Waiting at the Guatemala City Airport for yet another delayed plane and I’ve just had to endure the humiliation of being called “dear” by some annoyingly pretty young woman. As if “Mam” was not bad enough!!! Doesn’t she know that my insides are 30 and I just can’t do anything about the outside!!!
Was meant to be a quick trip to Peten to prepare for our upcoming month-long medical/surgery trip. Spent more time in travel than actual time here but as always, God somehow provides exactly what is needed here. For Sr. Pam and I that was time and thus, each hour somehow brought a day’s full of activities.
Each time I come, I notice new things; yet, they are the same things I’ve felt a million times before. Casa Amelia (our hotel) has the same distinctive smell. Randy says I’m a bloodhound! How is it that a smell that you sense in a fraction of a second can bring forth a mountain of memories; memories that can evoke tears of laughter or tears of great sadness simultaneously. Too bad that I can’t just send you all a smell instead of my usual wordiness!
For those of you who know me at all, planning and organization are two of my worst traits so to think that I “lead” teams here is the ultimate oxymoron! Yet, God forgives all my lack of good planning and somehow not even knowing where the bus stop was in Guatemala City, I left the plane and sure enough found my soul-mate, Sr. Pam in the midst of a crowd of Guatemaltecas 40 minutes later. They call me “La Alta” here which always helps when people are trying to find me! Turning around thinking that someone was reprimanding me for being in the wrong place once again, there she was! We grinned and embraced like five-year-olds in a way that described our joy! We seem to always know that in ways we could have never plan or dream, God opens so many doors into magical places and all we are doing is following the directions.
Yes, we are indeed “middle-aged” and yet, I can’t imagine that two teenagers could have had more fun on that 8 hour “luxury” bus trip to Peten. I taught her a new Guatemalan phrase “Me muero de hambre” (I’m dying of hunger) and we feasted on Chicken Campero provided by Isabel, Pringles and Twix bars. It was a feast I will never forget!! As we continued giggling like two girls planning their prom plans, a young man went into the bathroom next to us. After a few minutes I asked, “Do you smell drugs”?? We then went into another round of ear-popping giggles as she reminded me it’s called “pot” and we then launched into Guatemala memory lane.
After about 5 hours of travel, the bus stopped rousing us from our so-called sleep and the local armed police boarded!! Fortunately, I had prepared Sr. Pam for what they would be looking for……fruit!!!! Seriously, in this country of serious narco-trafficking, massive poverty and abuse, the police stop you frequently to yes, look for fruit!!!! The little Guatemalan “soldier” boarded with a very serious expression and a flashlight. Pointing the flashlight at Sr. Pam’s bag which was filled with a variety of essentials such as twix bars and ibuprofen tucked in a tiny plastic bag, he queried “Fruta????” Thank God she had been prepared for the correct answer and she confidently exclaimed “No!”
As dawn exploded over the magical surroundings, we pulled in to Flores and as always, there was our “Gabriel” otherwise known as “Ismael”. Ismael has come to symbolize for meeverything Jesus taught us to be – full of kindness, compassion, energy for doing what is always right, truthfulness and courage. Soon his equally incredible and astounding humble wife Orfelinda, joined us in a “strategic planning meeting” to remind ourselves of all we stand for and all we dream for the efforts of SewHope.
Only 36 hours in Peten – and yet Einstein’s law of relativity somehow turned it into 36 years. Yes, we managed to accomplish the so-called real purpose for this trip, which was to inventory and organize our supplies and equipment for the coming surgery trip. But as always the real accomplishments were so far beyond what would have been possible with only our human efforts. All too often, Sr. Pam and I exchanged quick glances of shared amazement at the power of God. Here, nothing is scheduled and yet everything passes in perfect timing. We tell no one we are coming and yet, when we arrive we are greeted as if were prodigal children who had returned!
For those of you who have been following our work in Petén, we made a decision last year to move our clinic to a more central area – still very rural but more accessible for many villages. A wonderful Guatemalan couple (yes, old enough to be called “dears”!) in the tiny village of Pueblo Nuevo had donated their son’s home during the last couple of years to use as our clinic. They had never charged us rent and with each visit, the families there became more and more our family. While we treated many truly ill people, others would often invent symptoms for the opportunity to give us a hug (or maybe to get some Tylenol!). I had not seen many of them for a year and their struggles are close to my heart. The warm embraces they welcomed us with were reminiscent of the hug from Sr. Pam - an exchange of heartfelt love that needed no words. The community leader, Jose was teary eyed and told us that this was a “great day of emotion” for him because we had come. I asked myself what have we ever done for them to be allowed to become part of their lives??? Some clinics….lots of food….water filters…..latrines……vegetable gardens….student scholarships……all tangible things but clearly what they cared about the most was the reality that we cared. And what have they given me??? Too many things to put into words!! There is no paycheck, no sunny beach, no luscious meal, no “nada” that could compare to the tranquility I felt sitting with all the children yesterday as they scrambled to show me how they could read the books we brought or demonstrate their thinking skills in completing a maze puzzle. We watched them “clean” the frijoles (it is an amazing process). As I took out my camera, their faces lit up and their moms asked if I could wait for their daughters to put on their “fancy” dresses!! If only you could see the “dilapidation” of these homes and yet, within minutes, these little girls emerged dressed like Cinderella. Even in the midst of this most desperate poverty, their moms had the same pride in their little girls as we do when we dress up our little princesses for our own festivities. In reality, as different as we pretend to be, we are the same. They showed off the new babies born in the village – all so beautiful and yet a couple looked so lethargic and one had a serious eye abnormality. The mom looked at us with great hope that we could provide we could an answer for him. Of course, there was no doctor they could visit and they had no concept of what the problem was. I promised that I would look for an answer and as we departed, we thanked them for all the ways they have enriched our lives and we promised to continue to help them realize their dreams.
We visited “Daniel”, the paraplegic boy with the health problems we have helped with in the past. He has a new life-threatening condition so when we arrived, his parents once again looked at us as if we had been sent from God above! Yes, the problem is serious but I’ve learned so many times that all it will take is a few phone calls for help, (perhaps an email!) and someone will come forth to help and Daniel will return to what his normal state is. I considered that though this young teen will never walk and might always live in this “lounge chair” in this quiet little room, he still changes the world in his own little way. His mother has the same face of desperation that any mother in the U.S. would have as she dreads the thought that her “little boy’ would ever have to leave her life. Yes, I am a gynecologist – so the thought that I have been given the incredible opportunity to help this family and to think that they actually have confidence in me gives me a humility that is beyond words. I think about the term “healing”. It is easy enough to understand in the context of being a doctor in my own office, my own hospital. But here in Guatemala, we have had the opportunity to “heal” in ways that are far beyond the skills we know. And we have done that through the loving efforts of so many of you – through your willingness to answer the phone and give advice, to share your expertise, to send us on the right path, to come and work with us, to share your wealth with us.
Ismael and Orfe showed us their new “home”. It was news to me that they decided they were spending too much money in gas and wasting too much time driving to the villages each day and so they decided to spend Monday through Friday in a tiny “casasita” that they owned out in Santa Ana. Honestly, the house is about 30x30 feet and they have divided it into 2 areas – one for “living/kitchen” and one for sleeping. The “kitchen” is basically a hot-plate on a table; there is no toilet and yet, it has more loving warmth than any home I have ever been in. Seriously! How did we find them???? Can you imagine hiring someone and finding out that because they wanted to work more, they moved to a home such as this and never even mentioned it!
I often wonder if it would always feel like this if I lived here. After 7 weeks living here, Sr. Pam tells me it is. For any of you who might be “worrying” about her, I can assure you there is no need to fear!! She and I laughed until we cried about too many things! After a very long day of hard work yesterday, we raced to the airport last night debating about who smelled worse and who might be asked to take a shower and clean their clothes before boarding! I am astounded at the level of Spanish she has achieved and I can see that she feels “rich” in the real gifts that life can bring us.
Hmmmm……a little irony. As I have been writing this, an American woman here at the airport asked me if I’m getting an internet connection. This then led us to a conversation about Guatemala. She has been on vacation and told me about the incredible resorts she has enjoyed here and the unknown grandeur and delicacies of this country (and so cheap she reminded me!). When I hinted at the level of poverty that over 90% of the country struggles with, she reminded me (as the wealthy often do) that the poor here “want it that way” and don’t want any help. I felt my face flush and my stomach turn. My urge was to start screaming at her about her ignorance and her willingness to turn her head from the history of this country and the brutalities our own country has inflicted on these people. But (now that I am older and wiser – ha!) I pretended that I had never heard such information and instead told her what a surprise that was to me because I have found them to be so kind, hard-working, loving and frantic for just a little “nudge” to set them on a path out of desperation. Perhaps I am too cynical but I sensed that she considered me ignorant and blinded to reality. She then continued complaining about her frustration in the “little things” that the resort could have improved on and how disappointing that was to her. I felt sad that her trip didn’t bring the same joy that Sr. Pam and I experienced sitting on that dirt floor in Pueblo Nuevo with the families there sharing the real love that is available freely for the taking.