Sunday, March 28, 2010

DR - Day 5

Time goes very slow here in Habanero. I have decided that it’s because there are no technological advances that create “efficiency”. Instead of looking at the clock, time is spent living in the moment. Interesting concept isn’t it?

As we approach the halfway mark to our trip, honestly, I am starting to feel tired. Physically, mentally and emotionally. It rained last night so the mosquitoes are out like mad. Our “water-trickle-showers” don’t always get all that DEET off and you have to put it on immediately when you get out of the shower otherwise the bugs swarm. We’re doing very well, eight of us, sharing one bathroom. Honestly, the things I miss most are simple…hot, blasting water from my shower, being able to run my toothbrush under the faucet, sleeping in my bed and my asana practice.

I am grateful and very aware that all of my yoga teaching and studying has prepared me well for this trip. I call upon many sutras and yoga principles as each day passes. In meditation we are taught to be still in uncomfortable times and be with that moment without judgment. Contemplate on why we are uncomfortable; knowing that this moment is impermanent and will change in an instant. We can react in that moment or we can sit and breathe in it, waiting patiently for it to pass. Feel compassion for the world and others who stumble into our own personal human experiment. Not grasping to what “could be” in this little village but instead, notice what is without expectation or a need to make it all better right now!

My awareness seems heightened with every passing day and I know that soon enough all my human needs will be met. For now, my soul needs nourishing and a small glimpse of what my mission is right now.

We head out to the village again with Brenda today and deliver more items to these families. The crowds get a little intimidating as they swarm to the car when we pull up. They even follow us down the road and sometimes hang on the bumper of the car as we leave. We arrive with a car full of items and leave empty. Every gift given out….some hands left empty. It’s a sad realization really to truly recognize the privileged life we lead. I know we all know it, but to actually live in this reality instead of just pass through it; to truly connect with the people and create relationships, is all together different. You want so badly to take all these children home with you; to provide them all the “necessities” you have and share in this abundant life that you lead. But that is not to be. Remember, they are happy…they don’t know any different.

We check in on the families from yesterday, the child Brenda took to the clinic and the starving family, and everyone seems better today.

When the day is done for the dental team we head back to Brenda’s. After dinner, at dusk, Brenda calls the children to her house and they set up about 20 white patio chairs on her back porch. She hooks up her computer to my Ipod speakers and puts in the Spanish version of “Starsky and Hutch”. The kids are thrilled! She also hands out a small bag of popcorn to each child. It’s so heart warming to see such unconditional love. What a gift for everyone.

Monday, March 22, 2010

DR - day 4

What an amazing trip this has been. Monday morning - third working day in a row. Still excited and motivated - not quite tired yet. Sleep has been hard to come by to be honest. I'm not one to take medication for anything. I do my very best to live what I teach and the best thing for our bodies is always natural. However, sleep deprivation is unnatural and quite frankly, my body is worn out from the time difference, no shower, no sleep and no asana practice. Thankfully I recognize when the mind is trying to take over so I can breathe through most discomforts.

Today was a big day. Liz, Eileen and myself played with the kids all morning long on their new "playground". They already knew how to play hopscotch but we taught them 4-square and duck, duck, goose. In Spanish they say' "pato, pato, ganza" so it made for quite an interesting game.

I am not quite sure where all the kids came from but they came from everywhere once they saw us running around. What a rush - watching their faces, seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter. The morning was quite perfect actually.

The afternoon was a bit different. This was the first day we headed out into the actual village of Habanero and the smaller villages within 5 miles. My mind could never have prepared me for what we saw. I know it's easy to say, "We are so lucky to live in America" and we can all wrap our brain around how privileged we are. Even if we live unconsciously demanding respect and thinking we deserve all that we have, there are still moments when we remember, with a light heart, that it's all a gift.
So Brenda takes us girls out to the village. She has been checking on a family she is concerned about. This in particular woman has three children - all boys - approximately 10 months, 3 and 4 years old. One of the little boys hasn't been to school in the past several months and Brenda wants to be sure everything is alright. When she gets there, the little boy in question looks very malnutritioned so she goes to the clinic and purchases him some vitamins, supplements and medicine. This costs her all of $50 which for some of us is pocket change. For the mother, it's unfathomable.

Brenda has gone back every morning since her first visit to check on them and she thought we would like to meet them. We drive about 4 miles from the school, along dirt roads and dusty trails. Most kids walk this way to school. The houses are shacks, literally and my heart blesses each one as we drive by.

When we pull up, the family immediately comes out to greet us. I am stunned with the condition of the children. Over the past few days, the children I have seen are well taken care of in comparison to these children. These children have no clothes on and are dusty from playing outside. It is obvious which one Brenda was worried about - he looks about 15 pounds lighter than he should be at his age but much better according to Brenda. The 10 month old, Samuel, takes my breath away. He is only 12 pounds and is not very responsive. My children were 10 pounds when they were born, walking at 10 months. I can't seem to get that thought out of my head. How does inequality happen? I am told when children don't get the proper nutrition at such a crucial time of development, they just don't develop properly. I know this but it still stings my heart as I hold this little angel. He is looking at me but right through me.

Brenda is making supplement shakes for the little boys while we are standing there. They share it without arguing but suck it down so quickly it's amazing. They are obviously hungry. We think the mother may be afraid to feed them too much for fear of running out. It's a sad situation really. As she continues to carry on a broken English-Spanish conversation with the mother, I smile and kiss Samuel but I feel tears beginning to form in my eyes. I hand him to Liz and walk away. I don't want the family to see me crying - it's my own deal.

When we leave I am overwhelmed by the emotions and thoughts running through my mind and heart. No yoga practice can prepare you for your heart's response to poverty and malnutrition. It's not the same seeing it on television than in real life.

We are driving down this same road and Brenda decides to stop off at another home where she knows the family. We walk in and the mother is a bit frantic. Her 4 year old daughter had fallen into their fire pit recently and had a horrible burn on her arm. The little girl is laying in bed, non responsive and very warm - almost feverish. It's challenging for us to wake her so Brenda picks her up, takes the mother with us and tells us she is going to drop us off and take this little girl to the clinic. She needs medical attention and she needs it now. I can't help but wonder what would happen if we didn't show up.

Brenda asks me if I want to go to the clinic but I can't. I feel like I have been punched in the stomach and my tears are still fresh from the other family. Now this child hurting, the mother scared and who knows what I would witness at the clinic. I just am not's too much. I am surprised by my reaction - to hang back instead of going for it, but my mind is truly on overload.
We head back to the dental team - their day in the "office" is done. Dr. Jacque Angell promised these kids a game of baseball after work and the entire team agrees. They play ball and I am amazed again, by the strength of these kids. What a difference from the children we saw today.

This evening is tough for me. Emotions not processed - so many ideas, concepts and beliefs of my own being questioned. This world is a big place but how do you go back to the way you were living once you have experienced such a contrast from your own life? It's the first night I give in and take a medically prescribed sleeping aid. I don't want to think or dream. I just want to sleep - one night.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Valentine’s Day -Day 3

What a gorgeous day! Just because it’s Sunday does not keep anyone away from the school. In fact, today they come dressed in their fanciest outfits – most of them donated by Brenda.

The team is off and running by 8:30am. Neighboring villages have heard that the Americans are here. Some have walked for more than 5 miles to get here. Some hired a scooter but most have arrived by foot.

We do our presentation again for these lovely kids. I find myself already falling in love with them all …. They are just gorgeous souls. My daughters (Ava 5 and Isabella 7) made a card from plain posterboard that said Happy Valentines Day in Spanish. I brought it with me and presented it to the children. They kept admiring how gorgeous my kids were – unaware that they too held so much beauty.

Just before noon I notice a little girl sad, sitting in the hallway on a tiny chair. I find out that she is next in line to have her mouth worked on. I look for her mom but see no one with her so I sit and just hold her. She falls right into my arms – I am guessing, longing for comfort.

After lunch we head back to the school and as promised, decide to paint some outdoor games on the backyard pavement for the kids. Most know how to play hopscotch and duck, duck goose but to be able to have this game painted at the school makes it much more real!

It takes us some time without measuring tools, but we finally get an even circle and straight lines drawn on the cement. We are now ready to paint! In 80+ degrees and blazing sun, Liz, Eileen and I paint, and paint and paint….the kids are so patient! Just sitting silently, watching our every move. Every now and again they smile and you can feel their graciousness in their eyes.

Around 5:00pm we finally finish and warn the children not to touch the games boards until the next day. We are still able to do yoga on the patio – keeping our eyes on the now sky blue patio. The team comes on out to join us, we do a little yoga and then head home to Brenda’s. I’m not a beer drinker but a cold beer and Carmen’s food sounds real good right about now!

The children follow us home and sit outside waiting for us to finish our meal. It’s customary in this village for the adults to eat before the children so we eat inside and then make sure to leave enough for the children. This concept has me a little confused but when in Rome…..

After our meal the electricity goes out so we put our headlamps on. We sit outside covered in DEET to keep us from getting bug bites. I was right, a cold Presidente never tasted so good.

Some of the children, now changed into their “evening outfits” come over for Valentine’s Day. They want to just hang out with us – that’s it. They want to watch us, sit on our laps, talk with us, show us their yoga stunts and how well they dance.

The feeling of pure presence and love is so obvious. As I sit here taking it all in, I am once again reminded of the power in being still. Of noticing what is happening in each moment without judgment, without expectation, without thinking of what is coming next. This is how they live and it’s so beautiful. I want to run and get my camera but I hold off, just to enjoy this moment.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dominican Day 2

Day 2 in the DR and the dental team heads over to the school at 8:30am, ready to service all the villagers anxiously waiting outside the school. I ask Jacque how long they work each day and her response is “Until we get done.” I’m inspired by her ambitious nature and my appreciation grows for her each day.

The school is transformed into a dental office. The front desk is at the door of the school – manned by Yanet and Marina – teachers at the school. We have to squeeze our way in just to get by. Each person is checked in and then they sit in a row of tiny school chairs, waiting to be assessed by Marika and Sonja, part of the dental team. In the hallway, sits about 14 people waiting to be seen by Jacque.

They wait and then are called in one by one, according to Marika’s evaluation. They are given anesthetic and then assigned a chair. There are three chairs operated by hygienists and Jacque. The team is really only performing extractions and fillings – cleaning is something we are supposed to teach the villagers. Each station has an assistant who translates as well as holds the head lamp so the dentist can see well. John sterilizes all the instruments and makes sure everyone has what they need.

It’s really an incredible operation. I can’t get over how swift and efficient the team is under such conditions; they make it look very easy. It’s hot, loud and well, a little stinky really. Funny though, within about 3 hours we are all used to the smell, the noise and the heat. It becomes our way of life for the next several days.

Liz, Eileen and I head into our classroom and set up for our first lesson. The children are curious about what we are doing. They stand outside the classroom watching us through the blinds. David, our translator is awesome. He rounds up about 15 -20 kids and brings them in. I swallow back tears as the children walk in. They are so gorgeous and happy. As they sit I am overwhelmed and a little nervous because really, I have no idea what I am going to do with this lesson. I just dig deep and talk from my heart with David translating every word, sentence by sentence, giving me a chance to breathe and think about what comes next.

We are there to teach the children about personal hygiene and why it’s important. These kids have access to a river nearby but the water is undrinkable. Lots of children get sick and some have died from something as simple as drinking contaminated water, no transportation and then no money to get to a clinic for help.

We review where they should defecate and urinate, why and how to wash their hands, how to brush their teeth and how important it is to stop the spread of germs. Each time we do this presentation it gets better and better until we cover everything in a way the kids can understand. It boggles my mind that these kids don’t know this stuff but I am swiftly reminded when a child raises his hand and asks me “What if I don’t have running water." This is tough pill to swallow for a privileged American like myself.

When you travel to a village like this – your first reaction usually is to want to give them everything to make it “better”. But we all know this doesn’t help. Education is key. Again, my heart is full of love and I choke back tears.

After about 8-9 hours of educational lessons, watching the dentists and playing with the kids, we are all wiped out and exhausted. We head outside to do some yoga with the dental team. They had just spent all day hunched over and just some simple stretches can really do the trick. The kids follow us everywhere and this yoga sessions was no exception. We end up teaching the kids some yoga poses….they love it! How great to end a day with 40 smiling faces and laughing eyes.

We head back to Brenda’s, eat dinner in the dark (there is no electricity again) and go to bed. Again, it’s loud, hot and muggy but sleep comes a little easier. Tomorrow is a new day – one that brings wonder and surprises – for the villagers but also for us. What a gift.