country and my own. Scarily enough, I am already looking ahead to next summer’s trip – to where god only knows. In some ways I would not mind returning here, not to this program (god no), but to an institution where I could fully appreciate spanish and maybe even Mayan language and culture. This experience has been amazing to be sure, but it wasn’t as I believed it would be. In conclusion, I return in a WEEK! I am excited about this sentiment, but even more so with the work that is to come in this next week.
Ok so a quick note on this cenote within Dzibilchaltun… its awesome! The pool itself is about 20-30 meters across and when we asked one of the men swimming in the cenote, he mentioned that it was about 30 meters. We were not actually sure if this was the correct depth, however you could not see the bottom. I really enjoyed the lily pads that grow throughout the center of the pool. Their beauty only grows as you watch the stems go deeper and deeper into the water. Each 1.5 feet or so there is another layer of leaves. There were actually a lot of fish swimming around, and their bright and colorful bodies would could often be caught as a flash out of the corner of the eye while swimming. There were a ton of people swimming in the cenote that day seeing as it was EXTREMELY toasty out. This just made for a better experience, jumping, swimming, and playing.
This building was classified by the archeological site description board as edifice 37 (or was it 38?) regardless this is a great representation of the mayan architecture at the site. This building was located not very far from the cenote itself.
Haha, this is the description that our friend Yulians gave us as we toured the Dzibilchaltun ruins. This may just have been the foundation for a room, or it may very well have been some kind of pool or water holding room. Who know? Regardless, this room is located on the back of one of the pyramid structures that makes up the central square in this ancient city.
This is the sakbe running from the great temple/ inglesia region of Dzibilchaltun to the temple of the seven dolls about .5 km away. All of the sakes of the Yucatan show a flat, nearly straight design that allows for quick and easy travel between point A and point B. Another great example of this design is seen in my pictures of the market along the paths of Chichen Itza. There is a great sakbe located there that runs from the great pyramid to the grand cenote on the far end of the city. I found these to be marvels of design as well, seeing as the roads are nearly flat and without major faults. How were they carved through the dense jungle of the Yucatan with the tools at hand? Who will ever know?
This is actually one of the standing spanish pieces of the archeological site, and it represents the direct force and influence that the conquistadors finally developed within the mayan population. The Yucatan was actually the last area of Mexico to be conquered, this was due to its nigh impenetrable gulf coast and its incredibly dense interior jungle. When these conquistadors finally did reach the main bulk of the mayan population, they quickly realized that these people did not have an enormous wealth in gold and jewels as they had desired from them. So instead, the spanish enslaved them through various means to eventually work the haciendas and other agricultural operations that would bring the Yucatan fame within the world of commerce.
Here is the temple of the seven dolls at the site of Dzibilchaltun. This edifice lies at the end of the great Sakbe that runs through the center of Merida. This temple is named as such because when it was “discovered” seven crudely shaped doll statues were found within the rubble on the interior of the structure. On the exterior, detailed designs of the rain god, Chaac, are seen built into the upper section of the building. Located around this area are several buildings that held purification ceremonies for the participants of the ceremonies that took place within this temple. We were told that it was based on a steam bath design that would cleanse body and spirit before worship.
Here is my friend Yulians looking down at us walking through the tunnel. He just graduated from the IMSS school of nursing here in Merida where I met him during a short convivencia last week.