Today our team headed back to Paraiso for another day of clinic and home visits. As usual, we had a harrowing drive, absent of turn signals, obedience to traffic laws and heeding to pedestrians. We really don’t need our morning coffee with the adrenaline rush we get on the way in and I wonder if teaching traffic school might not be more beneficial to the community health than antibiotics and toothbrushes. It’s an interesting transition too, from our hotel to the barrio. We start in the quieter suburbs of our hotel and are soon in the city, surrounded by cars and mopeds on all sides. The sidewalks are full of people headed to work, manning their vending carts or begging at the corners. Then the buildings spread out and the potholes deepen so much I wonder if they will swallow our bus completely. Needless to say, the vehicle has not a spring of suspension left. Shacks appear at the roadside, the streets narrow and we are in Paraiso. I watch this trip every day as if it were a movie, feeling disconnected from it all, but for the people of this city it is their reality.

Every day is hard work, including today, but it is satisfying at the end of the day. I think it is because the people here are so thankful, and because our team is made up of hard working, fun people who I am glad to work with. Dr. Ball is our commander-in-chief who will battle the crush of rush-hour traffic to secure more albendazole, Ranit who is quiet and observant, Sarah who says the swarming school kids drive her nuts but then has them laughing and scrambling after her and Debbie who is continually interested in everyone around her. Then we have Katie with her spark and liveliness, Steve who keeps us laughing but in all seriousness is the glue of our team, Jen who seems delicate but is tough as nails and Candace who works hard but manages to continually be a peaceful influence. They are a blast.

My job today was to travel into Esfuerzo and visit people in their homes. Our guide, as usual, was Luiz. He is tall and gangly, talks a mile and minute and knows everyone. He really cares about his neighborhood. His stride is long with a slight limp as he maneuvers us through the narrow dirt roads with haphazardly built shacks on either side. Motorcycles continually pass us, along with pick-up trucks piled with everything from mattresses to water to sell. Everything looks like it will fall apart if jostled too hard. We visit a few homes to measure height and weight of the children and ask questions about the water supply. The women laugh at us as we ask if their water is safe, and I don’t need to know Spanish to understand the answer is “no way.” As the day goes by I realize that we are really out there to meet with people where they are, more than to bring any great medical help. They are warm, friendly and interested in us. They are thankful for what they have, cliché though it may be, and for that I am glad to know them. I returned home today very happy, again, to be here.

-Mollie Vorster, 2nd year resident at VCU-Shenandoah Valley Family Practice Residency