Saturday, May 31, 2008

the first day. . .

is quickly coming to a close. It's been a long one. I worked a 12-ish hour shift shadowing the "first on" intern. The "first on" is an intern who knows the ropes, can run a "cita" (appointment) and would be the lead on a birth. She has to have her work checked by a staff midwife, and is still learning how things go here, but all the first ons know lots more than me.

The language is an issue for me. I'm going to study my quick guide to Spanish at Casa tomorrow afternoon. The "me llamo Anja" conversation only goes so far, and is totally unhelpful when dealing with someone who is in labor and needs your help. I need some good words for that situation, so I'm going to try to get them as quickly as possible.

Many of the women who come to Casa live over the bridge in Juarez, Mexico. They come here to have their babies, and give them a U.S. birth certificate. Some are not so lucky, and end up delivering in the car on the bridge. The immigration officials are mighty fine birth attendants, I'm sure, and they end up sending them back home.

There is a lot to learn here--so far I've managed to master the garbage. Garbage is trickier than you would think. There is garbage that goes in the regular trash, the recycling, and then there is the red bag garbage labeled "biohazard." Any yucky bodily fluid containing trash goes in the red bags, and in an outdoor can that is in a locked cage. A special garbage contractor picks it up. You have to know the code for the locked cage. And you have to know how to work the lock. And you have to know that you should probably take your gloves off before you attempt to work the combination on the lock, as you will only end up shredding them anyway while you work the lock and try really hard to remember the code without having to go back into the building to double check for the third time. It's complicated, really. Interestingly, the bathroom garbage (to which I alluded in yesterday's post) is not biohazard garbage.

Many of the people here are doing really amazing things with their skills. Training traditional midwives in Africa, setting up missionary clinics--I'm in awe of the gifts that these woman are offering to the world. The PBS show Nova just did a show addressing some of the issues for birthing women in Africa. It is heartbreaking. But the issues of poverty and pregnancy are not so far away. They are here in El Paso, and I'm sure they are at home, too. It would be lovely if I could figure out a way to help this situation at some point. The poor are always among us, offering us an opportunity to serve.

Well, 10:00 p.m. is about as late as I've ever eaten dinner. I'm going to finish up and head to bed.

p.s. for those of you who were having a hard time posting comments, I think that you may have to get a login in, or use your gmail account information to log in and post comments.

Friday, May 30, 2008


I arrived this morning in El Paso. The flight was pretty un-eventful, a little rain in Milwaukee, a slight delay in Denver. All in all, not too bad compared to horror stories you hear about air travel these days. I liked flying on Frontier (their tag line is "A Whole Different Animal," and they have all these animals on their airplanes.); their service was good--my bag had already gone round the carousel a time or two by the time I got there.

So far, I wouldn't call El Paso a beautiful city. If it is, I'm not in the beautiful part of town. It's quite warm here today (99 degrees), but a lot of things are blooming, so that's encouraging. It's definitely a desert here, and the mountains in the distance look like giant piles of dirt, with very little green on them.

A $20 (fifteen minute) cab ride got me to Casa de Nacimiento. You can take a virtual tour of my digs here. Think college rental, not the expensive ones, either. There's a little sign near each of the toilets that says "do not put toilet paper in the toilet." I must say that I was rather mystified. Where to put it, exactly? And, even though I had visited the facilities in each of the airports I was in this morning, I was needing to do something that would require toilet paper. Just a wee bit awkward. Hmmm, should I wake the sleeping intern and ask? No, I don't think so. I'll just see if I can figure this one out on my own. I'll be sure to keep you posted.

Feeling a little hungry, so I walked just a couple of blocks away and got a pretty good, pretty inexpensive Chinese meal. Then to the convenience store to face all my food snobbishness head-on. The cold beer section of this little grocery store is about twice the size of the dairy cooler. Not a lot here in the way of produce, and there was nary a slice of bread that I wanted to buy. I decided to stick with the basics--lettuce, eggs, pasta, a little cheese, bananas and tuna. I'll figure something out here, too.

I had a pretty curt introduction to Casa from one of the current interns. Don't let your food storage exceed the designated space, or someone will eat it. Clean up after yourself. Don't leave your stuff lying around. You're expected to do chores, and keep the kitchen clean. (See, kiddos--I'm telling you, this is the stuff of life. No matter where you go, folks appreciate you if you can take care of yourself, and pitch in to help others, too.)

So, I'm already missing the life I left. I was thinking this morning, though, that I really needed to just be removed from that wonderful, busy life to be able to make this dream come true. I think I would always be able to find another load of laundry to wash, another email to send, another dinner to cook, and I would always end up putting this idea on the back burner. I'm very grateful for all the folks who are helping me to make this possible, especially my dear husband and sweet children. I'll do my very best to make sure that it was all worthwhile in the end.