February 24, 2019
Yesterday most of us had uneventful trips to Guatemala. We coordinated flights from Boston (2 different flights), Denver, Louisville, and Houston. Polly got stuck in Houston for the night due to flight mechanical issues. She is now in Guatemala and headed to Cunen – a bit behind us. We have secured safe transportation for her.
Last night was dinner and bed for most as we had gotten up around 2:30am for the flights. I think everyone is better rested today. We stayed in Hotel Santo Tomas – a real delight to stay in with courtyards and flowers and parrots : ) It was a convent in the day but a wonderful place for respite today.
This morning breakfast was eggs and breads and fruit and oh yes – can’t forget the refried beans! Coffee is wonderful here (so I am told) – but it is definitely stronger than Dunkin Donuts! Folks will have a chance at the end of the week to buy coffee to bring home. It is always a best seller.
After breakfast everyone had the opportunity to go to the market which is across the street from the hotel. It is the largest open air market in Central America. It is an experience that is unlike one I have had in my travels! There is a large Catholic Church that many visited at the end of the market. It is a unique blend of Catholicism and Mayan faith beliefs in one place and at one time. There are “tables” raised off the floor by a few inches in the center isle where Mayans can worship their Gods, spread flower petals and light candles. I love the sense of oneness in our differences. And I bet God doesn’t care how we worship but that we worship. The priests actually stop at the various tables and offer blessings according to the table they are at.
We had a wonderful lunch with delicious Guacamole and are now headed on our bus to Cunen – another 4 hour ride. Riding through the mountains always makes me realize how thin the veil between heaven and earth is. The terrain is mountainous and rugged and so amazingly beautiful. And it stretches for miles and miles. Definitely God’s country.
The cemetery was the last stop before lunch. There the Mayans care wonderfully for the graves and often visit the dead. There is a chapel in the cemetery and places where the Mayans hold there own ceremonies. Today there were three ceremonies being performed. Often ceremonies involve fire, light (candles) and flower petals as well as many prayers. (Maybe I should do a blog about the Mayan traditions!)
We are still driving so I will write again later. Just be sure that all your loved ones and friends are safe and well and are soon to experience a journey deep in the heart of Mayan country that will touch their hearts and open their souls.
February 26, 2019
Dear family and friends,
We survived our first clinic day. Actually, the team did more than survive it, they rocked it! We left the hotel at 7:45 am and arrived at San Antonia around 8:20am.
We unloaded the bus and had the clinic set up and running with a pharmacy, lab, triage station, and registration by 9:00am. It was a thing of beauty to watch.
Throughout the day people cared for one another and cared for the folks who were seeking care from us. We have 4 providers on this trip and they saw so many varied illnesses and chronic diseases. We saw a total of 108 patients today. Not bad for day #1!
Stephan, Terry, Hallie, and Nancy did a great job seeing patients who had not seen a provider in a year. Marilyn worked in the lab today and she got really good at doing finger sticks as she checked the blood sugar on every patient over the age of 30.
Laura and Polly worked with interpreters to triage patients – taking vital signs and asking questions about why they were there. The did amazing – keeping the patients flowing all day.
In the pharmacy, Chris was amazing. I love having him come on these trips. He is a pharmacist and lends so much to the pharmacy aspect – but more than that he lends a deep sense of spirituality in his work.
Peter and Rae and Kendra worked in the pharmacy giving patients their medications and offering them instruction in taking their medications as well as whatever instructions the provider wanted the patient to have Peter has done this for many years and he too brings a wonderful sense of call to this work that brings him closer to God. Kendra and Rae worked with Peter explaining things to patients and also did an excellent job.
The kids today were out of control. There must have been 100 kids that showed up when color books and crayons came out. Tammy and I had to lock ourselves in a classroom with abut 40 of the kids to get a sense of control in the coloring. They were all over us and it was overwhelming. But we did it and they laid on the floor and colored. Their teacher was out sick, so they had no one in the classroom with them. Imagine that back home.
Christine and Kerry also helped with the kids – playing soccer and football and some volleyball as well as tug of war with the kids as the rope and other games the kids came up with. It was a crazy day with the kids. So I hear, they climbed up in the bathroom stall and squirted Marilyn over the top with water : ). Ingenious!
The Pharmacy did an awesome job counting the pills and packaging vitamins for distribution. It was a fine working machine.
Last night as we gathered, we shared stories of the day. For me that is a moving time. A time when folks share their witness of God at work in their day. Today we shared our love for one another and our love for our Guatemalan brothers and sisters. The people here are kind and patient and gracious. They are such a gift. We are all blessed to be a blessing.
We are off for another village this morning. We are going up 55 minutes on some dirt roads. So, I am going end for now. It is a bumpy ride and a beautiful vista as well. All is good here. Hold us and the people we serve in your prayers.
February 27, 2019
Today we spent the day in a beautiful village an hour from our hotel in Xemanzana. It is a village that has more rolling hills (at 8000 ft) than other villages that are on the side of the mountain. The village has much farm land with more goats, horses, cows, and cats than we have seen. It is quiet here and the people are much more reserved.
The day started slow. It was a steady pace all day with no craziness 🙂 Sometimes that is just what is needed. There was plenty of time for playing with the kids, interacting with the interpreters, enjoying the beautiful sunshine, teach the game of marbles, drawing on the concrete with chalk, playing soccer in the yard and more team building. We saw 64 patients in all.
We did have a tour of the school. The classrooms were quite barren of decoration and supplies. The kitchen that cooks the kids lunch had 3 open fire cookstoves – only one really vented to the outside. It was dark and smoke stained inside. It is something that we are constantly working on in these villages – venting fires outside so that respiratory disease is less of an issue.
At the end of the day we saw an elderly couple – age 84 and 91. They came walking across very uneven terrain, down dirt roads and then down concrete steps that are anything but even to get to the clinic. They were accompanied by their great great (?great) granddaughter who looked to be 4 or 5. She said she was taking care of them. We were able to inject the woman’s knee to give her some pain relief and send them off with medications they needed. And off they went down the dirt road side by side each with their cane and their “caretaker”. That couple touched each of our hearts.
We had time before dinner and drove to a beautiful waterfall near the Cunen clinic. It was an 8 minute walk down to the falls…. and it was straight down! As I walked down – I though “O Lord, help me to get back up to the bus”. It was well worth the walk down and the hike back up. The falls were beautiful! It was the perfect ending to the day. I am always so grateful for the beauty of the land – especially here in Guatemala.
I am so grateful for this team and their ability to care for one another and for the people in these villages. There is so much love flowing! After dinner – we were challenged to find showers that worked but we are working together to get people clean for the next day : ) No grumbling – perhaps some laughter – and some goosebumps as water comes and goes and is hot and cold. Par for the course in Cunen. I figure it only lends to the experience. Warm beds awaited us and Wednesday we will work out of the clinic in Cunen!
Thanks for taking this journey with us! It is helpful to know we have friends and family home taking this journey in their own way.
Blessings on your day,
February 28, 2019
Greetings from Guatemala!
We had a great day yesterday at the Cunen Clinic with 119 patients! The clinic is an awesome place to work from. It is a building that was built by 14 construction teams and finally finished by a New England team in 2012 (I think). We have exam rooms and a pharmacy and a beautiful waiting room. The clinic is currently staffed a few days per month by a Guatemalan doctor who drives 4 hours to get here.
Cunen feels more like a
town than a village. It is in a valley at 6000 feet and has the population
similar to Portland Maine. Here however there is no health care (although
there are shamans) and no reliable transportation to get places, and no clinics
or hospitals except the one we are in.
We saw all kinds of patients – an acute abdomen who had to go a couple hours away to a hospital for a work up – and then came back with an order for an Ultrasound and labs. Why they didn’t or couldn’t do them – not sure. We had tons o babies and little ones. We saw a brother and sister who 13 years ago (they are 31 and 34) started developing a progressive motor weakness in the lower extremities. It is getting much worse and they came in for evaluation, the oldest was in a really old wheelchair and the sister ha to be carried in. They had had no range of motion done and were unable to do much with their lower extremities which were very tight.
We can get them in to see neuro and talked with them about having someone do mild range of motion with them and were able to provide them both with newer wheelchairs.
We are also seeing lots of other things! Dr. Stephan who is a physiatrist has done a ton of injections here for musculoskeletal issues. The people work hard and their bodies feel the pain of that work.
At this point the team is gelling well and I can’t tell you who worked where because they step in wherever needed. I can say lots of kids were played with! We had the parachute out and they had a blast with that.
Last night we talked about where we saw God’s love today and everyone spoke…. and God’s love was everywhere! We are one family as a team and one family with our Guatemalan brothers and sisters. It is amazing to watch – especially for me. It is so easy to discriminate and harm one another and yet here we work to remove the barriers to inclusion in life. The wheelchairs are a gift that allow the young adults to more fully be integrated into activities of life. God’s love is abundant and extended to all.
After dinner and some conversation last night we went to a soccer game a 10-minute walk from the hotel. The bombaros (firefighters) in Cunen challenged us to a game. What a blast to watch Stephan, Kerry, Wyatt, Laura, Rae, Chris, Hallie, Nikki (our host) and some of our interpreters and our bus driver play the bombaros. They won but we scored 9 points! Laura, Wyatt, Rae, among others scored! That game was a gift of relationship and fun after a few days’ work. To be invited to play was a real honor and testament to how much our relationship with this community has grown.
I am happy to report that only minor scrapes were had by a couple and that everyone is healthy and well! No illness on this team! So grateful.
I am sure we had some tired team members last night but everyone is up and running this am. We are back at the clinic and on arrival there were 30 or more patients already in line. Sounds and looks like a very busy day.
Will report later on today’s clinic. For now – I am back to work in the clinic! Thanks for your prayers and good thoughts.
Blessings on your day!
March 1, 2019
As we get ready this morning to leave Cunen for Panachajel with a stop in the village of Chontola, I look back of the grace filled clinic days we have had here.
We saw 110 patients today in the clinic in Cunen yesterday. When we arrived there were already people lined up waiting. We had left the clinic set up from the day before and so we could get right to work.
It was a day in which people could change positions if they wanted, play with the kids a bit more and it felt more relaxed. The pharmacy had lots of pills counted out so not as much help was needed there.
This week I would say we saw more chronic issues than acute although we certainly had both.
For me the grace in this day was the way the team was relaxed and comfortable with the local people. They laughed with them and played with them. There were mutual hugs and handshakes all around. Many of the patients today went from person to person shaking hands and offering gratitude.
I love having a medical team that is half medical and half non medical. People learn new skills and are able to interact in ways that might not be the same in another situation. They talk with lots of people, the hold their hands, they paint their nails, they explain how the medications will help, and they find love in every interaction.
This is a beautiful country with beautiful people and I can’t imagine it any other way. We talk about the people as our brothers and sisters and truly they are that. There is mutual love and respect. Playing soccer with the bombaros was an amazing example of that relationship.
Patients can wait for hours to be seen but they never moan or groan. They sit with their children waiting their turn. My mind often goes to how we would be at home in this situation.
We have so much privilege and so many things that I know I take for granted. Coming here reminds me that I don’t need all the things I have to be happy.
We said goodbye to most of our staff – translators and Odilla who did our referrals, and Ruben who provided registration for patients and Pastor who was a wonderful presence every day. They were part of our family this week and we could not have done what we did without their help. Together we worked side by side. Today we will say our goodbyes to Nikki our host and we will have Jose with us to drive us to the airport on Sunday.
At dinner we had an amazing cake to celebrate Roger’s birthday on Tuesday. If we don’t have a birthday to celebrate, I make one up because the cakes here are so delicious!
We are now on the bus heading for Chontola. I am grateful for the service we provided and for this time together.
Thank you for your prayers and for taking this journey with us!
Will write later about our day today!
Later on March 1, 2019
Greetings from Guatemala!
Today we traveled from Cunen to Chontola to Panachajel.
We stopped in the village of Chontola to visit the women’s co-op which was formed after their village was burned to the ground and their men and boys killed by the militia in the Civil War.
The women formed the co-op to have a way of earning money to survive. They taught their daughters how to weave and make beautiful textiles. We were showed the various steps of weaving and were able to purchase some beautiful textiles from the women.
We were able to see their home which was very basic. A kitchen with a wood stove – no table or chairs, two small bedrooms, an outhouse bathroom, and a steam dome. The steam dome is a dome made rom peat or adobe. Inside the dome, there is an area you cam get into that has a fire burning on one end and the person lays on the other end. They clean via their sweat. According to Maria the steam dome is also used for pregnant women to take steam baths – hence the shape of the dome like a pregnant belly.
The area of Chontola is striking in the beauty of the mountains around it and in the small peat homes that are rustic and dusty.
We then traveled to the Salud Y Paz clinic in Camanchaj. We had a tour of the medical, dental and surgical areas as well as the school – which is preschool, K and 1. The school allows for children to learn Spanish and go to school. If they only speak quiche they cannot attend public school.
The clinic is open Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for medical care. The docs travel to the outlying clinic on the other days.
We are now in our hotel Casa Tex-el. It is a nice hotel. We went to dinner at Penguinos and learned about the culture of the Mayans and listened to wonderful Marimba music as well as tried our hands at making tortillas. Terry won the prize for the best tortilla and Stephan and Kerry also won prizes.
After a good nights sleep we will travel to Santiago for breakfast – across the lake on a boat!
It has been a day filed with learning and interacting with the people here. The grace of the people is everywhere. Thanks be to our God who is a loving and giving God.
March 3, 2019
Hi friends and family,
I write from the airport in Guatemala City as we wait for our flight. We are departing – Polly to Houston and then Boston; 7 team members with Chris heading to Miami now and the rest of us (11) will head for Miami in an hour.
Yesterday was an amazing day in Panachajel. We started the day by taking a boat across lake Atitlan to Santiago where we had a wonderful breakfast lakeside. We then walked through Santiago, watching women wash their clothes on the rocks in the lake and visiting the church where Father Rothner was killed during the Civil War protecting the Mayans and Guatemalans. He was from Oklahoma and came to Guatemala as a young priest – staying and serving the people. He is martyred in Guatemala and we were able to visit the place where he was killed and see his belongings etc. We were there during a worship service as well.
We then walked through the streets making our way to where the boat was docked. That is no minor feat. There are vendors on both sides of the street just waiting to sell us something – anything. We did our fair share of purchasing!
We made our way back to Panachajel and Hallie, Chris, Kerry, Gwenne, Rae, and Stephan went over to the zip lining. Chris and Stephan climbed up with the group but then walked back down while the rest did the ziplining. They had a lot of fun! The rest of us shopped and ate and rested and shopped some more : ). We had to juggle some things around to help some fit everything they bought into some suitcase.
When we arrived at the boat there were vendors there trying to sell us more things while we were waiting on the boat.
We had dinner at Guajimbos where we said goodbye to our host Nikki. She was a great host and leader.
Today we left early and arrived early in the airport. Now the journey home! On the way to the airport we saw Volcano Fuego give off more steam. It is an active volcano that a few months ago put out so much ash that every village on the side of the volcano was buried in 3-4 feet of ash. Every member of the villages were killed. A few weeks later it flowed lava. It is now off limits for climbing and has been designated a burial ground. Today it was a bit steamy again!
I am so thankful for this team. Your loved ones and friends were an amazing team. They worked well together and it seemed so seamless all week. New relationships were formed and I am sure hearts were opened to the moving of the Spirit. I am continually being transformed by the Spirit that moves through this place with the beauty of the mountains and the lake and the people who touch me deeply over and over.
Be kind to your loved ones. They have experienced deep poverty and deep gratitude of the people here. There may be a transition as they return home to a place of abundance and lots of material things.
Thank you for sharing this journey with us. Til next time…