>My First Passport Stamp: May 17, 2011 (Honduras)


Day 1
*DISCLAIMER (At least I’m giving you a fair warning, which is generosity at it’s best): I already feel a ramble coming on, and please excuse me if that’s what this journal entry will be… I guess my mind is a bit scrambled.
Still want to read this mess? Okay, fine. Day one of my Honduras Journal is finally here. You’ll read it later due to the lack of Wi-Fi/internet access, but I’m typing it up in word documents for easy uploading later.
After being squished between two people on the four hour flight to San Salvador, and then waiting three hours for the other groups to arrive to Tegucigalpa, I realized I was already complaining too much. I knew this place would be great for so many reasons; it could be the trip that would change me. I find it so ironic that from such poverty can come such genuine, raw beauty. The make shift abodes are filled with graffiti and advertisements, juxtaposed with the random brand new imported car. My book bag is filled with bug spray- and it’s probably not enough considering the mosquito sitting on my calf. The beetles, ants, and other creepy crawlies are literally double the size here. But that’s isn’t the only animal trouble.
Something about the free ranging cows, chicken, donkeys, and stray dogs creep me out a little bit… but I’m somehow managing to enjoy myself. The first thing that moved me was when we arrived to tegucigalpa, when an older women approached me with a handful of forms for the US customs office. She didn’t know how to read or write, but she asked me if I spoke spanish. Whatever it was I said, we filled out the papers together, and she thanked me before she said goodbye and headed towards the gates to go visit her daughter and newborn grandchild in Atlanta. I didn’t think I spoke spanish until I was forced to speak in a place that wouldn’t understand me if I didn’t.
I’ve started getting more comfortable with the language… I’ve been able to to answer every single word that the other girls on my trip asked to know, and something about that makes me feel a little better. One thing I noticed after we left the airport was the amount of children walking through the streets, or riding on the back of trucks (which are Mercedes Benz(s?), by the way). Another was the amount of garbage dripping down the countryside’s cliffs. Upon asking residents, it turns out Honduras does very little about it’s garbage; something the United States actively takes care of. I don’t know how to feel about all these things, but I know I’m feeling something. I feel so motivated to start this Brigade and make a difference, even if it’s a small one. I want to learn about this people, and about myself.
The fruits and vegetables are so fresh… they’re consistency is unexplainable to someone who has never met the joy of a perfectly NATURALLY ripened potato. I miss talking to people though- I mean people from home, since there are a good amount of people on this trip. Not having internet or access to a phone is stressing me out to no end. I feel so… disconnected for the first time. I’m a little depressed by it; but I’m working to get over it. Actually, that might be a lie, since I’m pretty much having a panic attack and I have no control over changing that situation. But, it’s only 5 days at this point. I’m complaining about bugs, lack of wifi, and sleeping on the top bunk in a room with 23 other girls, which is nothing.
People here are living ten times worse, every single day. So I NEED to get over it. Many people have asked me how I would react or what I would do if I hated it here, but no one asked me what would happen if I really enjoyed this, and wanted to do it again; maybe a longer one, something that’s more long term. I don’t know how to explain it; but I don’t know how some one can feel so connected to people that they don’t even know yet. Before I arrived, I didn’t understand how someone can give up their security, happiness, connections, and comfort like this. I don’t think there is any one explanation, but I think it’s worth it. I’ll never want to stay in one place again; I want to see more of the world. This is just the beginning. It’s only 9:17 pm here, but in New York it’s 11:17 and I haven’t slept in two days. I’m exhausted, but sometimes you just have to keep going. Hard work and passion makes this life better for everyone.
Day 2
I took my first shower in Honduras with a frog. It was a small frog, and didn’t really seem interested in me… but I think it’s cool that there are lizards and frogs living among us. They don’t bother me at all, especially not like the bugs bother me. There are huge bees, and things with legs that I have never seen before. I realized today that I’m not the only one here writing in a journal. The girl sleeping under me has one, and then I see another as I’m writing this outside. I have an incredible view right now, I see a vast amount of land, with a gigantic range of mountains overlooking it in the shadows. I wish the photos I took could replicate these images, but they don’t at all. I tried to take one of this exact view on my iPhone, and it completely erases the mountains. My camera’s memory stick is full, as well as the internal memory (because I had to use my old camera). I’m pretty frustrated about it, but whenever I think about it I feel guilty for thinking that way, considering some of the Hondurans we’re working with have nothing.
Today we had breakfast at 8:30 in the morning (10:30 New York time, which was nice) and then sorted through THOUSANDS, literally THOUSANDS, of medications. I was a part of a table of eight doing vitamins (vitaminas). There were three main types, children’s (niños), adults (adultos), and prenatal (embarazadas). I listed these in order of most, to least. We packed vitamins for 510 kids, 420 adults, and 210 pregnant women. There were thirty pills in each bag. If you did the math, that’s 34,200 pills. (*EDIT 5/19/11:* that wound up being for only one day. We continued sorting through all the pills, and wound up sorting through over 75,000.) åHand counted, packaged in ziplock bags that had hand written labels stuck onto every single one. This is just a minority of the pills that were separated and packaged today, so the pharmacy we have set up is pretty full. We have extra of each category if we run out and need to make more, so it might not be the end of it.
Smith College is traveling with Philadelphia University, three girls from Rutgers, and one from Reed College. I would have thought that we would all be bonding much more, and we aren’t… which is totally fine. I wish more people from Smith had come, so we could function more as one huge unit, rather then having the cleavage between the majority school and the extra students tagging along with them (us) that’s sort of going on right now. I know that it isn’t on purpose, but it’s a side effect of having a huge group and then just a couple of us. Every one is pretty nice, though. 
Today we visited an orphanage in Nuevo Paraiso. I have never felt so close to children in my life. I’m often babysitting, but these children were different from the typical American kid. They were so compassionate. They were interested in everything around them, and I hadn’t seen so much natural joy in so long. This joy was different from when someone buys a child christmas or birthday presents. These children did enjoy the little goodies that we brought them, but they also enjoyed just holding your hand, walking, and talking to you. The first child who came up and grabbed my hand was named Nicole. She had been there for longer then she could remember. At 9 years old, she was almost as tall as I was at that age. She lived in a green house, which was called “Casa de Sol.” I met her sobrina, and her older sister, who I really got to bond with, named Karol. She was so patient with me. She explained to me what she did in school, what she was learning, and what her favorite subject was. She has learned only a few words in english, and her favorite word was Pink. She even wrote me a letter, and told me to open it when I left. It was such a cute letter, and it promised that we’d be friends siempre (always/forever).
The boys from the orphanage were also pretty incredible, although really rough tom boys at times. They guided us behind one of the houses at one point, and showed us this cute little raton (mouse). The other boy then proceeded to take his melted chocolate-covered reeses finger and let the mouse eat the remainder off of the finger. It was kind of yucky, but very, very cute. Also, much less yucky then if the boy had tortured the mouse and killed it. It was very sweet and innocent of them. I also got to hold a eight month old orphan, who was the orphanage’s youngest member. In total there were about 120 children up to the age of 16. What amazed me most was the owner of the orphanage. The owner is a nun, who believes that this is what she was born to do. She has several orphanages around Honduras, and owns the land that the compound is located on. One of the leaders told us that she has raised over 40 thousand children through her orphanages. I’m pretty sure there’s only three or four people on this Brigade of 30 that speak Spanish. The kids still bonded with all of us though, which was really sweet. They were really great. I hope that i can eventually come back and visit.
Before I got back to the compound, we picked up the freshest plantain chips I have ever encountered. The plantain field was literally behind the store front. For $2. They were incredibly delicious. Tonight we’ll be eating dinner, having a logistics meeting, and doing another hour of medication sorting. Tomorrow, we go into the village for the first time to officially start the brigade.
Tonight I get a couple of minutes on the internet via a little USB stick that plugs into the computer. There is one on the compound, which is exciting.
Day 3
Last night was probably the worst one I’ve had in a pretty long time. I’ve been super dehydrated and it’s making me feel terrible. Even worse, it’s making me tired and bloatish. I felt a little better in the morning, which was good because we woke up at 6:30 for breakfast and the two hour into the mountains to Manzaragua, where we would be providing medical services to the community. There were five main areas, triage/intake, general medicine, dental, ob-gyn, and the pharmacy. I worked in Triage, meeting patients and discussing their medical history and current problems. Today, we served 199 people. The most common of ailments were headache, stomach ache (which are probably from parasites in the water and the sun), and cough/cold issues. One interesting patient was an American who was a retired missionary from Michigan/Tennessee. He is literally living in these isolated mountains, with no electricity (since he was too high in the mountain for the electricity to reach his house). He said that he could either live poor in the United States or live in Honduras, so he chose Honduras. One of the Physician’s Assistant on the brigade told me that he found out about the community after he had done a mission here before his retirement. Which reminds me to mention that I’m the pink elephant of the brigade, I’m pretty sure I’m the only non-medical/science person on this brigade. Literally. I guess it’s at least nice they’re using my Spanish skills, since I have absolutely no desire to watch teeth get yanked out while I’m here. It isn’t a bad thing, I just didn’t know that there would be so many future docs on this trip. 
I did meet one of the organizers for micro finance brigade, which is slightly more relevant to my field of study. Also, there’s more direct Spanish speaking involved. I think I’d like to do that one if I do another brigade. I would really benefit from getting experience building/setting up rural banks. 
I’ve been taking pictures from my phone since I have no more space on my camera. It’s really unfortunate because I wish I would have been able to document this trip better. I know it isn’t about that, but I want my experience to be saved to look back upon.  As of right now, Ellen (Smith’s trip president) and I ate a bag of plantain chips, and I bought a water bottle from the store here that supports a young trade school for boys in Nuevo. 
Day 4
As of today, we have treated a cumulative amount of 435 patients. I was really not feeling well last night, and felt worse this morning. Still, I did my best today and still went to the Brigade. Today, we gave out my clothing and shoes to the village. It was really great to see the children so happy about receiving clothes. I didn’t take pictures of most of them, but I did take a picture of a baby wearing a hat I brought down. 
One big issue we had today was when a baby who had been having issues with his head was rushed to the hospital. I forgot the name of the issue he had (I think it started with an S) but basically he had a large area on the top of his head that was filled with fluid. The issue had been bad for a couple of days, and the baby was pretty unresponsive. One of out trucks brought him to the hospital. The problem with the hospital is that many times, hospitals only receive supplies two times a year. Money is obviously an issue as well. The worst part about the situation is that this condition would be complicated and difficult to treat even in the standards of the United States. Usually, the condition could be confirmed with a CAT scan or MRI, but this diagnosis was done by two doctor’s intuitions and simple diagnosis methods. The scariest part for me to think about is that if we were brigading a week later, or even a couple of days, the baby would have no chance of survival at all. 
To finish this entry on a high note, one of the guys from Philadelphia university taught the children from the community to play duck duck goose. In English. I have a couple pictures, but the language barrier completely disappeared once the kids started playing. It was so beautiful. It is days that end like this that make me to happy to be here. Some times it’s terrible, and the ride up the unpaved mountain roads are scary, not to mention I’m sick. But after potentially saving that baby, and knowing that money will not be a factor when it comes to saving his life, global brigades has become an even more incredible organization in my eyes. It was this one day that made all the difficulties fundraising, getting sick, and being sweaty and disgusting worth it. 
Day 5
623. The number of patients we have seen/treated in three days. The community was filled with people that has walked up to two hours in order to see a doctor. Since the doctor only comes once every two months, Global Brigades was much needed in the community. I am so tired. I feel very week, and am just about ready to go home. We have a fiesta tonight, but I’m not so sure I feel like going. The mangoes here are incredible. The Honduran doctor that traveled with us bought them right before our decent up the large mountain. I’ve taken plenty of pictures. Today went smoothly, and we were able to finish around 2pm. It was so scary coming down from the mountain because it was raining really hard. The rain was unlike any rain back in the States. It was so scary to see the rain poor down the edges of the dirt roads, like two rivers on either side. It made the roads turn into mud, and there was a risk that we would get stuck in a hole if it continued to rain in the same way.  I was so frightened. The edges of the cliffs seemed to be coming closer to the insides of the roads, since they turned into mud. 
I can’t imagine not being able to get somewhere when it rains. The roads literally disappear. At least they got to see a doctor right in the beginning of the rainy season, so they got the opportunity to receive care. I’m not going to miss the two hour each way drive up the mountain. I probably won’t miss being in the middle of nowhere without any form of communication with the outside world, either. But, I will miss helping these people. They are so grateful (generally) to have assistance brought to them. It was really difficult at times not giving the people everything they had wanted, like medicine they may need in the future, but there just would not have been enough supplies for all of the community. In the future, I’d love to find a way to work with the micro finance brigades to (along with setting up local banks in communities) make budgets for necessary supplies that are commonly used throughout the village. It will be very difficult, but with time I do believe it can happen. It will take a long time, and be a lot of work, but Global Brigades can make a difference together. I’m really exhausted from working at being sick, not to mention I developed heat blisters on my lips today, but I feel accomplished. This group wasn’t really one unit, but it did function efficiently enough to treat almost, if not all, member in the village.
It was really difficult to deal with medical issues, especially since I’m so sensitive to gore, and blood, and injury. But I got through it by working in the Pharmacy, and in Triage. I only saw one gross wound, and got to give children stickers when I had a break. It’s been a long journey, but it’s over and we did it. Tomorrow is our last day in Honduras. From here on, we have the fiesta, and then spending the last night on the compound. Tomorrow, a couple of the girls and I are getting up before breakfast to go for a jog and see the areas of the compounds that we didn’t get to see. Afterwards, we’re eating breakfast and heading to Valle for a tourist day. We’re staying in a hotel for the night, and then the Smithies are getting up at 4:30 AM to leave to the airport. We have two connections, one in San Pedro Honduras, and another in San Salvador El Salvador, but we have a 5 hour layover there. Unfortunately, we’ll be traveling all day and won’t be getting home until 10 o’clock at night. I’ll have only 37-ish hours to pack and leave to Japan.
I can’t wait to continue my summer’s journeys and travel some more. I feel like I benefited a lot from this trip, regardless the lack of medical experience I have. I really feel like no matter how much money you have, if you aren’t giving back, you don’t really have anything at all. You can really find the most beautiful places in the most surprising areas of the world. This world has so much to see and offer, I can’t turn back now. If I could go back, the only thing I would have done differently is get a wireless USB for my computer, and maybe brought a friend with me. As nice as it was to meet new people, I’m already a little home sick. Japan might be a little hard also. I did enjoy that the fresh fruit was so delicious here, especially the mangos since they’re in season. Tomorrow I’ll get (another) pupusa, and I’ll be on my way. 

I posted pictures of my trip in a public facebook album. You can see them HERE!

Change the world.


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