Today was INCREDIBLE! I had the pleasure of accompanying Karen, Mike, Oscar, and a small medical team (6 people, most of whom are young doctors doing their residency in Michigan) to Cuatro Cayos, a beautiful little village about an hour down the Rio Cienega (a river right off the Rio Dulce) by launch.
First of all, the boat ride to was stunning. The Rio Cienega is relatively narrow and shallow (at one point we had to get out of the boat to push it out of a rough spot), full of tropical trees lining the shore, and it is INCREDIBLY peaceful and tranquil. Everyone we passed, whether it be women cleaning dishes or clothes in the river, children going for a swim, men working along the banks, or people paddling in their beautiful wooden hand-carved canoes, they all waved and flashed a (sometimes toothless) grin our way. I could tell it was going to be a good trip.
Once we arrived on the beach in Cuatro Cayos, some of the village members came out to great us and help carry things to the church (where the clinic was held). We had about a 5 minute walk down a gravel road before we reached the village. Cuatro Cayos used to only be accessible by water, but recently they built a road and for a short time during the dry season (when the river is low), 4-wheel drive vehicles are able to access the village.
ANYway, as the doctors set up “stations” for their patients (who began lining up soon after we arrived), Oscar and I ventured into the jungle. We hiked a little ways up a dirt path to visit his family. Lettie, Oscar’s mother, grew up in Cuatro Cayos, and many of her late husband’s family members (Oscar’s grandparents and some aunts, uncles, and cousins) still live there. Also, all of Lettie’s children were born there and her late husband is buried there, so it’s a very special place for Oscar. It was an honor to get to meet some of his and Lettie’s family, and I also got to hike up to the local graveyard to show my respects to Lettie’s late husband. It was a very sacred place, and I could tell that it meant a lot to Oscar that he was able to visit his father’s grave.
After that, we headed back to the clinic to see how things were coming along. The doctors had already seen many patients (which is fantastic, because this is a place that would never receive medical care unless people like those from today volunteered to host a FREE clinic). They saw cases such as simple head colds, head lice, gastrointestinal problems (from unclean water and food), infected wounds, ear infections, tonsillitis, scabies, and a very unusual, large boil type thing on a man’s foot that was believed to be water (or some kind of liquid) that had escaped from his tendons. Very strange. Oh, and we also had many pregnant women who were able to be examined and get some prenatal care. Very exciting. None of the doctors spoke Spanish, so they had hired 3 men from Belize to translate for them. Their system worked out beautifully, and many were able to receive medical care (and those who were well received vitamins and dental supplies).
I feel so blessed to have been witness to such an amazing act of kindness and selfless generosity. Unfortunately the group was solely humanitarian in nature and not affiliated with any religion, but I can easily see how God could use those type of experiences to open someone’s eyes and bring them to His kingdom. What a great day…
The children were all INCREDIBLY shy and many wouldn't verbally respond to my poor attempts at communication, but you could tell that they liked the attention.
My favorite picture of the day. What a better thing to do on a sunny day than find a cool spot in the dirt and take a little siesta neck to neck with a loved one...
Or if you don't have a friend close by, the trash/slop heap is the next best thing... Or so this coche thought...
(FYI: In school, I was taught that "coche" meant car, and it does in Mexico, but in Guatemala it means pig. The Guatemaltecos joke that all cars in Mexico are ugly like pigs anyway, so the word fits... Anyway, "carro" is car in Guatemala, just in case you ever needed to know.) :)
This strange angle is because the dogs in Guatemala are very timid (many from abuse, neglect, or from being, well, basically wild animals). It's very difficult to get close enough to a dog to take it's picture. ALSO, this picture is to show one of the healthiest dogs I've seen so far. Most dogs here are in pretty rough shape (extremely skinny, with mange, wounds from fighting or being hit by cars, etc). It's really sad, but it's hard to worry about the dogs when the people have serious needs as well.
You DO NOT want to mess with this guy. He's mean. Trust me, I know from personal experience... And I'll leave it at that.
This precious little girl is 2 and 1/2 months old, and her mother is 16 years old- which is completely normal here. After all, when Lettie lived in Cuatro Cayos, she got married at age 13 and had Chivette, her first child, at 14. I can't even imagine...
My second favorite picture of the day: This man, named LoLo, was a complete saint. When one of the translators wanted to buy water and found out that the village had no pure water for sale, LoLo disappeared into the woods and returned with a huge branch full of fresh coconuts. He proceeded to hack the tops off with his machete and began handing them out to the volunteers. Also, as we were about to leave in the launch, he came running down the dirt road with a big bag of fresh corn to give to us.
It was incredibly humbling. In the world's eyes, these people hardly have anything, but what they do have, they selflessly give to others.
I've decided that Steve McCurry (the famous photographer of "Afghan Girl" and one of my heroes) needs to come down to Guatemala to do a photo shoot with LoLo. He's so photogenic!
I'm going to go ahead and apologize if you're reading this Karen, but I just have to share...
Anyway, when we first arrived and were assessing who needed what kind of care, Karen asked this lady, "Cuantos meses tiene?" ("How many months do you have?" and in other words, "How far along are you in your pregnancy?") For those of you who have made the same mistake, I'm sure you can imagine where I'm heading with this... The lady nonchalantly replied that she wasn't pregnant. It took all I had in me not to laugh, but thankfully, I held my composure... But in the evening while we were reflecting on the day, we had a good laugh about it. I'll give it to Karen, she DID look pregnant.
The woman here is Blanca, Oscar's aunt. She is the one who worked with Mike and Karen to get this event set up. The Rheas and the village of Cuatro Cayos have a very special relationship, and they will help each other out whenever possible.
I love the facial expression of the girl directly behind the baby.
Apparently she wasn't a happy camper, but she's still adorable...
You can see our deliciously sweet coconuts on the table in this picture.
It was the first time I've ever had fresh coconut milk, and yum, it was delicious!
The local school teacher waiting with his students to get vitamins...
And to explain to them that they're medicine, NOT CANDY.
A HORRIBLE picture, but none the less, the most beautiful spider I've ever seen. It was peacefully waiting for it's next meal right next to me in the bathroom (i.e. a nice grassy spot of ground right outside the village).
Corn fields seen on our hike up to the graveyard.
In fact, you have to walk through the corn fields to get to the graveyard.
Makes me appreciate Cedar Bluff, West Valley, and Bearden (my schools growing up) a WHOLE lot more than I ever have in the past... No air conditioning, no bathrooms, no books, bars on the windows, and one teacher (who only comes three times a week) who's expected to teach every grade (and it only goes to 6th grade)... How sad...
Well, I didn't mean to end on a depressing note (because it really was a spectacular experience), but it is a good way to tie this blog into my next entry about the school system in Guatemala. More to come soon...