Monday, March 5, 2012

It's the little things in LIFE... ☼

 Hola and stuff

[One quick side note before we begin]: I want to thank everyone that is reading this! It's nice to know that the people I care about also care about me and what I'm experiencing on this crazy adventure. I think it's only going to get more interesting and even though I most likely won't be posting as often as I have been.... I will try my hardest to keep up with it! 

Good Morning Miami?: Last night after dinner we were absolutely exhausted and basically found ourselves hanging out in our rooms talking... which was nice after a full day of activities. So we all got to catch up on some reading, skype with our parents and most importantly got to bed early to prepare for our first days of work! So being the good roommate that I am.... I offered to set my phone alarm to wake us all up in the morning. Easy enough, right? Of course not. So I set it for about 7am because breakfast is from 7:15-7:45 and we wanted some time to fully wake up before we went down to eat. ZzZzzzZzz 7 am comes along and my alarm goes off as planned (you thought it wasn't going to huh?) and I wake everyone up and we start moving around/ waking up. Anyways, so Lili and I both get on our computers to check out what was up with the rest of the world and we realize it's only 6am..... My phone never had to chance to realize it wasn't in Miami anymore since I haven't had service in Guatemala City. WHOOPS! :) So we all laughed and made fun of me for a bit and took another little nap before we actually had to get our day started. Happy First Day.

Moment of truth: As you all know by now, today was my first day of work. I'm working at the pediatric burn unit in the 3rd largest hospital in the country of Guatemala. It is in a nicer Zone of the city (I'll explain "Zonas" later) and the hospital is HUGE. The burn unit is directly across from the intensive care unit. It is very fast paced and crazy all throughout this area..... people are everywhere.

I was dropped off this morning after everyone else so it was a long process. Once we finally arrived at the hospital our Job Placement coordinator, Sonia (who doesn't speak any English), took me up to where I will be working for the next 5 weeks. When we arrived she spoke with another lady, who also did not speak English, for a bit while I stood there looking confused. Then all of the sudden Sonia was like "Okay Adios!" and started walking away. At this point I have no clue what to expect from here and the other lady is just telling me to follow her. I'm assuming she is a nurse in the unit, but after she gave me some scrubs, a hair net and some shoe covers I never saw her again. So after I changed I walked into the main room and this is where I first met three of the patients and their mothers... who until later today I thought were also nurses. No one in the room knew any English and I was trying to my hardest to explain that I was a "voluntario" named Abbey... Here are some other phrases I over did: Hola, Coma estas?, Si, No, Cuanto Anos Tiene, Que?, and my favorite... Ughhh. 

Finally my new best friend, Brenna appeared. She is the Burn Unit Psychologist (about 25 years old) and she SPEAKS ENGLISH!! I hadn't heard much about her in the reviews former volunteers had left (basically that she is sweet and speaks English) so I was a little nervous to meet her, but super excited when I heard English and didn't care. She introduced me to everyone and taught me all the children's names.  There are currently 10 children in the unit, but this number is definitely going to change due to the number of patients that are well enough to go home (yay) and the number of new patients arriving. The children range from ages 6 months - 11 years old right now. The oldest children we take are 14 years of age. Unfortunately the worst burns are on the infants and the toddlers. Actually all of the burn wounds are much worse than I expected... and it's really hard to take it all in. One of the most overwhelming aspects of today was watching the parents (mostly mothers) dealing with their children in so much pain. Brenna explained to me that once they have been in there for about a week or two it will get easier for them. Because all of the children must stay there 24/7 most all of the parents do too. I find this interesting that they want to care for their children (not medically of course) and don't want/let others do it for them. They do not have places for them to sleep so they sleep in chairs next to the beds. You can tell they are all exhausted and a few of them were falling asleep randomly throughout the morning. This is partially why I am there, though! Once the parents begin to trust me I can help entertain, babysit, feed, watch, play with, etc while they nap, take a break or get something to eat. Brenna was also explaining to me that most of the nurses and mothers don't always trust the volunteers because they are under the impression that either a) we are there for the wrong reasons (to better ourselves, fill a resume, etc) or b) they are inferior to us due to the fact that they believe we think we are better than them. So due to these awful stereotypes... most of them did not talk to me or really look at me much today. BUT! I am lucky enough that I will be here for 5 full weeks and it will give them a chance to truly trust me and hopefully I can give a good name to "gringo" volunteers! Gringo: slang for foreigner.

Anyways back to my job - My main objective each day is to distract the children from the pain and fear while also providing relaxation for the parents. Considering I had no idea what age the children were going to be today I just brought crayons and paper... just so maybe I could learn their names and keep some of them occupied. About 60% of the children have burns all over their bodies and either their hands are completely wrapped up OR they cannot see due to the burns on their faces. Crayons were mostly a fail. Soo I had to take a step back and just try and talk to them..... which is also complicated. All I can say is - I will be way more prepared tomorrow. 

Three Great Things That Happened Today @ Work: 
1)   Brenna. She does not suck like everyone said, she is awesome! We share a love for the Social Sciences and she was very excited to hear I graduated with a Sociology degree :). She asked me today if it would be okay if we shared ideas about the differences between Sociology/Psychology in the U.S. culture vs. Guatemalan culture...... UMMM YEAH!!! duh. So I am super excited about that. Also, the fact that she helped translate my way into meeting all of the children today. She is going to help me with my Spanish and I am going to correct her English. DOWNSIDE: She is only at the placement on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Crap.
2)  The reason why crayons were only mostly a fail. Jose 'grande'. They call him that because he is the oldest in the unit (11 years) and there is another Jose that is 3 years old. Anyways he was sitting with me while I was trying really hard to frantically draw things for the children that couldn't use their hands (when I first got there... this was my panic period). I drew a random road so that the girls could move the toy cars they had on it, but that didn't work so I drew a big Penguin over it because that's one of the only animals I can draw. And they liked that (penguins for the win) so then I drew a big random rainbow and some flowers around the Penguin. Anyways like 5 mins after this attempt at entertaining, Jose 'grande' walked up to me with a picture he drew for me (his hands are fine) and he had copied my picture exactly!! And get this ... his was better! He asked me to hang them both on the wall - most likely to display how his kicked my butt, but hey! Success! :)
3) Isaias. Isaias is 8 years old and has severe burns all over his head, back, full arms and legs. Brenna told me that he does not interact with people very well. He has trouble trusting them and here is why..  His burn wounds are one of the biggest wake up calls to what some children in the unit have experienced. WARNING THIS IS HARD TO HEAR - His mother had gotten into an argument with her boyfriend so him and his friends purposely held the child down and lit him on fire on purpose to "get back" at the mother.  I decided to give it a try and speak with him a bit even if he couldn't understand me. For a while he just kind of stared at me and laid down quietly. Finally I pulled out a puzzle I found in the back that had dinosaurs on it! The first time I did the puzzle almost by myself but on the very last piece he picked it up and put it where it went! So we re-did the puzzle and he laughed at me when I tried to say the Spanish words with my white-girl accent and it was amazing to see him smile and even better to see him interacting with people!! These are all moments that remind me that this is all very worth it and so special!

Taking a deep breath: So even after all of the great things that happened today, over all it was a very overwhelming and an eye-opening day. I did a good job of maintaining a calm, cool and collected persona while I was at work but I definitely had a difficult lunch after hearing about all the other jobs and trying to not break down when they would ask about mine. *NOTE: I do not dislike my job, it's just so much to take in... my emotions are going crazy!!* I really hope that I can try and display my open personality and enthusiasm even with this language barrier and stereotypes.  I know once they give me a chance and get use to seeing me around more often that it will get easier. Tomorrow most of the children will be going through surgeries (tuesdays and thursdays) and I will have to keep them calm before they go in and after they are out. Wish me luck!! 

What's to come: After this crazy first day of work we had lunch and then we got this super awesome "cultural" tour of the entire city! It really brightened my day. Did you know Guatemala City has about 4.5 million people all of which are to the greatest extremes of social, economical and educational backgrounds? Anyways I would love to tell you all about it but I decided I should split it up in to two separate posts. But I will give you a little something to get excited about: 

A few pictures I took today :

 Thanks for listening and get excited for what's to come!


  1. im sure im going to comment on every post so get used to it :) Im so glad you had a great first day. How awesome is it that even on day one Isaias interacted with you and even laughed! this just has to means great things are going to come in the future, and i cant wait to hear how he changes your life and how you change his. And what joy those kids have to have you there and to keep them calm before surgery and have someone to look forward to after surgery! I cannot wait for you to bond with the children as days go on to strengthen your relationship with them.

    And i love all of your pictures!

  2. It is amazing how the little things can make a big difference. Remember, just smiling, talking (yes- even in broken Spanish) and eye contact say "you matter to me." They will all come around because they will feel you care about them! Isaias' story broke my heart! I can't begin to imagine what these kids and their families are going through!
    Love ya, gringo!