I’m sitting on my patio at my new house overlooking Lake Atitlan in San Marcos La Laguna. Yesterday morning I left my home at ACAM in the mountains of Quetzaltenango, where I’ve lived and worked for the last thirteen months.
Over this past year I’ve visited San Marcos lots of times, always just staying a night or two and then making the 3-hour bus trip back to Xela, then to my village in Concepción. This time is different. I got here yesterday afternoon and waking up this morning I feel like I should be packing up my backpack and figuring out how to make it back to ACAM before dark. But this time I’m here to stay. This is my new home and community.
Yesterday was an emotional day. Leaving ACAM was bittersweet. On one hand, I am exhausted from over a year of living where I work. I have been essentially on call 24/7, at least for emergencies, since I arrived. I have lost count of the number of births I attended or assisted with, the number of times the midwives have knocked on my door, woken me up, or yelled “Maaaaari!” up to my apartment with urgency to resolve a postpartum hemorrhage, suture a laceration, resuscitate a baby, or as Nancy and Imelda loved to do, when the pizza had been delivered. They never tired of watching me run down the stairs, my adrenaline levels quickly rising, only to see that there was no patient at all, and it was just time to snuggle up and eat pizza and watch Grey’s anatomy on Netflix dubbed into Spanish. Those are some of the moments I will treasure most.
I will miss that unique and extraordinary living situation dearly. The younger midwives became like my sisters and the older ones my Mothers. I had plenty of moments of frustration, when the way they navigated conflict or solved problems felt so foreign to me given the cultural differences that I wanted to scream. But that was humbling and pushed me to face the fact that the way we think as North Americans is not the only way that works. We are more comfortable with direct communication and we highly value forthrightness. I often missed that quality and wished people would tell me their needs or feelings more clearly. However, in a country where speaking up or speaking out could get you killed, back in the times of the civil war, the Maya culture has evolved to communicate things with subtlety, finesse, or very indirectly.
The midwives didn’t often tell me directly how they felt about me or express love or gratitude effusively. However, yesterday morning as we finished breakfast, about an hour before I left, four of the young midwives who I’m closest with went around individually and spoke, tears flowing, about their feelings, their gratitude, their fondest memories, and how much they will miss me living with them. My own tears flowed as they told me all the things that I hoped and often pushed myself to trust that they felt. They made me a beautiful bag out of woven fabrics from Concepción that I will treasure for many years to come.
So now, with a heavy heart, I embark on a new project and a new adventure. In San Marcos, I will be partnering with a Belgian midwife named Hannah in our own home birth practice. Hannah is a remarkable midwife with global health experience working in Africa and alongside traditional midwives for years in the Guatemalan region of Huehuetanango, one of the most remote and resource poor areas in the country. She and I will care for expats living in Guatemala for their pregnancies and births and we are planning a two-week retreat in November for women interested in midwifery or birth. She also works with local indigenous midwives at the local health center and I will join her in her work, building on the experience that I gained at ACAM. I also have a few side projects with different Guatemalan NGOs who I have met through my work at ACAM, including a study on the state of healthcare organizations all around this region, to help determine what is lacking and where this larger organization could move in to meet the healthcare needs of the local population around the Lake.
Moving to a new community is exciting and scary. It requires a leap into the unknown and trust that I am where I’m supposed to be. I don’t know how long I’ll be here or what the future holds, which is simultaneously wonderful and terrifying. Thanks to all those who have followed along in the adventure. The midwife in Guatemala story doesn’t end here, so stay tuned.
P.S. for those interested in Lupe’s story (see last blog), the update is that Lupe is doing incredibly well. She has her first surgery to fix her lip scheduled in early November and the goal is for her to gain weight steadily until then. She is being cared for by the organization Tessa Unlimited, who will do the surgery for free and is providing her with free formula every month. I hope to be there for her first surgery and will keep the updates coming. She is now two and a half months old and up to 10lbs 8oz!