Monday, April 23, 2012

Honduras Part 1: Days 1 to 4

Here begins the tale of the Lindsay Medical Brigade to Honduras, told from my point of view, in three parts.

Day 1.
This early morning at the airport was complete chaos.  We were doing fine until a load of late donations appeared and created a total cluster with the baggage.  The donor had hoped we could each fit one small backpack into our luggage, but this wasn't possible as most bags were already at the 50 lb limit.  We ended up having to leave a lot of these donations in the airport lobby, which was tragic because there are plenty of needy people in the Kawarthas who could have used them.  Fortunately, a nice airport employee said he would make sure they were donated in Toronto, and also saved us the fine for leaving baggage in the lobby.  

We're on our way now.  The first flight is to Miami, and then we fly on to Tegucigalpa.  I realised a few minutes ago that I forgot my travel towel and a time piece.  I didn't even think to bring a watch with me, so maybe I'll pick up a cheap one somewhere.

I miss Drew a lot already. I thought about texting him about 5 times so far, but I left my phone at home.  I'll be able to use Em's phone to let him know that we arrive safely.  I'm so excited to step off the next plane and breathe in the humid tropical air.  You can smell a place right away - I wonder what Honduras smells like...

Later... I was flooded with memories of Mexico; the purple trees, the scorched yellow earth.  This is a very poor country.  Already I've seen two dead stray dogs on the road, an open-air pool room perched on the side of the mountain roadway, a burning tire at the side of the road, and huge areas of washed-out road and landslide scars.  

We're now at the beautiful Nuevo Paraiso orphanage, in the middle of a massive thunderstorm.  I really need to sleep!

Day 2.
Nuevo Paraiso
We had a full day today.  Right after breakfast we had a tour of the compound at Nuevo Paraiso.  We walked around the 'homes', which are residences for orphans or kids who are escaping violence.  There are a few adults living in some of the homes as well.  Emma got to see her little girl, Karla, who she and Matt sponsor.  Karla loved the presents Em gave her and it was really sweet to watch her open everything with total joy.  

After that, we went up to Flor Azul, an all-boys orphanage and agricultural school.  One of the boys gave us a tour to practice his English, and he was very sweet.  We saw the boys' cows, horses, sheep, chickens, and tilapia ponds.  We also saw their greenhouses, where they grow green peppers and tomatoes.  We could see their fields of plantain as well.  The boys at Flor Azul do a half day of class and a half day of work around the farm, learning skills that will hopefully set them up for success when they graduate.  It's really quite an incredible place.  

One of the boys at Flor Azul feeding
watermelons to hungry and curious cows
One of the horses at Flor Azul,
getting saddled up to ride with the cows
After our tour, a few of us (Em, Katrina, Amanda, Joe, Jess and I) played a game of soccer against five of the boys.  It was really fun, but crazy hot.  There were puddles from last night's rainstorm, so we got hit with wet, dirty soccer balls at every turn.  The boys won, but we weren't too embarassed - I think the score was 7-4 or something.  They liked playing with us; they don't get to play soccer with girls very often.  

After lunch we had to get straight to work, packing (or should I say, re-packing) all of the hockey bags we brought with us.  I started out on school supplies, which was chaos, especially after the three people who were working with me left to see a 2 o'clock mass (it's Good Friday).  My other task today was to help inventory the meds.  I spent many hours this afternoon creating a master list of the drugs we have after the doctors and nurses had counted out different categories (antibiotics, GI drugs, topicals, etc).  It's going to be a big job to keep track of everything they prescribe each day.

Side-note: I want to vote Crest Anti-Cavity Protection toothpaste to be the Most Likely to Explode on An Airplane.  While trying to pack dentistry stuff today, I came across no less than 5 exploded tubes, and had to try to wash sparkly sticky toothpaste off everything else.  

Now our day's work is done, and we're out here relaxing on the porch.  I've had a couple of texts from Drew, he sounds good.  I wonder if he misses me (I do kind of hope so).  Matt is really missing Emma and has sent some seriously squishy texts to her - big softie!

Day 3.
We drove all day.  We went back to Tegucigalpa to get 4 bags that got lost en route to Honduras, and then headed up into the mountains.  When I say into the mountains, I really mean it.  We climbed up dirt roads, carved into divots and washboards, and could see miles of mountain peaks in the blue hazy distance.  I wanted to get a photo, but also knew that a photo would never capture it.

After 7 hours on the road, we made it to our current abode.  It's very simple.  In our room we have straight wooden beds, plain mattresses, covered by a single fitted sheet, and small pillows.  There's a red plastic chair by the door, and a stone tile floor.  The word 'bare' doesn't quite capture it.  It's clean though, and the chicken burritos tonight were delicious.

This is our bed-net, over Em's and my bed.  It might not have been
totally necessary for mosquitos, but there were plenty of other
creepy-crawlies around to keep out!
We'll be staying here for 9 nights, and tomorrow is our first brigade day.  I'm helping the dentist.  
I've been practicing my Spanish a tiny bit, and I really love the country so far.  We travelled from a pine forest up into jungle, covered in palms, plantain, flowering trees, and coffee plants - coffee everywhere.  Tango says that Cerval cats live in Honduras, which is super cool.  We haven't seen much wildlife, besides a bat and a toad, but tons of farm animals.  Chickens, cows, horses and donkeys (and dogs of course) roam free by the side of the road.  We even saw some turkeys.  

Tomorrow will be interesting, and I think a bit of a cluster.  Some people already seem inclined to be more negative, so we will see how that plays out.  

Before I forget, a little description of where we are staying:  we wash our faces in a big well of standing water, with a little bowl so we don't contaminate the well with soap.  To shower, we have to stand beside a rain barrel and pour small buckets of water over ourselves and our hair.  We need to pour water into the toilets to make them flush.  It's actually not that bad, but I'm sure it will get old plenty quick.  Also, the ever-present warning: DON'T DRINK THE WATER.  Don't even brush your teeth with it.  
The toilet on the left, and the shower rain-barrel on the right.
This is the well where we could wash our faces, hair, clothes, etc. 
Here are our trucks, parked outside the rooms.  The square of
concrete in the foreground was our typical hang-out spot of an evening.
This is the view of the ranch looking from my and
Emma's room. The little shack is where some of
the family who owned the place lived.
Day 4.
First day of brigade.  It went pretty well.  I was with the dentist, Fabio, all day and we did only extractions of teeth.  What I was doing was filling out the dental forms, marking the map of teeth according to what Fabio said, and filling in the prescription part according to what he wanted to give the patients.  I also surveyed people after about brushing their teeth and showed them how to brush properly - all in Spanish.  It's difficult, but also fun to be speaking it a bit again.  I'm obviously very beginner, and have a terrible accent that people actually had difficulty understanding today, but I like finding my Spanish words again.

I hung out with the crew tonight a bit to talk with them and practice/listen to Spanish, but got a bit of a warning from Em afterwards; I guess there was a scandal last year between an employee and a volunteer that lead to the firing of the employee.  There's absolutely no concern there when it comes to me, and there were 4 or 5 people all in the room together, but I guess it could make Em (and others) uncomfortable.  

Our town today was called Cablotes.  There were a lot of enormous families - like 13 kids enormous - and a lot of illness and poverty (claro).  The worst (most heartbreaking) of the patients we saw today was a little 4 year old boy who needed to have 3 teeth removed.  He screamed the whole time - the other kids were terrified.  I can't even blame them.

A view of the schoolroom turned pharmacy at Cablotes
(Photo Credit: Jess Evans)
The ride there and back was the worst ever, but also the most beautiful.  The road was raw dirt, torn and gnawed by rain and falling rocks.  We bumped and jostled the whole hour ride there, and there are 4 of us in the back seat of the truck, with Emma riding shotgun.  We are at the very top of mountains, and drive by deep valleys and misty clouds just above the tree canopy.  It's ridiculously beautiful.  There's no way to describe it well, or capture it on film - it was gorgeous.

I've seen some of the cutest dogs, but we can't touch them.  Like the people, many of them are starving. I'd love to adopt one and take it home.  Tell Drew: I miss him a lot.  Em's country music is slowly killing me (and she somehow doesn't have International Harvester!?), but she reeeeeally likes her iPod (and so does Tango - he keeps asking for songs.  *sigh*).  There was something else to tell him, but I can't remember.  I hope he's having a good Easter with his family.

 *****

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