Stranger in a Strange Land
I have been to Mexico multiple times in the past, usually in Cancun, Isla Mujeres, or Tulum. I’ve brought my whole family to Mexico, swam with the whale sharks, seen Chichen Itza, gone to Excaret for the shows–it’s amazing, done an immersion school and home stay. Once I went to Tijuana with my family in California for the day. Not my usual kind of travel, but it happened.
I studied Spanish for two years in high school, two years in college, and for the past two years on my own, listening to podcasts, reading the transcriptions, hiring a teacher from Costa Rica to talk to me once a week because even though I have Mexican friends, for some reason, every time we get together, even though I try talking to them in Spanish, we always end up speaking in English. So I paid for somebody who knew that we were there to speak Spanish so we wouldn’t get off track.
I have been in Mexico now for 10 days. The family here is so sweet and loving. They picked me up from the airport, brought me home to their beautiful home, let me stay in a room in their house, gave me a tour of the house and showed me how everything works, take me to work every day and bring me home. They are adorable together. They feed each other. They are both doctors. They have 3 daughters and no grandchildren as yet. They love their work, and the people at work love them. They have taken me all over the city to see old colonial cathedrals and aqueducts, to Patzcuaro and Tzintzuntzan to see the artists and beautiful towns and pyramids, to beautiful vistas and historic places. They have fed me every day. I have spent all of $5 since I’ve been here. Last night Victor and I shared the saying, “Sometimes it is your time to give, and sometimes it is your time to receive.
It is my time to receive.
The staff of the hospital has been so kind. I’m pretty sure if they came to my workplace they would not feel as welcomed as I have felt in this hospital. The doctors in the office take me with them to breakfast, let me know when there are opportunities to sit in on classes or surgeries, help me get resources to understand the strategic plan of the state for public health or the tax system in Mexico, share music with me. The public health students have invited me to a party next week. Victor’s daughter has invited me to Six Flags in Mexico City for Halloween and on a tour in Patzcuaro for Dia de los Muertos. Today is Victor’s birthday and we are singing karaoke on Saturday to celebrate.
All of the kindness and care. I am so lucky. I really feel for immigrants to the U.S. who struggle through a country full of animosity just to try to survive. I have all the help and love, and it is still super hard. Immigrants are some tough humans. Today was my first day where I reached my capacity to continue. Ten days in. The other days have been challenging, but doable and this is the first time I got sad and frustrated. I had had a ton of great conversations today and learned so much. Jaime got me resources to understand the tax system (after Victor told me that Mexicans only pay taxes if they have workers). We talked about the strategic plan and the corruption of the government. I talked to a dentist who also works in the Quality department, Saul, about a dental process that he was learning about. I went to a talk on bioethics, and another one on gender identity. Azalea, this wonderful woman who works in Quality, made sure I had breakfast but it had peanuts in it. Fortunately, I saw them and didn’t die of anaphylactic shock. We joked about how she was trying to kill me. It was a full day.
Then Carmen, another amazing woman in the Quality department, asked me how my project was going. This project I’m doing started out as a needs assessment. With a needs assessment, you go in and interview or survey staff, patients, management, and other stakeholders what are the best things about the place, and what are the hardest things about the place. Basically, what do they think needs work. Based on the things I learned in the first couple of days, along with their distinctive interest in team building and a lack of tools for measuring employee engagement, I asked them if they would be interested in a communication and team building program called ‘stay interviews.’ They were very open to that and indicated that would be a good direction for my work–so that’s what I got working on.
So – Carmen and Jaime asked me how things were going. I started telling them about my visits with some of the staff and the things they were telling me. One of the women felt that men advanced more easily and faster than women. Another woman told me she wished they had a room for nursing mothers. That’s as far as I got. They both got defensive about how egalitarian the hospital is and how women don’t need lactation rooms because they are able to go home for months to nurse their babies.
I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not attached to whether these things are true or not. But somehow they perceived that because I was from another place that I just didn’t understand.
I had reached my capacity for trying to understand or be understood. And I had to tap out so that I didn’t start crying all over the place. It was after 2pm, time to go home and my ride was nowhere to be seen. My phone only seems to work around wifi. I don’t have my own means of transportation. I normally swim 5 hours a week and haven’t been able to do that. If I run out of toilet paper I don’t want to bother anybody about it. You know. All the little things that are so easy in your own home are gigantic when you are displaced.
I think, around the world, that we are all proud of our systems, our people, our homes. We know there are problems in those systems, but we don’t want anybody looking at that. We want people to see how amazing our lives are. I think that’s probably one of the reasons that we have racism. It helps us to believe that we are better than somebody else, that even though our lives are difficult, they are not as bad as the next guy.
But also, the purpose behind the ‘stay interviews’ that I am developing for them here, teaching them about, and implementing before I leave, are to create two way communication between staff and management, to create a culture of trust and safety where staff feel comfortable talking about their problems and feel heard. To that end, management’s job is to listen to understand – not to defend. So if their initial response to employee comments is to defend and negate – we may have bigger problems than can be addressed by the stay interviews.
Carmen asked me if Julia was coming to get me and at this point I didn’t know. Carmen offered to call Julia for me, but the idea of talking on the phone in Spanish with my heart in my mouth was not helpful, so I hung up the phone after she dialed the number and stepped into the hall to get myself together.
Julia called me directly afterwards and said she would come get me. They usually pick me up about 1:30, so this was the latest I had ever stayed. They keep an earlier schedule there. I was to wait for her where she dropped me off.
Julia made an amazing meal for Victor’s birthday, mole de hoja (I think). And then I went to my room and had a cathartic cry and tried to rest and be kind to myself while watching American comedians. I talked to my mom, and my Costa Rican Spanish teacher, and my best friend, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to wake up in the morning ready to tackle it again. But whew! What a day.
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