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The finely milled sand was white-hot, almost as if a billion microscopic pieces of the sun had rained down and settled beneath the soles of my feet. As I scanned the beach, I took a deep breath of the muggy air, letting the dampness settle in my lungs as I took in the view around me. I was on a gorgeous island where the bleach-white sands were covered with tidy rows of reclining outdoor chairs, the water was an icy-clear blue, and the sound of the ocean was audible from nearly anywhere on land. This isolated strip of heaven on Earth seemed like another planet compared to where I had been just hours earlier.
The streets of Nassau were sweltering in the summer. The stagnant air was a wispy cloak that sat upon the beads of sweat rolling down my temples. Stores that looked like shacks lined the perimeter of the roads, ventilated by the occasional breezes coming off of the rolling ocean tides. A man wearing cutoff jeans, a dark green crewneck T-shirt, and a dingy grey jacket walked down the street. His dark skin reflected the sunlight as he occasionally opened his jacket each time he passed an identifiable tourist. It was obvious what he was doing. The spicy, earthy smell of marijuana wafted off of him, its pungent smell permeating the air that surrounded him. It was just another day dealing, making a profit in a tourist attraction where maybe, just maybe, a person would be willing to have some illegal fun while on a Caribbean vacation. The atmosphere had an easy, bustling vibe. I came across a young boy, maybe eleven at the oldest, sitting behind a plastic table. He was selling straw purses that featured sewn-on patches of popular characters like Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse. I walked up to the table and glanced at the bags; I wasn’t really looking, though. I watched the boy as he told another woman standing at the table how much he was selling the purses for. He explained that they were well-made, and that the materials were taken from Nassau, a true Nassau souvenir. He was skinny; that made his jaw oddly defined for a boy of his age. I waited for him to approach me. He did. He said that he had a bag that I would like. He removed a basket from under the table and pulled out a straw bag dyed with the colors of the rainbow. Instead of commenting on the bag, I asked if his parents helped him run the stand. He told me no; his father was gone, and his mother was too sick to work. He couldn’t remember what her condition was called; it was something with her heart, he said. He told me that his mother was the reason why he worked. I asked if his mother had been to see a doctor. He explained that she had once, but she couldn’t go again for a while because a doctor’s care was expensive. I bought the bag from him and slipped an extra ten dollars into the stack of bills. He put the money into a Crayola box and smiled, thanking me and telling me to have a nice afternoon.
Nearly 60% of Bahamians will die of a chronic disease. Even with over 20% of government spending going toward health services, basic access to healthcare is severely lacking in many areas. The inadequacy can be seen in the long stretches of baking streets where people of every age sit outside, just waiting for the sun to set and the heat to die down. The boy I met last summer had a lasting impact on the way that I saw my life playing out. He truly affirmed my desire to become a doctor, my desire to help people, my desire to save lives, and most importantly, my desire to reduce unnecessary and preventable suffering. That day, I came to the remarkable conclusion that, without health, there is nothing left. That was my first discovery. The next is going to be learning how to make a rainbow purse match my scrubs.
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