Friday, April 29, 2016

Mexico (Chiapas): The Social Experience

Our host family's home in Reforma

Kaysia Ludford 
Resident in Internal Medicine, 
PGY 2  Brigham and Women's Hospital

One thing that struck me in the communities I stayed in was the simplicity of everyday life and how people seemed to be able to make themselves content without many of the normal conveniences or distractions we have come to depend on in our busy life here. Being there reminded me of my childhood days growing up in Jamaica where life was simple but refreshingly good because the ingredients to being happy were simply being around family and being able to meet basic needs.

The first home I stayed in was shared by a multi-generational family. In one house, the grandparents and their unmarried children occupied two rooms. A shared living room connected them to a second house. In that home, lived their married son, his children and grandchildren. All members of both households shared a yardspace connecting the two homes and an open outdoor kitchen, ensuring that they were constantly visible to and interacting with each other. Mealtimes were always abuzz with merry chatter, peppered by clanging utensils as both sets of families laughed and shared fond memories and jokes over tortillas and beans. Looking on it was clear that a strong bond of love cemented the family and that despite their limited resources they seemed happy. I began to wonder whether it only appeared that way to me because I was an outsider who was only seeing one side of the story but not the struggles and frustrations that certainly were also present. I thought back to the US and to my life there and that of my friends in academia and our never-ending quest for more: more training, more knowledge, more experiences, more ways to contribute to improving the world. For many, achievement of these things equaled success and by extension happiness. In Reforma, it seemed to me that having a family and being able to feed them was what gave satisfaction and meaning to life. In my mind I saw it as two different ways of seeing the world, neither better than the other, just different. I was curious to dig deeper though. I asked my24 year old host brother, Pablo* about it. What was it that made him excited in life. What were his hopes and dreams.
Pasante (Reforma) Gerardo

In some ways I was surprised by his answer. He shared with me that what gave him greatest joy was being with his wife and watching his children, 2 and 8 months grow up. However, his ultimate dream was to somehow find a way to cross the boarder to go to the United Stated to live for a few years so he could earn money to give his children more opportunity than he had. When he finished junior high, the high school had not yet been built so he completed his education at 9th grade. 

He wanted his children to go to high school. But not just that, he wanted them to go to college. He wanted to learn how to use the internet because he believed doing so would give him access to more knowledge and more leverage to help set up a coffee cooperative in the village where he would be able to sell organic coffee directly to foreign buyers, individuals, without using a middle man to sell to the catchment stores in the nearest town as they now did. That way, he explained, it would maximize profit paving the way for the town to further invest in infrastructure and machinery to process its own coffee ultimately ensuring more of the profit stays in the community. He loved farming, he shared with me, and would want to stay in his village growing coffee all his life; but he had children and he wanted a different life for them. 

He was not unhappy with his life, just wanted more. It struck me how similar he now seemed to everyone else around me in the academic world. Of course there were important differences but ultimately he wanted the same things as most of us do: to improve his community and to provide for his loved ones. His life was simple; he was happy; but he had a vision and a hunger for more. This realization was important for me personally because it reminded me of and re-enforced in me of what I perceive as my purpose in life. To pave the way to open doors and opportunities to make the dreams of people like Pablo, people like myself from places of limited resources possible. I am still navigating just how to do that in the world of global health. But I am inspired to keep working at it to help open up the possibilities for other.

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