Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chloroquine and Outhouses: A Brigade to Honduras

This time next week, my sister, Emma, and I will be in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with a medical brigade from Friends of Honduran Children.  Our plane will be just touching down, and we'll be gathering our bags to journey to Comayagua by jeep.  We'll spend the night and the next night at a girls' orphanage, before taking our jeeps further up the mountains and deeper into the jungle to provide medical care to children.  We'll settle in at a compound that has guards, and no hot water or flush toilets.  We'll need to put up bed-nets to keep mosquitos and other insects out while we sleep - like scorpions and cockroaches.  We'll need to take chloroquine to ward off malaria.  We'll need to make sure we don't swallow any of the water unless it's bottled.  We'll probably get some gastrointestinal discomfort anyway, from the different indigenous bacteria in the food than what we're used to.

Emma with a baby girl, during last year's brigade
Each day we'll head out from our compound to a different village.  We'll see kids who haven't seen a doctor or dentist maybe ever in their lives, depending on when the last brigade came through those towns.  Mostly the brigade is for children, but many of their mothers will also be kids - 13 or 14 years old.  We'll give them shoes, glasses, clothes, vitamins, and prescription drugs if they need them.  Last year, Emma went with the same organisation and did 5 days of brigade.  She says that they ran out of most things by the 3rd or 4th day (depending on the supply).  This time, we're doing 9 days of brigade, and I'm a bit worried that we'll be facing the last half of the brigade without anything to give the kids.  How do you ration shoes when every child we see will be in a comparable state of need?  The brigade leader would like to see 3000 people, and we don't have enough stuff for that.  We would need a huge cargo shipment if we were going to provide everything we can give kids on the first day to the kids we see on the ninth day.

Ruins at Copan - Photograph by Kenneth Garrett
at National Geographic 
I'm a bit nervous.  I've been preparing for this trip since about September, because we needed to raise funds for the brigade to buy medications and also pay for the transport of the supplies we've collected.  I collected soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, glasses, sunglasses, shoes, soccer balls, and clothes all through the fall and winter.  People at work were very supportive, and continue to be, and ask me often if I'm feeling excited about the trip.  The answer is a little more complicated than cheerful office chit-chat supports, so I just say something like "yep, it's coming up soon."  Really, I'm excited, but the excitement is tampered by some attempt at emotional preparation for the tough realities we'll see.  Emma has been able to prep me because of her experiences last year, and I think for both of us it'll be a solid reminder about life in countries other than Canada and the rest of the developed West.

Roadside fruit stands - holy yum batman!
It's always a bit of a shock to visit places where the living standard is far below the Canadian average, and certainly far below my own personal standard of living despite the fact that I'm not wealthy by Canadian standards.  I know that if I travelled north in Canada I'd see terrible living conditions with the addition of some serious social problems and disenfranchisement of the people who live there, so the idea of needing to travel to 'poor countries' to see strife is a myth.  In any case, the last time I was in a developing country it was Mexico, and I was in Mexico City staying in one of the neighbourhoods with friends.  There were cockroaches bigger than I'd ever seen before, and people had dirt floors and dirt roads, even in the city.  Apartments were stacked up on top of each other in seemingly impossible feats of architecture, and there were bright blue water tubs on each roof because there was no municipal water infrastructure.  People had 'running water', but it was running through their taps from the tank on the roof - and you definitely didn't want to drink it, because even the locals would get Montezuma's Revenge.  Mexico City and the other cities we visited were as beautiful and enchanting as anywhere I've been, and the people were happy, friendly, and welcoming despite the fact that often their living conditions were far below what I was used to seeing (though let's not forget that Mexico and other Latin American countries have a solidly wealthy upper class).  All that to say, it's going to be a good reminder of how fortunate I am in Canada, and how much material and social wealth I have.

Honduran Fruit Bats!  Aaawwwww! 
I'm really looking forward to meeting the people in Honduras.  I can't wait to listen to them, talk with them, eat their food, enjoy their culture, and just feel the jungle heat on my skin.  I can't wait to hear the sounds of the jungle at night, and to see macaws, and to eat fresh mangoes and starfruit.  I love travelling.  Love it so much.  I know I'm not going to want to come back, even if I have to poop in a hole in the ground and deal with cockroaches.  I can't wait to hear Spanish again, and maybe speak a little of it if it comes back to me at all.

It's going to be amazing.  I just hope that we can help a lot of kids, and don't run out of supplies too early.

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