by Alanna Brown
Belize City, 105 degrees, khaki pants and blue scrub tops: how our stay in Belize began. Even though we were all incredibly hot and tired from our day of travel, we were excited to finally be in the country we had spent so long preparing for. At the airport, we met the medical fellows we would be working with: Molly and Alexa. Our first stop was a grocery store where we picked out some snacks. I was surprised by the amount of food that I was familiar with (we got your favorite, Oreos). Still, I tried some coconut water for the first time, and it was sweet and refreshing – perfect for the two-hour bus ride we had to reach the town we would be staying in. After a lot of sleep and pictures, we finally reached the town of El Progresso and Calico Jack’s – a resort that would be our home for the upcoming 10 days.
Luckily, we had the resort all to ourselves. About half of us stayed in the Field Station (which included an elevator that was probably 10 times slower than taking the stairs), and the other half stayed in the Moon Temple. After we got settled in, we ate dinner in the restaurant. After a day of orientation, home visits began. We were divided into three working groups, and we each went to either El Progresso, San Antonio, or Cristo Rey. It was nice to experience all three towns because each had their own personality and lessons. A community health worker led us to people’s houses. Once we were there, we took turns taking blood pressure, helping measure blood glucose levels, and documenting the information. Belize has a high rate of diabetes, so we hoped to help everyone in the community know how to manage their blood pressure and sugar. We also saw the lack of access many people have to health care. On our first day, I visited a diabetic couple in El Progresso with my working group. They lived on top of a huge steep hill that we all had to climb. Even though we were all out of breath once we reached the top, the elderly couple told us that they walked up and down the hill almost daily to sell the beans they grew. I was amazed by their story and how hard they worked. We also got to eat lunch at one of the townspeople’s homes. It was always delicious, and the people were always welcoming. Aside from home visits, we helped at a school’s garden, went spelunking in a Mayan cave, shopped at the market, helped at a women’s co-op, and explored the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich. One of my favorite days is when we celebrated Easter with the children in the nearby town. We played soccer, decorated eggs, and played with them all day.
On our last day in country, we paired up and presented about a medicine-related topic that interested us. Though we didn’t have much time to prepare, it was interesting to learn more about the topic that we chose. I presented on nutrition (with Prathna Kumar) because of how much I loved tasting the new foods. Through all the heat, spiders, corn tortillas, and rice and beans, we were able to grow appreciation for different culture and way of life. I know that these eleven days and everything they brought will always be looked upon with happiness and gratitude. Dear Belize: we miss you already!