Adventures in Paradise
I was cautiously excited about my upcoming adventure to Honduras. I have never participated in anything like this in my life, and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I guess that being a cancer survivor, I had a true need to do this. I was ready... Physically, emotionally and thank goodness, financially.
On Sunday, July 16th, I awoke at 3:00 am. Nick drove, and we arrived at Charleston Airport with plenty of time to make my 6:15 am flight to Houston, where I was to meet the rest of the group.
There were a total of 22 in our group. The volunteers included 2 docs, 2 nps, a few rns, a coroner (I had the biggest hope that we were not going to be using her professional services) and other lay people, as well as yours truly. They hailed from California, Tennessee, Arkansas, Illinois, and South Carolina. We began as total strangers but were to emerged as soul-mates and friends.
We arrived in San Pedro Sula, Honduras at 12 noon. The heat was unbearable, even in the shade. After collecting our bags, we headed for our transportation: a bus straight out of "Romancing the Stone". With the help of our greeters, we packed all the luggage and crates on top of the bus and headed for our destination.
At around 7 pm, we stopped in La Ceiba for dinner. I was hoping for a little local flavor, however, the group leader had chosen Burger King. I haven't eaten at a BK, or any other fast food joint in years, and here I am in a foreign county, partaking in junk food. So, I ordered a cheeseburger and coke. At the BK, we also met our translators for the week. After eating we all herded into the bus and headed for our final destination, Olanchito.
It was around 10 pm when we pulled up to the delightful Hotel Olanchito. It might be considered "comfortable" by Honduran standards, but even a Motel 6 - it ain't. The sign did look a whole lot better by the light of the moon and I am so glad that my attempt to capture it came out. My room (I would be bunking with Jane, a middle school teacher) did have 2 beds, electricity (some of the time), a/c (some of the time) and running water (again, some of the time). Welcome to a third world country. I was asleep before my head even touched the pillow.
My first full day in paradise: Monday, July 17th. The morning came awfully fast. Wake up call was at 5:00 am. I used the facilities, depositing the tp in the bucket next to the bowl. I showered, being careful not to run the water too strong. There was some sort of contraption that heated the water as you used it. If it ran too fast, it couldn't heat it and would come out cold. Now, I was also warned not to let the water in any mucous membranes. So, I quickly ran under the water, lathered up, and then came the torturous task of rinsing off under the dribbly stream of water while holding my breath. Believe me, it was not an easy thing to do. I brushed my teeth using bottled water and splashed on plenty of DEET. After my morning rituals were complete, I joined the group and walked about 5 blocks to breakfast.
After breakfast, we herded into the bus and headed to our first clinic. The landscape was picturesque. We traveled down small dirt roads, pitted with potholes, surrounded by beautiful, lush mountains. I was impressed by the stark contrast of the richness of the land and the poverty of its people. Those are papayas in those trees. We passed fertile pineapple and coffee plantations.
After about 2 hours, we pulled into an area called El Escano. The village consisted of a small church, and three homes. Now, we had been driving in the most desolate area, passing no one and nothing, and I was amazed that within minutes of our arrival, we were surrounded by hundreds of people. We unloaded crates of medicine from the bus and quickly began to organize ourselves to begin clinic.
I was accompanied by Jimena, a beautiful young girl, who would be attending the university in the fall. She spoke wonderful English and was to be my translator for the week. My knowledge of Spanish is crude at best. "Mi llamo es Dorene. Yo hablo espanol un poquito, pero muy mal". But, I must admit that my rudimentary Spanish did pass, and I only needed Jimena's assistance part of the time. And I was soon to discover that a smile is a smile in any language.
The people of Honduras are truly beautiful. We were THE event of the year, and they came, decked out in their Sunday best. It was better than Carnivale. I saw infants, children, teenagers, adults and elderly. They were so gracious for any and all help or medications that we could render. Everyone received medications for parasites, an endemic problem. I did see one toddler that had a irreducible, incarcerated hernia. Our group had a small stash of funds and I was able to arrange for the baby to be transported for a surgical evaluation. Still, with other patients, I felt a bit like the Dutch boy with the finger in the dike. Their needs were great and our resources were limited.
At lunch, a few of the local ladies graciously offered us lunch consisting of carne, frioles, arroz and tortillas. Most of the group declined to partake. But, I had been seeking a bit of the local flavor, and here it was being handed to me. The food was fabulous! Truly fabulous! And it was amazing how they cooked it all on this outdoor clay oven. I was touched with their generosity; these people have nothing, and here they were trying to share with us.
The doors to the "clinic" closed at 4:30. Almost 400 people had been seen by our group. We were all exhausted, working in temperature in excess of 100 degrees. Again, we climbed back into our bus and headed back to Olanchito for dinner and bed. Dinner wasn't worth walking to, however, the bed looked all too inviting after my day.
Five am came awfully fast. My morning ritual was a bit easier this day. We all met for breakfast and I soon found out that 6 members of our group were "down for the count." So, we headed for our next clinic at Tierra Blanca Arenal. My mind was blown away with how truly needy the people were on Monday, but today, if it was at all possible, I think that these people were even more destitute. Again, the local ladies graciously brought lunch, and again it was fabulous. By the end of the day we had seen almost 500 people.
The rest of our days were more of the same. They were days full of beautiful, needy people. Even with their problems, they all seemed to smile. By the end of the week, we had seen 1,800 people, a spectacular feat that I am proud to have participated in. We set up clinics in Baranco, Baraco, Escuela Luis Ances Zoniga, Puerto Escondido and finally the Olanchito Prison.
Of course, I did bring knitting with me. I brought plenty of Sugar and Cream Cotton and I did manage to knit about 3 washcloths every day. By the end of my journey, I had made approximately 30 that Jimena helped by give to the young mothers with babies.
Before heading back to San Pedro Sula, we managed to have a well needed day of rest and relaxation. The group leaders had made reservations at Palma Real Caribe Hotel. It was located on the Caribbean and was such a pleasant surprise after our grueling days of labor. A few in the group headed out for a canopy tour of the rain forest, others to the hot springs and mud baths. I was content to lounge about the pool,with a pina colada in my hand, and take in the most fabulous sunset. And the sunrise in the morning. All is good.
I am looking forward to doing this again. Perhaps Peru in the fall? I wonder how many mittens and hats I can knit before then?