Another day in Guatemala! I think I've come here now about 50 times. Every trip brings new adventures, new challenges and always joy! And have we been successful? Walt Whitman said "If the day and night be such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more immortal - that is your success." So yes, then if that is the definition, we have surely been successful. Every day and night here surely bring joy."
So many of you have supported our work here. I wish I could give you just a small sense of how your support has really made it a better world for the people we work with. Today we went to a very remote village called Santa Amelia. 100 women dressed in beautiful Indigenous garb were lined up to suffer through their pap smears! There was so much giggling going on! For many of them, it was their first time so of course the giggling got them through the hours of waiting for a little torture! Too many of them knew of others who have died prematurely from cervical cancer and so the visit was wrought with a lot of apprehension. Myself and Courtney, our med student, and Mayra, our Project Director worked away trying to make sure everyone would be seen. Social workers from the Municipality were there to help us process all the paperwork.
In the midst of the busyness, one young woman came in looking especially apprehensive. She was one of our previous patients whom we can honestly say will live a full life only because of this work. She previously came for a pap which showed a precancerous lesion which was very close to invasive disease. After a procedure we previously did and extensive evaluation, we arranged for her to have a hysterectomy which was done. Today she came in with her pathology report which showed that THANK GOD her uterus was removed in time….
Of course she didn’t understand any of the words in the pathology report so when we told her that she was cured, she broke into such a beautiful smile. I thought about all the people who made her “cure” possible and how now her 6 children would now have their mother with them as they grow. She was happy to let us take her picture and share her story with you all.
So much to thank our God for here!
The second day at the clinic, a couple of street dogs came wandering onto the property. Street dogs are everywhere in Guatemala and pretty much reviled by everyone. The dogs spend all day scavenging and scrounging whatever scraps of food they can find, sleep on the ground wherever they feel safe, are malnourished and flea/parasite infested, and often get run over because they don’t have the energy to move fast enough out of the way of speeding cars. Local people constantly harass and shoo them away with rocks, kicks, and hisses. The dogs are pretty skittish because of it. On the hierarchy of Guatemalan animals, street dogs hold a place just above rats. The pigs and chickens that also roam around are viewed more favorably. They can be eaten.
So these two street dogs came wandering onto our property and started nosing around. They were both males and one was pretty big, around 40 pounds, and the other was maybe 20 pounds soaking wet. They seemed to be buddies, but were going about their scavenging business separately. I watched them awhile and for kicks named the big one Taco and the small one Taquito. After awhile they left and I thought that would be the end of it, but a few hours later Taquito came back.
The truth is street dogs are a pretty good analogy for Guatemala and the poor who live here. A developing country like Guatemala has a long history of being kicked around and fending off rocks thrown by bigger, stronger, more developed countries including the United States. Minerals, timber, crops, etc. have been and still are illegally extracted, cut down, grown, and sold in highly unsustainable ways on the backs of laborers who have no unions, no safety and health protections, no real opportunities, basically just a life of hard work and exploitation. The wealthy who control this action get richer and richer and the poor barely survive. Like street dogs, the poor in Guatemala are at the bottom of society’s list.
Anyhow, Taquito must have liked what he saw and kept hanging around here. After a few days, some of our team members (OK, it was me) felt sorry for him and gave him some leftovers from dinner and breakfast. Of course after that we were best buddies, and he’d come when I called and enjoyed a good scratch and rub. The other team members got to know and love him just as much and now he sleeps every night on one of the doormats outside our rooms at the hostel. He doesn’t seem to prefer one over the other… he must be a socialist!! We (OK, me again) bought him a collar, gave him deworming medicine, and (with the help of one of the medical students) gave him a flea shampoo. The school kids and the other SewHope staff have gotten to know him and like him a lot. He enjoys meal time with them (and the many fallen bits of kids’ food).
So Taquito’s status has risen. I like to think he’s more hopeful that his life will be good, similar to the people we serve and the stories you’ve read in prior blog posts. I don’t know what will happen to Taquito after we leave. But I know I’m going to leave behind a big bag of dog food with his name on it. I hope he’ll have a better life for at least a little while, and I hope he’ll still be hanging around when I return.
It’s been a couple of days since I wrote the above and we’ve learned something about Taquito. One of the local people recognized him and said he was abandoned by a family that moved away. So Taquito’s an orphan, and I guess for now all of us at the clinic including the school kids, staff, and patients will get to be his adoption family. He’ll surely get lots of attention and love now. One of our night guards was talking to Anne about Taquito. She told the guard he now has a new friend. The guard replied that Taquito also has a new friend!
Randy Ruch is a founding member of SewHope. He joined us in Guatemala (for the umpteenth time) to lend a hand around the property (and make friends with the local dogs) while the medical team worked in the clinic.
Sunday was spent touring the Mayan city of Tikal with a few of the school children at SewHope. After a hot and sweaty hike through the jungle, hoping monkey caca wouldn't fall on our heads, and climbing nearly 200 steps, the jungle opened up as we approached the top of Temple IV. The site was breathtaking. And as the terrified kids pressed their bodies against the temple wall to avoid the edge, I just stood in wonder. This city flourished over a thousand years ago, and even after its abandonment, people have continued to gather at their temples from all around the world. The fame of the Mayan people will live on for many many many years to come.
As we are spending our last 24 hours in this beautiful country, I am left to wonder about the legacy of SewHope, and my own legacy as well. It is obvious the impact this clinic is making in the Peten region of Guatemala, but what will it look like in 10, 15, 20 years? Over this week I have heard the dreams of both the Guatemalan and American workers. They have so many wonderful, crazy and beautiful dreams for SewHope. While I say crazy, I don't mean crazy in the bad sense. To the outsider, it may seem impossible that the heartbreak of one young doctor was transformed into a permanent clinic. And a clinic that has performed over 6000 pap smears, treating numerous women for precancerous lesions and preventing death from cervical cancer! But here it is, nonetheless!
God has been doing amazing things in Guatemala. The future may not look exactly like our dreams today, but that is simply because we can only dream so big. Our dreams are only a fraction of what God has in store. I'll be leaving a piece of my heart behind here as we return to the United States. I don't think I will ever get it back, and that's okay. I guess that just means I'll just have to keep coming back.
"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"" -Isaiah 6:8
Christian Carwell is a medical student at the University of Toledo. She has been with us at the clinic in Guatemala this past week, along with Dr. Anne, Dr. Gary, Dr. Kim, and three other medical students.