Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Speaking Spanish Until it Hurts

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been living off adrenaline for the last few days.  I have been sleeping well too, but it’s still such a different place (and language) that it takes an incredible amount of energy to adjust.

The morning started out with a run, as I mentioned yesterday.  An advantage of having to post everything a day late is that no one can try to talk me out of my ideas J.  It actually went very well.  I do suspect this was related to the fact that Joaquin came, and he doesn’t have great endurance (though not bad for an 8 year old) so we stopped with him several times.  Eventually I’ll try pushing harder and seeing how that goes, but I intend to keep it pretty low-key for now.

Lalo from ProWorld came and got me again today to bring me to work.  I’ve figured out the bus I need to take to and from work, but they’re still going to help me for one more day.  Work was hard for me today.  We actually had less patients, so I had less to watch.  I did make some contributions though.  I grabbed some papers off a desk and handed them to my supervisor.  I took a scale out of a drawer, set it on the ground, waited for a patient to get weighed, then put it back in the drawer.  One advantage I have over most Peruvians is height, so I was able to put a bag of cups on the top shelf without using their chair.  For most of the morning I followed around a student who is studying to be a nurse.  I figured out a little bit of the system they use.  They have several books, and I have spent much of the last 2 days trying to figure out the functions of these books.  One of them is written in whenever they have a patient who comes in needing tests or a refill for a drug.  It always includes the basic patient history; age, place of residence, and license number.  If tests are done, the summary of results (positive or negative) will be written in it.  There are 2 other books where the full test results could go, depending on if this was their first visit for the problem of the second visit.  The last book is still somewhat of a mystery to me, because I didn’t understand the answers I was given about it.  According to the few words my electronic translator told me, I think it must include sheets for both treatment planning and billing.  Other than following people around and attempting to figure out the books, I didn’t have much to do today.  I spent a good amount of time standing or sitting around, where I felt very out of place.  I suppose that’s because I am out of place.  A big problem for me is that many people assume I know what is going on because I have a uniform on.  But most of the time, I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.  One guy got frustrated with me today because I couldn’t answer questions about his last visit.  I remembered seeing him, and seeing his blood pressure getting taken, but I didn’t understand any bigger picture of what was going on.  He was speaking fast enough that I only could understand his emotions, not his words.  Other people came up to me and asked me things which I didn’t know, then would say “He doesn’t understand” or just look at me and leave to go somewhere else where their questions could be answered.  At GVSU, I’m used to being someone who has most of the answers.  And what I don’t know, I can usually connect with someone who does.  Here, it’s much closer to free-falling.  I have no idea what’s going on ¾ of the time and I don’t feel like I can help much.  I knew there would come a time when I would experience confusion and frustration due to my inability to communicate and the cultural barriers, but somehow I thought it would take more time.  I guess that working in this clinic forces me into uncomfortable situations more rapidly than most college experiences could.  It has been a very long time since I was as uncomfortable as I was today.  I do have to mention that I did manage to pull it together and contribute a little more before I left.  One of the nurses (I think that’s her role, but I don’t know) asked me if I had good handwriting.  In the last 2 days I’ve been a little intimidated by her, since she didn’t talk to me and was always running around giving orders to patients and employees.  Unlike my height, handwriting is not one of my strengths.  But I tried.  I made minor errors on 2 of the 4 envelopes where I had to write someone’s name.  That’s how bad it is…  They were still usable though.  They use the envelopes to put the patient’s file in, which was going to be sent off to pulmonary specialists to review whether or not this was a case of TB.  For the last hour and a half of my time there today, there wasn’t anything to do except paperwork.  I’m worthless in that field since my Spanish is so basic.  So, I ended up doing my fall-back; reading.  I was able to learn more from that dictionary, but I felt bad not engaging in what they were doing.  I don’t know, there is still so much I can’t figure out.  For example, I haven’t greeted any clinic employees with the traditional greeting since I haven’t ever been the one to initiate it.  However, I see them doing that with many other people, although it seems to be people they know better than me.  I could be insulting them by not doing it, or I could overstep some kind of professional boundary if I do.  I want to ask, but that’s a question I definitely don’t know how to ask well.  I’ll ask more of my friends and host family I guess.  I’m glad I’ve had such extensive training in this regard so that I knew to expect some turbulence during my time here.  Ministering across cultures training with InterVarsity is very helpful in all situations, but especially when my comfort zone is far beyond the horizon.

I do have some very good news today; I have figured out the bathroom system in the clinic.  There still aren’t very many bathrooms for the number of people.  There are several public restrooms, which I discovered consist only of a hole in the ground that water can go down to clean it out.  No sink, no soap, nothing except a little porcelain hole.  Fortunately there’s a sink in the room I spend most of my time in.  I don’t actually have to use these bathrooms; there are also 3 bathrooms in the hospital for medical personel.  That’s what I used yesterday.  I need to figure out how to have more regular access to the key, but I’m glad I don’t need to come up with an elaborate plan to control my bowels while working in the clinic.

Lunch was great as always, although I am finding that I get hungry much earlier in the day than our 2 O’clock lunch.  I hung out and played some marbles as usual, then went to the store to get a phone.  They didn’t have an international plan, so I’ll have to rely on skype if I don’t want to pay the 50 cents a minute required for international calls.  I ended up getting the cheapest one; I feel like I’m regressing back to the 90’s.  It will serve my purposes well though. 

After that, I went to ProWorld for my Spanish class.  First I had an interview for 30 minutes.  At first, for some reason I was stumbling over my words and not speaking as well as usual.  Eventually I figured it out.  The teacher still gave me a rank of intermediate, which I’m happy with.  I know I have some areas that really need work, but I can communicate on a basic level with most people.  However, this teacher isn’t actually the teacher of my course, she was just doing the evaluation.  When my actual instructor arrived, I could tell he was going to be fun.  He has this spring in his step that shows his excitement for life.  And his first question after looking at the drinks ProWorld has to offer (coffee, water, etc) was “where’s the beer?”  Today I had only one hour with him due to the evaluation time.  We started chatting about ourselves, getting to know each other and letting him know what my Spanish was like.  He corrects me every time I’m wrong about something, which is often, and I appreciate that.  I’m realizing that this will be an intense class for me.  It’s so fantastic that it’s only one on one, but that is also draining.  I have to constantly be engaged with what he’s saying, constantly being ready for his next question.  This is the perfect environment to learn Spanish though.  One on one with a professional teacher, in a place where I’m already being immersed.  I think I’ll speak very well by the time 4 months comes around.  He was talking about working on my accent along with all the basic and complicated components of the language that we’re going to tackle.  I will need to muster all my strength to make it through 4 hour and a half sessions per week after speaking Spanish for the rest of the day.  Tiring, but the best way to learn.  Before leaving I received the sage advice to “speak Spanish until it hurts,” and I don’t think I will have any problem doing that every day.  That or I won’t talk J

After the class and after I used the internet, I made my way home.  The sun sets here around 6:30, which is when my class gets out, so walking back in daylight isn’t really an option for me.  Since this was my first time, I honestly had a little bit of trepidation about the walk home.  Not the paralytic kind, but rather a heightened sense of awareness.  After doing it once, I don’t think I have much to worry about.  There are still many people out and about at that hour, and everything is very well-lighted.  I also saw 2 security people on the way home so I can be sure that if something were to happen, help would be nearby.  This doesn’t mean I should let my awareness down, but it is good to know as a back-up.

I spent the evening with my family, chatting about random things and eventually playing charades.  Oh man, good times.  I’m so tired from the day that it’s sometimes hard to focus and keep speaking Spanish here.  Alone time is an absolutely necessary part of my day to recharge my introvert batteries, but I will certainly continue to spend plenty of time hanging out with the family. 

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