Trip to West Virginia
Today the group took a long journey to West Virginia from North Carolina. Everyone woke up and changed their sheets, and then had a quick breakfast of cereal, fruit and yogurt. A few students struggled to wake up, but we all eventually got loaded onto the bus by 8am, and we made our way to our new lodgings.
After about four hours of riding in the bus, our first stop was lunch at a highway rest stop restaurant, where the students could sample more typical American food. Some of us had tacos, chicken pot pie, and hamburgers, among other menu choices…
After a quick lunch, we drove a few more minutes to the local coal mining museum. Our tour guide loaded us all up on a coal train and drove us deep into the dripping, cold mine, which was about 400 feet underneath the Earth’s surface.
The tour guide was a miner himself, and he knew a lot about the mining practices in the 1920s up to modern times. He told us about the difficulties and dangers of the mines, like the fact that you had to bend down and squat all day, if you worked in a mine shaft with a low ceiling. He also talked about how to mine for coal in the past vs. the present, and what miners used to eat and drink at work (water, sandwich and cakes).
Our tour guide explained about poverty in the mining community, and how the people owed everything to the mining company. He made light of his own experience with poverty.
Overall, the trip into the mine was one of the highlights for most of the students, since the tour guide was very funny, knowledgeable, and personable, and he joked around with us a lot. He also told us about some of the health effects that his family has experienced because of mining, including about his grandfather, father, and himself, who all have something called black lung disease, which is caused by constantly inhaling particulate matter in the dusty mine shafts.
Following the museum, we made our way back to the bus and traveled another two hours to Welch, where a local women named Shanon prepared us a pasta dinner and talked to us about her job in the local school and the outreach program she started to help women dealing with addiction in the community. She talked briefly about poverty and drug addiction, and the students asked her thoughtful questions. Our time in Welch was short before we got back into the bus and braved a torrential downpour and some carsickness to our final destination – the hotel.
After 12 hours of traveling, we arrived safely at the Mountaineer in Williamson, our home away from home for the week. The students reflected on their good and bad experiences of the day with Monica. Many of them enjoyed the coal mine, but a lot of them had trouble with carsickness on the long ride. Honestly, though, I heard a lot of talking and laughing in the back seats, so I don’t think the car journey was all bad.
Tomorrow, many of the students are excited to finally get to work on their skills and learn how to treat patients in the upcoming days!