What is your definition of safety? Does it include being surrounded by loved ones? Does it include being in your own cozy home? Does it mean being out in nature among the trees and the clouds?
Safe according to Merriam-Webster:
Safe: (Entry 1 of 2)
1: free from harm or risk : UNHURT
2a: secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss b: successful at getting to a base in baseball without being put out
3: affording safety or security from danger, risk, or difficulty
Some stories from the inside, warning these may be hard to take.
Along the U.S. Mexico border, there are houses of people who are crossed by coyotes. Americans take them in and lock the immigrants in their home. The stories that were told to me range, but in combination, here are some that still play out in my heart.
Maria came over with her brother. He was taken from her side and she was sent to one of these houses. She was forced to perform sexual favors for the woman of the house. When she refused, the woman beat her until she had a lump to the right side of her abdomen. She was forced to cook and clean among other daily duties. When they were done with her, they covered her face, tied her arms put a rope, drove her to an area close to the border and ran her until she died. Removed the rope from her arms and left her for the border patrol to find her. She didn’t die and showed up in my office for care. We talked about telling her story, she wanted everyone to know what goes on in the typical neighborhoods and houses. The stories that no one sees or maybe refuses to see.
Do you believe Maria feels safe isolated and locked in a home? What about being asked to wear a cloth over her face when she goes into the world?
You know those women and men who try to buff your nails at the mall? They’re always so well put together, poised and so kind. Well, many are also products of human trafficking. They’re promised a life of riches and freedom and when they arrive they have to work for years for little money and no way out. The traffickers pack them into hotel rooms or small apartments 6-8 people in a 1 bedroom and treat them like prisoners, yet making sure they look the part when they go to work. They make the best of it, but one woman, Teresa, has nightmares of going to the hotel room, night after night, day after day. She had been orphaned and kept in a cage in a hotel room for years as a child. Hotels are her hell.
If the U.S. followed the way Australia or New Zealand did things, do you believe Teresa would feel safe in a hotel room for two weeks? Do you think her mental and emotional health would be supported? Do you think that we should put her isolation anyway? For the greater good?
On one of my parent’s visit to Austin early 2000’s, we went to Madam Mams on Westgate. We sat around a big table and my mama started talking to woman who poured the water. Her name was Sandra, she was from Honduras. Mama had a long history working with migrant workers from Central America:
Mama:”Comes la comida de aqui?”, Do you eat the food here?
S: “No, no los dejan, tenemos que comer comida de casa afuera al lado de la basura para que los clientes no nos ven”. No, they don’t let us, we have to eat our own food by the dumpster so the customers don’t see.
I look around and see the hostess, the servers eating lunch at the table close to the register. But her Asian co-workers are allowed to eat in the dining room?
S: “Si, ellos pueden, pero no nosotros”. Yes, they can, but not us.
She goes on to tell her that she’s here on contract, she has to work 14-15 hours a day everyday and one day she’ll be free. So they say.
My mom slips her a $20 and we continue our meal.
She’s non-essential now. Restaurants are closed and if they’re open, they’re barebones without people like Sandra walking around pouring the water. Where is she? Who knows. Probably inside some home, as mandated, like the rest of the world.
December 19th, 2006. A 20-something and her family of five return from dinner to a bed and breakfast in San Jose, Costa Rica. Her mom and dad in one room with her, her three young nieces in a room next door. She hears a moan from upstairs, being a medical pro in training, she runs mid-stupor to see whats going on. It all feels like a dream. She gets to the top of the stairs runs in and sees the scene. A man with a gun over another and his computer. A couple laying on the floor muzzled. She tries to run, another man with a gun grabs her by the scruff of her shirt and pulls her back. He tells her to lay down and pulls her shirt over her face. She can’t breathe and she’s terrified, frozen. Family below experiencing their own form of hell. Blackout ensues.
Do you think this girl feels safe putting cloth over her face each time she goes out? Or is it possible that its a form of re-trauma each and every time she has to do it?
I have more. Story after story, neighbor after neighbor, patient after patient. People have always shared their stories of torture, pain, escape and resilience. Everyone in these scenes is considered a part of marginalized communities. Immigrants, BIPOC, people of low SES, some living below poverty level. The last story is me in Costa Rica with the shirt over her face and blackout was me. It was a time I was in PA school, living on loans and insured by Medicaid when that happened.
And still to this day, marginalized communities are being disproportionately affected by all aspects of this pandemic. Why? Because again, the majority of people believe that there are only a few definitions of safe and those ways will be chosen and dictated by a certain few of a specific demographic. One that is commanded from the institutions of medicine, government, education and public health. One that dismisses the entire spectrum of the human experience and chooses to focus on an elite few. One that takes away from the individual by telling them that they’re a victim to someone else’s decisions and choices, instead of the sovereign beings that we really are.
And now there is an executive order on face masks. A one-size-fits-all approach to something that isn’t really one-size-fits-all. We should be so proud, Americans. Thank goodness orange hair is out and we have a new leader who signed this order and promises to eradicate this pandemic.
So I ask, is it possible that what feels safe to some people, even the majority, could harm or hurt a minority? Is it fair, just, humane and considerate to assume that everyone has the same experience when it comes to what is safe? Has this year been another conventional, narrow-minded approach to health and illness forgetting about the entire spectrum of well-being?
My cousin asked why do I think the U.S. has had such a hard time ‘controlling’ the spread. First, in medicine and in life, when you chase something, you’ll always find it. We’re constantly chasing numbers, created from an average to reach optimal health. The other reason is that we’re so disjointed in our view of what health is. Right now, health is defined as an ‘absence of germs’ (when in reality, there are an average of 46,000 viruses, bacteria and fungus in outdoor and indoor air at all times). Never mind the fear running the mind or the anxiety that creeps in when your kiddo plays too close to another human or the lack of human touch that has plagued so many or having suicidal thoughts of disappearing and coming back when this world is a ‘better place’.
Do you know that more people go to clinics during the holidays for simple concerns like colds, rashes, refills on blood pressure meds and human connection and touch? The visits are usually so simple and fast, but I used to linger when I felt called and listen to their lungs a little longer or their stories of love and loss.
Have you heard of Decolonizing Wellness? It’s a movement in motion and part of it is going beyond Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs into what is known as the Breath of Life Theory, which “considers a holistic nature and more-expansive concepts of time and dimensions of reality” The Slow Factory. Check out the work of Dr. Cindy Blackstock and First Nations Perspective.
According to this model, that is talks about challenging the whitewashed wellness Maslov’s perspective, optimal well-being when all dimensions are found in balance within the individual, the community and the entire collective. Examples include children on welfare increase with caregiver poverty, poor housing and substance abuse. Cultural identity loss and disconnecting from spirituality is correlated with increase of stress-related disorders and substance misuse.
We’re at the beginning of 2021 and though the fire comes through me often and I have to write, my faith and trust in the beautiful, loving, compassionate, unique, mind your own business and let others do their thing, New Earth is strong. It’s actually the only paradigm that lives in me and this madness and darkness that pours out is just part of the unraveling and releasing of the old.
Energy is neither created or destroyed, it is only transformed. The energy that we are putting into trying to fight, control, stop, eradicate whatever ails you-the pandemic, the fear, the loss of so much, fill in the blank- isn’t going to work. It can only be transformed. And for me and my family, I wish for it to be transformed into the change I wish to see. So I work with the medicine inside in order to see that world outside.
The world that is coming and often times here already is beautiful. All it takes is a shift in perspective, a new lens, a wide open heart and the magic of allowing and receiving.
This is my invitation for you to join me.