Whoamygosh. Or, how I became a Glimpse Correspondent

23 Jan

The first time, I was in Thailand and my PayPal account was going to put me behind the deadline.  Sitting in an uncomfortable internet cafe in Bangkok, feeling the patience of my brother running down, I was clicking away at my computer, editing my writing sample while in other windows I was working on setting up a PayPal account to pay the application fee.  It was an old fiction piece I had written for my high school senior English class about the last days of your mother’s life, and letting go.  All interspersed with lyrics from “Across the Universe”.  I loved it back in high school.  When I reopened it years later, I was shocked at how bad it was.

That was after my MSc, when I was in that strange funk of excitement to explore the world, with simultaneous fear and disappointment of not knowing what I was doing with my life.

Now, three years or so years later, I’m in Grenada, sitting in Taylor, a chilly study hall on my medical school campus.  I’ve heard it described as a “freezer full of angry medical students” but when I opened the email from Glimpse it had at least one speechless one.  I shook Frond, and we headed outside where I could properly freak out, dance and yell unintelligibly in peace.  “The extensor surface of my arms are tingling!  My radial nerves are flipping out!”  I am such a nerd sometimes.

I am so fortunate.  Really.  To have finished my MSc then decided not to continue in the same field, so I had time to explore other options and stumble across the Glimpse Correspondent program.  To move to Grenada after having been rejected by all the North American medical schools I applied to, after two rounds and thousands of dollars in application fees, and just as many tears.  To have had Frond to help look over my application writing sample and tell me not to try so hard, to just tell the story and not tell people what to think or feel.

I have so much more to learn about writing!  I’m so excited.  I really want to become a great communicator; to tell stories that make people think and feel, and to use this when I keep going on, to help people around the world learn about each other, and to connect them.  Maybe along the way I’ll learn how to stop using commas so much too.

My extensor surfaces are still tingling, my schoolwork has gone totally untouched, and a mosquito is having the time of it’s life with my knee.  But that’s all great.  Somehow, sometimes, when you really put yourself out there, the stars align and you get that email.

Here’s what I submitted to Glimpse as my writing sample.  It might seem a bit familiar as it has pieces taken from other blog entries.

New In Town.

Rumbling down a dusty unpaved road in Shervin’s jeep, we whipped around a leafy green blur and came to a clearing.  There were two small buildings, surrounded by knee-high kids in twos and threes, running here to there, stopping, then taking off again in a new direction.  They were each monochromatically dressed in either green, red, or yellow.  It was a multicoloured ant hill.  On the other side were older kids dressed in long navy blue pleated skirts, white collared short-sleeved blouses and red ties or navy pants and white dress shirts.  These kids were leaning over the railing of the second floor, many yelling, some throwing food onto the yard, most just gazing about coolly.

We had come to talk to the principal about a new pilot program we were starting.  In light of the diabetes and obesity epidemic on the island, we were proposing to help teach some life skills and healthy food choices on the backdrop of fun physical activities.  Healthy Grenada, we called it.

As the three of us were standing under the sun discussing how we would run the first session, a pair of girls in their pleated dresses walked up to stand behind me and giggled when I glanced at them.  After a few minutes we were ready to leave, and we started back towards the jeep.  The two girls, still giggling, followed us a few steps behind and in the instant just before we pulled away, I heard one say: “I want to be white too”.

Two months earlier, I was on a bench under a tent in the Carenage in a concrete room with two walls and no roof.  It felt like an old construction site, perhaps abandoned after Hurricane Ivan in 2004.  There were about 70 Grenadians patiently standing in line to sit beside me, ranging from middle aged to elderly.  I was helping out at a school health fair, a student-organized event where students and our physician clinical tutors come out to screen the community for high blood pressure and diabetes.  My job was to take blood pressure and ask a few questions before they went on to see the physician.  Beside me was Helen, a well dressed lady in her 50s or 60s in silver rimmed glasses and a white blouse.  I asked her how she was doing, and she said, “Fine, just a little warm but that’s okay”, with a smile.  It was humid and hot, with an occasional spattering of rain, but typical of Grenadians, the participants were patient and without complaints.   I apologized for the lack of set up early on.  There was a miscommunication with the organizers and although the volunteers and participants arrived on time, the equipment, tables, chairs, and tent was about an hour late.  “That’s fine”, Helen said “we make do.”

I wrapped my blood pressure cuff around her arm and began to pump it up.  The crowd around our small table leaned in slightly, watching the process.  160/90; it was high.

“Have you ever been checked for blood pressure?” I asked.

She had.

“What kinds of things are you doing to manage it?”

Helen looked at me and said, “Well I have a prescription.  But the pharmacy is out so I haven’t had it.”

“Do they know when they’d be restocked?”

“They’re not sure.”

“Since when have they been out?”

“Three weeks.”

“How often are you supposed to take the medication?”

“Every day, morning and afternoon.”.

The next woman eased onto the bench beside me and I pulled the table closer for her to rest her arm.  It was hard to tell her age, but she was young, perhaps in her 30s.  She was well obese and had come during her break-time from work, as clear from her green uniform shirt and baseball hat for a local grocery store.  I introduced myself and asked her name.  “Angel”, she said.  As I unwrapped and wrapped the cuff around her arm I noticed the Diet section of her questionnaire hadn’t been filled out.

“Can I ask, how many meals a day do you have, typically?”  I asked.

“One or two.  Usually one.” she answered.

“Do you get to eat regularly?  Or do you find yourself skipping meals here and there?”  I started.

“I skip meals, maybe every other day.  When things get busy.”

“And what’s your typical meal like?” I asked Angel.

“Juice, bread” She trailed off, still looking around.

“Any vegetables or leafy greens?”

She looked directly at me for the first time since sitting down.  She had hazel eyes but was wearing no make-up, unlike many of the young women who had previously come by.  “I eat what I can find.  When you have no money, you eat what you can find.”

I thought back to the brief training we had done for the health fair. “Offer a bit of counselling,” the coordinators advised us. “It’s easy, basic nutrition and healthy eating – balanced meals, being active however you can.  You guys will do great.”

We walked up the long road toward the school with a group of volunteers and a folder full of quizzes, worksheets, and activities we had planned for our first session of Healthy Grenada.  Alongside us were a group of young boys, about 9 years old, in burgundy pants and white polo shirts, laughing and running about.  One of the boys had a long thin stick and was playfully swinging it about and making growling noises.  They told us they were playing a game they made up called Daddy.  “It’s a different culture,” Shervin said to me, “let it go.”

Later that night I slipped quickly out the door, trying to leave faster than the mosquitoes could enter.  It must have looked pretty comical, like Kramer from Seinfeld as I opened and closed the door in one movement, manoeuvring my gym bag out of the way.  I glanced around to see if anyone saw my awkward exit.  There was no one, but a silhouette of two little boys, maybe 10 or 12, drinking cartons and rummaging through the trash bins outside the apartment.  Neither had looked up.  Not wanting to embarrass them, or perhaps embarrassed myself, I started walking towards school as if I hadn’t just seen two kids looking for food in my trash bin.  About two minutes later I passed the security gate of the school, and as I approached the student center, I passed a group of students chatting and holding takeout containers full of food.  I walked past students playing basketball on the lit-up court, filled up my bottle at the water fountain, and ran on the treadmill for a half hour.

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One Response to “Whoamygosh. Or, how I became a Glimpse Correspondent”

  1. shannon January 24, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

    !!!!!

Whutchu sayin'

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