Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Medical Brigade, Reconnect, and a Birthday Party

You may remember from last year an entry about a medical brigade in the town where Nicki had her training. This year, we both were able to participate for the week-long brigade. We were surprised at all the changes that had taken place in the tiny town since our last visit. The most noticeable was 25 new wind turbines that had been erected on the highway just outside of town, still only half of the 50 that will be put up by a German company to supply electricity to the capital. This is the first wind power project in the entire country, and the 50 turbines will produce over 1 MW of power. The new turbines had been erected in a span of just a few months, and while not yet fully operational, give a surreal feel to the atmosphere. We wondered for a brief second if we were still in Honduras, then we looked at the people around us on our chicken bus and snapped back into reality.

The town itself also had some improvements. They produce a great deal of painted pottery there and had in the last year constructed three separate clusters of artisan shops, which all sold exactly the same products - not sure if that was such a good business decision – but they looked nice. There were also a number of new restaurants, including a new pizza and pasta place which we didn’t have time to try. The health center had added an awning to protect waiting customers and we heard about a new sewer water system that had been put in. The nearby town had actually put in a median in the two lane highway with plants and streetlights! Unfortunately, violence must also have been escalating since there was a curfew of 9 pm in place and we had armed police at the brigade all week, which we certainly did not have last year. As usual, we were put up in the house of Don Ricardo, the Honduran ambassador to Belize who organizes the brigade, and who has a B&B type hacienda in which we received the ‘honeymoon suite.’ Beautiful to say the least.

The honeymoon suite

Most of the same doctors came back from last year as well as some new ones including a new cardiologist. Nicki ended up working with the gynecologist, while Nolan worked with a general practitioner who also coincidentally is an Elvis impersonator (no joke, he actually has a CD and gave us a greatest hits montage on the bus). While everyone else thought Nicki had drawn the short straw, she ended up mostly enjoying her work. Sexual health is one in a long list of health topics that is poorly discussed and taught here. There are no sex-ed classes and the rates of infidelity mean that STD’s are constantly passed around, and women have little to no say in their reproductive health. She saw teenage girls already with multiple children, a 40 year old woman who had just given birth to her 10th child in her home, many people with STD’s as well as several people who likely had either cervical or breast cancer – most of which have no financial means to have further testing or treatment. Nolan did the normal stuff. We seemed to be less busy than last year, but still ended up seeing over 1700 patients in 5 days. Next year they are talking about raising money to bring more equipment to do testing and possibly having funds to be able to pay for people to go to Teguz for important surgeries. We obviously think this would be a step in the right direction to get people more help rather than just doling out vitamins and ibuprofen.

Hanging out at lunchtime

Two adorable kids whose pregnant mother Nicki saw

We also made a visit to Nicki’s old host family who were more than welcoming. They couldn’t stop talking about how much they loved and missed her and how they had remembered her birthday and how wonderful she was. Her 17 year old host brother and his 16 year old girlfriend had just had a baby 5 months earlier (talk about lack of sex-ed….), and although the situation in the household was a little more difficult, the baby was as cute as could be and so happy - not a fuss out of him the whole time we were there. It is likely the last time we’ll see them before we leave so it was a little bittersweet, but we had a good time catching up.

Host family with the new baby

The week culminated with the doctors treating us to dinner at perhaps the fanciest restaurant in Teguz. It was called La Cumbre, a beautiful place at the top of the highest mountain overlooking all of Teguz. We sipped wine and Johnnie Walker while munching on beef carpaccio and toasted camembert and gazing out over the balcony at the sparkling lights of the city in the valley below – it almost could be mistaken for a safe and beautiful city from all the way up there. Dinner was a three course affair. Nicki had Greek salad and spicy shrimp linguini and Nolan had creamy potato soup and bourbon grilled steak, and we both finished off with chocolate cheesecake. The whole experience was surreal and we soaked in every minute and morsel. We calculated that it must have cost at least $50 per person with drinks and everything for 50 people, about L. 50,000 – a year’s salary at minimum wage or slightly less than a Peace Corps volunteer’s yearly salary. An amazing end to a busy but fun week.

Teguz at night

Not sure what's going on here....

We were barely home for 3 days before having to head out to Reconnect – our annual meeting of all volunteers in our respective projects. This year, three projects held Reconnect together, Health, Wat/San and Business, so not only did we get to see our own project team and meet the new groups, but we also reunited with many people from our training group, some of whom we hadn’t seen since swearing in last May. It was a quick and reckless two days, as one could imagine it would be with 100 young adult gringos in one place with plenty of beer and alcohol. We got some updates about changes going on in Peace Corps and security threats, as well as new Peace Corps initiatives and projects. While we felt a lot of it was either repetitive or irrelevant to our work, we did get some new ideas about work we could do in our last 8 months of service. We’re trying to think of a way to get a protected area or national park in our department, since we don’t have any yet. We’re also thinking about how to do a recycling project, especially with schools in town. Someone has also developed a simple mapping software that could be useful to create a tourist map of our department – also something to think about. Luckily, the workshop was only about 1.5 hours from our site so we were back in time on Saturday to listen to the amazingly ridiculous Michigan vs ND game on internet radio while grilling some sausages, almost as if we were back in the States.

On Sunday we visited a PCV couple about 30 minutes away for our friend Jacob’s birthday party. They invited us to their host family’s house where they were preparing food, games and a piñata for us and all the neighborhood kids. They served us entirely too much food, first enchiladas then candy, then baleadas, then more candy, then cake. We were stuffed. The games were the funniest thing ever. First was an old classic, musical chairs, but instead of having everyone play at once, they did 4 people at a time(?). The kids had no idea what the rules were so they would just sit down in the chairs whenever they wanted instead of waiting for the music to stop. And instead of removing the extra chair at the start someone’s job was to move it while the kids were running in a circle, which made for more than a few collisions. Next, some candy on a string game. This involved tying a candy in the middle of a piece of thread, then having two people, each with one end of the thread in their mouths, try to suck their way up the string to the candy in the middle. Think Lady and the Tramp, but impossible with sewing thread. Nolan won our match. Then the game where two people tie balloons to their feet and try to stomp on the other person’s to pop it. This ended up lasting two rounds since only 3 balloons were available. The prize for winning any game was a package of crispy cream filled wafers, a lot of incentive to win, haha. Then, the prized piñata came out. We remember this being a lot easier and more straightforward when we were kids. Here the point is to make it as impossible to hit as possible so someone is there to pull it up and down and swing it back and forth so you have no idea what you are doing. Jacob kept getting hit in the back of the head with Dora La Exploradora causing him to whirl around like a ninja to attack the air. When the little kids got a chance they would pull the piñata up so high none of the kids could come close to reaching it. What is the point then, really? The craziest thing was the kids who, when even one piece of candy would fall, would scramble to the center to grab it, many times just narrowly avoiding a stick to the head, shrieking like banshees. One woman commented it was like watching chickens run to eat up corn thrown at them (like in Cinderella) – so true! After Dora had been brutally attacked, the older kids continued to antagonize the others by climbing into a tree and throwing handfuls of candy from extra bags they had, just to watch them scramble and shriek we suppose. It was one of the few Honduran celebration we’ve been to, and we enjoyed ourselves, laughing heartily at the ridiculousness of it all.