After weeks of mental and physical preparation, plus hours of anthropological experience in San Miguel, with snacks, sunscreen and agua in tow, the Kalu Yala Summer 2012 Anthropology team set out to spend several days studying in valley intern turf, Tres Brazos. The brainchild of Anthropology director Evan Conaway, each intern came up with an individual study to focus on for our stay. After spending a month and a half doing medical research in San Miguel, I decided to continue the investigation and figure out what kind of health care may or may not be going on down in the valley.
Unsurprisingly, we were all in for a totally different kind of roller coaster. The lizards of San Miguel are nothing compared to the dinosaur babies of the valley; our housecat, Tuna, has about the ferocity of a goldfish next to their half arachnid, half crustacean mascot, appropriately named The Admiral. The cold showers of casa llena? At least it’s cleaner than the river. No wonder bathing gets kind of old.
After three hours among the brave, I felt like I’d gathered everything I needed to write a solid dissertation on the ways of the wild. The overarching attitude of the valley was relaxed all around: “As long as I’m not doing real damage to it, it’s okay, but it’s probably not very good for it,” said one intern to me when I asked about how he took care of his injuries. Essentially, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Hey, whatever works.
At the conclusion of our adventure, Evan had us write up our field notes in anticipation of the book he’s creating about our time there. To give you a little taste of what’s to come (think conflict resolution and kinship studies: it’s cool stuff), for this blog, I’ll share some of my research.
Known around the camp as the hardest working intern, Alice in particular was incredibly cavalier when it came to medical needs. Covered in blisters and bruises, it was easy to ask her questions about her time in Tres Brazos. When I asked her what would happen if someone got bit or fell and twisted something out on their own, she said, “You either hop back or wait for help,” as though there really could be any other options, anyway.
At one point, Tucker noticed a nasty scratch-turned-blister-turned-infection on her right hand that she keeps re-opening through work. He wanted to clean it at least with hydrogen peroxide, saying it would naturally push out the dirt after the rinse, but Alice says, “I’d rather it just be out.” So Tucker picks out the dirt with a pocket knife while Alice chews on her finger.
Alice was my first subject, and after spending time with her, I concluded the attitude to be a mix of apathy and frustration: “If I work on my injury, I’ll get stronger, and it’ll go away.” This was absolutely reinforced by the other interns I spoke to at camp.
General Comments Pretty much everyone is barefoot, no question there. I’ve only seen one pair of gloves, worn and owned by Mal. Someone (maybe Aaron?) makes a comment about blisters: “I don’t cover them so they turn into calluses.” Asking people about any natural cleansers? Nada. “Sam has aloe,” said Aaron, when I asked him if he ever put anything on his cuts. I thought perhaps he meant she had an aloe plant or at least knew where one was, but no, it was only the store bought kind. The only other ‘remedy’ I saw was Toma’s organic salve. No one knew if any of the ingredients (among them: jojoba, tea tree oil, lavender, etc.) could be found here, so they were sharing the stuff super sparingly, as though it was their only option.
When Aaron and Austin were going through their preserved bug collection, I asked about the frequency of poisonous bugs. Again, of course, the attitude was lax. This caterpillar’s spikes are venomous, that ant bite feels like a bullet wound. And what do you do if chance should happen? “Wait it out,” said Aaron. “Most of them aren’t poisonous enough to kill you.” This attitude made me increasingly more glad I lived near a clinic, regardless of the wait time.
If I could do the whole thing over again, I would love to be more involved in the beginnings of the process. Watching how the interns got to their apathetic attitude would have been fascinating; I would have loved to see who initially encouraged the behavior, who said hydrogen peroxide was the best option, who was the first person to say ‘screw it.’ I would have loved to witness a major sting or bite. I think asking people about pre-existing conditions would have lead to more insight into their medical world, albeit intrusive, perhaps. More than anything, I wish everyone could have been there at once. Regardless of the stress, watching people interact makes the experience. More people around means more talk and probably more accidents to be around for. Beyond that, I just would’ve liked to observe such animals in their natural habitat.