Monday, November 21, 2011

No Easy Answers

“¡Regalame uno!” aka “Give me one!”
      In my last week spent in the little community of Agua Salada, I got asked for everything from my watch to money to soccer cleats. Hearing this phrase continually, I couldn’t help but think about the way the culture has changed here. The members of the University of Wyoming brigade told me that in their five years of visiting the same community, the way the locals approach them has shifted. Brigades come to this little community, set up a health clinic in a church for a week and typically see over one hundred patients a day and pass out free toothbrushes, shampoo, lotion, toys, and other various objects.  They are no doubt helping the community and developing relationships there but through this aid, we have in a way trained them to rely on outside influence rather than change from within. I am reminded once again that development work is hard. We need a sustainable solution instead of a band-aid. Shoulder to Shoulder has definitely done a great job of this in our two main clinics where the idea is that we work side by side with locals and don’t just give out services and free stuff but work as a partnership.  
Some local kids at an English class offered by the brigade
However, in the smaller communities where we come and provide free medical care and give free things, it gets a little trickier. If the gringos come to town, give out services for a week and then leave, it is no wonder that the locals ask for things. It is what they are used to and we can’t blame them. I look at the influence of development here; the endless Coca-Cola signs, the millions bags of chips in the corner stores, the Coke bottles all around, the continual TV watching now made possible by electricity, and I wonder..... To me, what this has produced is more pollution, less time for relationships, and more stuff clouding the lives of the people here. We want to make their lives better and healthier by putting our United States influence in the mix, but the truth is that if we were to bring every country to the economic status of the United States, we would not be able to sustain ourselves.  So what’s the answer? As I am approaching five months here, these are the bigger questions I struggle with. We no doubt need to improve the status of living here, but there are also many beautiful things that I have learned from this way of life. The systems here are different and can be unjust but this doesn’t necessarily mean our system is better. As I recognize this and see our influence and how it affects life here, I realize that is a lot more complicated than it seems.
With some local girls at a home visit
Patients waiting outside the church clinic
 Undoubtedly, I am continually challenged and inspired everyday. My time with the University of Wyoming was a great reminder that what I will take away is not necessarily the work (although I am really enjoying this too) but the relationships I am building. I got to help translate and observe in the medical clinic and was able to see some interesting cases. The doctors and nurses pulled a lot of wax, dirt, and larvae eggs out of ears (which I enjoyed seeing a lot…maybe a little too much!). We did a few home visits and one memorable one was to a woman named Maria’s house. She was the cutest eighty-four year old woman and was so full of life and affection! Her house is on top of hill, you have to walk up steep mountain hills with lots of big rocks and she has been doing this for sixty years!  I went with two family medicine residents and they injected her knees (which clearly hurt for a reason!) and her shoulder. She told us about her husband who had lived to be ninety-four years old. She was so thankful for everything we brought her and I’m so excited to visit her again in March when the other group from University of Wyoming comes back. It is these little moments that reaffirm why I am here and make it all worth it!
With Maria at her house in Agua Salada (I loved all her necklaces!)
 I am finally “home” in Santa Lucia and it is so nice to see all the people I have been away from for over a month. However, I leave tomorrow on my “mandatory vacation” to renew my visa (hey, I’m not complainin’). We are probably going to take the ferry north to Belize and then go down through Guatemala but are currently playing it by ear. It should be a great trip! I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! I have so much to be grateful for and am so thankful for everyone in my life. I am thinking of you and missing you all!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bucket Showers, Clorox in My Nalgene, Beautiful Sunsets = Time Passing By in the Blink of An Eye

Forgive me for not writing for so long! By the time I realized it was October, it was gone! Hmmmm…where to start?
In Mid-October, it rained and it rained a lot. We’re talking the whole south of Honduras in a state of emergency, landslides galore, trees falling down on the road, and not seeing the sun for almost two weeks. Life here kind of stopped, the buses weren’t running, the power went out frequently, and school was canceled since the roads were muddy and some parts were submerged in water so they were too dangerous to cross. And then what happened? It stopped. The sun came out, the roads dried up and it hasn’t rained in this region of Honduras since and it most likely won’t rain until May. How’s that for an abrupt change?  I already miss the rain and wearing my sweater, not a good sign for the next 6 months!
On October 20th, we picked up the University of Rochester at the airport and we rode in trucks (still unable to brave the roads in a bus) to a community called San Jose, which is located about two hours away from where I stay in Santa Lucia. This little community is tucked away in the mountains and was my home for the past two weeks.  We stayed in a house specifically built by the University of Rochester for a future volunteer and did not have electricity and running water but it was wonderful (hence the title of bucket showers and Clorox in our drinking water for extra measure)! Everyday started around 7:30 for breakfast and then we hiked to schools to do a project with the kids, went to houses to see patients (we helped with a machete wound and ankle injection), and the residents also stayed in the clinic to attend patients. It was a great learning experience to see the relationships that the University of Rochester has built with the community as they have been coming there twice a year for eight years.  They do microfinance projects (we met with a few women who have started fruit selling businesses and paid back their loans in full with interest!), build latrines, build cook stoves with chimneys to reduce the rate of respiratory diseases, and have recently started with fish farms as a means to support the families who own the farms and the idea is to eventually sell the fish for profit. The community is much poorer than the one I live in Santa Lucia. No one has electricity, most homes are made of wood with dirt floors, and there are few roads, which limits access to school and other amenities. It was great to be stationed right in the community for two weeks getting to know the families, loving the technology free life, and hiking around on beautiful mountain trails. I am truly so lucky to get to be meeting all of these dedicated and idealistic people. The family medicine residents were so convincing…they almost convinced me to be a doctor…almost that is. 

The San Jose scholarship students and their parents

The students at the local elementary school lined up to sing the Honduran National Anthem before class
 Several of the more notable incidents that happened during my time in San Jose were (almost) seeing a birth and the Day of the Dead. The night before Halloween, I was standing out on the road talking on the phone to my sister Erin, when I saw a bunch of lights approaching in the distance. Thinking it was a custom for Day of the Dead, I kept talking. As they approached, I realized they were carrying someone in a hammock and were calling for a doctor. It turns out, they walked four hours up steep mountain hills with a woman who was in labor. About twenty people accompanied her to the clinic and then turned around to make the four-hour trek back. Her family, a midwife, and a few others stayed and the residents broke her water and coached her through her contractions. I thought I would be able to see my first live birth but unfortunately as her contractions were too far apart after two hours, we called a truck to take her to the nearest hospital in La Esperanza about two hours away. We put a mattress in the back of a truck and she rode on the bumpy roads with a midwife, talk about a way to make the baby come sooner! We saw her two days later and her and her baby were healthy and doing well!
The sunset with the volunteer house we stayed at in the foreground
Working hard (or hardly workin') at the pharmacy
Hiking in the mountains to one of the school visits
Also, another interesting cultural tradition I witnessed was Day of the Dead. November 2nd here is the day to celebrate deceased loved ones. In Honduras, this celebration lasts nine days. All of the families get together to walk to the cemetery and they bring gifts and the favorite food of their deceased family members to the cemetery to remember and celebrate their lives. The cemeteries here are very colorful and full of fake flowers and this tradition was very interesting to observe. It’s a great way for the whole community to unite and they all walked the multiple miles to the cemetery together, remembering those who have passed away, something I think we don’t do enough of in our busy lives. Overall though, it was wonderful being nestled in a little community getting to know its people, its problems, and its customs and I was sad to see the University of Rochester brigade leave!
The University of Rochester grupo in front of the clinic in San Jose
 After they left, I got to spend a few days in the city and then went to the airport to pick up the Montana State University brigade. There are twelve undergraduate nursing students and some faculty and we are staying at the clinic about an hour away from my home base. So far we have done a lot of home visits and given educational talks about multiple health issues. This weekend I will go to another community about an hour away with the University of Wyoming and will be with them until November 20th. Clearly, life here is busy and flying by a little faster than I would like it to but I am loving it and know I am thinking of you all!