If you ever want a lesson in dedication, come on a walk with Sonia. Sonia is one of the "educadoras," or "educators," at the Health Center, and it is her role to organize and deliver house visits and monthly health lessons to nearly 15 communities. Oh, but, I should mention here that the closest community she travels to is a meager 4 hour round-trip. The farthest takes her 5-7 hours round trip. On foot. Most of the time in the rain. Scratch that: pouring down rain. Occasional attacks by stray dogs. Freezing wind. And, on occasion, most of the women we travel to do not show up.
When I began working with Sonia, I was more then eager to reach these "end of the road," communities. It felt really Peace Corps-y. Then, months into our work together, the 4am alarm began to sound like "Wake up! You only have one more year left, you can do this!" This is what I'm saying to myself? Counting down my days in the Peace Corps because walking in the rain for 5 hours is hard? Yes. That's what I said to myself.
Until, one day. It was freezing, pouring down rain, and we were contorted in the back of this truck next to 2 spare tires, a bale of firewood and several shovels. We had spent an entire afternoon reaching a far-out community to deliver a workshop on HIV/AIDS to a group of male community leaders, and over half of them did not show up. For nearly an hour we tried to flag down a ride, and car after car passed us, leaving us on the side of the road like the wet dogs following us for handouts.
My holier-than-thou Americana instincts kicked in and I became agitated. Wet. Cold. Hungry. The inevitable "why am I doing this?" crossed my mind as my pretzlefied body leaned haphazardly against a spare tire. I peered at Sonia through 2 flaps of smattering plastic (my makeshift rain-cover), and saw her smiling. "Ay Dios," she moaned repeatedly, while simultaneously cracking a smile revealing her crooked, honest smile.
A laugh started in the bottom of my stomach, and then I couldn't stop for minutes. It was contagious. She laughed, I laughed because she was laughing, visa versa. She reached out to me and we held on to each other (I suppose both for practical purposes and emotional ones) for the remainder of the trip, exchanging smiles the rest of the ride.
Later next week, on an even farther trek to a village called Julen, I asked her why she does this work. Why she works so hard, with so much dedication and love for what she does. Without missing a beat, she told me, "We only have one life, Elizabeth. One life to be happy, to make others happy. My happiness is your happiness, so really, there is nothing better to live for than to lift a portion of the burden for others."
We'll continue walking for another year. I'll continue to love our conversations, snacks (she always brings me snacks, she knows I get grouchy without snacks), jokes, and shepherding my wayward puppy who gets in to more trouble than she ought to. With any luck, I'll have learned the true meaning of dedication by the time I leave. Thank you, Sonia.