As I think on what I want to take away with me, what lessons I hope to implement in my life as a result of my stay, I think much on need and waste.
I am so impressed by the amount of reuse here. There are no recycling plants within a thousand miles, indeed people do not even know that word , but waste is an abomination. When you are poor, you are loath to waste any of the little you have. When you don’t know how big your next meal will be (if it comes at all) you care about every grain of rice. Along with the wonderful boon of solar energy here (during the day the entire hospital and the surrounding buildings are run completely off solar power, the generator is run only for a couple hours at night to charge the batteries), there are many examples of conservation and reuse. Small soda bottles are washed out and used to dispense liquid medications in the pharmacy. Pages from magazines and newspapers are folded into tiny envelopes to carry pills and other small items. The large three liter (soda bottles here are 3, not 2 liter like in the States) plastic bottles are frequently used to tote water up from the river to the house.
Water is of particular importance since it is so much work to procure. Another frequent usage is to pack the bottles full of nanche berries and fill with water – providing the family with an easily transportable food source that will not spoil for several weeks.
The nurses reuse the outer packaging that IV bags come in to send hold the cytology slides. The rubber bands you see in the picture are actually the wrist of a surgical glove that’s been torn out. At times the hospital has run low on gloves, and they have to wash them out and hang them up to dry. From an infection control standpoint many people would cringe, but is it not better to have a reused glove than none at all? It is an amusing sight to see a “glove tree” with many plastic hands flapping in the air as they dry.
Everywhere you go there are products being reused, and new uses found for them. Ziplock bags are washed and dried instead of being thrown out. I remember my mother (who grew up here) doing this when I was a child, and being confused that she wouldn’t just get a new ziplock from the box? Now I understand where she came from, and the wisdom of avoiding waste.
So now I return to my country of good and plenty, where I can have all the ziplock bags that I ever could want, and what will I do? I remember a conversation about economy with my dear friend Wendy, wherein she remarked on the simple idea of using up your toiletries before buying new ones. Such a simple concept, but so often I impulse buy whenever I see a nice smelling lotion, or a new facial product, and end up with a huge backlog of makeups, toiletries, and random soaps building up in my bathroom. Or clothes? How many extra do I have that I never wear – yet keep buying new ones? Here in Ahuas I started washing my hair every third day this last month to stretch out the last little bit of shampoo until I could get out to La Ceiba and buy some. Then one of our visiting doctors left her shampoo behind and I can wash my hair everyday! Truly wonderful in this sweaty country, and a nice reminder that it is good to go without for a time, in order to truly appreciate something when you have it. I hope that I can find ways to limit waste in my life at home. I hope to reuse whenever possible, to avoid needless impulse buying, and to limit waste. I hope I wash my ziplock bags.