Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More Adventures/Thank God for Spanish Speakers

To start with- I'm all better. I got over the death cold sometime last week and all of the staff has had a little bit of rest, therefore making the entire apartment a much more pleasant place to live.

So yesterday was my big trip to Ceiba- a town about three hours away by bus. It's best known as the crossing city to Roatan (the gorgeous islands that are the reason that people visit Honduras). However, outside of the city is a clinic known as Salud Totale (Total Health) that is a big deal because it is partially sustainable (i.e. paid for by the clients). The clinic is made up of dental, medical and opthamological practices mostly run by brigade. It has one full time doctor who sees about forty patients a day, a pharmacy, and counseling run by the church that it is a part of. It is pretty heavy on religion as it is based from the congregation of a local church and funded by US churches. More on that later, because the adventure getting there is a story on it's own.

I woke up early so that I could catch a bus to Ceiba and be back in El Progreso by nightfall. Josue, one of SHH's Honduran employees, went with me as a bodyguard/spanish speaker/company. We got on a really nice bus to Ceiba and I learned the usefulness of the past tense verb "fui" (it really is useful to add another tense to vocabulary). I also learned that "retournar" is to make a U-turn, and that "regresar" is to return. Not knowing Spanish is probably one of my top-three greatest frustrations ever, or actually, it was... until we actually got to Ceiba.

I had previously made contact with the clinic administrator, a very nice English speaking Honduran named Merphran. He had assured me that there would be a truck that would pick us up from the bus station and take us to the clinic because it is "a little ways away from the city." I started calling his cell number at 7:30am- a fairly normal time here, since the sun is up around 6:30am. I called just about every half hour until we arrived in Ceiba, at around 10:30am. As my luck would obviously have it, he didn't pick up. Having already wasted a week waiting for a response from a Honduran doctor, I was not in a very good mood, to say the least. There was no truck, I didn't know where we were in Ceiba (the bus stop turned out to be a random Shell station by a megaplex- not exactly the center of town), and, worst of all, I hadn't magically learned enough of the language to be capable in the situation. I called Alex, our Chief Operating Officer for other phone numbers to try, but none of them were answered. He made the wise suggestion of "lunch" (remember, it's 10:30am) so Josue and I ended up in KFC, eating terrible fried chicken at a very early hour. Short sidenote: KFC and Popeye's are super popular here because fried chicken is an extremely common Honduran meal. Also, rice and beans are served as a typical side. Back to the story: I was frustrated to an extreme- I had planned a foolproof excursion, it should have been easy, I had followed everything to the letter (as much as it could be in Honduras, where there are no regular bus schedules) and yet nothing had gone according to plan. We finished our fast food brunch without receiving a returned call from Merphran. Josue came up with some sort of plan- I'm still not exactly sure what it was, but we ended up in a taxi, headed towards the center of town. We got to the center, asked around for where Salud Totale was and no one knew. I was becoming more and more anxious and angry at myself as this occurred. Josue dragged me around, making sure that I didn't get hit by cars or get into any trouble. We got a lot of looks- there's not a lot of gringas walking around with Hondurans. We finally ended up in a pharmacy, where Josue got exact directions to what may or may not have actually been the clinic. We got in a taxi, I prepared to spend an insane amount of money, and we were on our way towards some clinic when, thankfully, Merphran finally called. We hauled out of the taxi about thirty seconds after getting into it (the poor taxi driver looked a bit confused) and ended up sitting in a park waiting for the promised truck. I noticed that the park was built by a Rotary Club and it didn't look very old- probably a remanent of work completed after Hurricane Mitch.

The truck showed up after about twenty minutes, and we actually had a twenty minute drive outside of Ceiba to get to the clinic. It's located in a residential area in the suburbs, high on a mountain, on land donated for tithe to a church. From the top, you can see the sea (it was pretty cloudy and grey when I was there, unfortunately). The complex is composed of the clinic (which eventually may be a hospital), a nutrition center (where sponsored children receive lunches and school help), offices and a massive church. The drive to the top of the mountain was fairly extreme and was a dead ringer for some of the roads in Rwanda (maybe a little nicer). Apparently, all of the land, when donated, was undeveloped. The church, in creating their complex, had to get electricity, access, water, everything fairly far up the mountain.

The clinic is a labor of love for the church. Hondurans started the clinic after Hurricane Mitch. It began as a stable location for occasional brigades to come in and do work. Now, with a full time doctor, nurse, and pharmacist, it provides continuous health care to a patient base that comes from hours away. Funding is provided through churches and private donors in the US. They have surgical brigades for complicated surgeries, an on-site x-ray machine and part time x-ray tech, a part time dentist, and optometrist brigades. When medical brigades arrive, the clinic can see up to 400 people in an extremely short time. When covered by regular staff, the daily patient load is approximately forty.

As seems to be the general consensus in Honduran health care, hypertension and diabetes are the major chronic issues that the clinic sees. In order to keep down repeat visitors, a visit to the clinic costs about thirty lempiras, or about a dollar and a half. This money barely covers the operating cost of electricity. The dental clinic, however, is completely sustainable and makes enough money to cover its own costs.

The clinic is missing many components that I, and the others interested in this project, consider vital. It is missing the vital link of community health workers and educators. Though it does provide birth control, an awesome step for a Christian organization, the clinic does not do sex education in the schools or in special camps. Nutrition education is also a vital part of child-raising and is something that many mothers miss. Additionally, not really related to the clinic but still interesting, the church performs house-building services for families that need them most, and provide the houses to the family without sweat-equity labor or a small fee. This type of service has been generally ended in the US and through US based NGOs, but apparently still exists in Honduras.

There's a lot more information on the clinic that I can give, but I'm pretty sure that it's only interesting to me. The trip back was uneventful. We got back in time for dinner and I got to meet the VA Tech team and the rest of the WM team that arrived yesterday. The teams are great and it's going to be a fantastic week. I'm going out to the work site tomorrow morning and getting in contact with some of my leads in the afternoon. Hopefully the rest of the week will be highly productive and I can get some serious work done on my project- at least enough to make it really cohesive.

Three days left- it hardly seems real.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Meeting with Sra. Galo- highly productive with a number of leads, including an organization that works with domestic abuse cases.
Finished Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biography of Dr. Paul Farmer and the story of his work in Haiti.
Cleaned the refrigerator.

Pretty productive for it only being 2:30.

Good Outlook for the Week

Yesterday was a pretty relaxing day of just getting people off to the airport. There were a couple of late flights at seven, so we spent a lot of the day hanging out with the Boston College group that was leaving then. We went to the mall for lunch and there was a ridiculous Honduran Price-is-Right kind of show going on with lots of shouting and music and general insanity. The mall is a bizarre place- it's nicer than your average US mall, with a food court filled with Subway, Quizno's, Pizza Hut, Wendy's, etc. It's one of the few places that you can buy a salad here. I decided to get a Wendy's Mandarin Chicken salad, which totally turned out to be a honey mustard salad with bacon and fried chicken. There was absolutely nothing mandarin about the salad, at all. It was still a salad though, so that made me happy.
Today is a free day for almost everyone, but at about 10:30 I'm going to finally go meet Dr. Galo and his wife at her pharmacy in the Centro! Dr. Galo called last night and asked me to meet him there, so hopefully I can get some leads and a lot of my questions answered. I'm a little bit nervous because I've been waiting for a week for this so I need it to go really well. Tomorrow I'm going on a bus to Ceiba (a beach town about three hours from here) to a partially sustainable clinic set up by an American but run by Honduran doctors. In a really funny turn of events yesterday, I actually ran into the person that I had been emailing to set up this visit. I was wandering around the TuriPlaza in Progreso with the latest group that was leaving, and one of the volunteers came up to me and introduced me to Merphran, the man that I had been in contact with for the past couple of days. It was the last thing that I expected from the day, but he was driving through with a group going to Tegucigalpa. Apparently the TuriPlaza is the hot spot for the entire tourist nation. He was really nice and assured me that he could arrange for me to be picked up in Ceiba and driven to the clinic, have a translator on hand (his sister), and get a tour of the clinic and have my questions answered. He had apparently seen one of the volunteers wearing one of the SHH t-shirts and luckily asked one that knew my name. Quite the set of happy coincidences!
I'm off to pack up some boxes of donations- the office (and, in fact, much of the apartment) is a disaster.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mild Frustration

So I've been waiting all week to speak with Dr. Galo. I called this morning to remind him again- at about 8am- and he told me that he was in surgery. He might call me later to set up an appointment, he might not. It's not really a big deal, I understand that he's busy, but it's still frustrating to be constantly waiting and feeling really useless. I can't really go out and do anything else, unfortunately, because if I were to go to the work site or the Nutrition Center I would probably be trapped there if he did call. Sad story.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Second Thursday

Time flies by down here- my three weeks are over half way finished.
Today (and yesterday) were highly unproductive. Yesterday I was too sick to move and therefore slept most of the day. Today I called Dr. Galo to apologize for not contacting him yesterday and he informed me that he would have been too busy to meet anyway, so good news there. We decided that he would call me this afternoon but his schedule was revolving around a possible surgery so there were no guarantees on his availability. We'll see what happens, there's still a few hours left.
Otherwise, I contacted a medical clinic in Ceiba, about three hours from here, to see if I could go up and take a tour of their facility. Their Honduran administrator got back to me in record time and I should be heading up there early next week. I'd like to turn it into a two day thing because we have Sunday off, so it would be nice to take someone up with me, hit the beach on Sunday, and do the tour on Monday (when the administrator is available). I don't know if that will happen or not, but it sure would be awesome.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

So Sick...

I have a record breaking cold. Today I don't even know if I'm going to move, I might just sleep and work on the computer. Clare, a god send, is going to go out and get soup and drugs for me so that I can hopefully start to improve. I've been hanging onto this death virus for about a week now and it's gone through its ups and downs. It started with a terrible feverish onslaught one night. It was actually kind of amusing. All of the staff was at Hotel Cascada with the volunteers, and I told Alex that I needed to get home immediately because I was on the verge of passing out. About a half hour later, after rounding everyone up, I was shaking in the back of the car on the way home, unable to open my eyes because of the pain. The car stopped in front of the apartment, and Cosmo said, "no one is getting out of this car until we make a decision on..." I don't even remember what we were making a decision on, but she certainly asked me to put in my two cents worth. We eventually made a decision and I crawled into bed, still wearing my clothes. From there, things generally started improving- I started coughing, was able to swallow, and managed to move around and perform daily activities. Last night it turned bad again, though and I woke up this morning with one eye completely sealed shut and what feels like an ear infection. Yay for Honduras and incredibly vulnerable immune systems.

As far as good news goes- someone called me and left a message on my phone that I have no idea how to access. I'm going to assume that it was Dr. Galo and call him in about a half hour.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Quick Story

So today I finally got keys and was able to go out of the apartment on my own. Clare dropped me off at Dr. Galo's (a local gynecologist that has been very helpful to the OSU medical students) and I waited for about forty five minutes to see him. We had a brief meeting, exchanged phone numbers, and set up a tentative appointment for tomorrow, when he would be slightly less busy. I then called one of the taxi drivers that SHH uses and trusts and began to wait in front of the church. I hadn't yet met this driver, Alan, but I knew that he was wearing a blue shirt and was kind of chubby. After about ten minutes, a chubby Honduran taxi driver wearing a blue shirt pulled up and the following happened:

Me: Alan?
Driver: Si!
(I get into the car)
Driver: Donde?
Me: A la apartemento.
Driver: Que? Donde?
(I pull out my cell phone and call Alan's number, there is no ringing in the car)
Me: Alan? Tu esta Alan? Como te llamas?
Driver: Danny?
(I run out of the car repeating "No" about twenty times as I run back towards the church.)

I feel bad for the guy, he could have just been a nice, confused taxi driver looking to make some money. But with a bunch of gringos living in an apartment, we try and keep knowledge of our location limited to trusted drivers. I was also stupid for not asking his name right when he pulled up, but I was feeling pretty sick and just wanted to get back to the apartment and lie down. Oh well, no harm done and lesson learned. When Alan did pull up, I made sure to ask who he was before getting in and I got back to the apartment safe and secure.

The apartment is actually one of the safest places in El Progreso because it is owned by one of the most powerful mob families in Honduras. Downstairs, on the first floor, is a gynecologist's clinic, and the doctor that runs it is a part of The Family. Interestingly, he is the only gynecologist in El Progreso to do abortions. At night we are totally safe, there are huge Rottweilers that roam around the property. During the day, a bilingual school is about 200 yards away from the entrance, so the sounds of kids playing are constantly in the apartment.

I think it's time for some lunch and more research. Hopefully there will be another post later- I have more free time now that I'm able to work on my own.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Beginning Week 2

Update for last week (the part that I´ve left out) is coming soon! Wait for it, it´ll be great.

Last night and today were SUPER busy. Yesterday was the wrap up for the first group of students and a celebration for some of the families that have completed a whole year of hard work at Villa Soleada. After having a five year old boy almost cut off his finger with a machete (more on that later) the long term volunteers ran around trying to get everything together for the final dinner and celebration with the families. It was a pretty nice affair- each family was recognized with a nice certificate of appreciation and got to have a dinner of tamales and grapes- which is the traditional meal for the celebration of a new year. The kids were especially funny- they normally don't get a lot to eat and especially don't get served their food by a bunch of gringas (only female volunteers were left at that point) and they obviously really enjoyed the experience. There was also a dancing contest which was pretty cute. The kids were pretty reluctant participants, but once the dancing got going they were more into it.

After the families left the hotel, the volunteers headed out to the local club/discotheque for their final night. I went along as staff/security because it's always a little bit crazy. It turned out that the club was closed because, according to the random guy outside, "all the alcohol was consumed for New Year's and the bar was wiped out." With that, we ended up upstairs- in a karaoke/bar area. As we walked in, a woman was singing terrible karaoke to approximately five other patrons and we were all really concerned for the state of the night. However, once a sketchy older Honduran man decided to pull me onto the dance floor, the volunteers made the night completely awesome. Other girls came to rescue me and everyone ended up having a great time.

This morning all of the week long volunteers left early for shopping and the planes. All day Clare and I ran errands, first to the Antorcha (a huge, American-style supermarket) for ten loaves of bread and eight jars of jelly, then to a copy center (doesn't look much like Kinko's) and then to another Antorcha for large cardboard boxes for donations. They didn't have them, and therefore we embarked on a three hour search for approximately fifty cardboard boxes, which culminated in us calling Josue (one of our drivers/guards/lifesavers) and having him find some person that he knows that had boxes randomly stored in his house. We found the man in the Centro and had to drive to his house in Las Brisas, about a half hour away. However, the man seemed to have an unlimited supply of boxes, so we ended up succeeding in our goal. The punishment for planning a trip of over 70 people one day in advance due to the rapidly changing nature of this country is going to be harsh this week, solely because it takes an entire day to run simple errands.

The new group has arrived, they seem to be nice. It's a huge group, and Clare put it best in describing their trip as, "it's going to be a conveyor belt." We're going to pack them on buses, ship them to work, see things, etc. It's an exposure trip and happens to include high-schoolers from the Campus Christian Community group so it's going to be quite contained. Additionally, the sheer numbers of people on this trip make it extremely difficult to personalize. It will be interesting to see reactions from members.

The first week is done. All told, I have already become a mess; I'm not yet sure how anyone can live down here. I have about fifty mosquito bites per leg (they´ve started biting on top of bites and several have formed a lovely conglomerate), ant bites from the worksite, a redneck sun burn, and a nagging sore throat that could belong to a nasty cold from one of the kids or allergies to "the smell of Honduras," also known as burning trash. Hopefully I'll figure out how to survive without too much bug spray soon.

Only two weeks left and much to do! Tomorrow should have some more free time that I can use to do a massive post.