Friday, November 23, 2012

Five Months Today

     I can hardly believe we have been in Guatemala for five months.  We are adjusting still.  Everyone asks me how my Spanish is coming and I have to say I am better.  When I go to church, I understand what is being said about 80% of the time.  If I ask Wayne about what was said, I can get back on course.  Speaking is a different story.  In the clinic I try to make conversation with the patients.  The problem is that I ask my questions and then they answer with a rapid and lengthy response.  I'm often not sure exactly what they said, so we look at each other blankly, and I pray that Wayne will get back to the chair to rescue me.
      The clinic where we work in the city is located on the grounds of the orphanage called Mi Casa.  This orphanage is only for girls age 7 through 25.  Most of the kids leave when they are 18, but they are allowed to stay as long as they are going to school.  These girls have families and they go home sometimes for holidays and vacations.  Right now it is vacation so most of the girls are gone until January.  Sadly there are still many still here and I'm not sure why they didn't go home.  They are bored because they don't have school.  When we drive into the orphanage, the girls all wave and greet us.  Several run along beside the cars and help carry our lunch pails and backpacks.  They help set the chairs up in the waiting room and would stay there the whole day if they were allowed.  When the kids from the other orphanages come, they first watch an educational video and then they get to choose from the movies we have (mostly Disney).  The Mi Casa girls love to come in or climb into the windows to watch too.  I thought you might like to see these darling girls.
     We had some boys for Los Cedros, ages 7 through 15, come in the other day.  We saw three boys who just reminded me of grandsons.  They are handsome, bright, athletic, and funny.  These three boys were 11 and 12 years old, and they are best friends.  They live together and go to school together and play futbol together; more like brothers than friends.  Two of the boys had perfect teeth and we just cleaned and fluorided them.  The third kid, David, had several cavities and an extraction.  His friends came in to watch and cheer him and we told them about our son David, whose nickname was "Dave the Brave."  We told them that they should call their friend "Dave the Brave," because he was so courageous while he was having his tooth pulled.
     This little boy was so cute.  He loved playing with my "Five Little Monkeys."  These monkeys have stiff tails so they can hang from the light, and they have velcro patches on their hands so they can dance and hug and hold hands.  All the little kids love them.  At first I was afraid that they would think that I was giving the monkeys to them, but they knew that they were mine and that I was just lettings them play with them.  They really are a valuable distraction for the kids.

     We went back to Teleman on another remote site visit.  This time we took a different route to get there and went to a town called Rio Dulce.  We stayed at a beautiful hotel on the river called Vinas del Lago and enjoyed relaxing and eating our meals at their outdoor, poolside  restaurant.  They had a small zoo there with some beautiful parrots, two monkeys, several pizotes, two raccoons, and some turtles.  I spent quite awhile trying to get a picture of the monkeys.  The blond monkey was shy and went into its little house the minute it noticed anyone near.  The other monkey ran around the cage so fast that I could get one end or the other. but not a good shot of him.  I think he enjoyed performing for spectators and would take a slightly different route every time around the cage.  Once, when I went to look at the animals, the caretaker was cleaning the cages and feeding the animals.
      On Friday afternoon after we checked in to our hotel and drove out through this beautiful area with rolling hills and valleys.  Brahma cattle grazed in the fields and all the houses had gardens and some were on the edge of large plantations.  Everything was green and the whole area reminded me of Oregon except that the temperature was around 80 degrees.
We drove through this beautiful area to a small farm called Finca El Paraiso.  After a short hike along a stream where kids were playing and their moms did the washing we reached our destination:  a wide waterfall falling about 30 feet from a hot springs and into a pond.  We swam across the pond, stood on the rocks, and enjoyed a warm and strong shower.  Afterwards we went back to the hotel, showered, ate dinner and then played Mexican Train until the mosquitoes arrived.
     The next morning we got up early and headed to the dock just down the hill and headed out on Lake Izabel where our boat and our tour guide was waiting for us.  In a few minutes we were on the Rio Dulce and saw the Castillo do San Felipe de Lara which was built as a fortress to guard the entrance to the river. At one time it was used as a prison and now is just a tourist attraction in a park.
     We traveled along the river headed to the Caribbean Sea and saw some interesting sites along the way.  As we traveled under the bridge in Rio Dulce we saw many huge beautiful yachts bearing names and locations from many of the states back home.  We were surprised how few boaters, skiers and sailors we saw, but we saw beautiful birds and flowers along the way.  We went into a small lagoon where we saw three small canoes paddled by children approaching us.
Their boats were filled with hand made wood carvings, spoon, bowls, key chains, etc.  They were firm on their slightly high prices and would not barter.  We bought a couple of things, but as soon as they saw we were not going to pay their prices, they took off to surround the next boat.  Why weren't those children in school?

     Next we went to a place called Ak-tenekmet, a school for local children.  We didn't see any kids there because we came on a Saturday.  We did go into their camp and saw the school and the place where they eat.  It's very old, dirty and primitive, but if the children learn it's a blessing.  It is staffed by a director and volunteers from all over the world who come to Guatemala to work for months or years.
The interesting part of the camp was a dental boat which belonged to Rotary.  It is manned by volunteer dentists who come down to work for weeks.  The boat goes to villages along the river and treats people who can't get to or afford dental care.  No dentists were there when we came to check it out, but we went into the treatment area to see what was there.
     Next we went to the mouth of the river as it flowed into the Caribbean Sea to a town called Livingston on the north side of the river.  This town, only accessible by boat, is very small with the people there as the main attraction.  They are of the Garifuna culture, only found in Livingston and in Honduras.  They are a mix of Black survivors of a wrecked Spanish slave ship from Nigeria, Arawakan Indians from Brazil, and Mayans. They called themselves "Black Caribs" and lived in a small remote area during the 1700's.  There are about 4,000 Garifuna still living in Livingston.  We ate lunch at a small restaurant called the The Happy Fish and walked through the village.  We didn't hear their music or chanting or see anyone dancing in their West African style.  Maybe that's only part of the night life.  We did see several pelicans and saw a couple of dock workers wearing reggae hats, but nothing that made us suspect voodoo or cannibalism, two of the legends associated with Livingston.
     After the recreation was over then it's was time for work.  On Sunday morning we loaded up and headed to Teleman.  This time we traveled a different route to get there, and the road was bumpy. curvy, and narrow, but not scary or dangerous.  We drove through beautiful country and stopped for church at a small branch along the way. We all took our Spanish hymn books, but were surprised when they sang in Kekchi.  Everyone was very friendly, and they made an announcement inviting them to come to Teleman for dental work, and many made the hour-long bus trip the next day.  We continued on through the Polochic Valley and arrived at the Teleman Branch just about the time their meetings were ending so we had lots of help setting up all the chairs, sterilization, education, etc. so we would be ready early Monday morning.
     We had a visiting dentist and his wife helping on this trip, Brent and Janet Harris from Ohio.  They had been in the clinic for about three days before our trip and had stayed in our building, so we got to know them pretty well, and  they were delightful.  We were hoping they would come on a mission and serve with us in Guatemala, but they are already committed to a mission call in Ohio at the Bishop's Storehouse and felt they needed to stay there.  Janet and I were friends instantly and I hope we'll see them again someday.
     We also had the Spradlins and their daughter Natalie helping.  The Spradlins are missionaries in the area and Natalie was visiting them from the states.  Natalie took over the job of sterilization which makes a tremendous difference in our efficiency.  We just take her all the dirty instruments and then pick up a new tray with clean ones.  That is amazingly helpful and helped us treat more patients. We also had two darling girls from Utah, Ashley and Cassara, who were just on a humanitarian trip by themselves in Guatemala and heard about our clinic and offered their help.  They took over the job of giving fluoride treatments to all the children and again sped up the process allowing us to treat more patients.  Stace and Jacque Kirk, senior missionaries over safety joined us and spent their time adjusting and repairing the compressors and entertaining and controlling the people waiting to be seen. Together we were able to treat 189 people.
     We made a special trip to the hotel where we stayed the last time to invite the owner to come.  She came the last time and got there at noon and we already had 50 people at the door so they turned he away.  This time she came with her four boys and they had plenty of work to be done.  We treated the youngest boy and the mom, but the three boys who needed it the most refused to open their mouths out of fear of the injection.  They agreed to have their teeth fluorided and that's all.  On the other hand we have little kids who jump in the chair and just cooperate to the fullest.  Dr. Johnson had one patient, an old lady, who had 27 teeth pulled.  I wanted to tell those cowardly boys to go check out what will surely happen to them, but we didn't.  It would have embarrassed the lady, and it probably would have scared the boys more.
     On the way home we traveled out of the valley the shorter way, but along the dangerous road.  It winds through the heights over the river far below.  It is so narrow that when cars and huge trucks meet someone has to yield.  The views are beautiful, but the ride is hair raising.  We hit one bump that made the car dramatically and suddenly list, making me bump my head on the window.  I actually had a knot there for a day or two.  I doubt if the shorter route saves time because we have to drive so slowly.  I will strongly advise against that route again.
     One of the major events of the last month was a traffic accident we were involved in.  Wayne wasn't driving, but we were passengers in the back seat.  We were stopped at a light, the light changed to green and as we entered the intersection, we saw a motorcycle come flying from the right.  We stopped, but the motorcycle's handlebar clipped the front headlight and caused the motorcycle to go down.  A passenger on the bike went flying and was taken to the hospital.
The rest of us waited at that intersection for over an hour while the police took information and we waited for the lawyer from the insurance company to come.  Dr Johnson was taken to the police station where the drivers of the motorcycle and our car were arrested. Then we went to the hospital to see the condition of the motorcycle passenger, and then we went to the courthouse for a judge to determine what should be done.  Bond was set and both drivers were released, but forbidden to drive, or leave the country, and told that a trial date would be sent to them.  Meanwhile both the motorcycle and the car were impounded and kept as evidence in the case.  We we told by Jorge, who is in charge of the mission cars, that when and if we ever get the car back, it will probably be stripped.   The accident happened at about 6:15 and we finally got home 1:00 AM.
     We got back in the routine when we returned and treated the orphans trying to get their work done before they go home for the months of  November and December.  School's out for those months
so we have fewer patients then.  Some of the children who are true orphans stay, but most are gone.  The ones left at Mi Casa love to come to the clinic and "help" us, and they do to a certain point.  They carry our things from the car, or take out the trash, and open the gates for us, but they also love to dance, play games on my phone, watch movies, blow up patient gloves, etc.  At some point, we have to send them outside until the next day.  They are really bored when school is not in session.
     Halloween is not a big deal in Guatemala.  We started a "Boo Activity" in our building that was about the only celebration we saw at all.  We filled a small bag with stickers, candy and a small pumpkin and left it with instructions to hang a notice on their door stating that they had been booed and then they should pass it on.  Everyone quickly played the game and within a week every door had a "Boo" sign hanging on their door.  Jenny sent us all the stuff including a small ghost cookie cutter, so on Halloween, I made sugar cookies with mini chocolate chips for the eyes and put some at every door.

     So long til next post.  Don't forget us - we remember those we left behind every day.  Elder and Sister Wilcox

Note:  I believe we forgot to post a blog that we had written in mid-September.  I am re-posting it just in case.  Look at the previous ones to see.  Thanks