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Halfway through 3d semester

You could say I’m an optimist, because we aren’t technically halfway through 3 semester yet.  More like a third the way.  Which reminds me:  Katie and I got tickets to go back to Portland over next break.  It is so expensive that we weren’t planning on going this time.  But reason prevailed, and we went ahead and booked it.  Katie needs the support of her family.  And I need a break from Dominica.  Ever hear of a little thing called “island fever”?  Well, it affects most people eventually-even hard-asses like me.  Speaking of me, haha, I’ve been doing slightly better here than the end of last semester.  I think I’m starting to accept things as they are here, and adjusting to the new culture.  Actually, the Dominican culture; way of life, accent, etc., are not the biggest hurdle.  Living in a small community has been the biggest adjustment.  I have lived in many, many different places in my life.  But I never experienced the long-term culture of a small town.  The way everyone knows everyone from my bread lady, to the guy that delivers meat to our house.  Any little thing that happens is soon spread via the rumor mill all over the neighborhood.  Not to say I’m getting in trouble here.  It’s just a shock to realize I’m not anonymous anywhere.  And it’s hard to fit in since I’m not Dominican.  So I get gossiped about constantly.  Imagine living in the most isolated small town where the average IQ is literally 73, check this news article I’m not making it up.     Add to it a little language barrier, and a dash of racism/discrimination/nationality whatever you want to call it.  And life can be a bit difficult.  Luckily the people have the charm, positive outlook, and strong church founded morality that a lot of small towns have.  So there’s good points as well.  But honestly my first small community experience hasn’t been great.  Although, the experience has taught me a lot.  Some days I just want to get out of here.  But on the whole the life-enrichment has outweighed the personal distress.  And supporting Katie, and being by her side, is the most important thing in my life.

Katie is studying so hard right now.  She has a big test this week.  It’s the first big test of the semester.  And it’s notoriously the most difficult in the 16 months at Ross.  She has to memorize hundreds of diseases and hundreds of medications.  Not just the names, but what each one does, what the drugs are used to treat, and their generic brand names.  It’s called the “bugs and drugs test” by students, and everyone dreads it.  She has been studying and working so hard.  I have a lot of time to myself.

I’ve finally got my recording programs working here.  It’s been fun composing songs multi-tracking.  I have drum samples, so I can make drum recordings that sound like real drummers.  And I have an effect which takes what I play on the guitar and makes it sound lower like a bass guitar.  Then of course, regular guitar.  And I have a synthesizer program with hundred of keyboard sounds.  I control that with my qwerty keyboard lol, because there aren’t any midi keyboards available here.  Also, I have a good mic for vocals and recording anything acoustic.  So It’s been a nice little hobby sort of teaching myself to be a sound engineer and producer.  I have no problem coming up with compositional ideas and performing them for a recording.  But all the technical aspects of sound engineering are a totally new venture for me.  I’m not taking it too seriously though.  Or else I’d quickly get frustrated at my lack of skills.  I actually have a lot of experience recording in studios.  But I’ve always left all the engineering duties to the professionals.  Just as they leave the guitar playing duties to me.  But I am so glad I finally had the time and opportunity to teach myself the other side of the recording process.

Another musical expansion I’ve made here is my singing.  I’ve struggled with my voice ever since I was a teenager.  I wasn’t gifted with American Idol vocal chords.  And I’ve always been such a strong guitarist that singing was hardly ever necessary.  I did a few songs for bands I was in.  But here I could no longer rely on a singer to do my singing for me.  The island is so small that even my limited vocal ability was adequate.  But after doing a lot of singing, I have really come a long ways in the short 9 months I’ve been here.  I am even flirting with the idea of fronting my own band when I go back to the states.  I can sing 20 rock songs in a row without too much vocal fatigue, and no soreness the next day.


2nd Semester Winding Down

Wow!  Time really gets away from a person here.  The seasons don’t change and the weather is always the same.  Add that to cycle after cycle of classes and tests.  It’s so much the same routine, that time flies.  Although, paradoxically it seems like each day and week drags on and on.  It’s a struggle to keep occupied, entertained, and fulfilled.  When there is so little… well, everything here.  As one pessimist I know likes to say it’s “just another day in paradise.”

Luckily I found a sort of family with the RSO (Ross Spouses Organization).  Through them I met cool people and got connected to uncounted events, activities, and support.  From setting up and running ice-cream sales, to going on shopping trips to Roseau.  I know I can always turn to RSO for any questions on how to find items, or how things work in Dominica.

I also work part time (extremely part-time) being a practice patient for students.  This also gives me something to do and a feeling of accomplishment in bringing in what money it does pay.

I also met a few students and helped put together a rock band.  We’ve played several shows.  Although, we don’t make any money and they are all amateurs.

I really got in peak physical shape since I’ve been here.  Eating healthy, and exercise have never been so easy!  Actually, I have never felt this good at any other time in my life that I remember.

I also do all the shopping, cooking and cleaning for Katie and myself.

But there’s still plenty of time for self-reflection.  I’ve continued to grow and become stronger.  So many things I took for granted in the states are incredibly difficult here.  There’s a strange culture.  I mean besides the Dominican culture.  I talk about The Ross Culture.  There’s about 1200 kids from America, Canada, and a few other places.  Most of them are insanely busy.  So the few I do get to see are slim pickings.  I’ve really had to adjust my standards of companionship.  I am a fairly tolerant person, so it hasn’t been impossible.  But it is hard to find kindred spirits.  Actually, it’s hard to find anyone who even shares the same interests.

Everyone is temporarily here.  So friends end up leaving and new people come every 4 months.  I’m saying my permanent goodbyes to several acquaintances before Christmas break.

I’ve really received a lesson in “life is what you make it,” here.  I have to rely on my own celebration of myself.  Because no one really knows me or appreciates me here, except Katie of course.  I’ve had to develop a stronger sense of self.

I’ve had to branch out and embrace modes of fulfillment that before seemed useless or unattractive.  It’s been a rocky 8 months of trying new things, with varying levels of success.  It turns out that trying new things is sort of an art unto itself.

We are probably going to be here another year.  So I’d better find some more things to keep myself busy.

As I get ready to visit family over Christmas break I come to realize that this is my home now.  And as I look at relationships that I have with people in the states it makes me… well, wish that people knew me better.  I don’t think a single person in my life besides Katie really gets me.  I suppose that sounds sad.  But in reality my feelings are quite ambiguous on the matter.  Either way, I’m looking forward to spending time with my loving wife and soulmate.  Although I have to share her with all her family, who I love and appreciate too.  And I also have to leave her and go to California for part of the break to visit my sister and mother as part of some cosmic irony; and my brother’s family, other mother, and various others excluding my dad whom I haven’t spoken to in… 5-6 years?  So, it’s sure to be a bittersweet Christmas vacation, as usual…  But a vacation nonetheless!

Exam 1.0

Had my first official exam today.  They call all exams (except the final) “minis”.  There is nothing mini about a “mini”.  We had 91 minutes to answer 69 questions that were derived from Micro Anatomy, Gross Anatomy, Biochemistry, Radiology, Physiology, Histology, and Clinical Skills/Ethics.  The format was clinical vignette/multiple choice.  Each question was a paragraph followed by 4-6 answers from which to choose.  The grading here is A, B, C, Fail…so, everyone is praying for a score above 70%.

I made the mistake of showing up to the exam with a backpack. Whoops!  There is a strict no backpack policy, as well as, a no umbrella, no sunglasses, and no mechanical pencil policy (Wood pencils only!).  I proceeded to take out only the most necessary items before ditching my bag amongst the slew of umbrellas out front.  The items deemed indispensable:

5 wooden pencils

1 pencil sharpener

1 set of earplugs

A bottle of water

A cup of coffee (This one turned out to be a mistake.  The cup leaked and I had to pee like the proverbial racehorse for a majority of the test).

Two squares of chocolate

Reading glasses

School ID (required)

A pair of sweatpants

A zip-up hoodie

Upon entry to the exam room I methodically laid out each item, sharpened my pencils, put on the sweatpants (it’s way too hot to have walked to the test in them…even at 7:3o AM) and yelled (silently, on the inside) BRING IT ON!

In the first two weeks of medical school, they have covered more material than my undergraduate institution covered in an entire year.  It is intense.  But, the material is interesting so it’s been enjoyable thus far.

After the test was over, I went and picked up my first package!  My sister Kerri sent it from Oregon and it contained my scrubs, stethoscope, and blood pressure cuff.  Just seeing my sister’s handwriting on the box made my heart happy…it was like a little reward after self subjected, exam torture.

Jesse and I spent the rest of the day happily lounging on the beach…letting the ol’ neurons recover a bit.

Week One, Down!

Welp, we have officially made it a whole week!  Things that seemed almost unbelievable at first are now becoming…something like normal!

As I type, I am being serenaded by giant horned cows mooing in the near distance.  Renting a bungalow on “Moo Cow Trail” should have been a tip-off, but never did I expect to see these beasts laying on the beach and gazing out into the Caribbean Sea!  The most interesting thing about the cows is that each one has it’s very own, pet bird.  Their little bird buddies are white herons and the dynamic duos do everything together.  It is so sweet!

Along with the cows, Dominica has what they call “island dogs”.  They are super friendly and look very much like ginormous chihuahuas.

The most ridiculous bit of wildlife at the moment are the birds.  It is officially mating season on the island and let me tell you, romance is in full swing.  I’ve never heard birds like this before.  For the first few days, Jesse kept asking me if my cell phone was going off.   They beep, blip, and somehow sound like full grown men cat calling.  But, by far the winner for exotic bird calls are the parrots.  The island has two species of parrot that exist nowhere else in the world but here.  I guess they were marooned here long ago and while their brothers and sisters in other lands changed over time, they remained the same.  I kid you not, they sound just like a woman crying out.

We have had the honor to interact with Dominicans quite a bit this past week.  The locals are beautiful people (both inside and out).  They speak English and pronounce just about everything differently than we do in the United States.  Some words have a British or French twist,  others have a creole background, but everything has an island cadence/ thick dialect.  It is really fun to listen, too.  We’ve taken to reading lips as this seems to be helping us understand what is being said a bit more.  When asked, “How are you today?”.  A common response is, “I am blessed.”  I really dig that.  They have a fantastic sense of humor.  Everyone goes by a nickname and proudly displays that name on their vehicle.  We see, “Mr. Big Stuff” and “Mouse” driving around quite a bit.

Speaking of driving: Seeing the locals drive is worth coming to the island alone!  They drive on the left hand side of the street and put on a whole production with horn honking and hand signals at every turn (all of which is required knowledge to get a license here).  What should be a one lane road is miraculously a two way street with cars passing (no exaggeration) 6 inches from each other at times.  It is impressive.

Yesterday, Jesse and I walked over to Cabrits National Park where they have Fort Shirley, the country’s most historic site.  We saw iguanas in the wild for the first time…big, fat ones.  And, possibly even more exciting: hermit crabs!

I am glad we’ve had the chance to take in some of the sights before classes start!  This island has so much to offer and I am hoping to get a chance to snorkel a bit in the coming months.  I’ll talk some about the sites we’ve got to experience so far in my next blog.

Peace, love, and daily blessings…


Jesse and Cobra

Our little home away from home.

This is a tree lizard and they are everywhere. This stud was photographed just outside our front door.

Here is one of the cows. They have ropes tied to their horns, but are free to roam the island. We sometimes have to literally walk right past them to get where we’re going.

Welcome to the Nature Isle!

We made it to the Caribbean!

The flight from Portland, OR to San Francisco to New York to Barbados to St. Lucia to Dominica took approx 24 hrs. Three out of our 4 bags made it with us which I hear is stellar.  The 4th bag arrived a few days later and had all it’s original contents…phew!

Jesse and I are here for the next 16 months to complete the core curriculum for medical school.  Then, back to the States for clinical rotations and residency.  We’ve been joking that it is medical school, survivor edition.

The school we’re attending is called Ross University School of Medicine.  It is fully accredited in all 50 States, based out of New Jersey, places more students into residency each year than any other, and students get U.S. Federal Financial Aid to attend.

Ross picked us up from the airport and drove us to Picard, a little town in St. John’s Parish on the Northwest side of the island.  It was dark when we got in but we saw locals diving for lobster, giant, yummy crabs crossing the road, mangoes lining the streets, and Dominicans hanging out playing dominoes and the like.

Our landlord Trish picked us up from the school with her son, Kyle.  They are awesome!  She had purchased us a cell phone and some basic groceries (highlights include: a roll of toilet paper (thank goodness) and milk that doesn’t expire for 8 months…???).

Kyle then invited us to go to De Champs, the local hangout/bar with some of the other students that live in our neighborhood.  So after being up for 36 hrs straight…off we go to De Champs.  De Champs is on the top of a hill and over looks the ocean…it is gorgeous.  It was packed with Ross students.  Rum is manufactured on the island from sugar cane and thus there is no shortage and fancy drinks with umbrellas are very inexpensive.  Jesse and I were proud of ourselves for being social right out the gate and the folks we went with have become our friends.

Everything here is exotic, weird, interesting, ETC.  I’ll talk about some of our observations in the next blog as that is the truly interesting stuff!  As for now, we are off to check-in for orientation. Ta.