Every Monday and Wednesday night, I text my co-worker Ariane to see where and when I need to meet her the next morning. Often times, the response I get is "8am in the office," which is located downtown--about a 35 minute walk from my house. Sometimes however, if we're going to a far away community, the time is earlier and the location is somewhere more in line with the route so Ariane can pick me up on the way. So basically, ALL of this means that I often leave my house between 7-7:15, so I can first walk up to the corner and drop off my bag of garbage (the truck comes to pick up garbage every Tues, Thurs, and Sat at around 7:15) and either walk downtown or PRAY that I'll be able to find an un-full trufi to take me wherever I need to go. Transportation is tight here in the morning, and depending on what route I need to take, I can sometimes wait up to 20+ minutes for a trufi to stop and let me in. Super fun and not stressful AT ALL, especially on the rare mornings I'm running a bit late...
Ok. So I'm finally with Ariane, which more often than not means we're driving in an ambulance. That's right, I said ambulance! Needless to say, we usually get some pretty good stares by all the other drivers and anyone else who happens to see us on the road. First of all, it is very rare for any female to be seen driving any sort of official vehicle (ambulance, police car, state car, etc) let alone a very young looking female. AND, once you throw ME into the mix--a young looking "gringa" female--you've really got something unusual. However, we've gotten used to all the attention and spend the roughly 30 minutes of driving listening to Radio Disney (think top 40s USA mixed with top 40s Mundo Latino--it's amazing) and talking :) Have I mentioned lately just how much I love Ariane?? Because she's pretty much the best.
Here's a picture of the ambulance we usually drive in. It's not exactly like the ambulances in the US, but it does typically come with a stretcher in the back! This picture is taken in a community called Alalalay (spelled correctly!) about 30 minutes south of the city center.
Once we get to our destination, usually a school or day care, but sometimes a private home, we find out where the 6 and under children are and get to work! Below are some pictures of me in various settings performing the Denver screening (which if you remember from my previous post, screens for potential cognitive, physical, and social disabilities) on a couple different kids.
This first picture shows me at a day care. This child was brought to us due to concerns about his hearing. However, about two seconds after meeting him, both Ariane and I realized this his hearing was just fine and his lack of communication and response to social cues was due to him being somewhere on the autism spectrum. Autism is not well known in Bolivia, and the resources are sometimes hard to come by, which means that early detection can be crucial in helping get a child (and his/her caregivers) the resources and support they need.
This next picture helps depict just how popular we are when we show up with our box of "toys" and want to "play" with the kids! Here I am asking this boy to build a tower using 8 blocks--playing with the blocks is usually one of the most popular activities we ask the kids to do!
These next two pictures show us screening a child in his home. He was referred to us by a local teacher who told us that he had a "bad arm and leg." He did in fact have left-sided weakness in both is arm and leg, so we spent the afternoon screening both him and his SUPER cute sister (see picture below this one) and talking to his mother about the potential resources available to him.
The next picture shows me with my co-worker Christian in a very rural community located about a 3 hour drive up into the surrounding hills of Cochabamba. The child we're currently screening only speaks Quechua, and my co-worker at the time was new to the screening process, which meant I asked him the questions and he then in turn translated them to the girl! Quechua-only speakers is something we run into every so often, which can make for a pretty frustrating day if we don't happen to have any Quechua speakers in our group at the time. I'm giving myself at least one year of purely learning Spanish before I even BEGIN to think about tackling this difficult, very-different-from-English, language.
Below are three more pictures taken in this same community. This was a big day for us: there was also a volunteer from the Netherlands along for the ride who was a Physical Therapist. She was awesome and helped give on-the-spot easy exercises for some of the children to do.
This first picture is of Ariane, Marije (the volunteer), and I getting ready to head up to the daycare center. Don't let Marije's open sweatshirt fool you, it was FREEZING cold outside.
Here's Marjie doing her own screening on the children. I love this picture because it shows what a "typical" daycare that we visit looks like--children, daycare workers, and the room itself--in many of the rural settings.
And this is a picture of another co-worker, Genoveva, or "Geno" for short, showing pictures to two of the kids are the daycare. Geno is like our work mother. She's an excellent cook, quick to give a kind word, and is always noticing and looking out for the needs of others. She is WELL loved by both Ariane and me :)
Here are a couple more pictures from other rural areas. Both are very representative of many of the rural communities we visit. I LOVE the picture of the cow just chillin' outside of the school. And the bottom picture nicely shows how popular Evo Morales is with people who live in rural areas--all of those blue and white flags you see are in support of Evo's political party--MAS.
Ok. We'll end this post with a couple of pictures taken at one of the communities that I've been to many times: Laraty. The San Lucas Foundation actually used to run the medical post here (before giving it over to local governance a couple years ago), so the connection with this community goes back many years. I've been here not only to screen children, but also to bring clothing donations, help run a community empowerment workshop, and last, but CERTAINLY not least, help Ariane do 26 PAP SMEARS one day. Below is a picture of me in my "lab" gear spreading a sample on a slide that Ariane just took from a woman's CERVIX. Yup. Don't worry about it. And yes, Nancy (my wonderful godmother who also happens to be an OB-GYN Physician's Assistant) was the very first person to hear about this new and "interesting" experience :)
Here's a picture of the lake located just below the medical post. There was minimal editing done to this picture folks. And as you can imagine, the picture doesn't even begin to do the natural beauty here justice. If it weren't for the super long and often impossible commute (due to a lack of trufis and taxis in the area), you're looking at exactly where I would want to be living right now.
And finally a picture of the health post itself, complete with Ariane talking to the dog that, according to the medical staff, showed up one day and decided he liked it, so he stayed. Can you really blame him?? :)
And there you have it. Now you know in detail what I do for half of my work week! Please stay tuned for Part 2 about my time spent with Niños con Valor, and *potentially* Part 3 talking about what my weekends look like :)