Friday, November 5, 2010

Life Outside the Clinic

For those who are wondering what we've been up to down here when I'm not in the clinic, here's some photos:

And that's a quick glimpse of a fall in El Paso! A Halloween "Boo at the Zoo" party, including a big lion that wanted to eat a little zebra, little Wil zooming around the neighborhood on his pedal-less bike, and climbing around Hueco Tanks State Park. Hope your fall is as beautiful as ours has been. Blessings from the border,


Friday, September 24, 2010

Kleenex, Birth Art and the Feminine

As much as the rest of American culture may have patriarchal roots, the clinic culture here at this birth center in El Paso is very much steeped in the feminine. The abundant, beautiful, heart-full amount of woman-centered and woman-created artwork on the walls speaks volumes to the culture here at this birth center school on the border, where every experience is tilted slightly to incorporate feminine methods and tendencies. There are hugs, smiles and jokes in the classrooms and through the halls. Every shift change begins and ends with a circle of joined hands of all students, staff and directors present at the clinic to check in from the previous shift and send the new shift off with a blessing for a good day.

Classes are also held many times in a circle formation, with students and teacher sitting on pillows on the floor. Always there is a Kleenex box, or two or four sitting out in the circle. I'm sure I don't need to tell most of you how different this is from most academic programs, where Kleenex boxes would probably only ever be seen in classrooms in the height of winter's cold/flu season. As a habitual cryer provoked pretty much anything, I am grateful beyond words for this cultural statement implicit in a very practical act. The placement of a simple Kleenex box in the middle of every circle gives acceptance to those sweet feminine tendencies within us all, and reminds those of us who don't cry as much to celebrate the importance of our feminine side in the world of academia.

Each day brings new challenges and opportunities for every women here: students, staff members and clients alike. A good sense of humor is an asset; every sparkle of lightness during the day is appreciated. My challenges right now lie in the disappointment I feel in not being able to communicate fully with our Spanish-speaking clients, and in the jaw-dropping abundance of paperwork that flows in a never-ending stream out of the filing cabinets and copy machines. It reminds me of the abundance of the spring water I get off Monarch Pass, only not so tasty. ;)

Every six months a new group of students is accepted to study and work here. The group of students that started when I did, in September 2010, will all graduate in September 2011 as Certified Professional Midwives, and I can't underestimate the excitement in my sister students about this goal. These women I work with are all dedicated, motivated, exciting women to be surrounded by every day and I feel so blessed to know each of them. Each woman brings a unique element that adds to the cohesiveness of our smaller group. These elements blend perfectly with the other student groups and staff midwives to give clients a beautiful array of midwifery personalities.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

La Cultura de la Frontera, or which country do I live in again?

Aaah, viva la Mexico.  I really thought I was moving to an American city.  Granted, an American city on la frontera (the border), but an American city nonetheless.  For all its Applebees, Targets, Walmarts and Albertsons, El Paso is just about as submersed in American culture as Zihuatanejo is, which is not really at all.  

My first clue in this was house-hunting, where some of the rentals I looked at were shown to me by lovely El Pasoans who spoke no English at all.  My second clue was at Goodwill, where I picked up a Yellow Pages out of a free stack of extras, only to bring it home and find it was completely in Spanish.  Later clues included English-free playground and grocery store experiences.  The final experience that left me feeling very grounded in my new homeland was eating at a busy local eatery, where the food was incredibly delicious, but the next 48 hours was a churning disaster for my digestive tract.

So where I am that I find myself so separated from the sweet mountain culture that I know and love?  Apparently I have landed in El Paseo del Norte, a land of two cities, one culture, four states and two nations.  There are 3 million people living here on both sides of the border, and from what I gather, that border is a very fluid membrane separating two nations, but allowing the same cultures, the same families and the same religions to pass freely through to el otro lado.

These murals were recently painted in downtown El Paso, underneath a spaghetti bowl of the interstate and highway.  We are blessed to have a native El Pasoan studying at the birth center right now, and she's been schooling us in the cultural sensitivities we need to be aware of.  She took us around to these murals to deepen our awareness and appreciation for the tragedy, beauty and depth of traditions and myths in the culture that surrounds us.

I can't emphasize enough the changes that have occurred here in the last ten years, since 9-11 (when the border got harder to cross) and also as the drug wars have escalated.  Before those changes, El Paso and Juarez were truly one city of 3 million people.  Just as your aunt might live on the other side of town from you, so did these families have relatives living on both sides of this ONE town.  The fact that there is an international border running through town was somewhat meaningless.  Now however, the border is almost impossible to cross for anyone without a laser visa.  And with the violence in Juarez permeating that side of the city, El Pasoans are hesitant to travel to that side of the city.  Hispanic cultures put great value on family dependence, much more so than most Americans.  All families in this region are left with the hard reality of their families being torn apart by border-crossing difficulties combined with the fear of violence that permeates Juarez.  As our student friend put it, El Pasoans are left feeling like one half of a Siamese twin that will die if it's separated from its other half.  If the city survives, they're left feeling that they've abandoned their other half.  She estimated that approximately 30,000 people have immigrated, illegal or otherwise, to El Paso in the last few years to escape the violence in Juarez.

This final mural is the artist's depiction of a creationist myth from one of the local indigenous tribes.  The myth states that when babies die, they go back to the spirit world, which is a sort of tree that sustains these babies until another mother is ready for them.  During birth, the new mother will pull her baby from the tree like you might pull a ripe apple from an apple tree.  This mural depicts that spirit baby tree and all the little infants waiting to be born, with the story of the tree told in words as well.  Needless to say, the words are all in Spanish.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Movin' on up (or down, whichever way is South)...

Goodbye Rocky Mountain high, hello El Paso!  After packing, packing, packing we finally left little Salida and started the journey down South.  We spent a beautiful night at the hot springs in Truth or Consequences, which turned out to the last little bit of paradise I'll see for a while.  Don't get me wrong, as my native El Pasoan friend Sid tells me, there is beauty to be found in the desert Southwest.  But apparently, its a little less in-your-face beautiful than what I'm used to.  And he's probably not talking about the 5 o'clock traffic.

After a rough transition involving three days of house-hunting in 105 degrees with no air conditioning in my car, no map of El Paso, and no nice lady in the GPS to tell me where the next turn is, we finally made it to the new casa.  Where's the natural food store again?

OK, so we've got the house, complete with sand box and climbing tree, now comes the community.  Luckily, I found a nanny for Wil before we moved and a fellow student roomate to share expenses 
and to experiences.  Wil loves his nanny, Katie, and we love our roomie Jillian (photo on right) and her pooch Milo.  The neighborhood is safe, albeit surburbia, with the everpresent Applebees, Albertsons and Target Greatland across the road.  We're in, and visiting Target daily.

Next post...La Cultura de la Frontera, or is this Mexico or America?