MY RECOLLECTIONS ON MY TRIP TO GUATEMALA
November 12-17, 2003
By David Weed, MD – Pediatrician
|Wednesday November 12th
I started from the Bush International Airport and flew on Continental Airlines to Guatemala City, Guatemala, in the evening and arrived at approximately 9:30pm with all of my trip mates for a week of service and fun in Guatemala. After collecting all of our bags, we rode on a bus called Esmeralda to The Theological Institute of Central America for a short nights rest. We are supposed to be up and on the bus at 5 am tomorrow morning. The Institute has been in existence for 75 years, providing religious education to students from Central America and Cuba. There are approximately 100 students attending the Institute at the present time.
Thursday November 13th
We are on the bus at 5am and take a 2 hour bus ride to Clinica Ezell, located in Montellano, located southwest of Guatemala City. We travel through sugar cane fields, small towns, and then into the highlands, passing coffee plantations and rubber tree plantations, with active volcanoes in the background, spewing hot gasses and steam high into the air. What a sight!!!
Breakfast at Clinica Ezell, provided by the kitchen crew at 7 am and an excellent devotional entitled “Faces in the Crowd.” We divided into two groups and our group headed to Pazité, a Mayan village, by pick-up trucks. We rode for about an hour on stone strewn and potholed roads and arrived at a Mayan village, which I had visited about 12 years ago. Nothing much has changed. The official language is Quiche, an indigenous language that reminds me of some African languages: many of their words include clicking noises. We worked out of an elementary school, available because this is their vacation season (November through February). The Dentists set up their chairs and equipment on the front porch of one of the buildings and Dr. Way and I set up our offices in another classroom. All of the school desks were piled up in a corner of the room and we were separated by thin light blue plastic sheeting that provided a bit of privacy. Few of the people spoke Spanish, so I had a energetic young lady named Pascal as my translator from Quiche to Spanish. The restroom consisted of a row of open pit toilets behind the school and running water was provided by a hose coming from somewhere to a guardhouse? by the school. We treated the usual medical problems such as parasites, both intestinal and skin, and anemia due to poor nutrition. The nurses set up a de-worming station at the edge of the school grounds and every child received 15cc of a yellow liquid, an anti-parasitic that covers all of the usual culprits. Nearby was the local snowcone and tamale vendor, shooing away the flies as she poured the red syrup over ice shaved from a block of ice behind her, having been trans-ported in a large burlap bag and covered with sawdust.
Lunch consisted of a ham sandwich, with potato chips, a fruit cup, and all the cold sodas or water you could want. It was provided by the cooks at Clinic Ezell and brought to the Clinic that morning. Late in the afternoon, a few men set up weighing scales, hanging from a contraption made of two upright poles and a cross bar on which hung the scales for weighing the coffee beans that the farmers had picked that day. Once the coffee beans were weighed, each coffee picker received his day’s wages immediately. The coffee beans were then transferred into 100-pound bags, awaiting the trucks that would arrive later to take the days collection to the processing plant.
One patient stood out this day as one of the saddest in my many years of travels to Guatemala. Late in the afternoon, a young Mayan mother brought a 7-week old baby for me to examine. It was severely malnourished and constantly crying but would suck vigorously when I put my knuckle to its mouth. It was truly starving to death! Upon further questioning, I dis-covered that the mother was really a neighbor that had been given the baby since the true mother had physical health problems and was unable to raise the infant. The ”adoptive” mother was already breastfeeding her own 17-month-old infant and was also attempting to breast feed the 7-week-old also. The 17-month-old was receiving all of the calories at the expense of the 7-week-old. The “adoptive” mother’s husband had disappeared recently after going into the fields to pick coffee beans and never returned. Thankfully, Dr. Sergio Castillo was able to enroll the mother into a new nutrition program at Clinic Ezell, which will provide formula for the infant and help and counseling for the mother and the rest of her family.
At sundown, we returned to Clinic Ezell for a delicious meal, a devotional and a period of quiet relaxation before a well deserved night of blissful sleep.
Friday November 14th
The day started with another delicious meal in the dining area of Clinic Ezell and another awesome devotional entitled “Searching for the True Healer.” We again split into two groups, one staying at Clinic Ezell, since Friday is the usual clinic day here and a group of us along with Dr. Walter took the bus at 8 am to San Bernadino, about 45 minutes away on the main road heading northwest toward Mexico. This is a new location, and we were to set up a clinic in a covered area that served as the municipal buildings meeting area. We had been asked to come several months ago by the mayor to start a new work of treating patients. It was next to the police station. But no patients showed up when we arrived! Last week there were the national elections for President and the mayor apparently had backed the wrong candidate. Now the people were boycotting the health clinic in response to the mayor’s actions. After waiting about 1 hour, with nothing to do except walk in the town and visit with the towns-people, most of us left and returned to Clinic Ezell to help the other group to see patients. Dr. Walter and Dr. Way stayed behind in case any patients straggled in. (They ended up seeing about 30 patients between them). We had a very busy day at Clinic Ezell, seeing loads of sick patients all day long. My first six patients all had cleft lips and cleft palates and were part of a program to improve the nutrition and health of these fragile patients so that the plastic surgeons can operate in February, 2004. The Dentists set up shop in the main waiting area of the Clinic and saw many patients that needed teeth removed due to abscesses and cavities. Sylvia, the Guatemalan dentist used the dental room for dental hygiene as well. After the day of seeing patients ended, a small group of us went into the recovery room area of the clinic and counted vitamins for the Pharmacy.
After another delicious supper we all headed to Chicacao, a nearby town to savor the nightlife(?) and to visit a small Mayan museum, that contained several Mayan artifacts and marimbas. The artifacts had been discovered and collected by a nearby farmer as he was plowing his fields many years before, and he decided to collect the artifacts and place them in a small museum in town. The previous owner had died and the museum was now a bakery on the corner of the town square. Marie Agee had gone to town earlier in the day and visited a shop and noticed several old masks on the wall. Upon further questioning, she ascertained that the museum was still in existence but no longer available to the general public. However, the shop owner was more than willing to show us the artifacts. Upon departing the bus in Chicacao, we walked past the burned out remains of the police station, the mayor’s offices, and municipal building on the way up a side street toward the museum. The building had been destroyed in a riot this past July over a wage dispute between the mayor and some of the towns-people. Apparently they had not been paid for services rendered during the past war and burned down the building in anger. Upon arrival at the museum, we went through a large, heavy metal gate, and into a dark courtyard. The shop-keeper turned on a few low watt bulbs and the porch came alive with over a thousand year old pots, utensils, and stone and clay masks, some plain, some decorated with paint or fashioned into faces or animals. Truly a once-in-a lifetime experience! All at once someone began playing the marimbas and the music filled the night air. We walked slowly back to the bus past the town square where a group of young ladies were playing soccer, and one of our entourage, a skilled soccer player went over to watch. Under a cloudless night but with the rumblings of thunder in the distance, we boarded the bus and rode back to the Clinic. A surprise rain shower caught us on the way back but it was truly a relief since the rain cooled another hot and muggy night at Clinic Ezell. The day ended again with an awesome devotional.
Saturday November 15th
We are heading for Campamiento, a 3-hour bus trip into the jungles of southwestern Guatemala, near the border with Mexico, so breakfast started at 6:30AM and our group left a 7am for the long trip. We started out on the main roads but about 2 hours into the trip, we turned off into a narrow cobble-stoned road deep into the jungle. The scenery reminded me of the movie “Jurassic Park”, everywhere the lush verdant foliage on the sides of the walls of the deep gorges, waterfalls cascading down over rocks and native women bathing in the crystal clear water that pooled before plunging again into the valley below. The road went up and down again and again over the hills and valleys until we arrived at a little clearing on a hillside. The road had turned from cobblestones to dirt as we approached the village. A banner was strung between two trees welcoming us and announcing the medical clinic. The village was really a squatters’ camp consisting of people who picked coffee beans when in season and were growing a few crops in hopes of feeding the villagers through the rest of the year. We were welcomed by the village elder and most of the villagers.
The houses consisted of bamboo huts or boards nailed together over a framework of logs. Most of the houses were no more than 8’ by 8’ and consisted of a single room with a dirt floor, a double bed with a frame made of bamboo. In one corner was a rack to place their meager belongings and a small table with bamboo legs that were driven into the ground. My office was on the “front porch” of one of the bamboo houses, and as I saw patients the dogs and chickens would run between my legs. The dentists set up in a covered area that was used as a central meeting area. It had bamboo benches and a few wooden tables. The pharmacy was located next door to the dentists and they used the bamboo benches as their dispensing area. A truck arrived from the neighboring village of Florida with a truckload of ABC children and their parents to be seen. The patient load was steady all day and I had the privilege of casting a young girl who had broken her arm the day before and treated almost all of the children for scabies and head lice. The squawking roosters strutted all day and chased the poor hens around the village. I did see one of the plumpest Mallard ducks I have ever seen. Lunch consisted of hamburgers, chips, and a cold drink, again provided by the cooks at Clinic Ezell. It was clothing distribution day for the ABC families and what a joy it was to see the smiling faces and the multitudes of thank you’s for the clothes that they received. Next month the plans are to distribute shoes to the ABC Children. As we prepared to leave, we walked by several of the huts by the dirt road and we noticed that they shared all of their food. One of the ladies was cooking black beans in a large pot over three rocks as her stove. Another lady came by with a bowl and the first lady, using a ladle made out of a bamboo pole scooped out some black beans, being sure to give her the amount of juice she wanted, and did the same for any other lady who came by with her bowl. At the adjacent hut, a lady had made tamales wrapped in banana leaves and those who wanted any would come by and help themselves to what they needed. The running water for the village consisted of a hose attached to a pole in the area of the communal bathing area. The ABC children sang a song and we sadly said our goodbyes and headed back for another 3-hour bus ride back to Clinica Ezell. Waiting for us was another awesome dinner and a uplifting devotional to complete a truly rewarding day.
Sunday November 16th
We were up early so that we could leave at 8 for Antigua for church services at 10 am at the Antigua Church of Christ. We passed again through sugar cane fields and turned off and headed up past an active volcano towards Antigua. We passed a complex of greenhouses growing roses for export. After church, we spent the day eating at some of the fantastic restaurants and spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and people watching. Supper was at 7pm at the Hotel Antigua, a 4-star oasis in an old Spanish style city built over 500 years ago. The city is dotted with over 40 churches and seminaries one of which was the backdrop for our Sunday night devotional in one of the courtyards at the hotel.
Monday November 17th
We left the Hotel Antigua at 6am and rode in the bus for an hour to the airport for a 9am flight back to the States. This trip was one of if not the most uplifting trip in the past 12 years or so that I have gone to Guatemala. I hope that I have done some good to those in need. I know that I have been richly blessed on each trip.
These trips bring some meaning and sanity to my life here in the good old U.S. of A. Nicaragua is on the horizon in January 2004. The trip to Nicaragua is also special in its own way. May God bless you in your endeavors to serve the LORD daily.
By Dave Ellis - Edmond, Oklahoma
Four hours on the pavement and an hour over a cobblestone road west of Guatemala City is the village of Campemiento. Surrounding the village is a landscape reminiscent of Jurassic Park. Huge bamboo, elephant ears four feet across, trees taller than I have ever seen. Waterfalls were seen in the distance with crystal clear streams washing across the road. In the village, there were no rusty tricycles or what were once little red wagons. Not a single vestige of a toy as we know them but, dozens of beautiful children under the age of five years. They seemed happy, they were holding hands, running and playing like our children but, seemingly totally unselfish. Maybe it was because they had nothing for which to be selfish.
“All the believers were together and had all things in common,” (Acts 2:44) kept going through my mind. Upon arrival I noticed a lady cooking something in a five-gallon pot sitting on three rocks under which she continued to poke firewood. There was another vessel nearby as well as a washtub full of yellow corn soaking in water. When we finished caring for patients, my curiosity got the best of me and I walked across the road to see what was going on. About that time a lady walked up with an empty pan. Immediately the lid of the large pot came off and her pot was filled with black beans from a ladle made from a two-foot section of bamboo. I had to know what was in the other pot and was shown it was full of tamales wrapped in carefully cut sections of banana leaves to be shared with the entire village. It was truly amazing to see people so poor sharing everything.
Houses were opened to the doctors in which to see patients. The houses were about 8 feet square and made of split bamboo. One could see out between each slat and a breeze drifted right through the house. The roof was made only of black plastic draped over a ridge piece of bamboo. These folks didn’t even have a dump from which to scavenge construction materials. Where the black plastic came from remains a question but the rest of the material was definitely of local origin. Their little church was constructed the same way. The pews were of bamboo. There were two forked sticks stuck in the ground on each end over which two long sections of bamboo were placed. This was where our brothers and sisters in Christ worshipped. But today, it was used as the dental clinic and pharmacy.
In 5 hours everyone who needed to be seen was treated. Clothes were distributed; an optometrist was along and many were fitted with reading glasses. We didn’t change any lives there, other than possibly ours. On the way back to the main clinic we discussed where the children attended school and decided they didn’t, considering the utter remoteness of the village.
What is the destiny of the villagers of Campemiento? Many are your brothers and sisters in Christ and therein lies their hope.