My Mexican Viaje del Apapachos

When you travel in a country where the language spoken is not your native tongue, you learn many words and phrases as a matter of necessity: “Please,” “thank you,” and “what time is it?” top the list. Then, there are the more interesting words and sayings—the ones you absorb through conversations and casualties.

In March, a group of IPPF/WHR board members, donors, and staff spent three days learning about Mexfam’s community work and clinical services in Oaxaca, Mexico. During that time, we met community health promoters (promotoras), drove along dusty roads peppered with speed bumps (topes), and sampled the sauces that make the region a culinary destination (moles). Within our group of nine, the ability to communicate in Spanish varied greatly. However, regardless of our individual language skills, apapachar is the one word none of us will forget.

Even without context, “apapachar” has a certain ring to it. Its sound is so different from the words we have in English, yet the ease and cadence of saying it aloud makes "apapachar" unforgettable. A pithy definition of this Spanish verb is “to cuddle.” Yet, depending on the country and context, "apapachar" can also mean to hug or to kiss.

The word made its debut on the first day of our trip. As we gathered for a group photo, the photographer told us to move closer together by saying, “Apapachan les.” We soon learned another meaning for the word: to care for someone when they are sick or to make someone feel loved and nurtured.

The spirit of apapachar permeates every aspect of Mexfam’s work. They provide millions of health services each year, many to people who live in rural and poor communities. They equip young people with education about their health and rights and empower them to make their own decisions about sex and relationships. They also lead advocacy initiatives at the state and national levels to ensure that policies and programs meet individuals' real-life needs.

During our trip (viaje) to Mexico, we met health promoters at Mexfam and learned about innovative programs that deliver much-needed care. By the time we left, we had also learned what it means to feel apapachado.


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