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General Care Projects in Mexico by Meredith Gleason

With my housemates New friends

This is an extract from Meredith’s final blog about her experience in Mexico:

This may be one of the last blogs I write before leaving Mexico, which is weird.

I’ve decided to compose a list of things I will and won’t miss about living in La Republica, so here goes.

Things I will miss:

  1. Fresh lime served with everything. Everything.
  2. Tortillas
  3. How cheap everything is
  4. Buying big tubs of fresh fruit on every street corner
  5. Potato chips with lime and chili
  6. My ghetto mexiphone
  7. Mariachi music
  8. Amazing popsicles
  9. Learning British English
  10. Fun taxi drivers

Things I won’t miss:

  1. Being looked at like I am an alien
  2. Not being able to flush my toilet paper
  3. Mexican men hitting on me
  4. Bumpy bus rides
  5. No wireless internet
  6. Shop keepers yelling “¡A sus ordenes!”
  7. Tempting pastry shops on every corner
  8. Terrible drivers
  9. Daily thunderstorms and hail
  10. Walking 6 blocks to do my laundry

It is really funny… It took me about 1 minute to write the first list, and I could have gone on forever and ever. But it took me 10 minutes to write the second list. It was so hard to think of things that I won’t miss. I guess that is normal, though. This country has made such an impression on me. I know part of it is purely from experiencing a new culture and totally immersing myself in it. But, I also know that a lot of what I feel for this country is because it helped me to grow up and change into who (I think) I really am. I have changed so much, but to the outside world (aka, you) I doubt it is an obvious change. But I just feel like a new person, in the best way possible. I feel like the person that has always been inside me and has been peeking out over the years is finally out of her shell and I am me. It is so strange.

My mom asked me if this new discovery had led to any thoughts about my future. It really has. This summer has told me, definitively, that I need to do something where I can be speaking a foreign language every day. I have always had teaching in the back of my mind and I am going to explore that more in the coming semester with the LAC section that I am instructing on cultural and self identity. I am also so moved by the people of this country and seeing, first hand, the actual condition of those living under the poverty line in Mexico. Though most of my patients are not under the poverty line, daily life here brings it to my attention. The resource gap is HUGE, bigger than anything I could have ever imagined. And I am really considering looking into non-profits or corporations with a “foundations” sector (that means it sets aside money for pro bono work) dedicated to Latin American causes. Who knows? Big dreams for a 20 year old girl…

Visiting Guanajuato

Another thing I left off the list of things I will miss is all of the incredible people I met while in Guadalajara. I’ll start out with my friends. Most of them have left Guadalajara at this point and I can feel the longing to talk to them already. Heather and Andy, especially. They were constant companions and I had so many amazing trips and fun afternoons with them. Then my roommate, Emily. She was also a constant (and I mean constant) companion. After nearly 9 weeks straight, we have only nearly killed each other once or twice. Every once in a while we have to take some time apart so we don’t drive each other up the wall, but all in all I will miss her a lot. We lived, worked, and hung out together for 9 weeks straight and a presence like that, good or bad, is sure to be missed in its absence. And my housemates, Henry and Raphael!! Henry is going to be a mate for life (I say “mate” because he is teaching me British English). He is planning a trip to America since he has never been and I am planning a trip to England to visit him and the other volunteers from the UK who I am close to now. He is a genuinely nice guy and there is not a bone of bad in him. He is also super entertaining and a good friend to talk to. Raphael is absolutely hilarious. His Spanish has improved SO MUCH! It is incredible. He is a great guy and fun to hang out with. He has a heart of gold and I’ll miss learning French curse words from him at the dinner table. Then there is Peter! He and I got very close right before my birthday and then at Turtle Camp we had some deep talks. I will definitely keep in touch with him as he is starting medical school in the fall! And Jen!!! She never fails to make me look even paler than I already am. Our trip to Guanajuato is one of my favorite memories from Mexico! Then there are all of the other volunteers… Mel, Vanessa, the Scottish girls, the bunch from Turtle Camp, Lisa… I could go on. They are wonderful people. And the staff at Projects Abroad is pretty amazing, too.

Me and Alondra at my placement

Now I need to get sappy and talk about the people at my work and how sorely I will miss them. Every day at work was an inspiration. After spending a summer in a pediatric cancer ward, one develops a bit of a thick skin but my thick skin still has some sensitive points. I was so inspired by the courage of these children and these parents. There was always a small child crying when he or she was getting stuck with the IV or a patient confessing that he or she was scared to die, but all in all these children absolutely amaze me. They smile so deeply and I can truly see the effect that I have on their mood, and that, in the end, makes their treatment more effective. Having someone to talk to, to laugh with, to play with, and to share their culture with is something that all children need, and especially these. I know they have their parents with them, which I will get to in a second, but sometimes a child needs someone other than a parent to believe in him or her. By being there and talking with the children, encouraging them and smiling with them, I know I made an incredible difference.

With large Iguana

Now that I am at the end and having to start saying goodbye to these adorable kids and teenagers, I am so incredibly sad. I know that most of them will get well and lead normal lives, but I also see the ones that are not doing very well and I feel like if I were still with them, they would be okay. My rationale is completely irrational, but I somehow feel that my presence and my support of these children will make them okay. It is part of it, for sure, but in the end it is medicine and fate. I just wish I could be here longer to stay with them and keep them from getting sad and giving up. These children mean so much to me that words cannot express. There is Toñio, the smiling teenage boy who is full of stories and a love for music. And baby Alan, the 15 month old who stole my heart (I am trying as hard as I can to bring him back with me in my suitcase!). And Marisol, who I discovered shares my initials and my love for sea turtles. And Alondra, the most adorable 3 year old I have ever met and who begs her mother to go to chemotherapy on days she isn’t supposed to so that she can see me. And Rosario, the “cool” girl of 11 who doesn’t let anything get in the way of her sense of humor. And Francisco Javier, age 4, who has the most attitude I have EVER encountered in my life. And then Joaquin Carlos, Sara Isabel, Henri, Karla, Diana, Denise, Raciela, Jacky, Ale, and countless others who I love equally and more than any other children I have ever met. Each one has made a different impact on me and who I am and I will never, ever forget their courage and their amazing personalities.

At the turtle camp

The parents of these children are equally, if not more, impressive. The fact that they too can, most of the time, keep a smiling face and encourage their children is something I cannot fathom. Being that I am not yet a parent, I cannot possibly understand what they are going through. I cannot imagine having a child with cancer and being able to get out of bed in the morning and keep a smile on my face while my child was in so much pain and was so sad. The parents are fantastic and inspired me every day. And the nurses, lest we forget them! What amazing women these nurses are. Not only are they some of the funniest, fun-loving women I have ever encountered, but they also are so dedicated to their work and so caring for the children. I think, like me, the nurses have become a part of the lives of these children and they too make a great impact. Some resent the nurses for putting IVs in their hands, but after a few minutes that is forgotten and they are begging for the nurses to play with them. I will really, really miss everyone at my placement. Even the janitor, Juan, has become close with us. And, maybe one day, I will forgive Hot Doctor (we also refer to him as “McCaliente”) for growing his disgusting facial hair and will think of him fondly as a wonderful doctor. The other doctors are great men and women and I cannot imagine having their job, ever.

This post is sappy enough as it is, so I think I will leave it. You can all stew over it, chew it up, and digest bits and pieces of my experiences, but I don’t think anyone but me will ever truly know the impact that this summer has had on me and on who I am. It has been a wonderful, amazing summer and, though I miss everyone back home, I am so sad to be leaving. I feel like it was just yesterday that I stepped off the plane, scared stiff and totally apprehensive of the entire experience.

August 1st at 3pm I arrive at Regan Int’l in DC. I will see you all then and share even more of my experiences that I didn’t share on here. There are so many stories… if you thought I talked a lot before, just prepare yourself.

Paz y amor.

Meredith Gleason

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