Homage to Jane Arnold and the Journey to Oaxaca

It all started years ago, before I ever dreamed of going to Oaxaca.   Like the birth of a child, you never know what the future looks like until it is upon you —  in the here and now.  I had heard of Oaxaca, didn’t know how to pronounce it, and would never have known where to pinpoint it on a map.  WAH-HAH-KAH.

Back then, Jane Arnold, CNM, was my OB-GYN nurse practitioner and head of the midwifery program at UNC Hospitals.  As an administrator in the School of Nursing, I was committed to using NP‘s for my primary care.  I realized they could give me quality care, spend more time with me, and were more accessible. With my feet in the stirrups, Jane and I became friends!

From time to time, we would get together for dinner or a movie, write poetry and have heartfelt talks.  We both wanted adventure but didn’t quite know how to jump-start the journey.   We didn’t even know where we wanted to go or where the journey would take us.  There was something more we yearned for.

Much of Jane’s clientele were immigrant women who spoke little or no English and who came from cultural backgrounds that relied on midwives.  It was easy to convince her to come with me on a nursing school-sponsored spring break trip for preceptors and faculty to Antigua, Guatemala.  The week-long trip took us to public and private hospitals, clinics, hospices and the home of a traditional midwife to learn about health care delivery and infrastructure.  The experience gave us an up-close-and-personal cross-cultural understanding of immigrants’ experiences and values in order to provide better care for the NC immigrants we serve.  We offered each other moral support as we ventured out together, sharing a room and ideas and dreams for the future.

During the week, we imagined what it might be like to live in Guatemala or someplace similar.  We immersed ourselves in colloquial Spanish with individual tutors who would stroll the markets with us and encourage us to speak.  We shared tasty dinners, great Chilean wine, and bought more textiles and coffee than would fit in our suitcases.  We wanted to bring Antigua back home with us.  We didn’t want to leave.

The next year, when my friend Annie said, “come visit me in Teotitlan del Valle,” I did not hesitate.  My husband Stephen jumped on board. My feet were wet and my tongue had been seasoned with the taste of salsa and fresh tamales.   Oaxaca embraced me and I immediately considered it “home.”  Now, I return several times each year while I continue to work at UNC Chapel Hill.

Jane is in Gaborone, Botswana.  She has been there for the past year-and-a-half where she opened up a birthing center in the new Bokamoso Private Hospital, delivering babies, providing pre- and post-natal care, and training nurses in labor and delivery.  She is a heroine.

We are planning our reunion: my visit to Gabarone this year (my first trip to Africa) along with a wildebeest migration safari in Tanzania.

And, my feet are firmly planted in Oaxaca!

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