Monday, July 16, 2012

Odds and Ends

It's 5:30 am and I decided to blog.  We haven't had much time to do anything but work in the clinic for  past little while, but on the way home the other day, we went to Central Market.  It is in the middle of Guatemala City and is three floors underground.  It is like a huge swapmeet, but people have permanent businesses there.  The reason we went was because Rich and Leeann's son, David, was going back to "The States" and he wanted to buy some candles, so he went there on the way home from work.  I was amazed at the shops with products piled high.  The first level was food.  I loved the produce display and took a quick picture.
We didn't buy anything, but we will some other time.  We usually don't buy food except in the grocery stores except for fruit that has a peel.  All the fruits and vegetables that we buy even in the grocery stores has to be washed in disinfectant, rinsed in agua pura and then dried before we eat it.  I took these pictures just to capture the color and beauty of the place.  The shops are piled high with product.  In the candle section there were five or six shops with candles of every color and fragrance on shelves, hanging from the ceiling and in piles.  If we hesitated at the opening or glanced into a shop, a attendant would appear ready to help you find what you wanted and then barter.  We were told to counter with half of what they tell you it costs and then play the game.  They know you can find the same thing in a dozen other shops so as you are walking away they shout their bottom line.  That's when David bought the candles and Richard Johnson bought his Guatemalan flag.  It's a game for us, but for the workers there, it is a livelihood.

     Another place we just happened to visit was "The Pink Church."  It's real name is "Capilla de Nuestra Senora de las Angustias" or The chapel of our Lady of the Anguish."  On a rainy afternoon as we were passing the church, we noticed that the gate to the parking lot was open and attendants were directing traffic.  The Johnsons were excited, because in the year they have been in Guatemala they had never seen it open.  

We paid, parked on the sidewalk about half a block away, and then entered this beautiful church.  The people  of  Antigua were plagued with constant earthquakes.  The people promised God if he would stop the earthquakes, they would build this church.  Now it is only open for special occasions like weddings and for Saturday night and Sunday mass.  We went in the church and saw a few people sitting and the priest surrounded by candles and dressed in ceremonial robes.  That was when we realized there was going to be a wedding.  The priest gave us a glowering look that told us we were intruding so we tried to be respectful and left quickly and only took a few pictures as we left.  Outside we saw the bride arrive so we waited in the rain to take her picture.  She wasn't very cooperative,  but we were able to take a few through the fence.

     Our biggest adventure of our life in Guatemala to date was our 1st trip to Cemaco (Target).  We got out of the clinic at 4:00 and it was a dark, rainy day, but it was our turn in the car, so we decided to go.  We got instructions and headed out.  At one point we were told to turn right, but we could either go a shallow quick right or a gradual right, and we chose the wrong right.  We realized our mistake instantly, but too late.  It took us one hour to correct and get back to Cemaco.  WE WERE NEVER LOST, but just delayed.  To complicate things, we only had 1/8 tank of gas, and the rain was increasing and so was the rush hour traffic.  We finally made it and enjoyed a relaxed shopping trip.  Not only did we buy stuff, but we were on our own.  The Cemaco store is on one end of a large shopping mall, and so after our shopping, we decided to see what was there.  We discovered a food court and had our dinner.  All this time we were pushing our shopping cart, so when it was time to leave we needed to go down the elevator to the parking lot underground.  When we got off the elevator, we knew we were in the wrong place.  It didn't look the same and our car wasn't there.  We asked the security guard, and he sent us to a different level, (there were three levels).  Still it wasn't recognizable.  We asked again and were sent again to the wrong place.  Finally when we were frantically telling our tale, we mentioned the word Cemaco and were told we needed to go to the Cemaco parking lot at the other end of the mall.  Who knew there were separate parking lots?  Finally we found the car and drove directly home.  When we got off the elevator, we were met by the Calls, the Johnsons, The Spensers and many other people.  They were genuinely worried because we aren't supposed to be out after dark, (6:30), and it was 8:15.  We were sorry to have caused so much worry, but we needed that adventure, freedom and independence.  We definitely miss a quick trip to Hallmark or Ralphs or Target whenever we need to get something or just get away.

One more thing I have to tell you about.  The other day we had a new group of orphans come to the clinic.  They were of several different ages but mostly around 6 to 8.  We call them the A-5 orphans because we needed to use a name different than the Garbage Dump Kids.  You probably have heard of the inhabitants of dumps in other large cities like Rio, Tijuana, etc.  Well, we have an established population here in Guatemala City also.  They, the Association of Five (named for the nongovernmental groups that try to help them) came for the first time with their Director, a truly genteel man who shepherded the kids with genuine concern and kindness.  He watched us give the exams and begin with some elementary therapies; cleanings, fluorides, and occasional xrays.  We are just beginning.  The director took pictures and asked us questions, and encouraged the kids; we probably saw 15 or 17 that day.  He took us aside and thanked us saying that he could tell that we truly loved the children - that despite the help that they received from several different sources, that love was not shown to them that he saw in the clinic.

When they were ready to leave, he called the kids together and asked one, probably 7 or 8, to offer a prayer of thanks for the visit.  The child hesitated but then gave a sweet prayer that was likely memorized.  It was very much like one that my small children would have offered in our home.  I was touched, but then the director gave a 2nd prayer which was so gracious in asking for blessings on his little band and then thanking the Lord for us and asking blessings on the clinic and the doctors and nurses.  He asked that "the blood of Christ would cover us and save us"; I nearly burst into tears.  What a great contact for us to meet who appreciates spiritual values and work.  It's tough work but some days are great pay-days.  Love you all - Elder and Sister Wilcox

Sunday, July 8, 2012


     Two things we weren't able to find in the three markets where we looked  were rosemary and basil:  key ingredients in two of my favorite dishes.  We decided to just go to a nursery and buy the plants, but we found that nurseries in town carry only ornamental plants, no vegetables or spices.  I was fixing salmon for company dinner, and I needed rosemary!  I couldn't find it in time for dinner, so we changed the recipe.  The next day we went to another nursery and found both plants, so I bought them and now will always have them.  The basil I found was a little different than the kind I have at home, so I took a leaf off the plant and chewed it to see if it was good.  As I was chewing, I realized I had just eaten food without washing it.  I held it in my mouth and spit it out as soon as the nurseryman turned away.  Then I quickly went to the car to wash my mouth with Aqua Pura.  It is important to make sure vegetables are washed in Biocyde to disinfect and clean vegetables.  The policy is:  If you peel or boil you don't have to disinfect, but everything else you have to disinfect with special soap, rinse and dry before you eat it.  I think that's why it is hard to find vegetables in the stores and why everyone eats rice and beans at every meal.  The best part is that I now have a the beginnings of a vegetable garden.  This weekend we went to four other "viveros" outside of the City looking for tomato plants.  None sells them.  Several people said, "Why do you want to grow your own when they are so cheap in the market."  I just do, and I want to plant them in several empty planters at the orphanage that houses our clinic.  I think the children could learn something valuable and expand their diet slightly.  I have decided that I want some vegetable seeds in the Christmas box.
     In the last couple of weeks we have gone out to lunch or dinner a couple of times.  Once at Taco Bell and another time at a Chinese restaurant.  It is possible to find most any American fast food restaurant and many of the restaurant chains here.  In fact the Mission home President owns 42 Taco Bells.  Most days we pack a lunch to take to the clinic which we scarf down between the morning and afternoon patients.  Some days we don't get a break.
Hector, quiet for the moment.
     We had some interesting patients this week. Two of the orphanages that we see children from are really daycare government centers.  These children are street children whose parents work all day and so they would either be with their parents on the street or be at home alone.  In any case the children had not been to the dentist.  Judging from their reactions to the toothbrushes they received in the clinic, I think it was the first they had ever had.  We show a cute little film staring the tooth fairy which teaches about brushing and eating good food.  One little boy who we treated had a mouthful of problems.  He was really hyper and we thought to ourselves this is going to be tough.  We sat him in the chair and got everything ready, but he was totally intrigued by the chair and wanted to go up and down.  He loved the vacuum so he wanted to have me use that about every minute.  He wanted to see what Wayne was doing so we let him hold a mouth mirror.  He caught a glimpse of the needle and he was very concerned, but when he watched in the mirror he was fine.  I rested his hands under my hand on his chest and rubbed his forehead with my other hand.  When the injection was over, he wanted me to continue rubbbing his head.  He was so good and such a lucky draw for us, because we treated him while we listened to crying and screaming from the other two chairs.  They weren't hurt, just afraid.  We completed all the work on the upper teeth and will see Hector again in two weeks.  I am excited to see him again.
     Another exceptional patient was Oscar from Belize.  He has been a member of the church for one year and is the only member in his family.  He is 21 and works on a banana plantation.  He wants to go on a mission, but when he went to the dentist in Belize he was told he would have to pay $1500.00 which would have prevented him from ever being able to go.  He traveled 9 hours on a bus to Guatemala City to be treated in our clinic for free, spent the night at the CCM, (MTC in Spanish) spent the entire afternoon in the chair in order to get everything done and then spent the night at the CCM again and then traveled the 9 hours on the bus again.  He really, really wants to go on a mission.  I really admire his faith and determination.

     One last interesting incident.  We worked on these kids who were Indians from some remote place in Guatemala where they don't speak Spanish or English.  They speak Quiche (key chay).  They also like to wear gold in their mouth; it is a sign of status in their society.  We had one kid who had stars on his two upper centrals.  Another boy had a gold bridge that went from eyetooth to eyetooth and purely decoration.  His problem was that he had decay at the gumline all along the bridge.  Dr. Call took the bridge off and then advised him not to put it back on because it wouldn't fit right after Dr. Call fixed the teeth.  Then the kid came to us for Wayne to do some fillings.  The plan was that Wayne was going to do the work in the front too, but we could tell he didn't want to give up wearing the bridge.  He looked like he was going to cry.  Finally Wayne and I had to leave early for some reason, so we passed the kid back to Dr. Call, hurriedly cleaned up and left the clinic.  An hour or so later we got a call from the clinic wanting to know what I had done with the bridge.  I think the boy thought we had stolen it.  (It was probably worth $1800.00 not to mention the emotional value he placed on it.  I could only guess that I had thrown it away when I cleaned up and now it would have been out in the garbage bin along with all the orphanage trash.  Fortunately they were able to find it wrapped in a bloody gauze in the trash.  Thank goodness! 


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I am writing today to catch up on the past couple of weeks.  After three days of work in the clinic, we loaded up all the equipment including portable X-ray equipment, generators, instruments, chairs, portable operatories, supplies and educational materials, toothbrushes and toothpaste, etc.  Then on Friday we added to the load our person bags for the seven days we would be gone.  We headed through the city out into the country.  
     Looking out the windows we were awed by the green hills, mountains and valleys.  The land never seems to flatten out, but just falls and rises as far as the eye can see.  Most of the vegetation is tropical looking with broad green leaves on trees and bushes.  In some places the hills have been planted with corn.  We didn't see any farm equipment and we couldn't imagine machinery able to climb and cling to the steep hillsides.
Never ending hills
     We traveled through these hills along with hundreds of trucks, cars, and motor scooters.  Everyone seemed to know how to pass, and they timed it to the split second tucking safely in just ahead of the oncoming semi.  I tried not to pay attention because I was scared to death.  If I had been driving the trip would have taken hours more time because I would never have passed anyone.  We drove past little villages where we saw men carrying bundles of wood necessary for the fires they use to cook their meals.  Many children were selling fruits: grapes, nuts papayas, bananas and avocados along the roads.  Road crews were trimming the grass and weeds along the highway with machetes.  We even saw one woman washing clothes in a stream.                                        
     We stopped at an interesting site along the way, Quirigua.  It is a Mayan ruin dated back to 300-900AD.  There were many stellas like the ones in the Easter Islands, standing on the perimeter of a flat area like a plaza.  At one end was a huge staircase with buildings on top.  One was the King's dwelling and another was a temple.  Of course, all these are explained on signs at the site, because we couldn't tell what they were.  There was an athletic field a little distance away.  This is considered a minor ruin, but it was amazing to see the carvings and to realize they are 2000 years old.  All this trip made me think of the Book of Mormon and the battles, the temples and the travels through the wilderness.
     It was pointed out to us that the fence posts along the roadside were actually growing trees.  Turns out that they cut fresh branches and stick them in the ground, stringing wire between them and then "tropical" Mother Nature takes over and the cut pieces begin to grow.  Soon you have shade lined highways.
     We arrived at the town of Puerto Barrios in the afternoon.  The streets were busy with rush hour traffic.  Hundreds of scooter and motorcycles, some carrying three or four people zipped in and out and through the roads.  We saw a lady nursing a baby while she was driving her scooter.  Dr. Call has a record setting picture of a family of seven on a scooter.
A common sight.
     One way streets are common and many of them are not marked; you don't know they are one way until you're heading down the wrong way.
     We arrived at our hotel in the afternoon and discovered it was a resort called Amatique Bay.  It was themed like a pirates' cove on the Caribbean Sea.  When we asked about the history of the place, we were told that it was created 20 years ago and had no history of pirates.  It did have a beautiful restaurant, a pool, water slides and a harbor area where you could rent boats, go fishing or go on tours. Our room was a duplex and not really that special,  Just a bed, desk and a chair in the sleeping area, and a bathroom with a shower.  The shower worked and the room was clean.  The grounds of the hotel were the strong point.  There were beautiful flowering trees and fragrant flowers.  In the early morning geese and a peacock came up to our door; at night the lawns sparkled with fire flies.
     We stayed there 3 days and then felt guilty spending so much money so we changed to a smaller hotel in town.  It was cheaper but had a continental breakfast and was right across the street from McDonalds and a Dominos Pizza.
     It was eye opening to go into the fast food places.  You enter a controlled gate and they give you a little tag which you are going to need to get your car out. (anti-theft)  Then you enter a door which may have an armed guard.  See the picture at McDonalds!
     Working in the makeshift clinic of the converted chapel (we took out all the chairs and brought in our gear) was an experience.  We all had headlamps strapped to our heads and we took only xrays we deemed necessary.  Then we filled, extracted, cleaned and taught hygeine to all comers.  Mostly it was the upcoming missionaries and indigent members who the Branch Presidents had referred.  We had a centrally located sterilization and instrument set-up table; members of the local ward were trained to take care of this.  The compressors were humming and the vacuums sucking and we did pretty well till the afternoon strorms knocked out the power and we had to finish while there was still a little compressed air.  This is interesting in the pitch black with only the headlamps cutting the dark.
As we drove into town looking for our hotel, we passed the volunteer fire department.  Later we saw another station and decided to go back and take a picture, because we knew Q would be interested.  The firemen were thrilled to have us take their pictures, and we were surprised to read the city name Huntington Beach Fire Department on one of the trucks.  It's a small world after all!  

 After three days of pretty steady work, we told the patients good-bye and reloaded everything for the long trek back; about 7 hours.  So now we have seen and even swam in the Caribbean Sea, and we have roughed it with some marginal equipment, and we are all exhausted, and all blessed.  We hope that our efforts make a difference in Heavenly Father's family.  We truly are no more strangers and foreigners in His kingdom.