How to Communicate

by Tiphaine Monroe

It got off to a bumpy start, but day two was definitely my most memorable. We all clambered into the bus at 7 and were off. The driver warned us that it would be a long ride, about an hour and a half full of twists and turns up steep mountains. The terrain was so difficult that on three separate occasions, we all had to get off the bus so that the driver could maneuver out of a ditch.
Once we arrived, we were greeted by a wonderful community. All the students were gathered in a courtyard to sing us a welcome song. Then the school’s principal gave us a moving speech about how little help their community had received before MEDLIFE and how he hoped that we as students and volunteers would never forget the plight of the poor.

My station that morning was vitals. I’ll admit that I was nervous at first. Although I studied Spanish throughout high school, it had been two years since I had spoken a word and my transition back into the language was shaky at best. For good measure, I wrote down the words ‘parese’ (step over here) and ‘saquese’ (remove) on my hand in case I forgot them for the hundredth time. That’s definitely a strategy I would recommend.

Vitals turned out to be my favorite experience. Our job was to greet the patients and get their height, weight, temperature, and blood pressure so that they were prepared to see a doctor. We had to be as quick and efficient as possible while still maintaining an atmosphere of caring and warmth. I loved all the hands-on experience with patients, asking all the kids what their names were, convincing them that the thermometer should stay under their tongues, and listening to them squeal with delight when they learned how to say ‘hello’ for the first time. One of the most challenging moments we had was trying to convince an 86-year-old, partially-deaf woman who spoke only Quechua to let us put pressure cuff on her arm – no simple task.

We switched after lunch, and I was assigned to the toothbrushing station. I loved handing out the tiger-themed brushes to all the kids and struggling to explain to them what fluoride was for. Once all the serious cleaning business was over, we still had time to talk to and get to know the kids. They told me about their school and the sports they like, when their birthdays were, and how many siblings they had. They tried (unsuccessfully) to teach me how to say hello in Quechua. Most of all, they were interested in knowing when we would come again and how long we would stay

All of the kids were shy at first, but once I pulled out my notebook and asked them if they wanted to draw, all we saw were smiles. I now have several lovely pages covered in houses and llamas and flowers. My camera was also a big hit. Every time I took a portrait, they would race towards me so I could show it to them. I eventually taught a couple of the boys how to take a picture themselves and they immediately became snap-happy. They made a game out of chasing around the shy girls to get them in a picture. Before we left, the community thanked us and gave us boiled potatoes with sauces.

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