I post this with some trepidation. It was written as a personal note of appreciation. I trust my good friends will not mind.
I am rarely at a loss for words, but I’m struggling now as I try to find the way to say what’s in my heart. I won’t lie: there was a time on Thursday when I was deeply concerned that we would not finish the work we had imagined for this crucial year in the life of our relationship with the community. The clinic work had gone extremely well and everyone had risen beyond the demands of the moment, day, and week. There was a sense of elation as we moved towards the end of our clinic week, and I could feel the celebration momentum building. We would finish the day and head to Dr. Hernandez’ house for drinks and food and to receive the appreciation of the local government. My mood darkened with the prospect that we would return to the hotel tired, self-satisfied, and maybe a little tipsy. I felt a creeping dread as I tried to imagine how the mood and focus could be re-directed to the work remaining to be done in the community. Would we leave with all of the uncertainties about our work there, about the next steps in our efforts to partner, with the community no more certain about continuing presence than they had been at the end of Sunday’s community meeting? I apologize if I appeared sullen and detached that day and evening; that happens when I’m perplexed. I apologize more for ever having doubted the ability of this remarkable team to find the way to live its mission. Amazing. Simply amazing. The meeting Thursday night revealed the depth of commitment, intellectual engagement, and determination to find ways to do what so many others have tried to do and failed and what often seems simply beyond the possible. You break my heart with your goodness.
I am touched deeply by the unspeakable contributions of W&M alums, beginning of course with our own Dr. Mark. He’s been there from the very beginning and he understands and believes in the SOMOS mission in its finest detail and highest imaginings. He rapidly is becoming a folk hero in Paraiso and Santo Domingo, on demand for photo-ops with vice-mayors and beauty pageant starlets, yet he is unmoved by government posturing and he refuses to be distracted from the plain hard work of the SOMOS and DASV project. My joy in the continuing work is magnified by the privilege to work with Mark and by a friendship that is deep, rich, and boundless. Morgan McCorklin (I still haven’t internalized her married name) came as a medical provider this year and warmed my heart beyond words. She was there as an undergraduate in my first stumbling efforts to find ways to support the work of two small groups of very determined undergraduates who wanted to do more than gopher-work for duffel-bag medicine projects. She was not a member of the SOMOS project, but she is now and will be forever. Her contributions this year are un-measurable and she has woven herself into the fabric of the team – and my heart. Jess Lucia was inspired by Dr. Mark and felt compelled to help tell the story of our work in Paraiso. We knew from reading her blog that she “got it” and that she would add significantly to our work. Her growing library of photos affirmed our judgment, and her conversations with students and others throughout the trip provided compelling evidence of her sensitive, enlightened, and kindred spirit. We will be honored to add her to our hall of fame.
Apparently I’m NOT at loss for words. Sorry. I have a little more to say: Victoria Ryan. She came to us as a senior and seized the precepts, concepts, methods, and deep philosophy so quickly that she caught me off guard. She returned from her first trip heart-broken, saddened by our failure to do more than we had. Make no mistake: she saw the good work that was done, but she believed deeply that we should have worked harder to prepare; we should have read more, studied harder, thought more deeply. She inspired me to take a more active and directive role – even as I continued to worry about undermining the ownership and agency of the students, who alone can ensure the sustainability and success of the project. She continues to inspire me. Her work this year was factotum eximius, and she reaffirmed her place in the SOMOS narrative.
Co-leaders John Pothen and Dani Gutierrez: Amazing. They continue the tradition of leader odd-couples, and clearly it works. Each knows the project and acts on that knowledge differently, yet fully. John thinks, and works, and frets; takes responsibility and guides intentionally and thoughtfully. He worries, and he prays. Dani reflects, loses sleep, speaks quietly and reluctantly, and slides into and out of situations with grace and charm. Together, they have led the SOMOS team to a new high in cohesion, esprit de corps, and informed engagement. The future of the team is brighter than ever thanks to their efforts.
Kevin Salina, our up-and-coming four-year featured team member, never fails to amaze me with his quick wit and solid grasp of team history. His occasional one-liners deflect mounting tension and re-focus team energy
Kristine Mouselis, Rajiv (awkward Bob) Patel, Galley Saleh: Not our top team linguists, but surely at the very heart of our work. Kristine quietly and without distracting needling found the way to manage team money for transportation, to contribute to clinical efforts, and to inspire unflagging individual effort. “Bob” organized clinical data and the presentation of project research findings at the community meeting, led efforts to conceive improvements in our effort to track individual patients, and inspired warmth and humility. Galley adopted Paraiso mothers and stray dogs, exuded the loving spirit of our work, and encouraged each of us to express our affection for those around us.
Emerging without warning, Amalhyn Shek is a remarkable interviewer and natural action-researcher, able to tread the thin and dynamic line between collecting subtle and important data and encouraging optimistic ways of imagining the future of the community and its residents. I was stunned by her performance and I am enormously optimistic about our future work with her helping to lead the way as we enter this new phase of our work. Joanna Weeks’ efforts as clinic coordinator were extraordinary. She modeled attention to detail, steadfastness in the face of pressure and competing demands, and critical thinking. Lindsay Schleifer, Taylor Hurst, and Kaveh Sadeghian – all first year teams members, but you could never tell. Together they formed the cheerleading, spirit-lifting, heart-touching celebration of camaraderie and led the way in resisting collective frustration and discouragement. Kaveh added charisma to the formula; Taylor stirred in a dash of just plain sweetness, and Lindsay provided an additional measure of off-beat insight and humor.
Bruce (BROOOSE) Pfirrmann and Rebecca (Homie) Silverstein (the newest of our newbies) exhibited a sense of wonder, asked just the right questions, combined hope and a “wait-and-see” attitude to push us all to listen, think, and dig more deeply into our concepts, methods, and philosophy. It was a pleasure pure and simple to watch them blossom in the SOMOS garden.
Thank you is too little to say, and the small shout-outs don’t begin to express my admiration for you each and all. I can’t wait for the spring semester to begin.
Dpa, Taco, Dpaday, Payday, and Shirley