Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I know I said I was going to talk about the incredible staff here today, but I decided that we're going to do that tomorrow instead, because today I'm going to talk about the Bluefields Basic School.

One of the things that appealed to me when I was originally doing research about Bluefields was the fact that, perhaps unlike some of the larger hotels and guest houses here, this family-run resort really seems invested in the local community.  Aside from the fact that they employ so many people from the town to work at the resort, they also give back quite a bit to the community in other ways, and one of the ways is in funding the Bluefields Basic School, a local early childhood education center for three, four and five-year olds in the area.

One of the things we really wanted to do when we came down was to visit and help support the school, and we were so pleased that they weren't yet on summer vacation, so we could actually meet the teachers and the children.  Given that Joe and I are in healthcare (duh), we were particularly interested in earmarking a portion of our contributions towards something related to early childhood health and safety.  As one concrete example, some of the contributions from Bluefields and friends of Bluefields have gone towards subsidizing healthy and fresh school lunches for the kids, some of whom don't always get a chance to eat breakfast before school each morning.

Another reason we wanted to go visit the school, and perhaps a more selfish reason, is just for the sake of keeping perspective in check.  Joe and I are very lucky people, our kids are incredibly blessed, and we're having an unforgettable family vacation.  But part of vacation to a foreign country should be learning about the community you're visiting, and we thought that spending some time at the school would be a interesting and familiar way for Cal to do just that.

Plus, did I mention how adorable these kids are?

That little one, there, in particular, mounted quite the charm offensive.  After I took that photo, she magically extracted camera right out of my hands with the force of SHEER CUTENESS and took all those pictures below. Kid's got talent, right?

Anyway, everyone loves being on vacation, but it's also nice, when being taken such good care of by a community of people, to be able to give something back.  Learn more about Bluefields Bay and their local community initiatives here.  And thanks so much to the Bluefields Basic School for letting us visit on their last day of school!  Have a good summer vacation kids!


  1. Anthony6:10 PM

    That's an ackee tree in the 2nd pic.

    I think visiting the school will be a great experience for Cal and Mack.

  2. Ackee tree: yes, and so pretty! Also not pictured (because little girl jacked my camera) was the breadfruit tree which was dropping giant breadfruits into the yard. I asked the teacher if any kid has ever gotten beaned by a falling breadfruit, and she said not once in the 30+ year history of the school. Those kids must have better reflexes than I.

  3. Anonymous6:20 PM

    your trip is a amazing.
    BUT this trip can be done only when your trip is subsidized by the owners, i feel more and more like reading an advertising which reduces the enjoyment of the blog. you sold out

  4. Anonymous6:31 PM

    The 6:20 anonymous doesn't make sense... so you sold out because the money you saved by blogging went towards a donation to a local school? I think anonymous needs to rethink his/her logic.

    Michelle, the pics are amazing and the place looks beautiful! Enjoy your vacation!!

  5. Anonymous6:39 PM

    (Anonymous #3 here)

    We came to your site because we wanted to hear what's been going on in your life. You told us at the onset that you had a deal with Bluefields going on, and I'm impressed by what a conscientious business they've turned out to be.

    Anonymous #1, nobody MADE you read to the end but yourself.

    Also - that little girl's pictures are beautiful!

  6. Sylar7:19 PM

    I totally get where Anonymous is coming from. She HAS sold out, and she can't have it both ways: you can't profit commercially from a website, but then expect absolutely no public criticism of the choices you publicly put out there via that website. You've made it a very public domain and you've profited from it financially. People are going to have their critiques; both Michelle and her readers would do well to accept that, and move on.

  7. Anonymous8:05 PM

    Sold out? How in the world is this selling out? She's getting paid to write, something she's already done with her book. Should she not have gotten money from her publisher, too? She's not a journalist. If she wants to use her blog for anything - whether freebies, ads, or even a run for the presidency - why shouldn't she? Next it'll be said that since Atlantans needing surgery will want her as their anesthesiologist after reading the blog, that's advertising too, and she should forgo her salary.

    Michelle, I think you should keep blogging daily, but don't read the comments until you get back. I'd hate to think your idyllic vacation is being married in any way. People seem to think you owe them something. You owe us nothing but entertainment. And if you fail to deliver that, we'll just stop reading.

  8. Anonymous8:19 PM

    I am a big fan of your writing, but something about this post feels exploitative. I could be wrong.

  9. Anonymous 8:19, I think you might be feeling some of the sentiments expressed in this piece here:

    Which is not to be overly critical of Michelle's blog, in which she can do whatever the f*ck she wants because it's hers, BUT I think that the sentiments in that piece are what Anonymous 8:19 is feeling.

    And would also like to add that by posting more pictures taken BY one of the children rather than pictures taken OF one of the children, Michelle is taking a major step in a progressive direction.

    Clear as mud? This is a hard conversation and Michelle I applaud you for opening up the space to have it.

  10. Michelle - I'll add a positive voice to the conversation and say that I enjoyed and appreciated this post. I think that posts such as these inevitably come across as being a bit exploitative, because they use the suffering and challenges of others as material for writing, but I think it's still better to be aware of the suffering of others and to draw attention to it than to pretend it doesn't exist. Thanks for the post.

  11. I really like the pictures though. I like to see the local scenes, food, and people as seen through your eyes. For some it may seem exploitative, but for me it's another window to a world that makes me want to see even more of the outside world.

    The unfortunate downside of tourism in many places is that exploitation is inherent as something that is designed to draw in money into the local economy. It's no different than someone visiting San Francisco's Chinatown to take pictures and blog about the experience and how they admire (or were disgusted by) the marketplace-feel of the streets. People who admire the old buildings and "Oriental" feel do it at the expense of the people who actually reside IN the dilapidated buildings. It happens everywhere at varying levels, some innocently and others with more devious intent.

    There are more important things to point fingers and protest about that affect people in much more serious ways. Besides - who the hell is crazy enough to reject a partially-comped vacation?!

  12. Anonymous11:30 PM

    While it's great, definitely, to see all the kids, I guess I'm also concerned that no one really asked their permission (or their parents') about being displayed so publicly here. I'm not sure that should have happened, even if a kid was taking the pictures. Just my thought!

  13. Anonymous11:32 PM

    It's exploitative because she is clearly trying to showcase some kind of "do-good" mentality by using the children of this school to curry favor on some website. It is no coincidence that after being criticized about the freebie nature of her trip, Michelle is suddenly going all Mother Theresa with the poor little Jamaican children- and documenting it extensively to showcase on her website. It feels exploitative because IT IS exploitative. It's sickening.

  14. Anonymous11:39 PM

    When she started this blog years ago, it served as her creative outlet in med school in addition to letting her friends and family and ahem Mau's Moments fans know what she was up to (instead of, you know, sending mass emails to everyone). I truly feel like her target audience today isn't that far removed from her original audience. Her psychology today column and "professional" website and her book, well that is a different story - criticism is to be expected and constructive criticism an discussion welcome, I would imagine. But her blog is different - it's like a friend telling you about her day! And the criticism displayed in these comments -- I wouldn't be surprised if she closed comments for a period of time like she did around the time she was expecting Mack.

    (Re: bluefields, not unlike a friend scoring free tickets to a concert or exhibit or meal in exchange for writing about it. Big f'n deal.)

    Michelle, I went to college with you and am a fellow physician mom and it makes me smile to think I have been a fan for over a third of my life! Thank you for the gift of your writing and photos and I hope you continue to share sense of humor and point of view with us on your blog!

    Signed, Embarrassed to sign my real name because I'll either be really shy and look down at the ground OR I'll squeal like a crazy justin beiber fan if I ever met you in real life

  15. Monica12:44 AM

    "Sickening?" Really? Whatever happened to "worth talking about" or maybe that old lit-crit standby, "problematic?" Anyone who finds these photos (including the ones taken by the student) and blog post truly "sickening" must lead a very, very sheltered life.

  16. Hey everyone,

    Thank you for all the comments, I do appreciate them and know everyone's opinions come from a good place. Joe and I make much bigger and more difficult decisions in our everyday lives--the decision to make this trip and in particular to help this school was an easy one. Please don't let me and your personal feelings about blogging and perceived opportunism confuse the issue, which is quite simply that the world is a big place and we should all do what we can.

    Also, let's not talk about "do-gooderism" so dismissively. Joe and I are doctors. Doing good is what we live for. And if I made any one mistake, perhaps it's talking about it publicly.

    Thanks again everyone, appreciate the input.

  17. Anonymous8:43 AM

    I think Michelle had good intentions here, but I too found the post exploitative. I am a teacher in the US, and I wouldn't want my students displayed like that. Again, good intentions, but I think this one crossed the line.

  18. Anonymous8:51 AM

    Wow, some of the comments took my breath away, they are so...mean. I know the blog is public but would you really say these things face to face, away from the cloak of anonymity?

    BTW, not once did Michelle use the words "poor little Jamaican children".

    Clearly, Cal had fun at the school, tire swing and all!


  19. Moppie9:13 AM

    Your full size pictures are gorgeous. Did you really take those with your iphone or did you bring your Nikon camera for those? Really beautiful :)

  20. Anonymous9:25 AM

    I agree with Susan above - I'm shocked by some of these negative comments. Dr. Au has stopped sharing medical stories... if she can't write about personal stories, what can she talk about? It would be sad if she stops writing on this blog because people are so mean.

    Why are people so quick to judge and criticize anyway? How do you know that the locals don't know that she's posting photos? How do you know that they aren't happy about that? How does it concern you what her vacation budget is? Why do you care if she wants to be frugal despite her income?

    Maybe the people who are so quick to judge should take an introspective look at themselves. Are they lashing out because they're not so happy and secure themselves?

    - Another (Canadian) Michelle

  21. Hilary10:43 AM

    It absolutely baffles me how some of the commenters are so quick to label this post exploitative. Give me a break. Michelle took time on her vacation to support the local community, and then shared that experience. I for one thought that was a pretty cool idea, and something I might explore the next time I take an international trip.

    It's actually kind of a condescending attitude to take toward the school and the children- 'those poor little impoverished kids, see how Michelle exploits their plight to make herself look good'! Michelle didn't talk about visiting an underprivileged, poverty-stricken school, she talked about giving something back to the local community, which I think is admirable, whether that community is in a more rural part of Jamaica or a local school in the states filled with white kids. And what a great way to expose your own kids to some cultural differences.

    Seriously, get off your high horses and reel in the indignance. If you think vacation is better spent laying on the beach sipping cocktails, that's fine, but no need to clobber Michelle with disgruntled finger-pointing because she chose to do this instead. I would be willing to bet that not once did the notion, "ooh, this would look really good on my blog" factor into her decision.

  22. Anonymous11:28 AM

    I have no problem with the partly-funded vacation, and I thank you, Michelle, for your transparency about it. I have no problem with the trip to the school, and I think it's great that you're helping this community -- and so great for both Cal and the kids at the school to have gotten a chance to meet each other. And I think it's great that you're blogging about the experience. And I'd also be the first to say, as an avid reader of your blog who also tremendously enjoyed your book, that you are a very naturally giving person. I think it's evident to all of your readers anyway, but also perfectly fine to say that was you were conscious about giving back in this instant. And I'm sure this transparency was helpful, too, in talking to Cal about the experience.

    But -- as an educator, I draw the line about the pictures. My school (the US, so expectations in Jamaica may be way different) has an explicit no cameras rule, probably mainly to avoid pictures up on Facebook, but it's also about protecting the kids' privacy and being sure to get parental permission if images are to be used. I am guessing, given that you were there for just one day and maybe didn't have a solid plan yet for the pictures, that you didn't check in with the parents. This is not an egregious mistake, definitely not, but I do think it was a mistake.

  23. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Please, people, let’s all take a deep breath. Yes, Michelle is being compensated for her words and pictures, but no, it in no way influences what she writes. The Bluefields team does indeed provide absolutely everything you need at any time during your stay without question, just a “no problem”. My family and I stayed there last year and are returning in just a few months.

    Ask to see the school and you’re there. Need a reggae band and they’ll get you one. Need something from the store and someone will go for you. They do your laundry; they serve everything on a silver platter with that wonderful Jamaican smile; they take care of your children if you want; and they are always there, yet always out of sight. Michelle couldn’t exaggerate the excellence of Bluefields, the staff and the Moncure family if she tried. Every word is true.

  24. Anonymous12:18 PM

    I am not an educator. I am not a doctor. I don't ride a high horse. I am a person who reads Michelle's blog because she makes me laugh and I love seeing how she's raising her kids and balancing her life - part of balance is vacation. As part of her vacation, she visited this school - this is her life and her blog (and ironically very in line with Wellesley's motto: non ministrari sed ministrare). As someone said before, if you don't want to read it, you don't have to. If you think it's so exploitive, STOP READING. Take ownership of your own involvement instead of blaming Michelle for posting what is happening in her life.

    Who knows, maybe she did ask permission to take pictures - or maybe Bluefields gave her permission as part of their deal thinking that people would be happy to find out that there are companies out there that give back to the community. Who would have thought that there would be such backlash for posting pictures of smiling kids.

    As I said before, I enjoy reading Michelle's blog. I enjoyed reading her comics in college. I think her kids are adorable and I'm happy for all of her success.

  25. Victoria2:36 PM

    Yes, when exactly did it become such a crime to take pictures and show them to other people? It happens all the time on Facebook.

  26. Med2B1:36 PM

    PEOPLE ARE JEALOUS!!! Ignore them Dr. Au, you are an AMAZING person. I LOOOOOVED this post.

    You have inspired me to do the same. Next time I take a vacation, I won't just think of myself. I'll also think of directly or indirectly helping others who are less fortunate than I am.