Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back to The City

     We are back in Guatemala City after ten days on remote site visits, but I need to talk about some happenings before we left.  The first thing was our traffic accident.  We've already talked about the crazy driving here with motorcycles weaving in between cars and stop signs considered suggestions, and the obelisks which requires blending and merging, and buses which take a lane when the driver puts his hand out the window.  It's a real adventure!  But our accident was really not an accident, but a planned occurrence.  
 To Whom It May Concern:
On August 8, 2012, I was driving the blue Toyota hatchback assigned to the trio of dentists of the Central Area Welfare Mission.  I was just transitioning from Vista Hermosa North to Calle Procreres westbound and was merging with the traffic.  The weather was overcast but not raining at that time.  My wife was with me and can attest to the details of this account.
As I reached speed with the traffic, suddenly a car beside me sped up and swerved in front of me braking hard.  He turned on his emergency flashers as he came to an abrupt stop.  The whole passing and braking could not have taken more than 2 to 3 seconds.  I very nearly rear-ended his stopped car but managed to stop about 2 feet from him.
I immediately watched in my rear view mirror, fearing the worst, that another car would rear-end me, and I saw a car was rapidly approaching me.  Like my case, he stopped just short, maybe 2 feet but then to my surprise, he accelerated moderately and hit my rear bumper.  He did not jump into me as if hit by another car behind him; it seemed a deliberate maneuver.
I had an immediate impression that this was wrong and not natural and that I was probably being set up for a robbery or a scam.  I had not hit anyone and the impression said, “Leave this scene.”  I had enough room to swing left and I continued on into the city on Proceres.  Examination of the rear of the Blue Toyota showed a scuffed bumper about 10 inches wide and the lower edge of the tailgate dented slightly in 2 or three places.
This is the report and I await your instructions.
Elder J. Wayne Wilcox
     I thought about telling the story, but I thought Wayne's accident report said it best.  I might add that we had been shopping at Cemaco (Target), and when we went into the parking lot I noticed three guys there.  I heard them talk to each other loudly and then saw them leave towards their cars.  I just thought they were friends saying good-bye, but something about them made me hold my purse tightly in front of me when we got into our car.
     When we went to the area officeand talked to the transportation guy, he told us that we made the correct move in leaving the scene.  He said it was a common robbery technique.  They set up a accident with minimal damage, so the driver will get out of the car to see what was done.  /when they are out of the car, they rob the occupants and steal the car.  
I was sure we were going to be arrested for leaving the scene of an accident; it felt wrong to me, but I guess Wayne was absolutely right.  Jorge told about another scheme where a motorcyclist will be lying in the road with his bike laying nearby.  People assume he has been injured in an accident  so they stop to help and are robbed and sometimes their car is stolen too.  These stories really discourage humanitarian instincts.
     The week before our planned remote site trip was a strange one because the city of Guatemala was gearing up to celebrate the patron saint of the city.  The site of the celebration is the area around our clinic.  Streets in the four or five block radius are blocked with carnival rides, food booths, games, etc.  We walked around the area to see what it was like and almost missed the entrance to our clinic.  Booths had been set up closely on either side of the door and then someone had parked his motorcycle in front.  People had to have a pass to drive into the area, so the missionaries and the orphans could not get into the clinic.
Cakes in hot honey
Homer says "Mmmm, dooonuts!
     We were expecting a group of future missionaries from Santa Lucia to come in, but because of the fair we called to let them know that they wouldn't be able to get to the clinic and suggested we come to them.  They were so excited.  Later the district President told us that they had taken these same boys to Guatemala City to get their paperwork done in the immigration office and were told that they needed their parents with them.  So they were very discouraged and prayed that somehow they could get these boys prepared to serve missions.  It made me think of all the roadblocks we faced as we prepared to go.  They felt that our phone call and subsequent visit with them was a direct answer to prayer.  They brought in 30 future missionaries, and we pulled, filled and cleaned teeth until those boys were prepared.  Then we worked on other people who came in - members of the church and their friends who heard about us being there.  There was one man, Edgar Giron, who was there for both days we were, in fact, he was there longer because he helped set up, sterilize instruments, direct patients, slept there overnight to guard the equipment.  He owned a doughnut shop and brought us luscious American doughnuts filled with chocolate or custard.  Wayne and I have not had doughnuts here in Guatemala, but we were told they were hard and dry and flavorless.  As we were leaving town we stopped by and met his family and saw his shop. 
     We had heard about some archaeological findings on an abandoned sugar plantation not too far from town.  We followed him to the plantation and were lucky to find a man there at the site which is now guarded. They call it a museum, MuseoBaul, but it is open except for a fence and the guard who collects admission.  Inside there were probably thirty carved stones with placards explaining what they meant.  They had one huge jaguar, several skulls, a smiling head and a carving of a winner and a loser in a competition.The man, who was a Branch President, gave us even more information related to the Book of Mormon and the Nephites civilization.  The stones are from the Pipil culture which flourished in Guatemala between 500 and 700 AD.  Those who had been there before told us about a stone, called the Lehi Stone, that is still in the sugar field.  It is carved with what is thought to be the "Tree of Life."  We were not able to go to the stone because the sugar cane was high and infested with poisonous snakes and sometimes thieves and assorted riff-raff.  Can you imagine walking through a field and finding a stone carved 1500 years ago?  Pretty insightful glimpse into the past.  
     On Friday we traveled on to our hotel near Panajachel on Lake Atitlan.  Our hotel was in one of three green 16 story high-rise buildings right on the lake.  Lake Atitlan was formed during a volcanic eruption that caused the mountain caldera to collapse and fill with water.  The lake was formed when the two surrounding volcanoes erupted and blocked drainage to the Pacific Ocean.  Our view from the 11th story balcony was spectacular.  We could see the lake and all three volcanoes: Taliman, Atitlan and San Pedro. On two of the nights we stayed there, we were entertained by thunder and lightning storms reflected on the lake's mirror surface.
     On  Saturday we went to the Solola market which I suppose could be compared to a giant swap meet, except this is the only place in town to shop except for liquor store size tiendas.  People have all kinds of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, clothing, pottery, crafts, and weavings.  It is noisy and smelly but so colorful.  We ate dinner that night at a restaurant on the top of a hill.  The glass walls allowed an expansive view of the town, the lake and the surrounding hills.  We took a ride to a nearby town called San Jose, a farming area where they used terrace farming.  The road wound around, up and down the usual mountains with steep drops to a beautiful river.  Everywhere we drive we pass people walking carrying baskets on their backs and heads, sometimes both.  The women are the most amazing because they are often carrying huge loads and have a child tied on to their body and another one in tow.  Everywhere we go the .children wave and smile.  We passed workers planting and harvesting mostly onions, and stopped to give a wooden car to a little boy who was working with his family in the field even though he was probably only three years old.  That night we had our first touch of something and Wayne and I stayed home when everyone else went to dinner.  Wayne had a fever and slept for about 12 hours and woke up the next morning feeling great.
We went to church Sunday and the church was beautiful and filled to overflowing.  They have two branches there.  When we walked in bout ten minutes before the meeting began there were not seats where we could sit together.  Everything is just like home but in a different language.  The man who played the piano was a native from Solola and wore the traditional Solola dress.  He played from memory and told us he had been taught how to play by the missionaries 30 years ago! After church we noticed the members socializing out on the lawn.  Children were runnin around, laughing and playing while the women visited - just like home.  We saw many children with lollipops.  Finally we startied bring in all the equipment and setting up the clinic in the Primary room.

     The next day we were there at 7:30 and Pres. and Sis. Tanner had breakfast ready for us before we started working at 8:00.  We ate lunch in shifts and finally finished the day at 7:00 PM.  That was na exhausting day and so was the next.  There are no labor unions in the mission field.  On the 3rd day we quit at 4:00 so we could load the equipment and leave on Thursday.  In those three days we treated about 60 patients.  We had a first time ever experience one day with a five year old patient named Marcelo.  He was scared from the start, but his mother held him still during the exam .  He had problems in three quadrants which required injections in three areas.  When Wayne got the third carpule of anesthetic, Marcelo glanced over and took off screaming out of the room.  We never saw him again and his mother explained that he didn't want his teeth treated.  He won't have deal with treatment because his teeth will be gone soon.  Dr. Johnson has a saying, "You only have to brush the teeth that you want to keep."  Marcelo's problem was that he still drank a bottle at bedtime - a common practice among Guatemalan children.  For the whole time we were in Solola we heard the question, "Has anyone seen Marcelo?"
     Dr. Call was treating one lady and he asked her if she was a member of the church just in conversation.  She said she was and had been the first missionary to go from Solola 32 years ago.  She was excited because she was going to The City on Saturday to pick up her son who was finishing his mission.  He was the 3rd of her children to serve.  Amazing people!
     The next morning we started for home , but we took a detour through Chichicastenango, famous for its large and colorful native market - the best in all the Americas.  We hired a tour guide to take us through the market and tell us about the town.  The town has two churches :one is Santo Tomas and is a Catholic Church, and he other is Capilla del Calvario also built by the Catholics but a place where the Mayans practiced a blend of Mayan and Christian beliefs.  When we went to see Santo Tomas, the church was closed because of construction, but we  watched the people just outside the door.  They were burning candles and praying for specific blessings:  yellow was for business, white for health.  There were "chuchkajaues " who are like Mayan shamen who chant prayers and swing incence in what look like cans with holes poked in the side so the smoke comes through.  The people place the candles and rose petals at the top of  18 steps.  We saw one man and another woman who were each climbing the steps on their knees and praying.  The guide told us that was a penance assigned for repentance. 
We walked to the other church and saw a glass case with the body of "The Black Christ which no one could explain to us.  There were many flowers and colored candles there too left by worshippers showing devotion and praying.  I took a picture of a little girl and a boy who were scraping up and gathering the wax probably so they could make new candles.  I was quickly told not to take pictures in the church. 
      We saw the cemetary in the distance and our guide explained that the colors of the little burial buildings is determined by the day the dead person is buried.  The crazy part about the markets is the people selling things.  If they see you show any interest at all they are on you until you buy or leave.  We looked at some small little fridge magnets and suddenly we were surrounded by children with fridge magnets.  The say in English "Buy from me for my sister." or "It's for my school," or My mom is sick."  They will haggle over the price.  We have been told to offer them half of what they ask, and then deal.  When they refuse to go any lower, then walk away and they will give you a lower price.  One little little boy kept hounding me and I kept saying, "No Gracias!"  I said to him I don't have any money because my husband has all the money.  Thirty seconds later he showed up with Wayne.  Ladies wanted me to buy tableclothes and I wanted some.  I got the price I wanted and turned around to three other ladies offering the same deal.  One lady followed us about two blocks out of the market to the parking lot.  Shopping was fun, but exhausting. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

It's August Already

     We just returned from another remote site visit, and this one was really remote.  We went to Coban and Telemann.  We left on Friday morning after loading two Vans (Everests) with everything we need for three days in a makeshift clinic.  We take two compressors, three folding dental chairs, dental unit with hand pieces, instruments, sterilization tubs, gauze, cotton rolls, anaesthetic, etc.  We took another Senior Missionary couple and their son with us: Skip and Vicky Standage and Jeff.  The Standages are serving in Public Affairs and they went with us to see what we do and also because they were covering the publicity for a Choir visit to Telemann.  Jeff came because he starts dental school in a couple of weeks and wanted to get this experience.  They were very helpful assisting at chairside, helping with dental education, and sterilization.  So add to all this equipment, seven people and all their luggage and
you have an idea of how tightly packed we were on this trip.   We had to tie the chairs on the top of the car.
   On Friday afternoon we went to the central market in Coban and wandered through the street market.  All the venders sell their stuff and expect us to barter and we are not good at that.  We mostly just walked around and looked at the people dressed in their traditional clothes.  This was the weekend of the Daughter of the King Festival, so there were tons of people.  We then went to McDonalds for dinner.  We Are all very nervous about buying anything to eat on the street.

     The next morning we went on a tour bus with a guide and just our group of nine to a place called Semuc Champey.  It means something like the disappearing river describing the river that flows rapidly until it spills into a large lava tube and flows underground for about three miles until it surfaces again.  Above the river flowing beneath are five spring-fed pools.  This is a popular recreational site for tourists and residents, but the park wasn't crowded because it is so remote.  The ride there is 2 1/2 hours and half of the drive is on a narrow, steep, windy dirt road.  The countryside is beautiful.  The hills are covered with corn, corn and more corn.  The terrain is so hilly and rocky that harvesting is done by machete; absolutely no tractor or harvester could possibly get to that corn.  The hills are never-ending:  just hills behind hills, behind more hills.  The foreground is bright with a hundred shades of green and then each hill fades until they disappear into a bank of clouds.  We haven't yet been able to take a picture that shows the beauty.  
     We were all exhausted when we finally got home from that excursion, but some still wanted to go to the Daughter of the King Festival.  Wayne and I chose not to go.  They supposedly had narrowed the contestants down to ten, and they would be answering questions having to do with their particular culture - from their city or tribe.  I figured I would not get too much out of the talking portion of the program because they would not be speaking English or even Spanish, but the language of their Mayan village.  The few who went to the pageant said it was very long beginning with a parade of each of the 145 contestants wearing their native costumes and being introduced by a very verbose MC.  They left at 9:00 and they hadn't started the final ten part by then.  
     The next day we got up and ready and headed to a neighboring town to go to church.  We spent about half an hour lost in this little town.  We did pass a cattle auction and the market place.  Both were interesting.  I love the adventure of getting lost.  As we drive through the towns we see the people.
They are as beautiful as the scenery.  They live life in a very simple way.  They carry produce or wood into town to sell and then carry what they need to eat for the day back home when day is done..  Woodcutters carry huge bundles on their backs reminding me of Grimm fairy tale characters except the men here cut the wood with machetes.  We saw one man about 25 or so with his son who was probably 4 both carrying their machetes as they walked along the road.  It is interesting how people just appear from out of the woods.  Sometimes the path isn't visible nor the house, but there they are with a bundle on their backs or heads starting for town. 
     Church was wonderful and the members there were friendly and very happy to have guests.  We continued on to Telemann, arriving at around three.  We checked into our hotel, changed our clothes and went to the church to set up the dental clinic.  We took all the chairs out of the chapel and set up three dental units and a sterilization station.  It's an amazing transformation.  We ate dinner at the only restaurant we could find that we trusted - Pollo Express.
     Monday through Wednesday are our work days and we look forward to them with mixed feelings.  They are long and grinding, but the people are generally very grateful, and we feel the spirit of sacrifice while we sweat away in the hot confines.  We close down about 5:00 to 5:30 and tell the rest of the line to come back in the morning.  When we arrive, there is already a line outside the door.
     As we progress during the three days we go from Prospective Missionary checks and repairs and extractions to members and their problems.  Finally we go to non members and their families and the last half of Wednesday is devoted pretty much to extractions; relieving suffering and infection.
     One girl came in with pain in her upper centrals.  She had large cavities in both that together made a hole about the size of a BB.  We just couldn't let those teeth go, so we decided to restore them.  You can see the happiness in the patient's face in this "after" photo.  That was one happy smile.  In contrast we had another beautiful 20 year old girl who came in with almost the exact same problem.  She said she had pain in her front upper four teeth, but when Wayne tested and examined them, he could find decay in only three of the teeth.  One was perfect.  When he told her that, she insisted that all four were causing her pain and she wanted them pulled.  He finally pulled the three decayed teeth and left the one good one.  She was upset.  She wanted to have a gold bridge put in that is so common in her culture and a tradition amongst her people. Now I was the one really upset, because I know that eventually she will be a toothless old woman like so many we had seen those three days.
     Some will come in and say they want their teeth cleaned, but we tell them no and look in their mouth to see what is really wrong.  Usually 5 to 10 cavities, 4 broken teeth, and red, swollen gums.  So we ask which one hurts worst and see which one looks most likely to make them ill, and we take out three or four.  Demoralizing in one way, but efficient and necessary.  Okay, it's demoralizing and heart breaking.
We have to steel ourselves against the depression that comes with doing half a job.  Our resources are not infinite and our time is limited in an unlimited needs world.  One does his/her best.  In three days, we three dentists treated 174 patients.  We had ONE patient with perfect teeth - straight, clean, and without decay.  I made an announcement and everyone in the clinic clapped and cheered.  When we call an end to the event and start cleaning up, you think you'll refresh and move quickly.  Not so.  It takes a couple of hours to bubble again.  I don't think I've been so mentally and physically tired since I put up hay in Wyoming.
     I have to tell about the hotel we stayed in:  The Hotel Posada.  There were four rooms attached in two duplexes.  Wayne and I had a room with two double beds and so we used one to put all our luggage on.  There was a TV and air conditioning and screens on the windows. The beds were a little stiff, just a mattress in a wooden frame.  The funny thing about the beds was that the owner made the bed with the top sheet upside down.  The sheets had a lacey top which she carefully aligned with the bottom edge of the mattress.  Then up at the top she folded the bottom of the sheet like it was a bedspread, and then put the pillows on top.  We sprayed the room with permethrine and slept well. Annalee and Leeann both had bites on their legs the next day probably from fleas or flies.  The shower was a cold flow of water - no spray at all and was slightly above cold.  We took the fastest showers we could.  The toilet plugged up twice in three days.  The property where the hotel was located was surrounded by farms each of which had roosters.  One morning I woke up to the first of endless cock-a-doodle-dos and asked Wayne what time it was:  3:10 am!  That night after a hard days work we came home to a revival meeting next door.  They had preaching and singing and even a band.  Finally at 10:00 we heard the final "Hallelujah!,"  we were glad to join in for the final "Amen," and finallywent to sleep.
     Just one more thing.  On the Last day in Telemann, we were lucky to be there when a choir from Utah came.  It was made up of about 30 people;  men and women old and young.  About 12 had served missions in Guatemala, 7 had sung in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  The one whose brainchild this choir was had served a mission in Guatemala and then went to BYU where he majored in linguistics and music.  He decided to work on translating some Mormon hymns into Kekchi, the language many of the people of Guatemala speak, and then touring Guatemala and sharing the best-loved Mormon hymns with them.   The church was already creating a hymnbook in Kekchi, so it was icing on the cake when the choir performed in Telemann and then presented this new hymnbook to the District President.  The music was beautiful! There was a sweet reverence even though they sang in the City Municipal Center with open walls in the middle of the crowded town.  The people were drawn to the music and probably surprised to hear Americans singing their language.  By the end of the show all the seats were filled, and people were standing all along the edges.  One "tender mercy" was that it did not rain during the singing, which would have been disastrous because the roof of the building was corrugated tin.  If it had rained, as it usually does every evening, it would have been impossible to hear the music.  As we were leaving the show and walking to Pollo Express, it started to rain loud and hard.