Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Mississippi medicine and meals

There was a medical brigade in San Manuel a few weeks back. Medical brigades, as they are known, are groups of doctors, other medical professionals and other volunteers who come to various places in Honduras and set up shop somewhere for a couple days and try to attend to the medical needs of the local people. They seem to be mostly from the U.S., at least the ones that come to Honduras, and since they don't necessarily speak Spanish, Peace Corps Volunteers often have the chance to help out as translators, or in other roles. So when I heard that a brigade was in town, I walked up to the school where they were operating and offered my services. They were closing up shop for the day, I was told, but the guy told me I could come back the next morning and see what there was to be done.

So I came back the next day and they put me to work guiding people through the school compound on a semi-labyrinthine route, which was more daunting of a task than one might think. They had a ton of orange string strung up to create "lanes" that people would in theory travel down from one station to another, but people often needed guidance, specifically in the form of telling them "No, please don't cross the line. Yes, back under the string, and down to the end. That's it, but no, no, no, don't cross the line. Yes, thank you." This is partially attributable to the design of the route, but probably moreso to the custom of people in this part of rural Honduras to squeeze under, over or between lines of barbed wire which are set up to impede the passage of cattle but not of people, so it comes very easily to them to crouch down under one single, non-barbed string.

I was also called upon, from time to time, to serve as a general-purpose translator since they had brought about 10-15 mostly high-school aged bilingual Hondurans to do that, so I was only occasionally asked to tell somebody something or another, such as that they are out of the backpacks that they were giving away yesterday, due in part to some people taking two, three or four per person, leaving none for people coming today. Sometimes the clients were very persistent about trying to get a backpack or some of the other items that had allegedly been given away earlier, but I was able to convince most of them that we were indeed out, and only once or twice had to go get the boss of the operation to have him tell her himself. I was also able to tell them a little more about the area, answering their questions about the area. Somebody along the line, perhaps a Baptist minister they'd talked to in San Pedro Sula, had told them that in San Manuel and its environs there was a lot of idolatry and idol worship, and I was glad to have the chance to express to them my skepticism of that, as well.

The Medical-Dental Mission saw about 3,000 people over the course of three days--or rather, processed about 3,000 cards; there were a number of people who came through more than once. The two dentists saw about 200 patients and pulled around 250 teeth between them, which, unfortunately, was the only dental service they were offering. Everyone went through a triage session and was diagnosed with something or another even if it was just an occasional headache, then was seen by a dentist if he or she had a bad tooth, maybe received eyeglasses and finally went to the pharmacy station to pick up vitamins, ibuprofen and whatever else he or she needed. Every client or family group also received a "family pack" with goodies such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap and often tennis balls and candy. The candy, of course, was a big hit, and most of it seemed to be consumed on the premises, leaving the wrappers and other trash right on the ground.

The group was from Mississippi, through the Baptist Medical-Dental Mission and they brought, in addition to a decent M*A*S*H-esque operation including pharmaceutical supplies and a truckload of Bibles, their own kitchen staff, kitchen appliances and down-home Dixie cookin', to which they graciously invited me. So for the first time in my life I had tomato gravy (not, as I had idly speculated, a tomato-based dish but rather, as I was informed, one based on grease and flour), and for the first time in a long while, I had grits and biscuits, and for the first time in San Manuel I had other such American classics as baked beans, chicken salad, coleslaw, real hamburgers with real French fries and real Heinz ketchup. After explaining it to my dad, he captured the essence of my job: guide people down the lines, smell the food as it cooks and then line up to chow down when it was meal time.

So that was a very rewarding experience for me. It was a welcome change from my generally very slow days in San Manuel--I was fairly exhausted after working two full days from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.--and I got to see a lot of people I knew. Sometimes it seems that I don't know many people, and indeed, I don't know that many people all that well. But over the course of those two days, face after face seemed familiar and I knew many of them, if not by name than as "the guy who has the little store at the end of the street and who always is wearing that old cowboy hat." As far as I was concerned, it was a wonderful chance to see the entire town and belly up to some good cooking. And if somebody got a medical condition taken care of, it was a nice lagniappe.

Additions ex post facto:

One of the Honduran translators had a Steelers shirt on. Made me feel right at home. He's in the middle, I'm on the left and one of the Mississippian volunteers is on the right.

There were crowds of hangers-on, interested in taking home even the scrap boxes in which they had brought the supplies. The brigade staff and volunteers went "downtown" to see San Manuel's historic church.
I also hitched a ride all the way to Santa Rosa on their bus!

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Blogger reynolf oliveros said...

can you define any further Medical Assistant training in Mississippi? I am still in vague about the topic though.

6:48 AM  

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