Friday, March 18, 2011

Oregano for Your Bed

We had another exhausting week interpreting for a medical brigade from Ohio a few weeks ago, but this one was more dynamic. Half of the 34 people who came down from Toledo were medical students (including a girl who was Nicki’s hall mate sophomore year at UofM) so they were more our age. There were also, as we found out, some world-class doctors among us from institutions like the Mayo Clinic. Among the PCV’s, we decided the best part of the brigade was the intellectual stimulation of talking and sharing stories with young, hard-working, dedicated professionals, a sector of society that doesn’t really exist here in Honduras. We imagine it was a pretty amazing experience for them as students also to get this kind of practice and exposure.

Nicki and her college hall mate

Diploma given to the brigade, can you spot the misspelled state?

The whole group was upbeat and fun, which made up for the few nights when we worked until it was dark outside. We both had a chance to work in “triage” i.e. patient intake, “clinic” i.e. patient visits, and the pharmacy, so we saw all sides of the process. Some of the highlights were: Nolan teaching people how to use the 170 ceramic water filters that World Vision donated to various families, watching some makeshift medical procedures such as removing moles and injecting steroids with the people lying down on a kids writing desk, giving medical attention to 2,244 people over 5 days, and our end of the week farewell dinner which turned into an all night drunken dance party.

Nolan helping put together water filters

Despedida for our brigade friends

Of course we encountered the same old problems. People self-medicate too much, giving themselves and their kids amoxicillin for any cold-like illness. And who wouldn’t really? You see the doctor prescribe it, then the next time your kid is sick with anything, you figure it’s the same thing and can run to the open air market to pick up some amoxicillin for L.1 (5 US cents) a pill. Of course, if you know medicine you know this builds immunity for when the kids really need antibiotics. People don’t drink enough water, leading to headaches, urinary problems and general malaise. But getting people to change that habit is next to impossible. Everyone wants their teeth pulled because they are rotting out of their heads. Ninety percent of people just have arthritis and muscle aches from daily living, carrying bags on their back/shoulders, using a machete, walking 6 hours a day, making 100’s of tortillas and the like. The brigade was great because at the end you feel like you did something more tangible than your normal day-to-day activities, but then you think back and wonder about the real effects of just giving someone 30 days worth of pills for back pain. To be fair, some people get real help, referrals to specialists for surgeries, a year’s worth of hypertension or diabetes meds, glasses, or asthma inhalers, and helping those people is what makes it worth it.

Nicki interpreting

Dr. Nolan examining ears

Communities rely on medical brigades for a lot of health services which is obviously unsustainable in the long run. Unfortunately, my women’s cooperative, UMMIL, relies on the medical brigades for profit (L. 7,000 of business in one hour is worth a month to them), so if the brigades are unsustainable, UMMIL is unsustainable. It’s an economic cycle riddled with problems.

A few random stories to tide you over until we get back from our vacation to Guatemala/Belize:

Random story 1: We were invited to attend the swearing in of the new Business Chamber of Commerce because this woman I work with was the newly elected president. After getting started and hour late then barely making it through another hour of painfully similar welcome speeches that all touched on the wonderful climate of La Esperanza, we were served dinner and struck up conversation with a chamber member. He was an ex-teacher who was extremely well travelled and educated, enlightening us on Machu Picchu, Brazil and the benefits and problems of natural healing and acupuncture for ruptured discs. Nicki told him she was an urban planner and he immediately said something like, I’ve heard of this new planning model where instead of separating things, they mix it all together in one area, like living and shopping and work. We were awed into silence that this random Honduran man was up on the contemporary idea of mixed-use planning. Of course we explained it was a popular and useful idea so that people could walk more, drive less and in general live better lives. Of course, he replied, if people were walking all the time it would reduce rates of obesity (!). Nicki wanted to jump out of her seat and scream, Yes! Someone here gets it!, but she refrained. Maybe there is hope for urban planning in Honduras after all.

Random story 2 (non Honduras related): Nicki got an email a few days ago. The guy, from New Zealand, said that he had just read her online article on urban growth boundaries, thought it was a very good analysis, and would like to know if she was still researching in that field. Of course the article he was referring to was a project she had done sophomore year at UofM (before ever becoming a planner), that she had never expected anyone would be reading, much less commenting on. After a quick reply (after all, it could have been a big job opportunity or something) it turned out the guy was an anti-urban growth boundary fanatic who just wanted to impress his ideals on anyone who didn’t give a completely complimentary review of UGB’s. Looks like there will be no New Zealand job offers in the near future. (Not that I’m totally for UGB’s, but I’m against fanatics).

Random story 3: We went on a search in the market for some oregano, since we had just run out. We’d seen it before and quickly found the stand with guy selling huge bags for L.5. Upon buying one, the guy said, “It’s oregano, for your bed!” We were already turning away so neglected to ask what exactly he meant by that….

Friday, March 4, 2011

Our New Honduran Obsession

Or actually, a somewhat old obsession that has been recently rekindled. Yes, I’m talking about Honduras’ beloved national music idol and Claro spokesperson, POLACHE!

Where did it all begin? Hard to say really. We were introduced to his music during training, a national empowerment song called Mira Honduras, and were struck by the clever lyrics and soulfully raspy voice. The singer sounded like an older man, but after getting into reading the local newspaper we were struck by full page ad of the musician for Claro (cell phones, internet etc), rocking out on his guitar with jeans, a sleeveless tee and crisp straw cowboy hat, a lad in his mid-thirties perhaps in need of some orthodontia work. Before we knew what was happening, we proceeded to download his entire first album and were quickly enchanted. Polache, despite being of half English descent and named Paul Hughes (Pol-ache is for Paul H), is a real champion of Honduran culture and full of national pride. His songs use Honduran slang, caliche, to describe what life is really like here. The music is simultaneously upbeat, comical and thoughtful, making for pure listening pleasure. We were hooked.

Polache is not well-known at all outside this small country. Having grown up in Teguz and then relocating to San Pedro, he worked in an ad agency before a hit ad song he wrote sprung him only recently to nationally acclaimed fame. His music being so provincial, in a good way of course, his fans and following are limited to mostly locals. We can only imagine that vast majority of his gigs are small town festivals and soccer game intermissions, which together with some records on itunes provide him a decent living. It was such a festival that would bring us face to face with the rock star.

It was a weekend like most in La Esperanza, a chill hung in the air with the threat of rain hovering in clouds pressed against the mountains. But this weekend was a special treat, the Feria de Artesania de La Ruta Lenca, an homage to the artistic legacy that the Lenca people have maintained in this area of the country. It seemed more like a pupusa festival to us, vendors lining the streets selling their oozing pupusas surrounded by various art products, textiles, pottery, opals and a handful of other junk. Sidenote: Honduras is one of only a handful of countries that commercially mines a decent amount of opals, and the prices here compared to elsewhere are stunningly cheap. We bought four loose opals for less than $25, whereas one of them in Australia might have cost $100. So there we were, lazily strolling along when our ears perked up, the announcer had said something about Polache. We quickly asked a nearby vendor who confirmed that Polache was in fact coming to sing and sign autographs Sunday morning at 10 am! Disregarding the strange time of his visit, we decided then and there to be present.

So Sunday morning came. Our friends Pat and Megan had spent the night, and we ushered them up, through breakfast and out the door, anxious to get to the concert. We spent our waiting time discussing whether or not the sleeveless shirt and cowboy hat look was something that Polache himself contrived or whether it was a marketing stunt designed by Claro. I think we concluded it was of his own doing. Of course Polache didn’t arrive until nearly 11, but it was well worth the wait. What a stage presence! Every bit as entertaining, charming and genuine as we’d imagined, he wooed the crowd with favorites from his old CD and highlights of the new, interjected with his favorite word, ‘papita.’ At one point he even invited three women on-stage and proceeded to make up clever song lines about them using their names on the spot. The only thing lacking of course was the crowd. At 11 am on a Sunday morning, I’m surprised he even drew the small crowd he did, what with this being an extremely religiously devoted country. Hondurans seem to lack the spirit of concert participation so Polache’s call-and-response tactics, commentary and antics largely fell with a thud onto the motionless crowd. Of course there we were, front row, bopping along to the music, snapping pics and videos galore, like teenage girls at a boy band concert.

When the concert was over we rushed, amidst a group of 10 year olds mostly, to Polache’s side to get his illegible autograph on a mini Honduran flag, perhaps the closest we’d ever been to any type of celebrity. Then he was gone before we knew it, whisked away in his sparkling Toyota Tacoma, leaving a warm spot in our hearts that can only be filled with his captivating music until he returns to us. The obsession has been reignited! POLACHE! POLACHE!