(veo honduras)

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Day in the Life [of Clínica Zoe]

A long overdue blog:

ZOE - pronounced SO-eh: Greek origin meaning “life.” Also used in the bible in reference to eternal life.
Clinica Zoe is associated with the Protestant church Vida Abundante (the abundant life), a large church here in Honduras which funds several social projects from Zoe to orphanages.

The clinic is able to provide a multitude of services, from OBGYN and orthodontia to ENT and optometry/ophthalmology at very low cost to patients. For example, an optometry appointment costs 140 Lempiras - about $8, and an ophthalmology appointment is only 170 Lemps - less than $10. Because of this, we serve the poor of not only Tegucigalpa, but also those that make the journey from up to 6 hours away.

<----- [Ramon, age 90. Diet: Vegan] [ A true campesino, he still walks independently]

We see all ages, from babies to 90 year olds and beyond. One of my favorite parts of existing in the clinic is seeing the families and friends that pass through together. Nearly all of the patients are accompanied by a family member - a child, a parent, a cousin, an aunt. Some are supported by canes, others by family, while still others are mobile without help. The near-blind usually rest a hand on their son or daughter’s shoulder as they make their way through the crowded hallway. They all carry themselves deliberately, with pride, and wait patiently for their turn. When it comes time for autorefracting and visual acuity, the accompanying family or spouse stands nearby in case the they need to help explain something or physically support their loved one.

[mother and daughter at the autorefractor]

Life at Clínica Zoe starts around 6:45 in the morning, when the night guard opens the ecru-colored gate into the courtyard of the clinic. Patients line up at the door until 7 AM when Kenya, the receptionist, opens the door and corrals the flood of patients from her desk to the Caja (cashier) operated by Rosi. Rosi runs a tight ship with a quick wit and can arm wrestle any man in the clinic, needless to say I admire her. After passing through Rosi with their recibo (receipt) in hand, the patients enter pre-clinic and the waiting area where we, the volunteers, and the clinic techs perform basic exams with the autorefractor and visual acuity. [performing visual acuity exam]

After acuity and autorefracting, the patients sometimes wait hours to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist, without a single word of complaint or hurry. If only patients in the States could see it, they most likely would still not believe it. Truly, the pace of life here is much slower - and much more my style.

[The covered part of the courtyard, enjoying lunch] ------>

Saturday, August 28, 2010

¡Buen Provecho!

I think at this point I have mentioned the food in Honduras more than once, but it truly deserves more than a mention - it needs its own blog post.

To begin with, it is important to know that we are in a culture where the phrase “Bueno provecho” is used more than almost any other phrase we have heard. The significance is far more than, “good eating” or, enjoy your meal.” The customary phrase serves several purposes: to express gratitude for a food, and as a well-wish for the recipients of the meal, that they should enjoy the experience of its flavors and its company.

[the first crew + mark and lori]
[Courtesy of Lori Connel]

The basic components of a Honduran meal include some mix of the following: beans, rice, platano (plantain), eggs, meat (chicken, beef, or pork), avocado, and some kind of queso (cheese) or mantequilla (the word for butter, but almost in liquid form) and salsa. But these components do not comprise an ordinary meal. The beans - especially refried, are rich and bursting with flavor, the platano... well, I have no words for platano. They are soft, fresh-fried golden pieces of heaven, and they go well with every single flavor we have ever paired them with, especially the beans. The meat is always seasoned to perfection, and none of the fat has been removed so the full flavor remains, and the mantequilla and queso add the ideal pop of sourness and creamy goodness. Of course, the fresh corn tortillas wrap it all together into one beautiful creation.
[beans, platano, egg, ham, queso, and mantequilla]

I wish I was a food critic or wordsmith so as to more adequately explain the home-cooked perfection of the food here, but I’m afraid I am mostly guided by my stomach and my cravings, usually for a fried platano with beans and mantequilla. I did not come to Honduras with food on my mind, but my life has been changed by the Mecca of flavors I have found here. To sweeten the deal, eating out can be done fairly cheap: a delicious “baleada” can be found at the market for only 10 lempiras (about 50 cents), 2 enchiladas topped with juicy meat, fresh cabbage, and a sweet tomato salsa and queso are only 20 lempiras (about $1), and most drinks of your choice are only 50 cents, from fresh Nance juice to Coke in a glass bottle.

The home cooked meals have been our most frequent and most favorite, even in comparison to the Creperia (a swanky crepe place). Even as our waistlines expand, neither Lindsey nor myself have plans to consume any less of the local cuisine.

[the kitchen where our meals in Opatoro were created - note the fresh corn tortillas on the wood-burning stove]

A special mention of honor should also go out to peanut butter and jelly, an age old friend of mine and Lindsey’s. It has seen us through the hungriest and most frugal of times, and continues to keep us company through our nights of scrounging our refrigerator. Thanks, PB&J.

[eating on the trail at the National Park, La Tigra]

Monday, August 23, 2010

Opatoro PART TWO

When the bouncing of the Safarimobile halted in the pitch black night, we of course couldn’t help but start cracking jokes about the various reasons we could be stopped, but a simple inspection of our left rear tire left no trace of doubt in our minds (as illustrated by the photo in the last post). And so out came the jack and wrench and our very strongest, machissmo men gave it their best shot, but not a single lugnut budged. About an hour later, after meandering the road looking for large rocks, and a brief sighting of some fireflies, salvation came from 6 men in a small red pickup truck with a meter long pipe in tow. Miraculously, that pipe delivered enough torque when placed over the wrench to make loosening the lugnuts look like opening a jar of peanuts, and so the tire was changed and we continued our journey through the night in the renewed torrent of rain. [the crew + Opatoro in the background]

Shortly after the Safarimobile was safely running again, we descended into a valley speckled with dim streetlamps. Our vehicle curled around a block and came to rest in front of a raised building fronted with a simple but beautiful wrought iron gate and fencing. We bounced up the narrow concrete steps, out of the rain, and entered into the front porch area of someone’s house. Through the door to the right a living space was barely visible, but we carried to the left and into a warm dry kitchen. (pictured here, minus the actual dining area). This kitchen quickly became one of my favorite parts of Opatoro, as we took all of our meals there, though for me it came to symbolize hospitality, companionship, and the wonderful shared human experience of food. That particular night, I could not have been happier to sit down to a meal of beans, eggs, a slice of fried bologna, some fried platano (plantain), and of course, fresh tortillas. The food was warm, the chef gracious, and the company very grateful to be eating at last.

Still unsure of exactly where we were, where we were going, or what was going on, we followed Victor in our stupor through the mud back to the house we would spend our nights. Once again, impeccable Honduran hospitality as another family (we were never actually introduced) gave us a room with six beds and allowed us to use their sink, shower, and restroom for the days we were there. Keep in mind, Opatoro is extremely rural Honduras, and we were in some ways lucky to even have electricity, so the accommodations were quaint in the same way as the town. For example, our beds all had particular personalities: Max’s bed consisted of a wooden frame and a mattress supported by a thicket of cross-hatched baling twine, my bed was very similar. Lindsey’s bed was more like a sacrificial alter considering that her thin mattress barely cut it and the plywood underneath left her with a bruise on her right hip. Bozho’s bed was my favorite because he loved it, so much, in fact, that we woke one night to him frantically DEETing himself to stem the pestering of whatever insect inhabited his bed. All in all, I loved our room and it’s character. Outside, the sink stands directly across a small lawn from our door, and the shower and toilet wait at the end of the covered porch area. The shower spigot only delivered cold water, so most of us opted for not showering until our return to Tegus – a point that had Max speaking up by day 3, but we weren’t too concerned.

[the walkway leading to the shower/bathroom] ------->

As we burrowed into our respective nests for the evening and murmured goodnight to one another, Max made a comment somewhere along the lines of, “Yup, well I’m putting my earplugs for when the chickens go off at four in the morning.” We all chuckled, but when the rooster immediately outside our abode began howling somewhere in what I still believed to be the night, I checked my clock and sure enough it read 4:20. There was nothing to do but laugh. The cacophony of roosters echoed relentlessly through the valley for at least 30 minutes, when it slackened to only the occasional call and answer. Needless to say I envied Max’s ear-plugs every morning as I drifted in and out of consciousness with the cries of the roosters, yet somehow I also enjoyed them. After all, what else could remind me at 4 AM that I was still Opatoro?

Some of the kids in San Pedro, a very. very small town in the Opatoro region where we held a clinic on day 2 of our brigada.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


We wakened at around 5:30 on Monday morning, bags loaded for a foretold three-day-two-night brigada (outreach), and trundled over to the safari-mobile (a decked-out Toyota Land Cruiser) to begin our journey to the mountainous regions near Marcala, La Paz. The crew included Lindsey, Max, Bozho, and myself. We made the routine stop for breakfast at a little market/restaurant about an hour and a half outside of Tegus, and then off to our first stop in the small town of San Pedro, La Paz.
[The road to La Paz]

We arrived shortly after 10 am at a modest but well-cared-for church, to a line of 30 people accumulating outside the threshold. The line nearly doubled after our Land Cruiser trundled to a stop and we began the process of setting up clinic.

<-------[The line outside the church in San Pedro]

A quick note on the way most brigada clinics function:

First, patients cycle through visual acuity, standing on a line about ten feet from the chart and answering for us, "Adonde puntan las tres patitas?" (Where do the three little legs point). We use a chart appropriate for the illiterate: An "E" rotated with the legs facing one of 4 directions. All types of patients are possible, there are those who watch the people before them, and are able to step up to the line, cover their left eye, and indicated where the legs point - all without a single word of instruction. They are every volunteers dream.

Then there are the patients who either don't hear you, don't see you, or don't understand you, no matter how simple and specific the instructions. After explaining the concept of three legs pointing in one direction at a time, walking them through the process of verbal or physical indication of the direction of the lines, and confirming their understanding, you attempt to carry on:
"So, can you see this letter?" You ask.
"Sí, sí!" They answer.
"Good, now where do the three legs point?"
"Sí! Sí!"
"No, por favor, these three legs - where do they point? Up? Down? To a Side? To which side?"
"Tell me where the legs are pointing"
"Aca!" (there!) They will answer without the slightest real indication.
"Where? Where do they point?? Show me with your hand! Where do they point?"
Some will get it, others will take 5 more minutes and the help of their fellow patients, but all are endearing, particularly the smaller children and older adults.

After visual acuity, patients then follow up with the auto-refractor (pictured) and Victor (The Optometrist), or if all they need are reading glasses, they skip ahead to be fitted with the most appropriate (+) script.

<------ [Lindsey at the Auto-refractor in Opatoro]


Several hours later, after about 117 patients and a delicious home-made lunch, we packed up shop and hit the road for our night's destination: Opatoro. Unfortunately, we hit the road a little too hard, and after about an hour of bouncing through the Honduran back roads, surrounded by nothing but rain, mud, and the dark night, we were faced with the significant problem of a very flat tire, and lugnuts that refused to budge.

At this point in the story I have to pause and go to bed, so I will leave you in suspense, but I promise it ended well. I'm on brigada again until Tuesday, and will finish this post at that time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

los pobres viven aquí

This post comes slightly out of chronological order, but I feel I should write about it while the experience is still relatively fresh:

Directly in front of the Clinica (ZOE) there is a young man who sells snacks and refrescos (drinks) to support his family. Affectionately named Jonas, for his resemblance to one of the Jo Bros (Jonas Brothers), he is outside of the clinic by 7 every morning with his little Pepsi cart full of goodies and doesn't leave until around 4. On Wednesday, 19 year-old Jonas and his 17-year old wife celebrated their son's first birthday, and on Saturday, we had the privilege of spending a little time with them on a day trip to Valle de Angeles.

Before leaving for the tourist town nestled in the mountains, we went with Jonas to pick up his wife and their son. We left the cabbie with a fairly standard 60 lemps and stood to take in our surroundings. We found ourselves on the corner of a busy intersection, the sidewalks crowded with impoverished Hondurans trying to make a living selling plaintain chips, stolen clothing, and handmade crafts. Jonas gestured up the hill, did we want to see his home? "Bueno," we said, "vamos," and we started the climb. Within moments we were swallowed by the slums; corrugated roofs, crumbling cinder blocks, and the smell of trash and urine pressed into my senses, and our conspicuous western group suddenly made me uncomfortable. Standing water surrounded the houses, teeming little breeding grounds just waiting to spread malaria and dengue. Winding up the main road, and I kept my gaze steadily ahead so as not to trip or attract any more attention. At some point, Jonas turned off the main drag to a narrow gap between the shanties. A week ago it may have been a decent pathway, but after a few good rains, the trail was eroded into a treacherous creek-bed. Every where we stepped, a mound of garbage met our feet, until finally we reached the top, crossed through a small barbed wire gate, and were greeted by the smiling face of Jonas' wife. We exchanged pleasantries and were shown inside: a dark, 20 square foot entryway with a single dangling light-bulb was separated from the back door and bedroom by a small partition. The dirt floor was as bare as the walls, except where they shelved baby food and their meager possessions, and yet, they smiled and invited us in to see their home.

We took a few photos with the family, and set out to a pleasant afternoon. While “glad” is not the word I would use to describe the experience, it was both a humbling and important part of my time here thus far.

Friday, August 6, 2010

First Impressions

Contrary to popular belief, Honduras is far from the stone age. Yes, the country is ravaged by poverty, crime, and currently, disease, but it is also inhabited by some of the warmest and most content people on the planet.

For those fortunate enough to afford them, Teguc is not without it's modern comforts.

For example, this ingenious little basket on wheels.

Exchange rate on 02 August 2010: Approx 18.885 Lempiras: 1 USD

No camera can possibly explain the natural beauty of Honduras, even on the 3 hour drive to Marcala, La Paz, but here is a small glimpse into the mountains and clouds that surround us.

Please note the man in the dark blue standing directly behind and to the right of the man in the orange shirt. Look closely, he is carrying a large firearm, closely resembling an M16.

We also have one of these standing guard outside our neighborhood Supermercado (supermarket), pictured above.

More to come soon, but for now, let it be known that I love it here. A special shout out to my fellow volunteers for being awesome.

Monday, August 2, 2010

a note on LAX

After a 3.5 hour drive from Fresno and about 45 minutes of sleep, Megan's sandy little Jetta wagon delivered us safely to the magical land of LAX as the sun peeked over the eastern horizon. I use the term, "magical" loosely. It was 5:15 AM, we each had two large suitcases plus our carry-ons, we were not checked in online, and we were flying TACA, also known as "Take A Chance Airlines." Cowering in line, looking like a couple of middles schoolers wearing our matching Unite For Sight t-shirts (in hopes of finding Javier in Tegucigalpa), we observed that we were the only white people in the TACA line, and our stomachs churned a little bit as we listened to the Spanish language percolate in the air around us. A good start. And of course, i feel the need to make a special note about the unmatched hospitality of the LAX airport staff. What smiles! What welcoming faces! And the help! Ohhh the help we received! Especially when trying to find a place to send my last handful of thank you cards.

Essentially the lines are long, the staff is short, they don’t know where anything is, and quite frankly they don’t care. All I wanted was a mailbox, but after asking several people in various parts of the airport, it was clear that I was crazy for even dreaming of such an absurdity... Thank you LAX, Can't wait to see you again.