Friday, November 27, 2015

Parting Remarks; New Realities by Cindy Wang

Week 14: Las Cruces biological station and the penultimate week of the semester, a final week of many. Monday, promptly after lunch, data collection for our independent projects commenced and perhaps, sadly, I saw what I had expected. The Ngöbe-Buglé people working on these plantations lived in families with 10+ members under a single roof, the women had children at a young age (and they have many of them), housing conditions were consistently dismal and run down, high body mass indices (BMIs) were the norm, and if it weren’t for the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) and our indigenous cultural advisors, none of them would have spoken to us. I think it’s a very different phenomenon hearing about how these people live and seeing them first hand. 
A photograph taken on day 1 of data collection (November 16, 2015). Photograph of a kitchen inside the residence visited for observation. This house was not occupied at the time that the picture was taken.
At first I felt sad for the women who seemed so timid and reliant upon the men in the community. Then I thought perhaps this is exactly the type of ethnocentric thought Hector warned us about: as much as I am a fervent proponent of equality, it’s unfair to assume that their culture is like mine. But to what extent do we allow these differences to be “cultural” before they turn into negligence on our parts for not helping these people live and survive? In walking through one of the houses, I found it hard to believe that people lived here. Not only because of the uncleanliness or minute size, but also because of the billowing smoke filling the rooms; the “kitchens” were outside yet the smoke seemed to follow you throughout the house; the smoke was so thick that standing in a room for barely a minute to take heights and weights made my throat, eyes, and nose ache and burn. In seeing this, I was no longer surprised that these peoples were ‘respiratory symptomatics’ – suffering from a productive cough lasting longer than two weeks. In fact, I was surprised that they didn’t have more respiratory problems from living in these conditions...
A photograph taken on day 4 of data collection (November 19, 2015). The local health officials (CCSS) have set up tents and lights in order to give a presentation about various health topics to the highly mobile, indigenous coffee workers. They subsequently provided basic health services to those who needed them.
By the end of this tiring week, I don’t know that I feel more satisfied than I did 6 days ago. The way that these people live is miles beyond the world that I have grown up in, no matter how much I try to align our commonalities. Coming from the United System, given the privilege of birth into a particular system, I have mobility and opportunities more than people from most other countries. I have grown up believing the right and access to education was innate, yet it is in reality a privilege the US government gifts to us. Education and healthcare, housing and support, freedom and mobility: the list is expansive. Beyond what implications this project may or may not have, regardless of whether or not any of our data prove to be significant, this project, and perhaps this entire semester’s experiences, has left me humbled in acknowledging my privilege, and indicted with a hopeful mandate to use this knowledge to some betterment in the future.

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