I’m sitting in Guatemala City packed and waiting for tomorrow. The end of this journey is unavoidable. The last week has been painfully good. We spent everyday with the team from Heart to Heart working, then I would return to Patanatic in the afternoon to try and wrap things up there.
Each day I found myself saying goodbye to another person or family. Through the tragedy of Agatha, incredible relationships and bonds were formed. On Thursday, I had a short opportunity to say farewell to Rosa and Guillermo. On Friday, Cesar invited the team of volunteers over to his house for coffee. It was incredible to have my friends sit in the house of Cesar and experience the things that I have for the last four weeks. They served us café and pan, the usual, and Cesar had the opportunity to meet the two volunteers who will be living in the house for the next seven weeks. You can follow their journey at theviewfrompatanatic.tumblr.com.
When it came time to leave, Cesar’s mother was especially moved. It was hard to let go of this family as I feel they have accepted me as their own. They all expressed hope for my safe return and for the health of my family in the US. It is hard to understand or comprehend the sense of gratitude I have found here; from people who have very little, and face great adversity. The day after Agatha ripped through the community cutting off all access to the outside world, stripping the town of electricity, water, and flooding homes with mud, the people pick up and start over again. It is very easy for me to get frustrated for the people here. Its like they can never get a foot up, they are always recovering from something. And yet, you would never get that from their demeanor.
Friday, as I was walking down to catch the bus to head back to Pana, Louis (brother of Guillermo) came running down the hill. He had talked to Dan, who had told him I was leaving. I could see the emotions built up behind is eyes. He expressed his great thanks for our help, and for our friendship. He told me he wished for my quick return and that he will see me again soon. The words were very few and simple, because he knew I still don’t know much Spanish, but the nonverbal communication worked wonders.
I returned to Patanatic again late Friday night to help the girls get settled into their new house. It was fun to see their excitement and to imagine all the experiences they will have in the next seven weeks. Jose came over to bid his farewell, and I introduced him to the new team. The last week has given me time to accept the fact that my time here is concluding. And now as I sit here in Guatemala City, I can do nothing but accept it. The last five weeks have changed me, without a doubt. Through much trauma and adventure, joy and agony, frustration and excitement, despair and hope, and I have somehow survived. I can’t begin to identify the things I have learned from my experience, and I am sure it will unfold in the coming weeks and years. I want to thank all of you for being a part of this journey with me. Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts and your prayers. Not only did I find a loving community here in Guatemala, I have been encouraged and inspired by the community from which I have come.
Thank you all for your support. I could not have survived without you.
The last few days have been a blur. On Sunday, a group of volunteers arrived to spend the week with us. Their arrival was a little bittersweet. Many of my friends are part of the group, but I knew that their arrival signified the final chapter of my time here. Not entirely willing to accept this, I talked with Jorge immediately after her arrived about the possibility of staying another week. He shut me down pretty fast. He said if I didn’t leave when I was supposed to, then I never would. “Go back, and get more experience. Then you can return.”
Monday and Tuesday we spent visiting every school in the Lake area where Heart to Heart is connected. Tuesday we met with the mayor of San Antonio to get another idea of how they were managing since we met them last week. The city seemed to be in much better condition. The frenzied havoc that seemed rampant among the streets had settled, and large amounts of aid have arrived. The mayor informed us that the national government was going to help purchase the materials needed for the water pipes, and until then, they had other ways of coping.
We also made a visit to the town closest to San Antonio, Santa Catarina. Santa Catarina lost a number of homes as well as two girls to the storm. Heart to Heart was able to donate 21 water filters to the school, so that all the teachers’ classrooms could have clean water.
Today we spent the day in Patanatic. The morning we spent working the clinic, and getting hands on the supplies that we have spent the last year raising money for. It was very difficult work, but very good work. For lunch, Jorge told me the teachers had prepared a little something for us and asked if we could eat it at the house. Dan and I prepared salsa and guacamole for the group the morning before, so I said it would be perfect. By the time everyone arrived, the total of our group was around 30. The teachers prepared chuchitos, a tamale-like wrap with sauce and meat in the middle. Then, the unveiled the key to my heart, Tres Leches. One of the teachers had made the cake, lined with peaches just for the special occasion. The event turned into a goodbye celebration for me and I didn’t even realize it. Cesar, the principal, had arranged a certificate to be made for me that was signed by the mayor, himself, and leader for the community Cocode. I am deeply humbled by the gifts of the people. I can’t explained the connection that has formed with them in the last few weeks, but it is unlike any other I have had in my life.
My time is almost finished here, and yes I pains me a little to think about it. The time here has been difficult, exciting, mysterious, adventurous, fearful, and simply rich. There are still three days left here with a lot of territory to cover.
Where do I begin. Tropcial Storm Agatha. Three days no electricity, no water. A whirlwind of activity, and Heart to Heart is able to purchase the materials to replace the broken water lines. An assessment trip to San Antonio Palopo. San Antonio suffered a devastating loss; 19 dead, 2 missing, and an estimated 150 families without homes.
We returned to San Antonio on Thursday, and were lead through the town to the site of the major mudslide. An entire family of 11 was lost in one house. The scene was very difficult to take in. Rescue workers still digging through mud, after 5 days still searching for the missing bodies of two children. Standing at the site, you imagine the scenes and sounds that took place last Saturday. I will admit, that type of trauma takes a lot on your body. After a few hours of walking through the town, my head was hurting.
Our goal in San Antonio was to discover what aid was needed and see where we can join in. Heart to Heart was able to donate about $500 worth of meds to the clinic in San Antonio. The main problem is water. San Antonio is a town of 7,000 people and they have been without water since Saturday. The spring that they draw water from is about 24 kilometers away from the town, across mountains, rivers, and canyons. The town is only accessible by boat, because the road on either side of the town has been taken out by mudslides. When we were there on Thursday, it seemed like chaos. No one was working together. The government was working over here, the teachers working over there, and a community group in that place over there. And they were all angry with the other. And everyone had a different answer to what was being done about the water situation. Our team consisted of Dan, Cesar (the principal from Patanatic), and Jackie (woman we met through the Garcia family, she has been with us since Agatha and helping translate. We would be nowhere without her). I will admit, it was one of the most frustrating days I have had since arriving here. The town is a desperate situation, but they aren’t coordinating together to accomplish the things that are the most vital to survival. We left San Antonio with spirits crushed, and feeling like we accomplished nothing. That night we had a conference call with Jorge, and brainstormed what to do next. Jorge urged that we help the town work together, to empower collaboration to help restore the town. Cesar said he would make some calls, and attempt to get a meeting with the mayor of San Antonio, so we could get the real story of what was being done about the water.
Friday morning, Cesar calls and says he has a meeting with three members of the Consejo. Jackie and Dan are unable to attend, so Cesar and I head out for San Antonio. When we arrive, the mayor is there and we have the opportunity to talk with him. It turns out, they haven’t inspected the water lines yet, but they do have an estimate of the materials needed to repair the damage. Unfortunately, its 24 kilometers of work on a near-deadly trail. The list of materials is enormous. Even if we could raise the money, its not a efficient fix. Say we fix the 24 kilometers of pipe, what happens when the next storm comes? One person told us when Tropical Storm Stan hit in 2005, it was 8 months before they had water again. That is unacceptable.
We know of another organization called Mercado Global who has a donor who wants to help the town rebuild their water system, and has a team of engineers (again this is all what we hear). Jackie, Dan, Cesar, and I brainstorm the idea of building a new water system. One that pumps water from the lake, filters the water, and distributes it to the town. And apparently, the team at Mercado Global is thinking the same thing. But we have failed to connect with them. We spent all day today trying to get a hold of our contact there, but we haven’t yet. The plan now is to still try and make contact with them. Cesar has scheduled for us another meeting with the mayor on Monday, so that Jorge can be there.
Today most of our efforts went into putting together a party. Jackie had the marvelous idea of having a celebration, in honor of water and electricity. We invited the Garcia family, Cesar and his family, the members of the Agua Commuté, and the Cocodé (from what I understand, this is the main leadership group in Patanatic). It was a huge celebration. Guillermo and his family brought tables and chairs to help us fill the house. Over 40 people came over for dinner. Towards the end, we ran out of food and had to scramble to make pasta. But, buy the end of the night everyone had eaten, and Los Hermanos Garcia entertained us with music.
I can’t explain what has happened in the last week. Last Saturday, Dan and I sat in our house wondering if we would make it out alive. There is a feeling of complete helplessness as you sit there and listen to the rain pouring down. Then, to see the community pull together and accomplish the incredibly difficult task of repairing their water lines, within a few days. Then, within a matter of hours on the same day, to have electricity and water return to the community. The last week has given me the opportunity to become more intimate with the families here. It is making it so much more difficult to leave. Rosa, a member of the Garcia clan, is known in as a Healer. She has studied natural medicine her whole life. Cesar has devoted much of his time the last three days to helping San Antonio with us. Jackie has been volunteering practically full time with Heart to Heart. She has moved into the house with Dan and I, and gives the house a fresh flair. All this to say, I’m getting sucked in here. I’m becoming a little addicted.
Hello all, sorry no updates recently. We have been without power. Here is a report I submitted to Heart to Heart of the events from the last days. Thanks for all your prayers!
To Heart to Heart, and whom it may concern:
This is a recap of the events from the last few days. Saturday morning, Dan Cool and I received word a tropical storm was headed for Central America, and Guatemala was expected to take a direct hit. We gathered together supplies and prepared for the worst. It had been raining for the past few days, and as the time passed it only picked up. Somewhere around 7 or 8 in the evening on Saturday seemed to be the worst. We had lost power and water by then, so Dan and I were simply waiting in the house. At one point, I stepped out the front door and shined my flashlight to the right of our house to see a river of mud rushing by. Our neighbors to the left of us (Guillermo Garcia Garcia) evacuated shortly after to be with the rest of their family.
By about 9, the rain appeared to stop. I noticed Guillermo had returned and was retrieving things from his house. I asked if he needed help and he said his parent’s house had been flooded with mud. Dan and I spent the next hour and a half shoveling mud out of our neighbor’s house. We returned to bed that night with spirits high, until the rain started again.
We awoke the next morning to blue skies. I walked outside our house to discover two mudslides on either side of our house. The larger one to the south of our house had narrowly missed our Guillermo’s house by only a few meters. As I walked to the north side, a family had begun to shovel the mud out of their house and we worked with them for about an hour. After, the family fed us breakfast and we headed out to assess the rest of the town. Guillermo’s father’s house had mud in another part, so Dan and I set out to helping the family again. Most of the day was spent shoveling, and assessing the damage to the community. We discovered the main road to Panajachel had extensive damage from mudslides. Luckily, no families had homes completely destroyed and no one was injured.
A friend of the Garcia family arrived on Sunday afternoon. Her name is Jackie Garrido, and she has spent the last four days helping us communicate with the community leaders. Jackie has been working with the Garcia family for the past four months forming a women’s collation working with fabric. As we talked with the Garcia brothers (Guillermo, Louis, and Rolando) we questioned them about the water problem. It appeared that Rolando was part of the Community Water Committee and said we needed to go assess the damage to the pipes tomorrow. Unfortunately, the problem laid in getting money to purchase the broken materials. They would ask the municipality of Panajachel to purchase them, but the officials take so long that it is ineffective and could take days to weeks. The next step is to ask families for donations for the materials, but they are already financially stressed as is. We made the proposal that Heart to Heart could offer to pay for part of the supplies, and it was decided that we would leave early the next morning to assess the damage.
During the afternoon, we discovered the Garica family had a band called Los Hermanos Garcia. They offered to coming sing for us so we made plans for them to come to our house in the evening. As Dan and I were preparing dinner, the band arrived. Five brothers, each with an instrument, crowded into our dining room. By the light of our candles, the Garcia brothers sang praises in harmony for us. It was an incredible scene to see these men in our house, after a day of such calamity and disaster. I don’t know if I have ever experienced such a wide variety of emotions within 24 hours. Much had occurred within the past day to crush the spirits of this community, but here was a family, offering praises through their music. It was a scene that gave me great hope for the days ahead. Dan and I offered the food we had to the Garcia family. It was barely enough for everyone and we had to share cups and plates, but we made it work.
Monday morning we set out at 7:00 AM. Patanatic receives its water from two springs in the mountains. The primary spring lies about 3 miles away across two mountains. The hike to the primary spring was incredibly treacherous and dangerous. The trail had been knocked out in a number of places by mudslides. We observed a number of breaks and headed for the second spring. The second spring had damage to it as well, but with the assessment we had made throughout the day, we were able to develop a list of materials needed to fix the problem. I had been communicating with Jorge Coromac every few hours since the storm hit, and he told me we needed a price before we could offer them anything. So we raced to Panajachel to get an estimate for the materials (the roads had been cleared on Monday by machines provided by the government). The total for the parts was 6,400 quetzales. I communicated this with Jorge, and he responded with the generous donation of Q5,000.
As we arrived back into Patanatic, Rolondo Garcia Garcia asked us to present the materials to the Agua Commuté (Community Water Committee). Dan, Jackie and I presented the materials to a very thankful and gracious leadership. They explained that in the morning, 20 volunteers would be ready to begin installation. Work was to begin at 7:00 AM.
When we arrived to work on Tuesday morning, over 60 men were gathered to work. The group, led by Rolondo Garcia Garcia, split into two groups to tackle the two separate springs. I was amazed by the response of the community. Word had spread that materials were available and help was needed, and community responded. The men spent the entire day, till six in the evening, repairing breaks in the pipe beginning at the very beginning of the springs. At the end of the day, most of the repairs had been made, and Rolondo explained that hopefully tomorrow, they would finish with the repairs.
That night, Dan, Jackie, and I had the opportunity to have coffee with Guillermo and his wife. Jackie helped translate and Guillermo again expressed his thanks on behalf of the community. He told us that their hearts were full with gratitude for the response of Heart to Heart. They had made it possible for this community to respond quickly to the disaster. The whole community is aware of what Heart to Heart has done, and all are extremely thankful for making this happen.
And now, with much adu, and I happy to announce that this afternoon (Wednesday), Patanatic received its’ first gallons of fresh water since Saturday. Patanatic is the first community to successfully respond to the water dilemma since Tropical Storm Agatha struck on Saturday, and this is due in large part to the donation by Heart to Heart. The community of Patanatic thanks you, and I thank you. This donation will not be soon forgotten by the community. Again, tonight, as we shared coffee with Rosa, another member of the Garcia family, she explained that Heart to Heart is the first organization to reside full-time in this community, and this is very meaningful to them. She expressed hope for more collaboration in the coming weeks, months, years for healthier families, and a healthier community.
If there is anything more I can add it is this: Heart to Heart is making a profound impact on this community. With your help, you have responded quickly to disaster, prevented potential health problems, and continued to build the incredible reputation of a caring organization. There is much work left to be done here in Patanatic and in the surrounding communities, and hopefully Heart to Heart can respond with swift compassion.
Two weeks of Spanish school. Done. I’m feeling as though my skills have improved a little, either that or people are talking more simply to me. As least I can manage my way around town and am able to coordinate plans with Cesar.
As I was waiting for the bus to leave this morning, the sick father that I have been visiting arrived at the bus stop on his way to work. He said he was feeling much better and his son was better as well. It was a relief to see him out of the house and headed to work.
At the end of class, Dan and I had a Skype conference with the team that is coming in June. It was great to see you all, and we are extremely excited for your arrival!
It has been raining steady for the past three days, so that slowing things down a bit. Dan and I have spent the last two afternoons in the house trying to study Spanish, and plan out what needs to be done in the next week. Here is what we have come up with:
Since health assessments are not working, I am moving to plan B. I proposed to Jorge that I travel around the lake to all the clinics and hospitals to develop an idea of what organizations we might be able to partner with in the future. This will help us develop a demographic of the services offered, and where we can possibly refer patients. Dan is determined to coordinate with the construction leaders on the clinic and offer suggestions where needed. His parents are arriving on Monday, so we will also have some guests next week.
The eruption of the volcano Pacaya has been the topic of many discussions around town. We haven’t felt any of the effects, I think primarily because of the storm system that is hovering over us right now. The rain has us a little nervous and Dan and I are developing a plan in case we lose power or water supply.
On anther note, Dan and I have decided to make the trip to Tikal. After much collaboration with Pedro, he seems to have found us the best deal that will include us picking up Dan’s parents from Guatemala City on Monday. The plan is to leave Saturday afternoon at 4:00, drive through the night and arrive at Tikal at 7:00 AM Sunday morning. We’ll leave Tikal Sunday night at 9:00 and arrive back in Guatemala City by 9:00 AM Monday morning, and wait in the city until Dan’s parents arrive at 2:00 in the afternoon.
Dan and I took our ritual trip into Panajachel for Friday night dinner and music at the Circus Bar. The rain didn’t seem to deter too many people away and the food was delicious as ever. Pedro arrived late into the evening, and it seemed he had a fair amount to drink already. He had one more offer to make us in regards to the trip: his friend would take us on a private bus the entire way, but it was more than triple what we were already paying. We respectfully declined, and he didn’t seem too offended. We had a few more drinks in honor of our friendship (well, Pedro said tonight we were not friends, we were brothers!) and headed out. Pedro handed Dan the keys to his Moped, and the three of us squeezed on and rode to Pedro’s house in the pouring rain. He wanted us to take the Moped back to Patantic, so we set out for our home.
The headlights on Pedro’s bike don’t exactly work well, so luckily I had my trusty flashlight sent by the one and only Zach Phillips. And this is no ordinary flashlight, not only will it reach from Patanatic to Panajachel, it also will double as a weapon in case of emergency. Using it as our guide, we weaved our way up the mountain. About 500 feet from Patanatic, the bike ran out of gas. This night was just not going to end. I helped Dan push the bike up to the office, and decided it would be a safe place to store it for the night.
Only a 150 ft climb to our house, and we could call it a day. The rain kept coming, and thankfully, my trash bag kept my core dry. The rest of me was not so lucky.
The clouds rolled away this morning and revealed the majestic volcano, San Pedro, on the other side of the lake. The view was the clearest I have seen it since I have arrived, and it was a nice view as I sipped my café.
School seemed to go very well, and quick, this morning. I went to Mike’s coffee shop on my break for a cinnamon roll. As I was snacking, a man came in and asked Mike if he was closing today. Mike said absolutely not. I thought it was a strange question, until the man explained that the prices for electricity were doubling, and all the shop owners in Panajachel were going to protest. Mike again denied, and said he would remain open. I didn’t think much of it again until it was time for me to leave Panajachel.
As we approached the edge of town in the taxi, I could see a line of cars. And they weren’t moving. We stopped at a blockade of trees and boulders that had been strewn across the road. The driver said this is as far as we go and everyone hopped out. At this time the rain began to fall. Many people were huddled under a guard shack, so I quickly made my way over to escape the rain. I got my trash bag out and put it over myself as one man explained the protest to me.
I had a choice, make my way through the debris in the road and walk back to Patanatic, or go back to Panajachel and hope that the roads would eventually open up. I opted for the first choice.
I set out for Patanatic with my pants rolled up and my trash bag covering my essentials. The rain was falling at a pretty good rate, and Patanatic was about 3 miles away. By about halfway there, I was completely drenched. But I didn’t really care. I was enjoying the adventure and singing at the top of my lungs as I walked down the middle of the road. The entire way, trees had been chopped down, and boulders rolled out into the road to prevent traffic from entering or leaving the city. Hopefully, things get settled soon.
By the time I arrived home, it was mid-afternoon and I was soaked to the bone. I didn’t think health assessments were going to take place today, so I got out of my wet clothes and took the afternoon to work on my Spanish.
Later in the afternoon, I visited the sick family. The boy said he felt better, but his lungs told a different story. They sounded very congested and wet, and I fear he has an infection. So I told his mother she needs to take him to the doctor. His mother has a serious ear infection, and his father was sick in the bedroom unable to come out. It’s a very difficult situation to see. The whole family cramped in a little house, all sick sharing each other’s germs. If anything, it is a scene that is motivation for me. For them, it’s a death trap; a slippery slope of sickness, and unable to work, and not having money to see a doctor or pay for medicine. And so the cycle goes…
Dan and I had no dinner plans ready for tonight, so we were contemplating going into town to see what we could find. I called Pedro to see if the road had opened up yet, and he said no. I wanted a second opinion, so I called Jose. He reaffirmed Pedro’s information and warned us not to go unless we absolutely had to. It wasn’t a necessity, so we decided to stay in for the evening and Jose wound up coming over to eat with us.
It was a very good time talking with Jose. He was sorry to hear about Dan’s accident. While we were talking, Cesar and his mother showed up with a melon for us. I think it was mainly for Dan, but I was still glad to see them. Now it is beginning to feel like a real house. Friends stopping by to visit, to check up on us, and even join us for a bite to eat. I could get used to this.
Jose stayed for most of the evening and shared many stories about life in Guatemala. It is hard to believe the type of lives people live here, and how little they can get by on. Jose was telling me that a typical job in Panajachel would earn, in one month, what I am going to earn in one day when I start that the hospital. And I have to wonder if that is right. I mean I wonder, how could it be that we live in such different worlds? What I can earn in 12 hours, one person will labor for a month or longer to earn. Now I don’t think I consider any one person to be at fault for this disparity. And certainly I don’t want to impose guilt on anyone. But this just doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t have the answer to what is to be done, or how to close the gap between the great divide. But I hope I never forget that scene: at least five people sleeping in the same room, three of them sick in a damp, dark house.
“Okay,” I said as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I heard Dan outside my room rustling around. I opened the door to find him at the sink of the bathroom looking in the mirror and holding tissues to his face. Dan likes to get up early and ride his bike before many people get on the road. Unfortunately, this morning Dan took a bit of a spill.
I went over to Dan and took a look at his face. He had a huge gash on his upper lip right under his nose.
“It looks like you are going to need some stitches.” The gash in his lip was quite deep. It looked like the flesh of his lip had been peeled back by the road. Luckily, his teeth were okay and the cut had not gone through his lip. He had scratches all over his face and on his hands and wrists. Dan had been smart and had been wearing his helmet. Safety first!
Guillermo, our neighbor, had helped Dan up our drive and was still there in the doorway. I told him we needed stitches, and he said we could possibly get them in Panajachel, at the Center for Health. Guillermo called the emergency services for us to take us there. They arrived 15 minutes later, and the volunteer paramedic was, go figure, an American.
They took us down to Panajachel where we hoped to get Dan stitched up. The paramedic had only lived in Guatemala for the past eight months, but had been a paramedic for over twenty years in the states. He was the only one in unit that spoke English. What are the chances?
We arrived at the Center for Health, where Dan was able to get stitched up by a Guatemalan doctor who was educated in Cuba. At the end, we asked if we could pay, but it was all free. No payment necessary.
Needless to say Spanish classes for the day were shot. I sent Dan back home in a taxi, and I ran a few errands in town. When I finally made it back to the house in Patantic, I realized I had lost my cell phone. We needed some other supplies for the house, so I headed back into town. I thought I might have lost my phone in the ambulance so I headed for the station. On my way there, I ran into Pedro, and told him all about Dan’s accident. Pedro quickly offered to help and we hopped on his Moped. For the next couple hours, Pedro and I raced around town on his bike picking up necessities. The phone turned up at the fire station, and all was resolved. Pedro came up to Patanatic to check on Dan, and was sincerely sorry for him.
It is an odd way to start your day, to wake up to your roommate clutching his face asking for help. We are lucky it wasn’t any more worse, it very easily could have been. Dan still has all his teeth, and there seems to be no brain damage, yet. No just joking, he is all there.
Health assessments were waiting for me at 2 so I headed to the office. I still doubt the effectiveness of my assessments. They seem to be very futile. I have no medicine to offer, and I have very little education to offer. The communication barrier seems insurmountable. Jorge and I had a long talk this evening and decided that something needs to change. We have decided to cancel the health assessments with the families. There are problems on many levels. Language primarily. On the other had, we have asked the entire family to come; mother, father, and children. But there winds up being only one member from each family. The past two days have been very frustrating.
I am not frustrated in my knowledge as a nurse. I feel competent for the most part. What I am disappointed in is my inability to communicate. There is no doubt that I desire to serve and to help, but I don’t have the adequate capacity to just yet. We tried out something, and it didn’t work. So we need to make adjustments. I am holding on to the fact, as my father reminded me, nothing is wasted. Even though this aspect of our work is not functioning, it hasn’t been wasted. I am learning with each person.
After I left the office, I headed over to the house where I visited the sick boy yesterday. He seemed to improve a little although he sounded more congested today. Unfortunately, his whole family seems to be sick and the house is quite crowed. There is a saying here: Mayo de mal. Everyone gets sick in May. I am planning on returning again tomorrow, hopefully to find the family in a little bit better condition. If no improvement by Thursday, we will need to seek further action.
I returned home quite discouraged. It was a hard day. I began cooking dinner for Dan and I and had the chance to speak with Jorge for quite a while. We planned out the next few days and will try to adjust. If one thing doesn’t work, you try another. Jorge was very sorry to hear about Dan’s accident.
Cesar heard about the accident and came over to our house to see how he was doing. It was right as Dan and I were sitting down to eat, so we invited him to join us. I was excited to share the Guatemaloteca salsa I had made. Cesar approved of my skills and seemingly enjoyed the dinner. I was pleased with myself as I was able to understand most of what Cesar was saying, although I am sure he speaks very simply for us.
I will do assessments again tomorrow as the word has already gone out to the families. After that, we will have to figure out something different. Just another day in Guatemala, what in the world could tomorrow hold?
Spanish school. Spanish school. Spanish school. Is it bad that I loathe it? Maybe that is a strong word, but beginning to strongly dislike it. I don’t know why, I really want to learn Spanish. Maybe it is because I’m not learning as fast as I hoped to. At any rate, this is my last week so I better take advantage of my time.
Okay now the real reason I am here: health assessments. Open up the doors, let the floodgates down, I’m ready to start taking patients. So I wait, and wait a little more, and just a little bit longer, until the first man arrived. They trickled in over the next hour and a half. I was able to explain that I didn’t have any medicine available, and I was only doing basic health assessments. The challenge came in trying to decipher the questions of the people. Once that occurred, I was faced with the challenge of offering a response in Spanish, of some remedy.
It was a very frustrating day. Some complaints people had could be relieved by simple education, but I can barely do that. Half of the responsibility of a nurse lies in education. So I guess you could say I am struggling a little. I want to help, I want to offer more, but there is this barrier between us that I am struggling to tear down.
I left the office wondering if I really did anything today, and sort of grumbling to myself. I arrived home and Dan had a similar experience today after meeting with the construction managers of the clinic. He too is frustrated with the language barrier, so we commiserated for a while, until some visitors showed up.
Three little kids, peering in our window.
We invited them in and gave them some juice and salsa and guacamole (they go great together). We couldn’t get much out of them, because the girls were giggling so much. I’m sure it was weird for them to be sitting in our house. One of them asked where I slept so I showed them, then Dan’s room, then the rest of the house. They were soaking up all of our possessions, examining every inch of the house. We entertained them the best we could until another visitor arrived.
This one was another boy, only a teenager. It turns out he was looking for me. I was able to gather that he had a sick uncle and was hoping that I could come see him. Por supuesto. I grabbed my stethoscope and otoscope and we were off. The boy led me down the mountain through trees and rocky paths.
The parents greeted me with thanks and handshakes and led me back into the bedroom. The “uncle” turned out to be another boy about 11 years old. He had a fever and cough for the last day and felt miserable. I did a quick assessment and asked questions to the parents as best as I could. The boy was already taking something for his fever, so I am hoping he will be improving by tomorrow. I again tried to offer the parents some education regarding drinking tea, gargling warm salt water, rest, and drinking plenty of water and juice. I told them I would come back tomorrow to see how he was doing.
I guess the word is out. There is a nurse living in Patanatic. It was odd to say the least. Being called on by someone, then hiking to the boy’s house. Again, I wish I had more to offer these people. But my experience is so little, I am just learning as I go. I’m putting myself in an incredibly vulnerable position. I am a licensed nurse, technically. So I should be a professional resource, technically. But in reality? More or less…
All this to say, I don’t know exactly what I am offering these people, if anything. I pray it is something useful or helpful, or at least not damaging to anyone. Some very challenging times today, and there are certainly more to come. But, this is okay. I am learning many things. And I have to believe this is helping, or doing some good. I think it is.
Another pleasant morning with the chance to sleep in a little. No plans really, just to prepare for tomorrow and help Dan out with a few projects.
In the afternoon, Dan wanted to map out the entire town on GPS. So we set out with GPS in hand and walked through the town. We started up, as high as we could go. The road lead us to the top of the mountain, with a view of the surrounding valleys, the lake in the distance, and the tops of two volcanoes peaking through the clouds. The beauty here is incredible.
Next, we hiked down to the bottom of the road and discovered where the trash of the town goes. It is amazing the contrast and tension you can have in one place: great beauty in the land and the people, yet great poverty and lack of basic public structures.
I am feeling much more ready for tomorrow. Whatever is going to happen will happen, and I will give it my best shot. Yes, absolutely, I feel incredibly inadequate for this task. But sitting around telling myself is not going to help.
Somehow, Dan and I wound up going over to Cesar’s house in the evening. Cesar wasn’t home, but his family still invited us in for café y pan (coffee and bread). We spent the evening practicing our Spanish and I got to share some pictures of my family and friends on my iPod. Cesar’s father was especially intrigued by the picture I had of my father’s wheat field. He was even more amazed by the combine. At this point in the evening, I discovered Cesar’s father worked as a truck driver for many years, but has not been working due to his back. Immediately, I thought of sciatica, a common problem for truck drivers, but there was nothing I could do. Trying to give the best advice I could, I told him to apply a warm towel to his back three times a day for therapeutic relief. If it is sciatica, it probably won’t help much, but it was the best advice I could think of.
I think Cesar’s family enjoys hearing us trying to use our Spanish. They are patient with us and offer encouragement. Little by little our conversation is expanding and the bonds are becoming stronger.
No school. No meetings. Just a date with my bed, which lasted until about 8:30 AM. Dan made us a tasty batch of pancakes complete with baking powder and a nice cup of coffee.
The plan for today was to go down to Panajachel, buy some more food supplies, and have lunch with Mike and his family. By 11 Dan and I were scouring the town looking for certain things for the house, such as Tupperware and some extra furniture. Dan’s parents are coming in about a week, so he has been looking into taking a trip to see some Mayan ruins, possibly up to Tikal. So I was wrangled into checking the tourist companies pricing out bus fares to the hot spots in Guatemala. And I’m going to have to say, Tikal is looking pretty interesting, if he decides to go. But I have a bit of a dilemma. It comes down to either me taking a trip to see some ruins, or enrolling in another week of Spanish school. Tough choice. Any input from the audience?
Our lunch date was for one, so we headed over to the Crossroad’s Café. Mike, his wife, and two daughters live above the coffee shop. Their house doesn’t exactly have a bunch of free space, but somehow they managed to set the table for six. Dan, Mike and his family, myself, and two other guests.
Enter Andre. South Afrikan world traveler in the middle of a global immersion experience with an African missionary group. His group’s task was to travel to 17 countries in 12 months volunteering in churches and helping whoever needed it. Andre’s next destination is LA and he’s leaving in a few days.
Enter Matthew. Australian who began a bike tour with his girlfriend in Canada with South America as their destination. They made it as far as Guatemala, when they decided Panajachel wouldn’t be such a bad place to live. They have been here since February and Matthew’s girlfriend just got a job in a school teaching English. It looks as though they will be here for the next year.
It was by far one of more peculiar groups of people I’ve had the opportunity to break bread with. Mike’s wife is from South Africa so it was fun to hear Adele and Andre talk about life there. And Mike’s two daughters were hardly quiet or timid, and added a vibrant flair to the conversation. Matthew pleasantly sat chuckling at the whole situation offering his input occasionally. Mike, lively as ever, reveled in the stories of his guests. And there I sat, following one person to the next, holding on to my chair making sure my head was still attached to my head. The conversation was everywhere: from Mayan sacrifices, to Mt. Sinai sunrises, to the World Cup, to chicken buses, to waste water management and septic tanks, to political corruption, to baking. You know, the kind of things you talk about around a dinner table above a coffee shop in the heart of Guatemala with people from all over the world. How in the world did I ever arrive here?
After two hours of basically talking about nothing, but discussing everything, the party dissolved. Dan, extremely interested in the waster water project in Panajachel, convinced Matthew to show us the site. So we made our way to where the river and wastewater meet the lake. The site was using levels of plant and organic matter to treat the wastewater of the city before it emptied into the lake.
Enter Kirk. American engineer living in Panajachel teaching high school science in a private English school and co-designer of the wastewater program. He just so happened to be at the site when we decided to visit. Dan, Matthew, and Kirk visited for the next few hours about chemistry and how the plants were cleaning the wastewater converting ammonia to nitrites, and finally to nitrate. Or at least I think that’s what they were saying.
I’ve had a few days like these. You don’t really start out with an agenda, but you wind up meeting one person, then another, then you are talking about this, or going to see that. And every person is on some kind of journey or in the middle of some type of experiment. It is amazing the kinds of stories these people have, or the type of lives they live. Normal is a relative term.
Dan and I made it back to Patanatic by dark. We were still full from lunch and thought it not necessary to make a full dinner, so we settled for guacamole and salsa. My Spanish teacher has given me the recipe to make typical Guatemala salsa. Perfect time to try it out. Unfortunately, I don’t know if will be able to replicate it back in the states. It requires these little peppers called chiltepe, and I don’t recall seeing them at HyVee before I left. Maybe I can bring some seeds back and begin growing my own Guatemalan garden.
All in all, a good day. Monday is looming ahead of me as it is marked by the beginning of the health assessments. I am pretty anxious about it. Still no word from the Guatemalan doctor who might join us, so I am pretty sure I will be the only medical professional available. Which is not so bad, but I really don’t speak Spanish, which is a little bad. I think the thing I fear most is not my inability to perform the health assessments, but my inability to meet the needs of the people. I know the people will look to me for answers, but I can barely understand them! One more day left to cram Spanish into my head.
Today was a fairly uneventful day. Spanish school, go to the store, study. I think I’m getting into the pattern.
Dan is fun to have around. He is in the process of finding a motorbike to purchase. Today he borrowed one from Pedro to drive around for errands. We took it back up the mountain to Patanatic. Unfortunately, Pedro’s moped didn’t quite have the power Dan is looking for. We putted up the mountain and I clutched onto the back with one hand while holding onto the trashcan Dan had purchased for the house with my other hand. The bike didn’t come close to making it up the hill to our house, so I jumped off and began walking up.
Everyday coming and going from our house, I pass by the clinic. I am getting to know the guys who work there, so now whenever I pass I hear “Erik, Erik!” And I’m learning to stop and talk for a while, because that is what you do here. We don’t have much to say, but little by little, we are getting to know each other.
I’m having moments of stress come as I begin to think about Monday. One came today so I thought I would call Jorge to see if he had any more details for me. None at all really, but the phone call was not useless. Jorge does a good job of empowering me, renewing my focus, and giving me a little bit of light. Jorge knows what it is like to face the adversity of learning a new language. He gave me a pep talk and instilled a little faith in me. Yes this is going to be challenging and difficult, but not impossible.
Tonight was Dan’s and I first adventure in cooking. My Spanish teacher had given me a recipe for chicken soup, so we thought we’d give it a shot. It turned out fairly decent, not due to a lack of recipe, but due to a lack of cooking experience. Give us some time, and we will have our own cookbook. Speaking of, recipes are welcomed and highly sought after if you all have some good ones…
The house is looking more and more like a house. Another soul gives the house a whole new dimension. It is coming along.
Another day bumbling in Spanish class. I feel like my stamina is slipping more each day and I keep checking my watch again and again. But I have to stick with it. No negotiations. Health assessments start Monday, and the way things are shaping up, I will be the only one doing the check ups.
After I got out of school, Pedro showed up and said he needed my help to get a bed for Dan and to take it up to Patanatic. Pedro is one of those guys that when you are with, you know you are going to have fun. So I didn’t have any complaints riding around Panajachel with him. Our time together was short however, as I needed to be in Patanatic by one to do a walk through assessment of sector one.
By one o’clock I was at the clinic waiting for my companions. I was supposed to be waiting for a woman named Silva, and another named Theresa. Neither were there, only a woman named Julia. We waited about 20 more minutes until Julia decided it was time to go. As we headed off to sector one, Theresa and Silvia materialized out of nowhere to join us.
I had instructions: walk through sector one and get a feel for how the people live, what their houses are like, what kind of kitchens they have, where they go to the bathroom, how many people in each house. It seemed Silva needed to check out the water filters we had installed over the past year, so I also had the chance to see each filter Heart to Heart had placed over the past year.
I could try to describe to you how rural life is the highlands of Guatemala, but I’m not sure I want to. Not only was it difficult to hike through the mountain to each house, but it was physically, mentally, socially, spiritually difficult to walk into these homes. And when the time came for me to look in the bathroom, I began to have a sense of fear creeping up in me. Fear, because I didn’t know what waited behind the curtain. And one thing that disturbed me the most was that these living conditions are typical. Normal. That is how life is. And please don’t take this as me talking down about these people and their poverty. Because, if anything, they have more figured out than me. Sure these people are financially impoverished, but there is far more to our humanity than economics.
We visited roughly 40 houses today. Five hours of looking into water filters, peeping into bathrooms, and holding my breath. I returned home hoping to find my roommate, but he hadn’t arrived. Yet.
Finally, I spied Dan from my front widow, bags in tow and sweat dripping off his face. He had arrived. We celebrated his arrival with a trip to the Circus Bar, a popular restaurant that serves pizza and has music every night. Dan and I settled in over some Hawaiian pizza as we listened to the honky tonk of the piano.
Yes, I think it is going to be a good month. In this beautiful wreckage of a world, it is going to be alright.
One week on my own. And yes, I am still breathing. Although Spanish school has an interesting way of sucking the life out of me. But there is no other option but to trudge on ahead. The little nursing knowledge I have is useless, unless I can somehow communicate with the people here. So I think that is enough to get me motivated.
Today was a very simple day. Spanish school in the morning. A quick trip to the market, and then back home for the afternoon. I spend a few hours cleaning the house and getting ready for my roommate who is arriving tomorrow. The place is looking good, ready for another companion.
I went out for a walk this evening and made my way down to the Heart to Heart office, which is located in the community center. The clinic is being built right on top of the community center. When I arrived, the room was packed with women and babies. I was one of four men, and needless to say I was the only white one. So I stood out a little. When I first entered, the man in charge of the gathering stopped and welcomed me as Erik, the professional nurse living here for the next month. All heads turned.
Turns out, I had stumbled upon a meeting for an organization that was helping families get food supplies. At the end of the meeting, the women pressed to the front of the room to sign up for the program. I don’t think the word desperate quite describes it. Mothers were packed together like sardines, pressing toward the front with their thumbs out ready to give their fingerprint to sign the contract. It reminded me a little of the floor of the stock market. I couldn’t really understand all that the people were saying, so I can’t really describe it any more.
As I was standing there in the crowded room, I couldn’t help but think about next week. We are supposed to begin health assessments in this very room next Monday. Less than a week from now I will be in charge of all these Mamas. It was a little overwhelming to think about. Then, however, I came back to my house and read a little message from my high school basketball coach who spent two years with his wife and daughters in Bolivia as missionaries. He said, “People are always more important that projects in their minds.” So whose standards am I trying to live up to?
Its been a week, and I’ve settled in quite a bit. I am thoroughly enjoying my time here. Its been loaded with new discoveries and fears; doubts and simple pleasures; anxiety, headaches, and laughter. There are many challenges to come in my weeks remaining, but when is there a day when you don’t have challenges? This is a voluntary position. I think.
The rains fell hard all through the night. I woke up a few times, wondering if the mountain was going to be sliding down on top of me. Luckily it didn’t.
The second day of Spanish school went smoothly. Talking with Gladys (my teacher) was strangely fun as I fumbled through my Spanish vocabulary. Somehow, I discoverd her husband likes U2, Coldplay, and believes in aliens. I think we are going to go out together soon.
By about 3 hours into the lesson, my vision was getting a little blurry. Interestingly enough, they give you the option of studying for 6 hours at a time. I can barely limp through four, how could a person possibly cram six hours of Spanish into our little heads? I have no idea. Lets just say, by the time noon rolled around, I was glad to be free.
I quickly headed to my favorite coffee shop in the whole world (yes, the whole world). Crossroad’s Cafe (http://www.crossroadscafepana.com/) is run by a quirky little man named Mike. Mike, who’s originally from New York, married a woman from South Africa, and now lives in Guatemala roasting world renown coffee. This man has stories that makes Hollywood look like child’s play. Really. His shop was amazingly quiet and we had the chance to chat a little bit. I told him of my adventures from the previous week and how God had been working through it all. Mike embodies the spirit probably more than anyone else I know. He is literally a little hard to follow at times. But he speaks so freely from his heart. Buy coffee from him. Support his family.
Enter Andrea Preston. Family practitioner extaordinaire from Michigan. She was looking for the cafe, and wondering if Mike served lunch. Unfortunately not, but Mike knew of a few good places. It was lunch time for me as well, so I asked if I could join her. She said she would love the company. We settled on a little deli Mike had suggested off the main street in Panajachel. Andrea is spending a month hiatus in Guatemala trying to escape the carnage of primary care. She told me she went into medicine because she wanted to help the underserved and poor, and was doing so in a clinic in Washington state. But had just finished her residency and was feeling a little worn. I think she was there to figure out where to go next with her life. So I gladly shared with her the program that Heart to Heart was working on. Hey, you never know right?
Enter Klaudia Sopiejo. Refugee Pole living in Canada and volunteering in Guatemala with an organization called Soccer Without Borders. Also a student of the fabulous Jabel Tinamit Spanish School (same as mine). We recognized each other as she passed by the restaurant, so I invited her over to join Andrea and I. Klaudia just finished her masters in Sports Psychology and is spending time in Guatemala running soccer clinics and empowering young women with life skills.
Just another day in Guatemala. The three of us wandered through Panajachel for the afternoon swapping stories and adventures until we finally landed at Mike’s. We shared a quick cup of coffee before I headed back to Pantantic. It looked like it was going to rain, and I have never tried to hold on to the back of a speeding Mayan taxi in the rain, but I didn’t want to try.
Side note: Mayan taxi is a small pickup truck with two benches in the back and metal poles welded onto the frame of the truck. The back gets filled up first when at which point the remaining passengers are left to stand on the rear bumper while holding on for dear life. Which is where I usually wind up, smiling like a dumb gringo.
This evening I went over to Cesar’s because I thought I was supposed to have dinner with him at six. We had gotten lost in translation and he wasn’t there. But his mother invited me to stay anyway. And I don’t think it is unusual here for Cesar to still live with his parents, even though he is in his early 30s. So don’t think it strange. Cesar’s brother and sister (who are in their junior and high school years) were sitting there with me and I excitedly pulled out my Spanish notes, so they could help me study. For the next hour and a half we sat there practicing Spanish and English. David (Cesar’s brother) likes Coldplay too and we studied to the angelic voice of Chris Martin. Eventually Cesar showed up. He offered me to come over anytime to practice Spanish. We shared coffee and bread, and poco a poco I exercised what I have learned.
The rain is flowing tonight. Its officially the rainy season as it has rained for the last three days. The mornings are fresh and bright, and the by the afternoon the thunder clouds roll in bringing torrential downpour. This is a cycle I can get used to.
I traveled to Panajachel today to begin my Spanish lessons. It works like this: I go for four hours a day, Monday through Friday. It is one on one with a tutor. The first two hours today we went over verbs and words of places and time. The second two hours we simply conversed back and forth and my instructor corrected me when necessary, which was every sentence. It is very difficult learning a new language. You have to pay attention to every little detail; when to use un or una, la or las, a or al. At times it can be very overwhelming, especially when I think that next week I will be doing health assessments and people will be asking me questions expecting to have answers. I’m not even sure I could perform properly in English, let alone Spanish. But I have faith, it will work out.
After my lessons were finished, I fled to a restaurant that I knew had good, safe food. Orale, the taco place. Three tacos please, combination plate. Chicken, beef, and steak, with a side of guacamole. Mmm, nothing like tasty, clean food.
After lunch, I had a Skype conference call with Jorge and Cesar. We mapped out the next few weeks of work here in Patanatic. The village is divided into 5 Sectors; each sector with its own community leader. Jorge wants me to meet with the leader of Sector 1 on Thursday to walk through the sector and to see how the families live, and what type of health risks may be apparent. On Monday, we will start doing health assessments of the families of Sector 1. This will begin to give us an idea of how the assessment of the entire community will take place. One family will come at 1:00 (this could by anywhere from 5 people to 20), and then the second at 1:45. It was very exciting to imagine what will take place over the next few weeks. The learning curve will be very large, but that also means there is a lot of freedom. It is hard to believe I am pioneering (yes, I am a MNU Alum) the beginning of the project here. Am I qualified for this position? Hardly. But, there is hope. I believe, somehow, in my inexperience and my willingness to learn, some good can come from this and the people will benefit. Maybe this is just my naïveté coming through, but it is a little late to turn back now.
After our little conference, I headed back to the house to buckle down on the Spanish. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in front of my open window, coffee in hand, listening to Jaydiohead (like Guatemalans do), watching the thunderstorm approach, all while scouring over my Spanish notes. Life could not be better.
Cooking was another interesting experience today. Rice and beans were on the menu for dinner. Little did I know it takes hours to cook black beans. So rice was on the menu tonight, with a side of mango. I am satisfied.
I am happy to say I have gone the entire day without diarrhea. A milestone in my adventure. I am feeling very well, and hopefully this will continue for the rest of my journey. Another milestone was doing my first load of laundry in the sink. I managed to complete the task still half dry. Hopefully the rain will hold off long enough for them to dry tomorrow.
I think that is all for today. My brain is a little fried thanks to the Spanish, and the beans (which I managed to burn after an hour and half of laboring over). Hasta manana.
The sickness persists, so I stated my first round of antibiotics. Unfortunately, the events of the past two days have left me very paranoid of any food or drink that I come across. Cesar and I went into Panajachel today to visit the market. Fruits and vegetables stretch as far as the eye can see. Pineapple, strawberries, mango, papaya, and many other fruits I can’t even begin to identify. I quickly set my eyes on a pound of strawberries and was incredulous when I found out it was only about 50 cents. I followed Cesar around most of the time as he scoured for bananas and limes. We entered the meats section and I grew a little nauseous as the viewed the hanging beef, chicken, and fish. It was a nurse’s worst nightmare.
By the time we returned to Patanatic, I was feeling quite weak from being in the sun all morning. I was supposed to go to church with Cesar again this afternoon, but I told him I wasn’t feeling well and was going home to take a nap. He seemed a little worried, but let me go with the intention of meeting tomorrow.
Once I got back to the house, Antonio Filberto, the owner of the house was there cutting the grass for me with his machete. Antonio is the vice mayor of Patanatic, and has spent some time in New York working. So his English is fairly well and we can converse back and forth. He brought me the key to the deck on the second floor of the house. I was very thankful for the key because the view from up there is breathtaking.
As we sat there talking, one of my neighbors came out of his house to greet me. Guillermo Garcia; my first interaction with my neighbors. The three of us chatted for a while on the deck until we parted ways and I slipped into bed for the afternoon.
I awoke in the evening to the sound of my phone ringing. It was Pedro, my driver from the first day. He was checking up on me to make sure everything was okay and I told him I was a little sick. He said he was coming by this evening to check up on me. He arrived a few hours later with his entire family. I showed them around the house and they were pretty impressed. Pedro has a son with a skin rash that he has had for the past three years. The doctor told them it would eventually go away, but it hasn’t improved at all. I took a look at him and it didn’t look familiar to anything I have ever seen, but I told him I would do some research to see what I could find.
At one point, Pedro asked me if I was happy up here all by myself. It was an unexpected question. I honestly didn’t know how to answer it. Am I happy here? Yeah I think so. Life has its seasons when there is a time for certain hardships and joys. I feel that this time is both right now. It is very difficult being here alone and trying to learn a new language. It is both difficult and a joy to receive messages from home; to hear from my friends and receive encouragement from you all. It is a joy to be caught up in an adventure; to not know what tomorrow holds, to be living in a mystery. Yeah, I think I am happy here. How could I not be with this kind of opportunity?
After Pedro and his family left, I attempted to cook up some pancakes. Let’s just say they don’t taste quite the same without baking powder and you aren’t really sure how much ingredients you put in because you don’t have measuring cups… Another thing out here, what do I do with all my trash? I have all these boxes from my appliances and food scraps that I have no idea where to put. The food I can put outside for the dogs to eat (I know Laura and my Aunt Keena would be in favor of this), but I don’t know if I want that kind of attention. Luckily the house is large enough that I can just hide my trash in another room.
Jose came over tonight to see how I was doing. He too heard that I was sick and wanted visit. We spent the last two hours looking at pictures and me telling him about my family. We somehow got on Google Earth and he was amazed. I showed him my house in Kansas and then we were able to find his here in Guatemala. Technology really is amazing. And then, I pulled out the amazing iPod. Jose giggled over it like a schoolboy as he checked his email and listened to music. Its good to know I’m not the only one who still drools over the things Apple makes.
It was great having Jose here tonight. We discussed many things including technology and marriage; you know, the things that are important to men. It was nice to just sit and laugh with another human. Jose had plenty of homework to do tonight, but instead he wanted to visit me to make sure I was okay. Hospitality like this is enough to keep a person here, or at least want to be able to do the same for others.
Tomorrow will be the beginning of Spanish school for me. It will be a new chapter in my time here. My days of solitude are coming to an end as my roommate Dan will arrive on Thursday. I’m greatly looking forward to this. Thanks again for all the messages and encouragement. I could not do this without you all.
"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17
Generalized weakness, body aches, diarrhea, and slight fever. It hit me last night about 3 AM like a freight train. By the time I crawled out of bed in the morning, I had lost count of how many times I had been up to the bathroom.
I called Jose first thing and told him I wasn’t going to be able to make the trip with him. Then I made my way to the kitchen to try and regain some of the electrolytes I had lost over the last 6 hours. I went straight for the papaya, then the gatorade. I was replaying the episode of my cultural dilemma back in my head. Totally worth it I decided. Its all part of the experience…
I spent most of the morning attacking my bathroom with sponge and Lysol. By the end of the round, I felt I had given the little crawlers a run for their money and satisfactorily claimed the bathroom as mine. I could now shower at peace without the fear of a swarm of spiders erupting from the drain. Although, I can’t say the shower was pleasant as my body shuddered against the ice cold water. At least I feel clean now.
Still feeling weak, I went to old faithful Google to find out how to re-nourish myself. I came across an oral rehydration recipe composed of water, salt, and sugar. It was amazing simple and is implemented all over the world where diarrhea is a problem. I thought I would be a prime candidate. So I’ve been choking down this concoction all day in an attempt to stay health. It seems to be doing its job.
My time off today gave me time to read messages from all of you. To say it simply, it is overwhelming. To feel the community of Christ reaching out to me is something I cannot explain. It has brought me to my knees, and tears to my eyes as I feel the life-giving presence of you all. Even from those who are going through much more difficult times than I, you still find time to breathe grace and peace into my life. Thank you for your support.
Cesar invited me to go to church with him tonight. It was quite the three hour experience. They were celebrating Mother’s Day, and they were obviously the forefront of the service. At one point in the service, the pastor asked me a question, or welcomed me, or did something. But for the heart of me I couldn’t understand him so I just sat there with a goofy look on my face. It was quite the experience. After the service the pastor came over and we chatted for a moment. He understood that I didn’t speak much Spanish. I was able to communicate to him that I was living here the next month and would be working as a nurse in the school.
End of day three and it hasn’t been as eventful as the past two. But I have been thankful for it. I have been able to spend time resting and coming to terms with where I am. As I’m writing right now I can hear something on the roof. I think it is a bird or small animal, but I can’t seem it scare it off. Don’t worry, I don’t think a bandit would make that much noise.
End of day three and I’m still breathing, but with a little tummy ache.
5 AM roosters are crowing. There is barely light outside so I roll over and drift off to sleep for a few more hours. When I rise, I immediately check my email for instructions from Jorge. He tells me I am supposed to meet a teacher name Elva at the school. Jorge tells me it is okay if I’m not ready to teach today, I can just observe and see the flow of how school works. Thank heaven.
I make it to the school around 9 and meet Professora Elva in the gym. She is the preschool teacher and is in the middle of PE. “Solo observamos hoy” She looks at me a little funny, but nods her head. I stand at the edge of the court and watch as she instructs the children to listen to her and jump when she blows the whistle. After a while she changes games and it is time for some soccer. The boys quickly line up as she give them jerseys and then she hands me the whistle to ref the game. Ok, cool, I start to think. But then I realize I don’t know the rules to soccer. Oh well, lets give it a shot. The girls aren’t allowed to play, they are off for snack time while the boys play. They go after it for about 20 minutes until its time for the boys to get a snack. The girls come out with a basketball, now we are talking. Elva shows the girls how to dribble back and forth. It progresses into a dribble contest and I am quick to show off my skills so that I can show that I’m not completely incompetent.
The bell rings, its time for recess. Children pour out of the classrooms like angry ants out of an anthill. A soccer game is quickly organized and I am hailed as a soccer champion. Shortly into the game, a boy goes down and lands on his elbow, “Mi brazo duele mucho!” he shouts as he holds his arm. I take him over to the side and have him sit down. I jump back in the game for a while thinking he just has a little bo bo. Minutes pass and a large groups of kids surround him, and then a few teachers. Ok, maybe I need to see what is going on. I am a nurse for goodness sakes.
The boy is holding his arm and crying. I ask Elva if she needs help and she allows me to look at the boy. I ask the boy to take off his sweater and he screams with pain as I remove it. I look at his arm and immediately see that it is broken. Are you serious? What are the chances of this? No wonder the kid is screaming his head off. I tell Elva he needs a doctor and she goes to call his dad. I wrap his arm in a makeshift sling and we walk up to the road.
The boy’s father pulls up in a pickup and I jump in with him. I try to explain to him what happened, until the dad asks me if I speak English, in English! I let out a burst of laughter as I can’t believe he speaks English. He tells me he lived in Virginia for three years and knows a little. Thank you God. Jose is his name and he tells me he knows a doctor in San Andres, the next village over. We speed over to the doctor’s house.
We stop at the side of the road and meet an old Guatemalan dressed like a cowboy. He seems like a wise medicine man who has years of experience. Jose carries his boy into the doctor’s house and sets him on the bed. The boy (also named Jose) is terrified. The doctor sits down next to him and begins to take his arm. Jose is holding his boy partly to comfort him partly to harness him. The doctor begins the straighten out his arm and the boy is screaming that the top of his lungs. I am holding his legs down now as the boy is trying anything to get away. I can’t believe what I am seeing. The doctor is manipulating the boy’s arm back into place without any type of pain reliever. And the boy is letting him know it. The doctor places the boy’s arm close to his chest as tears are streaming down his face. The misshapen arm looks like it is back in place. I can’t believe it. No X-rays, no CT scans, nothing. Only through feeling the boy’s body. Simply incredible. The doctor rubs some menthol on the boy’s arm and feels some more to see if he placed it correctly. He seems satisfied.
Jose, the doctor, the boy, and I go back to Jose’s house. The doctor wraps the boy’s arm and uses cardboard to give it support. Just like that. What would have cost thousands of dollars in the US, was completed for about 7 dollars in the house of a medicine man.
Jose and I talk a little and I tell him I need some help with my stove. No problem he says, and we hop in his truck to go to Panajachel to find the missing part. After driving around for about 3 hours, we find the part. Jose, I learn, is in school studying tourism and is wanting to start his own business. He works nights driving a tuk tuk (taxi). Jose leaves me in Panajachel while he goes to school and I need to buy some food for my house. I make my way to the market and purchase some fruits. The papaya is a necessity, it is a natural anti-diarrheal.
After shopping I head to Mike’s for the best coffee in the world. And of course, I need to hear someone speak English. About 30 minutes of cultural relief, then I am immersed back into this foreign world. I take a taxi (which is a pickup truck that you ride in the back of) back to Patanatic. As we ride, the women are chattering in Spanish and for the first time I smile. For some reason, I felt a sense of peace, a feeling that this is good.
I get back home and start to unpack and clean my dishes. Food is in the refrigerator and I am finally settling in. Water from the water filter is finally ready and I take my first glass (here goes nothing). Before long Cesar (the principal of the school and my main contact here) arrives and asks me if I need help with my stove. I stumble through explaining to him that Jose is bringing the parts tonight. I show him my house and tell him I have a lot of cleaning to do. He invites me over to his house for dinner, which I am very thankful for because I still don’t have a functioning stove.
Cesar is a very kind man. He is a great principal and has made every effort to welcome me into Patanatic. One thing about Cesar. He holds his cell phone about 1/2 an inch from his face so he can read the screen. He needs reading glasses. Jorge offered to take him to the eye doctor, but he refused saying not until the children of the school have access. He is a very good man.
He invites me into his house and he turns on the TV as we wait for dinner. I find Willy Wonka on en Espanol and find quite a bit of humor in it. Oh the simple pleasures. Dinner is served and fish is placed in front of me. There is a moment of cultural dilemma here. The proper practice is to take the food and eat every bit. The nurse inside of me conjures up all sort of situations how I’m going to get sick from eating this. Whatever. The fish tasted amazing; covered in salsa and wrapped in tortillas. A great meal. Communication is small as we are limited to asking each other what we like (te gusta?).
As I finish dinner, I get a call from Jose. He is ready to install the stove. Cesar and I go to his house to pick up the materials. He invites us in and Jose explains the days event to Cesar about his child’s broken arm. Cesar leaves us and Jose and I head up to my house. Jose has the stove together in about 10 minutes and I am ready to cook my own tortillas. Jose asks me if I want to go hiking with him and his family tomorrow. I say I would love to. My first friend. Before I know it I am showing him pictures of my family and friends. He eats it up.
With an end to my second day, I can’t believe the turn of events. Last night was filled with much anxiety and doubt. Tonight there is much more comfort. I have begun to meet the community, and I feel very welcomed. There is a feeling of much more comfort (although as I write this I am hearing some pretty creepy sound outside, I hope I’m not getting robbed tonight). Two big days. I wonder what lies ahead.
Well, many suggested that I start a blog while I am here in Guatemala. So here we are. My team left yesterday at 11:00 AM. There I was at the airport in Guatemala City alone, except for the driver that took us to the airport. Luckily Pedro spoke some English and we could communicate the bare essentials.
Heart to Heart is shacking me up in a house in Patanatic. It is at the top of the village and has a great view of the valley below. The house is quite nice; three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two living areas, a kitchen, and a porch (except I don’t have the key to get out to it). The only downfall to the place is that it has been uninhabited for quite a while. So I am battling the spiders for residency. So far I am losing the battle…
Back to Guatemala City. I tell Pedro I need to go to the store so I can furnish the house; pots, pans, dishes, etc. He takes me to Hiper Paiz, the Central American version of Walmart. It is actually owned by Walmart as all the signs were the same, only in Spanish. The place is buzzing and I am slightly overstimulated while trying to come to terms I am on my own now. I’m beginning to contemplate if I can really do this or not. We meander through the store selecting items I think will be necessary for life: cleaning supplies (absolutely), pots, plates, cups, toilet paper (now I’m wondering if I got enough), you get the idea… Finally we finish and head to the check out. Halfway through the process I realize I don’t have enough Quetzales and desperately give Pedro some dollars to go exchange. I’m not doing a very good job of blending in as the line builds up behind me. After a while, Pedro returns with the beloved Quetzales and we are on our way.
As we are leaving I get a call from Jorge (my director). He wants me to go to the school tomorrow and start hand washing education for grades 1-6. Sure, no problem (if only I knew how to speak Spanish). Hopefully Google can help me out with that later. We make our way through the mountains of Guatemala as we set out for Patanatic. I drift off to sleep as doubts swirl around in my head. What the heck am I doing here? What was I thinking? Living in Guate by myself, I don’t even know Spanish.
Three hours later Pedro drops me off at mi casa in Patanatic. As he is pulling out of the drive, he gets stuck. And by stuck I mean borderline tipping the bus over. Pedro asks me to get some help from the workers at the clinic. Nothing like getting to know the people of the community by asking them to help you get a van unstuck. Again, I’m doing a great job of blending in. After about 30 minutes of grunting and shoving, the van breaks free. So long Pedro, my only semi-English speaking amigo.
Ok, now at the house. First priority: water. I have half of my nalgene left. I quickly set up my water filter. The same water filter I have been installing the past year in people’s homes. Now its time for me to do the same. As I read the directions, I discover the water won’t even be good until tomorrow. Second priority: intall the stove. H2H provided me with a new stove and refrigerator to be used later in the clinic. If I can get the stove installed, then maybe I can boil water and have some for tonight. I anxiously rip the box apart and set up the stove. Shoot, I don’t have the proper connections for the propane tank. Second and first priorities: failed. Ok, you can do this. Keep it together. Third priority: establish internet connection. I have a modem from the H2H office. I pray that it is compatible with my mac. Prayers answered. We have connection!! I excitedly check my mail and facebook, thankful the have contact with people who speak English. I chat with Yort for a while on Skype and regain some of my sanity and confidence. You are going to survive. I spend a few hours on Google translator trying to develop a lesson plan for tomorrow on how to wash your hands. Then its off the my cot that is set up in the middle of the room, far away from any wall that is crawling with spiders. If I wake up tomorrow without at least one bite, it will be a miracle.