Okay, campers, we are so over the Guatemalan air-card-internet thing. When I got back, my students were having, not just cows, but a whole barnful of livestock because our email and
internet server at school had gone down on the very afternoon that they had a major paper due. For some reason, they think 100 points is a big deal . . .I have passed through tired and am floating in a poisonous pink cloud of my own exhaustion, but I would do it again — well, with a titanium hip. (And this is because, to quote Terry Pratchett, the Miami airport is Hell on the day they forgot the matches.)
NOW, though, you can see the good stuff. When we last spoke, we were scrambling back from an afternoon in a “nearby” village only an hour and a half away. That was just softening us up. The following morning, we loaded into cattle trucks (four-wheel-drive mountain taxis with rails for hauling people standing up) and really went into the wilderness. We will never call anyplace in Virginia remote again.
After two and a half hours on roads that were mostly the width and maintenance of our forest-service roads, only engineered by goats, we came out in La Lima, a village at the end of the drivable path. In a couple of adobe buildings there, we would see hundreds of people. Our road led over this volcanic rock, right across its shoulder there at the right. This view is looking toward home for a given value of home; at the point where this photo was taken, we are about two hours from our house of rest.
The clinic was made up of a broad mix of people, all of them needing the usual things — antibiotics, stomach medicine, ibuprofen, anti-parasitic meds, and mostly, attention. It was a very long day, but at the end of it, as we were packing the tables and getting ready to load out, the whole crowd stood on the hillside and sang “Days of Elijah” — doctors, nurses, pharmacists, support staff, ministers, everybody. The Mayans clapped along and smiled. It could not have been more different from Monday, where the village had had NO western contact and eyed us like we were nuts.
Perhaps we were nuts, but the thing about this short-term stuff is, it creates life in people. Not just the Mayans, but us, too. The students were learning a lot of things about medicine–hundreds of ears to look in and hearts to listen to–but they were also learning about how to treat people with compassion, how to value people just because they’re people, and how to create common ground across cultures. The kids ran around the buildings, coloring the pictures Karen had brought, and making bead necklaces. Their mamas sat in the shade and fanned themselves, every one of them in her best clothes. (And every one of them with a towel wrapped around her shoulders. I actually picked up one of these towels and handed it to a dignified Señora in the Miami airport. I will grant that they might be handy, but as a fashion statement . . . ) The men, especially here, came in with machete injuries, coughs, ulcers. It was a lively day.
I digress. Usually in a clinic, the doctors are what get things backed up, but out there in the villages, it was translators. I was
worth my weight in gold, and I was by far the worst one. At one point, late in the day when my dry mouth could not roll another “r,” I am pretty sure I asked a random woman if I had worms. I KNOW I told someone that the doctor was going to look in her cooking oil, and at one point, I blasted a string of Spanish at the med. student and translated that into English for the stunned Mayan. I could not, at the end of the day, remember the word for “breastfeeding” and had to use hand motions. Thank goodness we were not talking about embarrassing rashes.
When the day was over, as our vehicle narrowly avoided being hit head-on by a Volkswagen delivery van on a blind curve, and as we wound our way across the gray, volcanic landscape, I had one of those, “Am I really doing this?” moments. Watching the world go by out the window — the houses stacked on each steep hillside, the shoals of children walking home from school, the nearly-dry river beds — it all seemed strange and unreal. How many hands had we held, babies caressed, anxious mamas soothed? It ran together until I was waking up back at Songs of Joy.
Tomorrow: San Jacinto, the evils of pickup trucks, and how to do surgery in a gymnasium. (With photos!)