Tuesday, February 26, 2013

MACLA Medical Mission Part 2

The first day of the MACLA mission was a short one. We each picked out two sets of scrubs (to which I whimsically referred for the duration of the week as, “fancy doctor outfits”) and spent some time to getting to know the medical team and the facilities. The portion of the hospital we were to occupy consisted of five operating tables in three different rooms as well as a recovery room with four beds and two additional rooms containing eleven beds where patients were prepared for surgery and seen by doctors and physical therapist when they finished.

Fellow volunteers Alyson and Dustin

After our orientation, a group of MACLA people informed us that they were heading to Juan Dolio, a public beach on the south coast about half an hour east of the capital. Having never been before, I seized the opportunity, and soon found myself eating lunch there with a group that included a handful of other volunteers along with Katrina, a resident at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Danielle, a fourth-year medical student, and Kevin, a GIS specialist whose dad founded and runs MACLA.

Volunteers Dana and Jose with medical student Danielle

Despite the restaurant’s awful food and trademark Dominican service (we couldn’t get anyone to even acknowledge us once we’d been served), it was nice to be at the beach and get to know each other. I hadn’t had much opportunity to hang out with volunteers who have gotten here since I arrived in the country. I was also excited to learn more about our visitors from MACLA. While we ate, a group of about ten more of them arrived and went straight to the beach.

Occupational therapist Eileen with volunteer Ashley

The rest of the afternoon we spent lounging on the beach and dipping in the sea. Unbelievably, we were hassled over and over for bringing our own rum and coke and even forced to dump out some ice that somebody went and bought at the nearest convenient store about 20-minute walk away. I tried to imagine the same scenario playing out amongst Dominicans at any other beach without resulting in fisticuffs. It was impossible. I resolved to never again visit that particular beach.

Friday, February 22, 2013

MACLA Medical Mission Part 1

I arrived in the capital not quite knowing what to expect. For almost two years I had been hearing on and off from other volunteers about their experiences assisting medical teams that come to the Dominican Republic, but there is only so much you can learn without seeing for yourself. The mission I was volunteering (MACLA; Medical Aid for Children of Latin America) for is one of the most coveted by volunteers. For a week, I would get to stay at a hotel in the capital and spend my days at a hospital translating for patients, surgeons, doctors, and anesthesiologists before and after the many surgeries that would take place.

Left to right: Volunteers Dana, Jose, Ashley, and Matt hold yours truly

My first stop in Santo Domingo, as usual, was the Peace Corps office in Gazcue. Having decided that I would conclude my Peace Corps service in July, I am acutely aware of the stockpile of possessions I’ve acquired over the past 23 months and, determined to be prepared when the time comes to vacate my apartment, I have begun discarding worthless items and hauling with me boxes of things to give away to other volunteers.

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Left to right: Patricia, Del, Me, and Katrina

The Peace Corps office was especially busy that day. PCV’s from all over the country had descended upon the capital for one of the semi-annual three-day stretches of planning and coordinating of national initiatives known as CORPS Forum. My jaunt into the volunteer lounge delivered more than its usual burst of social anxiety as well as excitement and happiness at being briefly reunited with friends I so rarely get to see.

Arrive before dawn in the courtyard at Hospital Bellini

After jettisoning my payload of hand-me-downs and running a couple of errands, I called a cab to the hotel and was on my way. I was the first to my hotel and welcomed my first hot shower in months, along with a luxurious rest on a bed not filled with air.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Rocky Coast Part 2

I decided to walk up the coast in the direction of the sugar factory, inspecting the drop-off all along the way for signs of a promising handhold. I saw a few spots that looked alright, but they tended to be covered in crabs. Finally, I could see in the distance the dividing wall that delineates the boundary of the sugar factory and the gated community that surrounds it.

Andrew jumps into a charco (natural pool) in Punta Cana during his visit last summer

As I approached the wall I cold see some figures coming toward the ocean along it. Before long there were about a dozen Dominican teenagers, poking around a certain spot along the rocks and making talk of jumping in. I didn't know what to think, since some of them sounded apprehensive. But right about the time I began to conclude that they were all going to chicken out, one of them stripped to his boxer and turned a somersault from the highest point into the brine.

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Playing Dominoes with Clínica staff at a party the med students threw at the guest house

I watched with a bit of trepidation as he made his way back toward the rocks and, to my surprise, DISAPPEARED INTO THEM at the water's edge only to reappear a moment later inside a sinkhole a few feet back from the sea. After watching a couple of other come ashore by more conventional means, I decided to give it a try. The water could not have felt better. The kids were so stoked to see the gringo doing it too. I think they were used to seeing foreigners who were too afraid to get off their tour buses, let alone hang out with them at the swimming spot.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Rocky Coast Part 1

There's this neighborhood down by the ocean called La Caleta that I explored on my first visit to La Romana, when I tried to bushwhack my way through the thick brush down to the sea. That time, I ended up getting stung by wasps, so I turned back early, but I discovered a path and had been wanting to explore it ever since.

The crowded counter and sink in the tiny kitchen of my new apartment in La Romana

I was resolute, but not entirely optimistic about my prospects when I went a second time today, since I didn't know how many people knew about the trail or even whether it made it all the way to the coast, but my hope was to get a nice little stretch of ocean all to myself. Well, it turned out that was just the case. Apparently, if it's not a beach here, nobody hangs out there.

The view of Sagrada Corazón de Jesus cathedral from the balcony I where I used to live in Moca

The whole rocky coastline, from what I could tell, was made up of fossilized coral and went out maybe 50 feet from the brush and trees before abruptly dropping about 10 feet into the churning water below. I had just walked for about 40 minutes and the thought of a nice dip sounded divine, but there didn't appear to be a safe spot where I would have good prospects of climbing back out.