Saturday, September 13, 2014

La Trinidad Dengue project

La Trinidad
The big white sign outside of the supermarket is endorsed by Coca-Cola and reads "La Trinidad." Our big, white, OET bus that screams gringos turns down the little road into the small town attracting stares from the local Ticos. Pink, green, and blue houses dot the side of the road, giving a cheerful impression. My group steps out of the bus, David, Emily, Rebecca, and myself followed by Tanya, our professor all eager to begin our days work. Before beginning at the first house, we double check that we have enough surveys, consent forms, and makeshift mosquito traps to give away to the members of the community. An older woman with a gaping smile approaches us asking if we are the Americans giving away money to help fix the houses. Regretfully turning her down, we say, "No, estamos aqui para preguntarle unas preguntas sobre el dengue" (No, we're here to give a survey about dengue). As we come up to the first house, there is a scramble as to who will give the first interview and demonstrate the construction of the mosquito trap. Courageously Rebecca steps up, and we begin. The survey consists of a series of yes or no questions about the symptoms, prevention, and treatment of dengue. Dengue fever is contracted via an Aedis mosquito and causes a fever, body rash, and head and body aches, among other symptoms when it is in its initial stage. Dengue hemorrhagic fever is more dangerous and can be caused by an untreated case of dengue or a second infection and can include seizures and internal bleeding. When treated and prevented, dengue is not a threat to life, but it becomes dangerous when symptoms are ignored. As we continued around the quaint town, I can't help but wonder what must be going through these Ticos heads when a gringo asks them if they put screens on their non-existent windows? I am immediately embarrassed when the question slips out. How does it feel to have these presumably wealthy Americans asking numerous inquisitive and sometimes difficult to understand questions, giving a small mosquito trap, and then returning to their undoubtedly mosquito free homes? I am torn between feeling helpful in spreading awareness and gaining understanding of this community and feeling as if I am asking questions no lay person would understand with terrible Spanish. I think this negative feeling arises from standing in their shoes and imaging someone coming to my house back home, which is generally less accepted in the US. In the end, the hospitality we are received with and the smiles as we say thank you and leave give me more comfort in knowing that our work is positively received and appreciated. We continue down the street, and it comes to be my turn to give the survey. Feeling uncomfortable and out of place, I step up to the gate of a small house made of wooden boards and tin sheets – one of the poorer homes in the neighborhood. I call out, "Upe!" the traditional Costa Rican word to open the doors. A friendly looking woman in her thirties and her three-year-old daughter come to the door and welcome us inside to sit on their couches. We all very much appreciated this gesture, as it is very hot outside. After I stumble across a few of the first questions including how many years of education she has, I shyly look up and smile, hoping she is still following. David is excellent at Spanish, and whenever I trip up, I glance sideways to him, and he jumps in, putting together the pieces of my words into a coherent sentence. Throughout the interview, I am amazed at the misconceptions, some benign and some dangerous, this woman has about such a prevalent disease in her area. I wonder where information about dengue is coming from, and I realize how important it is for us to be here today. Not only to collect data for a larger study, but also to correct these misconceptions and hopefully save lives, if not spread awareness. I learned a lot about the community of La Trinidad and myself today. I learned that even though a community is at high risk for a disease, they might not have the knowledge, attitude, or correct practices in place to prevent or treat it. I learned how to learn to speak a new language. Being able to pronounce each syllable perfectly, get each accent right, and do it all as fast as a Tico is not what conversing in a foreign language is all about; it's about confidence in what you are saying. 
Kat D.

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