After a couple days rotating stations, we were getting used to clinic and becoming more familiar with the healthcare disparities in Santo Domingo. As we traveled from community to community, we saw vastly different patient populations and came to realize the diversity of Santo Domingo. We dove deeper into these diverse cultures by taking a small break after clinic to visit the Tsachilas village and learning about their way of life.
The Tsachila tribe are named for their unique way of dress and hairstyle as Tsachila refers to “colored”. They use the achiote seeds to create a deep red dye that they use to color their hair every day. It is a symbol of the healing powers of the achiote seeds, which treats varicella, a disease that once ravaged their people. In addition, they use a natural black dye to paint intricate symbols on their skin everyday. Each symbol represents a characteristic of nature and had a different meaning such as peace or courage. In addition, during times of peace, the Tsachila wear small donut-shaped cotton buns on their head. We also learned about how they used plants for healing. Our guide, Saiyama, showed us how they heated the water and poured it into a small pit in the ground containing herbs. People would sit above the pit to allow the steam containing the herb’s medicinal properties to envelope them and heal.
Afterwards, we were invited through their village to a hut where ceremonies are conducted. We closed our eyes and allowed the sounds of the ceremonial instruments, such as the marimba and rainstick, take over. The sounds mimicked nature’s sounds such as rainfall, waves crashing and birds chirping. As the sounds progressed, we all felt a calmness and connection with nature. In addition, various herbs were burned to involve our sense of smell and enhance our feeling of calmness. We were gently awoken by the sounds of a fire-blower and the heat from the bursts of fire.
Next, we gathered to see how sugarcane was manually extracted with two logs rolling in the opposite directions to squeeze the sugarcane juice out. Saiyama explained how the sugarcane juice was made whenever they prepared for a party and the juice can be fermented to create an alcoholic drink. Lastly, we all partook in a cultural celebratory dance and had a friendly competition of spear darts. Saiyama explained that the landing of the darts denoted one’s employment status. If you hit the target, which was a tree stump, with the dart, you were a huntsman. If the dart landed near the target, you were a fisherman. If the dart landed further away, you were a homemaker or construction worker.
Overall, the experience deepened our understanding of the diversity in Santo Domingo and the complicated health disparities throughout. We realized that every new community we visited had a different set of health conditions and a unique culture different from the last. This meant that we were truly blessed to be able to visit these communities, experience their cultures and learn from them. The bond that Timmy has formed with these diverse communities show how important our role is in bridging the health disparity gaps not only by treating but by interacting and learning.