This morning I head off to the Ontario North to explore a new part-time “job” as a clinician in a remote indigenous community. I am feeling both excited and apprehensive. I suspect everyone feels that at the start of a new venture.
I remember having the same mix of emotions when I set out for post-war Bosnia in March 1998. I ended up there, on and off, for eleven years. I still have a great fondness for many friends there and am planning a trip back in September 2019.
The first time I went to Africa to tend to an itinerant gaggle of McGill students was similar. Lots of unknowns. Was I up to the responsibility? What will transpire while I am so far from home? What cultural differences will I encounter?
I know that the only way that I can fully understand this new challenge and know if I am suited to it is to do it. So, I am heading off to Attawapiskat, a small James Bay community on the 53rd parallel tomorrow am and will be there for the week.
It will be an adventure and if I fit with the community and vice versa it will lead to a few days each month to provide Family Medicine clinic coverage where they are short on medical staff at the moment.
I have worked and traveled in vulnerable communities before but this is different. It is Canada. Attawapiskat has had a lot of news coverage over the past few years because of the challenges to sanitation, housing and mental health problems for the youth in the community.
Will I fit in? Will I be able to provide the medical care required and expected by the community? I am eager to understand and respect the cultural differences between my upbringing (as offspring of white “settlers”) and their place as aboriginal people of the land.
I have traveled in Africa several times when I have not seen another “white” face for a week, so I am used to being in the minority. It has always been a privileged minority, however. I have been treated with respect and welcomed. Will it be the same in a community that has suffered losses under the governance of my ancestors?
In respect for the people there, I will not blog about any of their personal stories without explicit permission but I plan to reflect on what I learn and experience and feel myself.
Buckle up your parka.