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Viva Las Vegas

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

We start our morning with another sumptuous breakfast. Foods that are new to our palates. And foods that are familiar…ish. This meal is special, as the square feet of tabletops attests to. Surely every table in the compound has been recruited and arranged into a “T” that fills the long dining room and encroaches into the sacred kitchen space. Covered serving dishes are spaced generously along the tables. There is a festive, Thanksgiving feel.

Because we HAVE met in thanksgiving. ALL of the staff are here. Some faces we’ve grown familiar with. A few we haven’t yet. Our new family.

Texting back home.

“On our way to Las Vegas!” Followed by a picture of a big, old (literally) truck and a few pictures of buildings as our bus chugs up steep hills.

“Is that a stretch limo.”

“The Strip sure has changed since I was there last!”

Lots of laughing emojis

We interrupt this loosely followed “travelogue” to bring you an editorial piece

They all said it would change me. Forever. I said, sure, of course. No, really, you’ll never be the same. There must have been something in my voice or expression that gave away my ignorance. They knew. I had no idea.

More time for observation and reflection today.

In actuality, the degree of abject poverty was less than I had expected. The children I saw were all dressed in clean, decent clothes. Mismatched, perhaps. But certainly none in rags. Perhaps these were their best, but certainly adequate.

And I didn’t see anything dramatic health wise. To the contrary. Wiry men in their 70s who still worked in the fields. Women whose skin and smiles took a decade off of their actual age. The rate of obesity had to be in the single digits.

What struck me were the surroundings. The attitudes. The juxtaposition of this tiny corner of the universe, compared to the only world I’d ever known.

The school. Three rooms. Cinderblock and stuccoed. Chipped and peeling paint. Open to the weather. Basically a roof with three walls, the fourth with window openings to let in light. Wooden desks, no doubt sturdy and functional in their youth, generations ago, the bright aqua paint worthy of the sacrifice that they had required. Now etched by time and countless children. Deep horizontal lines following the grain of the wood. Child sized benches, some missing the extensions that gave them stability.

The lunchroom. Cinderblock. Open on two sides. Tables and benches of the same generation as the desks. The children’s food cooked in a brick oven heated by burning wood. No sink. A few shelves and pots and pans.

The bathrooms. Here the best we’d seen. Toilets that flowed with fresh water, and a little faucet with running water, as well, probably spring fed. Outside, of course. The concrete pathway undercut by flooding water, years ago, and collapsed in spots, the angle steep and treacherous in the slippery mud of this day.

The fence. Enclosing the school. Sure, schools in the U.S. are all fenced, have always been. But with multiple strands of barbed wire at the top. Reminiscent of Jurassic Park but angled to protect the precious inmates from the unseen danger without.

The wiry 76 year old man. Working the fields because he must.

The beautiful woman, soft white hair in a loose bun, in her late eighties, who is independent except for needing a child or grandchild to accompany her on her daily walks. She gets dizzy and fell two months ago, breaking her wrist, but is pleased with how well it’s healing, and her clear blue eyes crinkle when she smiles and I want to be her in my eighties.

The young mother with a chubby two month old in her arms, suckling peacefully at her breast, with his two older sisters hovering protectively nearby.

Oh Mama! Look at those cheeks! He is eating well! You must have strong milk!

Si. And formula. I have to work.

Oh! I think we might have a hand pump! Let me get it for you!………… Oh, no, not here. But…

And then I think to ask where she works.

In the fields.

No private room to pump required by law. No room at all. No allowed breaks to pump. No place to keep milk cool. The World Health Organization and UNICEF and Every. Agency. In. The. World. can recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life but that means nothing to a momma trying to feed her hungry family.

We give her a sling to hold her baby close to her. Some cloth diapers. Tylenol for her upper back pain. Hugs. Praise for her good work as a momma. And her beautiful daughters follow her out the door.

More workers with back pain. Our resources here in our makeshift clinic are few: Tylenol. Muscle rub. Which are, of course, short term cover-ups for lifelong wear and tear. I start into my usual “rice sock” discussion, vaguely wondering if socks are available. Will they think I’m crazy to suggest they use valuable food in such a way? And then I get to the last step in the equation. Microwave for one minute. Grateful for the pause translators bring to a conversation. Back to a few weeks worth of Tylenol. We don’t even have ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory, because of the risk of Dengue complications it might cause. I demonstrate back and core strengthening exercises. We teach. And hug as they leave. And wish there was more. More we could do. More resources. More…

And we now return you to your regularly scheduled travelogue.

… cute kids, love the bubbles, paper airplanes, stickers! We each have a favorite child. Selfies with them. Time for silliness.

And we finish earlier than expected. Most of us. Packed up. Waiting. For what? Lots of voices from behind the closed door of the dental clinic. The cries of a child. Escalating to high pitched panic. The momma bear comes out and I leave behind my plan to keep my nose out of other people’s business. I rush in and find many other momma bears. And a few of our poppa bears. Holding down a frightened young man who looks to be eight or nine years old. What’s going on, what is the necessity that this boy be so traumatized?

He needs to have his tooth extracted. He went to another dentist and had such a bad experience that they couldn’t hold him down to get the tooth out.

The crew – Honduran dentist and La Doctora, and American volunteers rallied around one child for nearly an hour. Once his gum was injected with the anesthetic, he asked to go to el baño. And then had the unexpected courage to return.

Time to change the pace. Distract. Breathe a little different energy into the boy. The room. Wait a second… Here, see my phone, these boys playing soccer. Are they your friends? Si? Watch this! And technology comes to the rescue as he watches his friends kick their ragged ball over and over.

Regrouped and de-escalated. He goes back to the dentist chair, engulfed in smiles and cheers. And he settles in amid the relaxed hands that nearly cover his small body, sending waves of comfort. I wish I could say that the next thirty seconds were easy. But they were mercifully quick. I saw the terrible decay of the remnants of his tooth as it was grasped and steadily pulled away from its socket. A final cry from our little hero and then a wad of gauze wedged in the empty space by a stranger who refused to give up. A tear stained face, as every person in the room got a hug and a thank you. More tear stained faces.

And we are forever Changed. In ways even the most seasoned veteran hadn’t expected.

And we return to our editorial

I was going to compare our world to this, but you all know what your world consists of, so I leave you to finish this episode in your own way….

~Jennifer Walker

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