Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back in the City For a Few Days...

Salsa dancing until 1:00 and a 3:00am wake up call is a bad combination. I'm exhausted. We left Antigua at 4:00am to ensure that the San Cristobal team would catch their flight home on time. It's difficult to know that I'll be starting another team with entirely new faces next week and to see that this team, with whom I've spent the past ten days conversing, realizing and relating, will not be traveling with me to my next destination: La Tinta.

I had a wonderful few days in Antigua Guatemala. A 24 hour hour bout of dehydration put me out for some time, but if anything it gave me an excuse for some time on my own. It was well warranted time as I relished in my walk around the city and took a few pictures.

Antigua is a very old city and for as much of a tourist trap as it is, its history and beauty remains. It's about 20 by 20 blocks big and you can see it's entirety if you make a walk up to "La Cruz." It's a short walk to the city's boundary and a hike up a hill where an immense stone cross has been standing on the hillside in a grassy, clear opening. From it's base there, words really dimminish the meaning of the view. One can hear distinct voices of people in courtyards, and hear horses and cars clipping down the city's cobblestone streets. From its height, one has a direct sight of the opposing volcanic mountain side that shadows the city in its valley. Morning mist lifts higher and higher. I shared this moment with two friends, John and Anna Boyle on Tuesday morning. As we woke early and strolled across the city to the base of the cross together, John recounted his stay in the country the year previous. We got breakfast in a small coffee shop and afterward I took my stroll in the city.

Iron casts over the windows of every buildling to protect from rocks and larger, more human predators, houses and shops alike blend into one wall that is divided only by sky blue, marigold and salmon hues. Roofs are flat and clay eaves hang down to connect them. Sidewalks are tall and treacherous. Often unkempt and barely wide enough for the extended windows from the buildings to cover, it is easy to clip one's shoulder or head. The cobblestone of the street is just as much of a challenge however, as uneven rocks produce bumpy bicycles and vespas rides alike.

The center square is filled with trees - the canopies of which you can see from La Cruz. Benches adorn their concrete walkways and a massive fountain with nude women etched into its stone chatters among the street vendors and shoe shiners. Charming as it is, these shoe shiners make their living here. It is not so much like the men in airports who ask for tips. As you walk down the street every so often, a coffee shop's aroma fills your nose or fresh oranges and papaya make your mouth water. Children run around with yellow and magenta ice cream as drips eagerly fall create mess on a shirt.

Ruins of old churches immerse with the architecture and color of those still upheld. A great yellow arch containing a clock is ahead, beckoning ones eyes to the matching Catholic church behind it. During Semana Santa (Holy Week) these streets will be filled with intricate carpets, colored and designed with sawdust. They are a reverence to the Holy parades that take place and holy the ground the float bearers walk upon. In either direction one looks, mountains and volcanoes surround, as a sky turns pink and the clouds streak blue.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Don't Smoke and I Don't Chew, and I Don't Go With the Boys That Do.

Alright, so I figure the title is just kind of catchy. It was one of my quotes from the day from a 70 something nurse I was working triage with this week. I decided it was worthy of writng down.

I just arrived this afternoon in Antigua, Guatemala after a week in the highlands of San Cristobal, Guatemala. The week was wonderful: complete with unflushable toilets, and not enough water in the hospital to shower everyday. Plumbing is an interesting concept in Guate, many times it's not uncommon to see people on the side of the roads, using the ditch as their plumbing. But if you're like me you'll find a toilet more proper. However, pipes and sewers are not equipped here to handle toilet paper and thus paper products go in the garbage. There is a policy on every team: "If you flush it, you fish it." And they're not kidding. So folks, be grateful that you can throw things down the toilet, you have enough water to take more than a freezing navy shower and that your plumming is equipped to handle even goldfish.

I plan to hop into another internet cafe and blog again tomorrow, as it's beginning to darken and it's not safe to walk down the street to the hotel by myself.

Before I pay my internet cafe dues and such, I thought I'd give a quick run down of what my actual job here entails. HELPS international has approximately 11 medical teams from the United States flow through Guate every year, my job is to make each of their trips flow smoothly. So, for instance, the next team flies into GUatemala City next Saturday evening. My job before that it to shop for their groceries, mind you the cooking portion of the staff is cooking for more than 100 people and recovering patients for a week. So as you can imagine, 500 rolls of toilet paper and 70 pounds of carrots is standard number. So we shop, and then we pack the food so it's easily trasportable for that team. We also have various project around the warehouse. Come Thursday, the crew will be packing the trucks with medical equipment, which mean anesthesiology equipment, dental chairs (Dad, all of your supplies were put in the proper hands, you have nothing to worry about and I took care of your bag), overhead operating lights, toolboxes for the mechanics, portable shelves and other units of power and medical devices. We typically have three moderately large, almost semi trucks worth of equipment for these teams.

Now the people who fly in are a slew of dentists, plastic surgeons, gynecologists, general practitioners, cooks, mechanics or mcgyvers, (sp?), pharmacists, nurses, general surgeons, translators, triage persona, and various other odd jobs tha occur around the hospital. It's quite the crew. So they fly into the city on Saturday night. I'm part of the welcoming committee that comes and lets them know about tour information after their weeks worth of hard work, and other specifics about the area we're traveling to and the rules involved there (i.e. the toilet paper). Sunday morning we load onto two or three large busses, travel to our location and set up the hospital. We work Monday to Saturday morning: surgeons prforming hysterectomies, herinias, many cleft lip and pallate surguries and various lumps and bumps. This week there were a total of 109 major surguries completed (discluding lumps and bumps). Meanwhile, the General practicioners are seeing patients - giving out worm medicine and lots of ibuprofen and vitamins. That's right, not everyone can afford basic pain medicines, and most of you don't spend your days working in a field or washing clothes my hand or carrying a week's worth of laundry on your head. The dentist are completing cleanings, fillings, a few crowns and a lot of pulling. Some small children have so much decay they have all four from teeth pulled out. THe pharmacy is pumping out drugs and the recovery room is filled with groaning babies, worried mothers, and vaious women and men. One woman this week, asked Dr. Schmidt, a gynecologist if he was the surgeon who put her in so much pain after her hysterectomy. He said yes. She replied "Thank you" with a kiss as she took his hand.

Friday comes and the town throws us a fiesta, complte with incredible typical food, and men dancing with fireworks strapped to their backs.

Saturday we tear the hospital down, and end up here. And by the next week, I'm set to do it all over agian.

Hopefully I'll have a few moments to add stories tomorrow. I think of all of you frequently, for various reasons. Today I'm wearing brown and baby blue, so Benjamin Bradley popped into my mind. It's small things like that that remind me from where I've come and how blessed I am to have such wonderful friends and love in my life.

Te quiero mucho,


Saturday, January 6, 2007

And So It Begins...

My last three days have been exhausting, exciting, and a million things at the same time. The flights were smooth, and I'm discovering that my spanish needs exercise... terribly. I must say, however, after three days I'm already fighting the urge to write to you in Spanish, or spanglish in the least.

I've been trying to keep track of things I learn each day. For instance, at 5:30am on Thursday morning I learned that Starbucks is a heck of a long hike from Councourse E in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. I also learned that the grocery store (El Paiz) carries everything from laundry detergent to shirts and ties and bras and underwear to apples and good wine. Driving here, as Megan Albertson (the Team Coordinator and my boss) quite accurately put it, is always a contact sport, and the lane lines... are merely a suggestion. I commend her greatly for her skills at mangaging a manual Toyota Land Rover and a cell phone at the same time. I've also found that boys tossing fire in the streets is a common novelty that can be paid in either granola bars or pudding.

However, the greatest things I've learned, or was reminded of rather, is the difference between Cansada and Casada. While I knew both words previously, their difference is between being married and tired. My seat neighbor, Juan, was a kind man from South Carolina with gold embellishments on his teeth. After learning where I was going and what I was doing in Guatemala, he asked me kindly if I was married. Thinking he had asked me if I was tired, I said of course. That was slightly embarassing. But after a little confusion, we got our differences figured out and made for a most enjoyable flight. He was going to visit his mother, and I was embarking on something I've never done before.

Yesterday, I learned that the Bodega (HELPS warehouse) is extremely dusty, and that my allergies will have a hay day in this country for the next five months. Bugs also are extremely attracted to dried celery. Kory and I found some friends while packing food yesterday afternoon, but don't worry Dad, we got rid of it and no one will be cooking with such a seasoning. I also found that Banks are located in malls. And that none of the banks in Guatemala accept Visa traveler's checks. There is also a national money shortage, and the banks are stingy when it comes to buying quetzales (Guatemalan money). Supposedly the man in charge forgot to order paper to print the money. Ooops.

I am staying at a wonderful place called Seteca. It's kind of a monestary/hostel, and is far more acommodating than I had expected. The compound is surrounded by a tall, cement, fence with circular barbed and electric wiring around its top. A guard carefully mans the gate and no one is let in or out without their safe knowledge. There are open grounds, basketball courts and soccer fields, a few small courtyards with garden benches and breezy windows. Any venture outside the compound however, is surely dangerous. It's amazing how the demeanor can change at a finger's snap. The first night I had a large eight legged friend first out my window and then above my head. He soon became good friends with the bottom of my shoe. Now normally I'd capture and bring him outside, but I was in my pajamas, and knew he probably was familiar with the way to enter again.

Well, I can only nab so much time in an internet cafe in Antigua. Tomorrow I'm off to church and possibly a little frisbee game with Kory and Rudy (a member of the HELPS staff). But for now, I'm off to the market, lunch and probably a glance at a pair of new earrings. Granted, nothing will be bought until later as my money is a sketchy situation. My parents were glad to hear I was still alive yesterday afternoon when I called, and my dad's cold seems to be clearing up well. I, on the other hand, may have to send for some allergy medecine. El polvo, or dust is a big problem.

I hope all is well in the states, and you aren't too cold in the snow! I apologize for my spastic writing, but it's been quite the jumble the last couple days.

Te amo mucho,