Education, En Via, Health & Nutrition, Oaxaca, Oaxaca life, Workshops

Into Oaxaca & Out of Myself

By: Nali E. Asamoah

Coming​ ​to​ ​Oaxaca,​ ​MX​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​really​ ​know​ ​what​ ​to​ ​expect​ ​or​ ​what​ ​I​ ​would​ ​really​ ​take away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​experience.​

I​ ​am​ ​a​ ​first​ ​generation​ ​college​ ​student​ ​and​ ​this​ ​was​ ​my​ ​first​ ​time​ ​out​ ​of the​ ​country​ ​since​ ​coming​ ​to​ ​America.​ ​My​ ​family​ ​is​ ​from​ ​Ghana​ ​and​ ​I​ ​was​ ​born​ ​and​ ​raised​ ​in​ ​Italy for​ ​the​ ​first​ ​years​ ​of​ ​my​ ​life,​ ​but​ ​have​ ​now​ ​lived​ ​in​ ​the​ ​suburbs​ ​of​ ​Chicago​ ​for​ ​the​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​my life.​ ​Although​ ​I​ ​have​ ​come​ ​from​ ​a​ ​multicultural​ ​upbringing,​ ​I​ ​would​ ​now​ ​describe​ ​myself​ ​as​ ​more American​ ​than​ ​anything.​ ​After​ ​spending​ ​three​ ​years​ ​at​ ​a​ ​community​ ​college​ ​near​ ​my​ ​home,​ ​in​ ​the last​ ​year​ ​of​ ​my​ ​life​ ​I​ ​was​ ​accepted​ ​to​ ​the​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Pennsylvania’s​ ​nursing​ ​school​ ​and​ ​moved across​ ​the​ ​country​ ​to​ ​Philly​ ​to​ ​continue​ ​my​ ​education.​ ​

In​ ​my​ ​first​ ​year​ ​at​ ​Penn​ ​where​ ​I​ ​was​ ​placed outside​ ​of​ ​my​ ​comfort​ ​zone​ ​in​ ​every​ ​way​ ​possible​ ​I​ ​have​ ​learned​ ​more​ ​about​ ​myself​ ​and​ ​what​ ​I want​ ​out​ ​of​ ​life.​ ​And​ ​in​ ​continuing​ ​to​ ​develop​ ​my​ ​understanding​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world​ ​and​ ​my​ ​influence​ ​as​ ​a person,​ ​when​ ​the​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​study​ ​abroad​ ​arose,​ ​I​ ​absolutely​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​take.it.​ ​When​ ​I​ ​first moved​ ​to​ ​the​ ​U.S.​ ​and​ ​was​ ​in​ ​English​ ​as​ ​a​ ​second​ ​language​ ​courses​ ​I​ ​was​ ​often​ ​the​ ​only​ ​black girl​ ​amongst​ ​Mexican​ ​and​ ​Latino​ ​immigrants​ ​and​ ​growing​ ​up​ ​in​ ​such​ ​a​ ​diverse​ ​community​ ​I​ ​have often​ ​interacted​ ​with​ ​the​ ​Mexican​ ​community.​ ​In​ ​high​ ​school​ ​I​ ​took​ ​Spanish​ ​for​ ​four​ ​year​ ​and​ ​was really​ ​inspired​ ​by​ ​the​ ​teachers​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​who​ ​were​ ​so​ ​passionate​ ​about​ ​us​ ​learning​ ​and enveloping​ ​ourselves​ ​in​ ​another​ ​culture.​ ​And​ ​so​ ​when​ ​I​ ​decided​ ​to​ ​come​ ​to​ ​Oaxaca,​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to do​ ​just​ ​that,​ ​while​ ​also​ ​improving​ ​my​ ​skills​ ​as​ ​a​ ​future​ ​nurse.

Before​ ​volunteering​ ​with​ ​En​ ​Via​ ​we​ ​had​ ​two​ ​weeks​ ​of​ ​Spanish​ ​courses​ ​and​ ​cultural​ ​immersion classes,​ ​in​ ​these​ ​first​ ​weeks​ ​in​ ​Oaxaca​ ​what​ ​I​ ​appreciated​ ​most​ ​was​ ​the​ ​difference​ ​in​ ​lifestyle​ ​that Mexicans​ ​had.​ ​Getting​ ​used​ ​to​ ​life​ ​being​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​slower​ ​and​ ​enjoying​ ​little​ ​things​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​rushing​ ​to get​ ​to​ ​the​ ​next​ ​place,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​U.S.​ ​we​ ​are​ ​all​ ​so​ ​on​ ​a​ ​schedule,​ ​especially​ ​at​ ​school,​ ​so​ ​that​ ​was​ ​the nicest​ ​culture​ ​shock.​ ​Asides​ ​from​ ​the​ ​warm​ ​sun​ ​and​ ​palm​ ​trees​ ​that​ ​was​ ​definitely​ ​a​ ​change​ ​in scenery,​ ​the​ ​hospitality​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Mexican​ ​people​ ​is​ ​something​ ​I​ ​instantly​ ​fell​ ​in​ ​love​ ​with.​ ​Granted, being​ ​an​ ​extranjera​ ​I’m​ ​sure​ ​played​ ​into​ ​it,​ ​but​ ​just​ ​the​ “​buenos​ ​días​” ​and​ ​warmth​ ​the​ ​people​ ​gave​ ​to each​ ​other​ ​even​ ​in​ ​passing​ ​was​ ​comforting​ ​to​ ​see.

In​ ​the​ ​next​ ​four​ ​weeks​ ​our​ ​volunteering​ ​with​ ​En​ ​Via​ ​began,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​worked​ ​with​ ​my​ ​three​ ​other classmates​ ​to​ ​develop​ ​the​ ​workshops​ ​on​ ​Women’s​ ​Health​ ​and​ ​Diabetes​ ​and​ ​see​ ​where​ ​we​ ​as nursing​ ​students​ ​could​ ​fit​ ​into​ ​En​ ​Via’s​ ​vision.​ ​We​ ​were​ ​lucky​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​able​ ​to​ ​give​ ​our workshops​ ​in​ ​four​ ​different​ ​pueblos,​ ​Abasolo,​ ​Guelace,​ ​Teotitlán​ ​and​ ​San​ ​Miguel​ ​del​ ​Valle.

Although​ ​I​ ​came​ ​to​ ​Mexico​ ​with​ ​an​ ​intermediate​ ​level​ ​of​ ​spanish,​ ​giving​ ​hour​ ​and​ ​a​ ​half​ ​long workshops​ ​in​ ​only​ ​spanish​ ​definitely​ ​grew​ ​my​ ​abilities​ ​way​ ​more​ ​than​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​possible.​ ​In addition,​ ​working​ ​with​ ​women​ ​who​ ​often​ ​times​ ​had​ ​Spanish​ ​as​ ​their​ ​second​ ​language,​ ​because they​ ​spoke​ ​their​ ​indigenous​ ​language​ ​Zapoteco,​ ​challenged​ ​me​ ​even​ ​more​ ​so​ ​to​ ​create cross-cultural​ ​communication.​ ​

The​ ​culture​ ​of​ ​Mexico​ ​varies​ ​so​ ​much​ ​from​ ​the​ ​pueblos​ ​to​ ​the​ ​city and​ ​each​ ​pueblo​ ​that​ ​we​ ​visited​ ​had​ ​it’s​ ​own​ ​culture.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​memorable​ ​experiences was​ ​visiting​ ​San​ ​Miguel​ ​del​ ​Valle.​ ​Before​ ​going​ ​into​ ​the​ ​pueblo​ ​we​ ​had​ ​been​ ​told​ ​that​ ​the​ ​women were​ ​very​ ​conservative​ ​and​ ​that​ ​some​ ​topics​ ​regarding​ ​women’s​ ​health,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​birth​ ​control​ ​and STDs,​ ​would​ ​be​ ​harder​ ​to​ ​speak​ ​about.​ ​So​ ​naturally​ ​going​ ​into​ ​the​ ​community​ ​I​ ​had​ ​already began​ ​developing​ ​a​ ​plan​ ​to​ ​break​ ​the​ ​ice​ ​and​ ​also​ ​had​ ​my​ ​own​ ​reservations​ ​about​ ​not​ ​wanting​ ​to offend​ ​anyone​ ​or​ ​overstep​ ​my​ ​boundaries​ ​as​ ​an​ ​outsider.​ ​Initially,​ ​meeting​ ​the​ ​women​ ​from​ ​San Miguel​ ​they​ ​all​ ​wore​ ​similar​ ​knee​ ​length​ ​dresses​ ​with​ ​aprons,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​greeted​ ​everyone​ ​with​ ​a handshake​ ​and​ ​curtsy​ ​when​ ​we​ ​entered.​ ​In​ ​addition​ ​that​ ​day​ ​we​ ​had​ ​Rocio,​ ​who​ ​is​ ​an​ ​En​ ​Via volunteer​ ​accompany​ ​us​ ​since​ ​she​ ​is​ ​also​ ​from​ ​San​ ​Miguel,​ ​which​ ​gave​ ​me​ ​some​ ​relief,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​was still​ ​very​ ​nervous.​

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​As​ ​we​ ​began​ ​our​ ​workshop​ ​and​ ​started​ ​going​ ​through​ ​women’s​ ​health​ ​through the​ ​lifespan​ ​from​ ​basic​ ​anatomy​ ​to​ ​chronic​ ​diseases​ ​Annie​ ​and​ ​I​ ​were​ ​surprised​ ​to​ ​see​ ​how​ ​much of​ ​the​ ​information​ ​the​ ​women​ ​already​ ​knew.​ ​That’s​ ​one​ ​assumption​ ​that​ ​we​ ​also​ ​made​ ​and​ ​were completely​ ​wrong​ ​on,​ ​that​ ​the​ ​women​ ​we​ ​would​ ​interact​ ​with​ ​wouldn’t​ ​know​ ​many​ ​of​ ​the​ ​things​ ​we spoke​ ​on.​ ​

Getting​ ​rid​ ​of​ ​that​ ​“savior​ ​mentality”,​ ​in​ ​that​ ​we​ ​were​ ​these​ ​foreigners​ ​coming​ ​to​ ​educate these​ ​women​ ​with​ ​the​ ​knowledge​ ​that​ ​we​ ​had​ ​and​ ​treating​ ​them​ ​and​ ​interacting​ ​with​ ​them​ ​as individuals​ ​in​ ​charge​ ​of​ ​their​ ​own​ ​health,​ ​completely​ ​changed​ ​the​ ​conversation​ ​and​ ​the​ ​way​ ​that the​ ​women​ ​interacted​ ​with​ ​us.​

​Giving​ ​women,​ ​as​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​the​ ​family and​ ​as​ ​individuals​, ​the tools​ ​to take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​their​ ​own​ ​health​ ​and​ ​to​ ​pass​ ​this​ ​knowledge​ ​onto​ ​their​ ​children​ ​and​ ​families​ ​was a​ ​privilege.​ ​The​ ​grace​ ​and​ ​kindness​ ​the​ ​women​ ​showed​ ​us​ ​was​ ​so​ ​warm​ ​and​ ​genuine​ ​and​ ​I​ ​left believing​ ​we​ ​were​ ​received​ ​well,​ ​because​ ​by​ ​the​ ​end​ ​of​ ​our​ ​two​ ​days​ ​in​ ​San​ ​Miguel​ ​the​ ​women​ ​all wanted​ ​a​ ​picture​ ​with​ ​us.​ ​

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By​ ​the​ ​end​ ​of​ ​our​ ​time​ ​in​ ​Mexico​ ​we​ ​were​ ​able​ ​to​ ​realize​ ​our​ ​role​ ​as nursing​ ​volunteers​ ​through​ ​formulating​ ​these​ ​health​ ​workshops,​ ​as​ ​part​ ​of​ ​in​ ​En​ Via’s​ ​vision​ ​to promote​ ​social​ ​and​ ​community​ ​development.​ ​Everything​ ​about​ ​my​ ​stay​ ​in​ ​Oaxaca​ ​drove​ ​me​ ​out​ ​of my​ ​comfort​ ​zone,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​so​ ​many​ ​things​ ​to​ ​love​ ​and​ ​so​ ​many​ ​lessons​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​when​ ​you​ ​are forced​ ​to​ ​be​ ​uncomfortable​ ​but​ ​also​ ​welcomed​ ​with​ ​kindness​ ​as​ ​the​ ​Mexican​ ​people​ ​treated​ ​me.

 

Thank​ ​you​ ​to​ ​Oaxaca,​ ​Fundación​ ​En​ ​Vía​ ​and​ ​The​ ​Instituto​ ​Cultural​ ​de​ ​Oaxaca​ ​for​ ​the​ ​experience.

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