Beautiful moments as I take my leave of Honduras. Until next time…
Granted the unexpected boon of little to do for my last week in La Moskitia. Went a wandering with camera in hand….
I have been very lazy these last two weeks, and missed out on daily running. Finally, Saturday, I realized how long it had been, and girded my loins and set forth. A two week break can put a good dent in cardiovascular stamina, but I managed to run out past the first mud pit. As I ran I realized just how much of my musing, pondering, ruminating, and existential pensivity (is that a word? I like it better than “pensiveness”) occurs while out in the savannah. Whether running or walking, the wide open spaces and gorgeous vistas seem to inspire and transcend.
When my beloved visitors were here in January they too appreciated the simple beauty of the verdant fields. Taly and I especially felt drawn to the meandering trail that leads out into the savannah. Starting with the long straight stretch of the runway, the road widens out and passes by JUCUM (the YWAM base and one of the local primary schools), and then trickles down into a meandering cow path occasionally dented by deep mud pits. If one were to walk out an hour or more, eventually the area called Pupulaia is reached, and then Ribra – a gorgeous swimming hole that has entertained us many a sweltering Sunday. The road is nothing special on first glance, but I think it has a subtle inspiration within its snaking path.
I asked my visitors to consider writing some impressions of their time here. Here are Taly’s words>
The long road to PupuLaia by Taly Shelby
By some Herculean soporific motivation, Hannah and I dragged ourselves out of bed before breakfast one morning (read: 5 o’clock- it only happened once despite brave proclamations to the contrary) to go for a stroll on the savannah. As at any other time of the day, it was gorgeous in a way that’s hard to capture with words or photographs; fog covered the savannah like marmalade on toast so that at best we could only see a few yards in front of us. It was a perfect (although cheesy) metaphor for the time that I’ve spent here; unsure of what each day would bring, but incredibly happy and surprised at what has emerged.
The clinic experience was both humbling (when weighing patients an older man obligingly tried to comply when I mixed up the verbs for sitting and standing when I asked him to get on the scale) as well as inspiring- the doctors running the clinic had seemingly boundless energy and breadth of knowledge. My time there included helping in the operating room, taking down contraction times and cleaning off a newborn at a birth, cleaning out the pharmacy, naming babies… the list goes on in a way that surprises me for how much time I actually spent there. Time not spent in the clinic was filled with a mud-soaked hike to the river with a troop of expats, playing soccer and other games with local kids and other volunteers, reading extensively, warding off the extreme lethargy and voracious bugs that seem to be the only downside of tropical living, and exploring the local villages. All this was of course heightened by the remarkable and ever-jovial company of my companions- figuratively beside me (and literally for that one morning) in the fog, they made every step exhilarating.
Looking at the date today, and realizing I will leave Honduras in a little more than a month, makes me oh so aware of the beauty and joy here around me.
I love walking out my door to be greeted with the full bloom of tulip trees and hibiscus.
I walk into morning report and am greeted with a smile and a welcoming “Buenos dias, Lic.! All of the nurses here call me by my title “Licenciada,” but the students have taken to affectionately shortening it to “Lic.” It sounds like a cross between the word leek and lick. A funny sounding word in English to be sure, but there is something wonderfully “belonging” about having a nickname. I love it. When I first was given the responsibility of supervising the student nurses I viewed it as a chore. They were constantly making mistakes that I was ultimately responsible for, one of the doctors was unhappy about having students (and let me know about it in full detail), and whenever there were students on shift I had to be physically present checking into every detail. Yet, as I got to know each of them personally, it became a joy instead. They come here, every day of the week, working for a bare minimum government stipend (they are in their year of government social service before they can work as full graduate nurses) and happily put up with all the menial tasks that students are given. Several weeks ago we heard that the government may not pay them anything this year – that they will have been working A YEAR without any pay, and yet they still show up with smiles in place and work diligently. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. I have had to work on my dislike of confronting people when there is discipline needed, and they have had to put up with a nurse manager who does not speak either of their languages very well, but I feel very privileged to have gotten to know all of them. When I see the smile and hear “Lic.!” called out in greeting I am grateful for all we have taught each other.
I have made so many dear friends here. This week was Lesvia’s birthday.
I was invited to her house for dinner and cake. This was my first Miskito birthday party. We sat on the porch of her stilt house and watched the sunset over the Moravian church. Her daughter (also named Lesvia, who was celebrating her birthday as well) had a friend come and set up a sound system.
What an interesting contrast sitting in a house with no plumbing, and watching the young man run a power line from the generator to his lovely sound setup. I was treated to a night of Miskito pop music, some Latin dance music, wonderful times of conversation and laughter, and delicious cake. Since coca cola is a huge part of the birthday tradition here (enough that a verse about it was added onto the birthday song) I found myself suddenly extremely talkative and ebullient at 9pm. One would think a daily habit of coffee drinking would diminish caffeine sensitivity over time, but in my case this just is not true.
I have made friends with all the boys on the youth soccer team. They are very amused that I enjoy playing soccer, and apparently the novelty of a gringa playing sports makes up for the fact that I am so very less talented then all of them. They frequently ask me to play when there is a pickup soccer game and laugh good naturedly with me when I fall over in the mud (yes, I am just that ungraceful, but my cleats were stolen back in November and the ground is very slippery!).
I was very happy to see one of these boys, Nehmias, at Lesvia’s party, since he was good enough to sit by me and chat in Spanish while many of the older generation were speaking only in Miskito. He was also sweet enough to walk me home, since it was well after dark. When we passed by several young men that reeked of alcohol and made suggestive comments I was quite glad that that I was not walking solo.
During the Saturday soccer match whichever boys are not playing are happy to keep up a running commentary in Spanish and Miskito. I am afraid my Spanish learning has plateaued at a not-quite-fluent-yet level, but the my Miskito vocabulary increases everyday!
One of the best things that happened this week was fairly mundane for everyone else, but was a great victory for me! The floor is fixed!
Selen, one of the hospital’s handimen, took pity on me (or perhaps he too sensed the malingering evil of these floor tiles) and gathered the necessary materials. No longer shall the fear of ballistic feces-infused scum water threaten my day.
There is so much joy to be had in every day if you just go looking for it!
Life is good.
December and January were such busy months (with all of our visitors and teams) I never got around to posting many pictures. The internet connectivity issues may have had something to do with that as well. So here are some recent pictures for your viewing pleasure
6 de Febrero, 2012
Hoy es un dia duro, y estoy cansada ya. Dr. Rudy is gone, and the hospital does not function as smoothly without him. My job is also much less defined without him here, and I feel frustrated by knowing there are things to do, but not knowing what they are – or at least not knowing how to fix them. I am realizing just how far from fluent my Spanish falls, or fails. Half of the hospital staff are sick with malaria right now, including our administrator who normally looks after a good many details while Dr. Rudy is gone. Two of the nurses were very angry that I would not let them exchange shifts with the student nurses, but the students are not yet experienced enough to work alone.
Alongside all of these actually important issues, is the irritation of the massive collection of chigger bites I have gained this week. I had just been mentioning to someone that I hadn’t had any bug bites for some time when the chiggers mounted their attack. I think they must have secret planning meetings where they discuss the perfect amount of time to lull the human into thinking they are no longer a consideration (and thus cease in the daily application of bug repellent) before sending out a full scale invasion. They are evil. Both of my ankles are swollen into cankles, there are huge red bites behind each knee… and of course they managed to find their way into other, more personal areas where one would not like to be seen itching in public. It is amazing how much simple bug bites can raise one’s irritation level to a constant simmer.
All that being said, today was a good day for a run. We have been having some late-season thunder storms, but the rain retreated back into the clouds by early afternoon. As I made my way out into the savanna, legs increasing spattered in a Jackson Pollack cacophony of mud colors, my irritation (and my bug bites) slowly dulled. The sky was glorious – the clouds curving up from the far reaching grasslands to form a sort of fishbowl with a perfect circle of blue in the center – right above me. In every direction rain could be seen sheeting down from the clouds, but the blue skies lingered over me as I ran. I couldn’t tell if I was running to or from the rain, since it encompassed me so, but the beauty was enveloping. Along the way my feet brushed the kingbaowla plant and I stopped for a moment to revel in the simple beauty of nature. The kingbaowla plant is a groundcover plant with small pink flowers. The delecate leaves curl and “bow” or fold in on themselves whenever they are touched. Thus the name in Miskito – Kingbaowla – the King is coming! The plant bows down in reverence before the King.
Not that I have a superiority complex, but it is fun to run a hand or foot along the plant and watch as the leaves all curl under… and then wait to see them peek out again in time.
The week has only just begun. We continue forward, siempre en la lucha
We are beset by femur fractures. I was a bit grumpy when this latest one came in since it meant we would have surgery Saturday afternoon instead of me having time off. I may have been heard to mutter “Solo quiero un dia libre – solo uno” under my breath while running around trying to gather supplies and get the equipment sterilized. The main problem was that the normal materials we would use – the pulleys and the very specific hanger to elevate the leg – were already in use on our other two children. Dr. Norvelle dragged me and our maintainance man up into the attic to look through old barrels of rusty metal. We did manage to find four unmatched pulleys and a rusty hanger while ducking the 20 or so angry bats who had been awakened from their slumber. Then Dr. Norvelle macgyvered together a float for the leg and we were ready. The surgery went well – we got the traction pin placed with minimal drama – and there were no curious bats that came to dirty our sterile field. When we finally had the pin set into the hanger, and the leg nicely supported on the float, I looked up to see Dr. Norvelle close her eyes and lean wearily against the door post. Suddenly my earlier grumbling seemed so immature and selfish. I may not have had a day free of hospital duties for two weeks, but Dr. Norvelle has not had a day OR night free since Dr. Rudy left. I go to bed and sleep each night while Dr. Norvelle delivers babies and treats emergencies, catching an hour or two of sleep, and then somehow still manages to drag herself to morning report at 7am. Only 8 more days until Dr. Rudy returns – we miss him dearly.
I am also counting down these next 8 days until my friend gets here! I am so excited to see a beloved face from home, and even more excited that she will spend Christmas with me! There is so much to experience and learn here – I cannot wait to have a friend to share it with.
I am also, slowly, making friends here. One of the first things Dr. Rudy told me – on the flight into Ahuas – was “make friends with the pilots.” There are three pilots that operate out of Ahuas. George is a dear man and a pilot from Ahuas who is a good friend of my family. I had met him before at my Grandfather’s funeral. He is wonderful about looking out for me when he is in town. Jarle is a Norwegian missionary pilot who has been here with his family for many years. They had all of us over for a pizza party at their house last week and it was amazing! Just to have pizza in the first place (and not rice and beans) and then Ingvald’s (I will admit that I have no idea how to spell her name) cooking was delicious and extravagant. Wayne is the third pilot here. He was the pilot who took me to La Ceiba before thanksgiving. He is very friendly and patient when I ask him to constantly translate words between Spanish and Miskito. Thanks to him I am actually speaking a little (a very little) Miskito now! One afternoon last week – while I was still battling paperwork – Dr. Norvelle pulled me aside and told me to stop working. “You need a break” she said. “Wayne is taking a short flight over to Puerto Lempira – you should go along.” Dr. Rudy was right – it is great to be friends with pilots. The flight was glorious. We flew low over the land so I could look down over the beautiful isthmus of Coco Bila and see the snaking Patuka river below. We landed briefly in Wampusirpi to drop off our 2 passengers and then took another 20 minute flight over the Puerto Lempira. We had time for a quick glass of cold guananbana juice and coconut bread before coming back to Ahuas. I even got to fly the plane for a little while. A very little while since there were cross winds, but still – getting to sit up front and see all the gauges and dials, and listen to the various air traffic controls and other pilots on the headphones was quite fun. I am looking forward to flying out on the 18th to meet Dr. Rudy and my friend!
- I love my Aunt Julie. Having been spoiled by having her here all week there is going to be a big gaping hole when she leaves.
- Early morning walks on the runway watching the sunrise make for wonderful glimpses of serenity in a hectic week
- Gathering pungpung berries with my Aunt and eating them just like she and my mom used to when they were little kids was a fun moment
- We did an average of three surgeries a day plus countless (ok I probably could get an actual count, but I’m nowhere near the clinic right now and have no inclination to walk over and get stuck) biopsies and exams. The team got up and 6am and worked until 7pm every night
- Today Dr. Norvelle rented us a “taxi” (an old pickup truck with a wooden board seat across the back) and we all drove through Ahuas and to the Patuka river
- Dugout canoes look like they could topple over any minute yet somehow the people paddle them effortlessly up and down the wide Patuka and manage to fit entire families, with their dogs, luggage, and hundred pound bags of rice without toppling.
- It’s always interesting when your local tour guide can look over and say “oh yeah when the narco traffickers are in town that’s where they stay.”
- The culinary delights have multiplied this week. Lesvia the cook and Dr. Norvel made fried yucca, Moravian sugar cake, deep fried sandwiches (I forget the Miskito name), fresh tortillas, fresh caught Tilapia, and yummy bread every day, and then cashew fruit pie tonight. I feel that Fannah may be here to stay.
- I am sad that this week has been (WAY) too busy to go running
- I walked all around Ahuas with Bud and Tina and we bought Honduran vanilla, hotsauce and a toothbrush for me. Mine had turned an odd shade of pink with no explanation and I was loath to use it anymore.
- I like the date today.
- Not having much makes you really appreciate the simple things. Aunt Julie left me a small bag with some hotel soaps, a flashlight, snacks, and some PENS (I lose pens frequently and when that happens here there isn’t a place to easily procure of new one) and it felt like Christmas.
- I need to get up early to make coffee for the team before they fly out at 6am. Then tomorrow I will help quell the chaos left from this week of surgery, help cut and fold gauze (since we are out right now), and check in on the newborn baby on the oxygen concentrator. A new week is about to begin.
My Aunt the Orthopedic nurse casting a child with club foot
Richard (Bud) and Tina on our walk in Ahuas
The Patuka river
I am quite thankful that I ended up in Ceiba for Spanish school. Unbeknownst to me when I made the decision, La Ceiba is a Honduran tourist hub. Not because Ceiba itself is famous (although I personally find its history with Standard Fruit Company rather interesting) but rather because several major Destinations are only a short bus or ferry ride away.
Having been given the unexpected boon of freetime on weekends it seemed only natural to see some of these nearby gems.
First Rio Cangrejal and Pico Bonito with my housemates
Then Utila and the joy of scuba diving
Then the wonders of Copan
Finally a last hurrah in Utila again – this time a girls’ weekend filled with laughter and sunburns. Rounded out by getting officially open water certified for scubadiving!
I have been quite spoiled by this last month. Spoiled, but oh so thankful.
This weekend was a strange mix of occurrences and feelings.
Friday was scorching hot, but we decided to walk to the local Pulperia to get some breakfast anyhow. We made the walk in about ten minutes and only sweated out a liter or two on the way. As we were buying our baliadas I heard an awful impact and looked up to see a motorcyclist flying up into the air and crashing down onto the street. Ever since I got here I have been expecting some sort of motor vehicle accident to occur daily. The driving here is insane, and the cabs are particularly scary. Sure enough the motorcyclist had been T-boned by an oncoming taxi.
The three of us rushed over as soon as it happened – reaching the man just before the teeming mass of people that crowed us in barely a moment later. I was thankful we were there. The crowd wanted to pick him up and throw him in a cab to get to the hospital. I managed to explain that he MUST NOT be moved until we could stabilize his spine. The medical student immediately began assessing the man. His helmet hadn’t come off and he was alert and oriented, although definitely in mild shock. The other nurse and I were asking him questions, assessing his pain and extend of the damage, all the while trying to keep the ever pressing crowd back enough to give us room to breath. At least 10 people were screaming into their cell phones and repeating the man’s name to various agencies, but I had yet to see any evidence of police or an ambulance. With the amount of cars and cabs that were stopping and taking pictures there was a high likelihood of another accident occurring. Finally I stood up and starting yelling at the cars to move on. I’m fairly sure my Spanish was incorrect because the crowd was amused, but at least it worked. One woman was very helpful and went and fetched water. I explained that he shouldn’t drink anything, but it was good to keep him cool so we wetted a cloth and put it on his forehead. It had been at least 15 minutes and still no ambulance. I was afraid of him getting overheated lying on the asphalt. Meanwhile the motorcycle had leaked out a huge lake of gasoline that was slowly making it’s way over to where he landed. We kept the man talking to us as finally police and an ambulance showed up maybe 20 to 25 minutes after they had been called. They did have a backboard. We assisted getting him onto the ambulance and then made our way back to class extremely tardy.
A couple of hours later we set off for the island of Utila. Utila is one of the smaller Bay Islands – next to Roatan. I have been told that families and rich people are the clientele of Roatan, but Utila is a mecca for backpackers. It seemed to be quite true. Everywhere on the main street barefoot, scruffy, young Americans walked in happy abandon. Everything was cheap – the food, the beers, the hotels – and quite good. The veggie and avocado baliada I got there was one of the best foods I have had in Central America. Our room was a cute little wooden house up on stilts in order to stay above the ingressing and egressing tides.
The next morning was my first attempt at scuba diving! It was so easy and fascinating. Other than some problems acclimating to the pressure changes I did quite well. Aquatic life is so beautiful! I decided to at least start working towards certification to be able to dive without an instructor.
After a full day of diving my right ear was plugged rather painfully so I decided to just go to bed and hope it cleared. We wanted to go kayaking the next day and I wanted to be fresh and rested.
Sunday dawned hot and clear and we wandered around the main street slowly procuring coffee, breakfast, paddles, and then eventually two double kayaks. We searched for a single, but there was none to be found. I generally think of myself as fairly strong and in shape so I offered to take the double kayak by myself while the med student and the other nurse took the other double kayak together. This was a mistake. About half an hour to an hour in it felt like I had been fighting the waves forever and we were only halfway across the bay. Despite applying a strong layer of sunscreen when we set out I could already see a lobster hue taking over my arms. The med student graciously switched with me and we made our way all the way across the bay and into the lagoon. The day was absolutely gorgeous despite the heat and we saw some pelicans weaving their way in and around air currents and staring curiously at us from various docks
The only thing I was not excited about was making our way back across the waves and currents in the bay. The med student wanted to explore the lagoon some more so he stayed while we made our way back across. It was fairly grueling progress. It seemed as though every time we took a rest the current would push us right back to where we had started, but eventually we made it back to the cabana happy and sore. Another profitable weekend. Now back to the daily grind. Hospital and school, tarea and taking blood pressures – I feel like I have been here for so much longer than two weeks. The routines are already comfortable and even mundane. Only two more weeks and then off to La Mosquitia I go!