Monday, February 14, 2011

Chronicles of Movement, by February blogger of the month Irene Koplinka-Loehr

A view of my apartment
from the road

 I woke up this morning to find my housemate in the bathroom and myself short on time. Lacing my key to my right running shoe I headed out the door with a full bladder and the hope of a pit stop within the first ten minutes. In the United States, amongst runners, gas stations are notorious for their lack of enthusiasm for the ‘non-paying’ bathroom frequenter, thus I felt a good deal of apprehension about receiving a friendly welcome at the nearby fuel stations, especially with my limited Hebrew skills (luckily the phrase, “Sherooteem, bavakasha” “Bathroom, Please” was mastered in the early days of my language acquisition). Normally, being that I hail from upstate New York, I would just peel off into a thickly forested area and be done with the whole issue,[1] unfortunately, subtly undulating desert is less conducive to such behavior. Thus with slight trepidation I began to case out the options, after a few minutes and accumulating pressure, I chanced it at the last station before wasteland. The sliding double doors opened, the cashiers looked up, I assertively used my phrase while simultaneously trying to hide the sweatier parts of me and, without a missed beat, they graciously directed me to the glistening, well-stocked relief zone. I left a minute later with their ‘Good Day’ echoing behind me, finding myself, once again, surprised by the duality of Israelis. While pushy and occasionally offensively frank, they are incredibly giving, helpful, and flexible in wonderful, unexpected ways; take a tip, US gas stations.

Earlier this week I came around the corner of the alleyway (perhaps that is a misnomer, small tunnel-like space between two larger houses) leading to my apartment and came face to face with a medium-sized black and white cat. Obviously well fed, it was balancing on the wall to the right of the path. What caught my eye—because, lets be honest, not-seeing a cat in Beer Sheva would be significantly more bizarre—was that it was staring directly at me. Cats in Beer Sheva are, in one, ridiculously curious, and supremely skittish; as such, they are often caught in a spread-leg state of paralysis, prepared to leave, but seemingly unwilling to miss whatever might come next. This cat, following suit, jumped off the wall and played the same game as I handily avoided it to go up to my apartment (I have been giving them a wider birth ever since one of them left a gash in a classmates foot last semester). As I was about to close the door I startled to see a small white head peeking around the doorframe, certainly the closest a cat has ever come to darting in; it was clear that this guy knew how to obtain food. It should be noted that there are three types of cats here: the scrawny ones that fly out of garbage disposals as you walk by, often, but not always, right into you; the plush, medium sized ones, typified by the above; and the cats that eat other cats. While the last has never been officially documented, it is more than clear that there is one, extremely large, fluffy, confident cat per neighborhood, best described as ‘harem leader’. Gimel’s has been dubbed: The Snow Leopard.

A recent trend in Israeli style was mentioned in our Anthro class this week: English phrases on clothing. Our Epidemiology professor, perpetually perky in the face of our obstinate early-morning silence and lateness, has been known to wear a long maternity shirt on which is printed, in English, I *heart* my Baby. This top, which is incidentally very flattering and a great color, causes a certain amount of amusement among those of us that make it at 8:15. Israelis, while they most probably know English well enough to be able to read the writing, do not care what the shirt says, rather, they care about the fit or the color—text is irrelevant. A classmate related to me that he had seen an older man on the lawn, just after prayers walking back toward the hospital with a pink knit hat reading ‘hot b**’ on the side. Awesome.

Sunset in the Negev.
On Tuesday, our clinical rotation morning, my group had the pleasure of joining a nurse to visit a patient in one of the recognized Bedouin villages. In plastic lawn chairs we sat around two large queen beds in an open, lowly lit room. One of the beds held the patient, survivor of a stroke, wrapped in blankets, slowly recovering. Minutes after we arrived the patient’s daughter brought in small glass cups with sweet tea, along with olive oil and zatar to eat with the flatbread we had picked up on our way. Many of the villages have minimal care facilities or only occasional care options (a maternal health clinic that comes to the villages every week or so). As such, having a nurse that checks on patients regularly is important both for continuing care and to build rapport with the communities. The nurse learned Arabic over her years of work and made the decision to go back to school for Anthropology after beginning her work with the villages to gain a more academic context for her work. She has discovered that, as both healthcare provider and ‘outsider,’ she is often privy to information and emotions that she would not see as a community member. As we were driving back to Beer Sheva, she said, “I know things about some of the women in these villages, that I will never tell anyone,” something which as we are discovering, is a necessity in the practice of medicine.  - blogger of the month, Irene Koplinka-Loehr

[1] In fact, in high school I ran a race where, after a mega-hill (dubbed Everest in team lore), I had to stop and jump off-trail into the woods. The following week, on the same course, my coach exclaimed loudly at the amount of time I cut off of my race. Truly, improvement is all about perception.