Monday, February 02, 2009

Belize Mission Trip: The Hospital

Not being a medical professional, I wasn't quite sure I would be of much help to the doctors and nurses who came down to serve at the hospital. The default role I took during the two half-days that I spent time at the hospital was "runner". Basically, I sat around in the pharmacy, and when a doctor needed some medication he would radio it in, Mae (the one in charge of the pharmacy) would count out the pills, I would bring it to their exam room. I mentioned in a previous post that Belize, as a former British colony, is the only Central American country with English as the official language. This is not the whole story, however. English is rarely the language that Belizians speak to one another in casual conversation. Generally, they speak Belizian Kriol. Kriol speakers can generally understand English (thanks to school and television) and speak it well enough to be understood, but there are also large populations from Guatemala and Mexico's Yucatan penninsula. Most of those in the latter two groups do not speak or understand English at all, and many of them speak Spanish only as a second language from their native tribal dialects (in some cases, I found, heavily accented). And so it came to be, that my Spanish came in handy in my role of helping out at the hospital, and every once in a while there would be a request for a Spanish translator. I don't think I did a stellar job: Elizabeth is much better at me, especially when it comes to talking about medical symptoms and diagnoses, but I did OK. At one point, a little girl giggled at me for misremembering the word for "fingernails"--I used the word for grapes. I don't think I had used the word since learning it in my sophomore year of hich school. It was fine, though, she corrected me, and we moved on with a smile. As the day went on, I got more confident in my Spanish, and a bit more relaxed about getting it exactly correct.
Elizabeth, showing a little A monument to Garifuna culture in Dangriga The triage area outside the clinic at the hospital

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