Different reasons. Different backgrounds. Different talents. One motivating common personality trait: Compassion. One heart. One purpose: to heal.
For some, the Avianca check-in desk at Dulles airport was the first time we would meet nine other strangers. For some it was a reunion, a chance to relive shared experiences and tell of those they had lived with others. As we waited in the glacial queue behind luggage carts overloaded with big black duffle bags, we took the first steps away from our differences. We each dutifully took our turns at the desk, handing over our passports and watching two duffle bags full of necessary supplies begin their journeys as well.
All together finally, matching in our butter yellow Friends of Barnabas shirts, we took off across the vast expanse of walkways, gates, shops and eateries that make up Dulles International. Like a family at Disney World, our shirts gave John and Lori a small advantage as they tried to herd their not- yet- familiar brood through the crowds, and on and off the trams, barely missing slamming doors.
At our gate finally, our more outgoing brood, in their eagerness to share our mission, somehow got most of our group upgraded to Business Class, making our four hour flight from DC to San Salvador a welcome dose of comfort and luxury, knowing full well that the week ahead would be anything but. San Salvador’s airport was missing the glitz of Dulles, and our restless stomachs were teased by all of the closed eateries. But the charm of having to take a shuttle bus from the tarmac at our gate, across a few runways to our waiting plane, and climb the old-school rickety aluminum stairs, was enough.
A brief hour flight this time, and we landed at our destination. Eagerness tempered by more lines and waiting. Fingerprinted. Baggage claim. Our big black duffles arrived, some dripping bug spray, some cough syrup, others sprinkling the floor with bottles of eye drops. But our counts matched up, people and bags, and headed to the next bottle neck. Customs. Feeding big, drippy bags through x-ray machines. Back to cruising speed through the airport, speed walking, rounded that last bend and there was our Nury, all business, focused on getting her new team safely tucked in for the night.
Bienvenido a Honduras! Christmas music. A brightly lit tree. And armed security guards… bags all loaded. One final head count. And our small caravan headed into the cool night. Van, truck, security. Dinner at Subway. Which just happened to be closing and drawing their blinds as we pulled up. Nury to the rescue. Don’t know what she said to the manager, but five minutes later we were all milling around inside, picking our toppings and watching our sandwiches toast.
Next stop, our lovely hotel where weary heads hit cloud-soft pillows, expecting delicious, instant sleep. What we got instead was the rhythmic bass thrum of loud disco music and the energetic DJ, hired, no doubt, to keep all of San Pedro Sula awake. Mission accomplished!
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
Started the morning with an inviting traditional breakfast in the hotel dining room. Sure, they had the equivalent of Cocoa Krispies. But so much more. And the coffee!!!
A brief nod and indulgence of the shopaholics among us, John gave us One Hour at the little Mercado. Certainly not enough to check out ALL the stalls, much less barter for ALL the gifts we were sure we were obligated to buy for friends, family and random strangers at home. True to his directions, John started herding his stray cats to the exit, and had us back on the road with five minutes to spare.
La Casa de Alfredo
By now, the shiny black pickup with the uniformed gentleman packing serious firepower, and the security guard at the compound’s gate were old hat.
Welcome to your new home! Greeted by the beloved women who have cared for hundreds of volunteers, Albita and Karen, and staking claim to a mosquito-netted bed, our sitting came to an abrupt end. Sorting. Labeling. Bagging. Marking. Boxing up and staging. First, supplies for the villagers. Flip flops. Cloth diapers. Cloth feminine hygiene pads. The realization that these items can be life changing for the individuals receiving them. And that there aren’t enough to go around. Just to these few villages.
Medicines. Simple over the counter things. Tums. Tylenol. Vitamins. Thousands of tablets dumped into giant bowls. Teams forming around them. Writing the names and expiration dates on small ziplock bags. Filling each bag with a scoop of tablets. Squeezing out air and sealing them. Counting out hundreds of little bags. Fluid teammates. Doing this. Filling in there. Efficient and focused. Well, not too focused for bantering and throwing shade. So many laughs. So much accomplished. Ready.
Team meetings. Experience offering to inexperience. Questions. Answers. Advice. Eager ears, minds and hearts. All of us.
The work day came to a close, and we gathered in a circle, this great work to be blessed and marked by tradition and faith. John and Lori, our work and spiritual leaders, starting a chain to connect us. The blessing of hands, hearts and spirits, given one to another, binding in a circle our sacred mission.
Sleep was heavenly, safely enfolded in our protective nests. Silent, warm, secure. Comfortable in our growing friendships and care.
Monday, November 19th, 2019
Clinic Day 1. Terreritos, Santa Cruz de Yojoa
(Note:if you say the village name out loud, you may get an image of a pirate stuck in your head)
Finally! The day we’ve been waiting for, the reason we raised funds. Planned. Juggled schedules and babysitting. Left loved ones. After another stellar meal, with a devotional and prayer under our wings, we boarded an older bus, fitted out with empty space in the back half, so that it could be filled up, Tetris style, by dozens of crates, full of the physical things we would need for our labors of the day. Our hearts, hands and minds were full of the love, skill, knowledge and intuition that would round out our necessary supplies.
The drive through the countryside, while interesting as previous days’ drives had been, held an unspoken energy. These people by the side of the road were much like the people we would see. These homes, from brick and stucco with manicured lawns to cinder block or even tin structures without doors or windows. The chickens in most yards. The scrawny yellow dogs. The children in clean and pressed school uniforms at a museum. The young women or men walking along the roads or bunching up in an open clothing shop. The ancient women and men standing silently at the side of the road. Who would be coming into our clinic? Could we help? Would we do the right thing?
And we followed our security team onto the grounds of a dilapidated school, and there they were. Old and weathered. New and soft. Playful niños and niñas chasing and evading on the coarse lawn. Smaller littles, clinging to their mommas or big sisters. Women with babes in arms, chatting and laughing with old friends, unaware of the beauty they held close to their hearts. Shy waves and smiles from them, ours just as shy when returned.
In contrast, their men worked in silence to bring the boxes of equipment in to the classrooms where we would see patients. Some unpacking, last minute instructions, and it was Go Time!
Families. Mommas with small children and teens. Elderly men still working the fields into their 80s. Many really just wanting a small stockpile of over the counter meds to tide them over. Upper respiratory infections, many resolved. Everyone got Tylenol. Everyone got teaching. Likewise in the dental and eye clinics, people were given the gifts of improved eyesight and relief of tooth disease and damage.
Families and individuals greeted with smiles and hugs. Translators gifting communication and cultural understanding and more. Bubbles and stickers and balloons fitting in with efficiency and teamwork. Memories and photos of an incredible work that cannot be forgotten.
And now something completely different. Statistics: today:
146 people seen in clinic
133 people given vitamins
56 people treated for parasites
10 sets of teeth protected with fluoride
35 children with better vision
40 adults with improved eyesight
14 people with dental care
19 people referred for more comprehensive medical care