Nestled high in the Sierra Madres almost 10,000 feet in the sky in the Ki’che department of Guatemala is a small village named Las Lomas. Like in the nearby town of Joyabaj, the cinderblock homes in the area have sheet metal roofs. Between Joyabaj and Las Lomas is a treacherous mountain road, much of it dirt, where cows and people share a drink of dirty water and an old school bus from Omaha rests on the side of the road.
When our bus, strapped with medical supplies, arrived after a three hour trek from Chichicastenango, the waiting crowds got their first ever looks at Americans. Once the clinic had been set up, many received the first medical care they had ever had in their city.
The small building we set up was behind a small blue church. The rooms were about 10 square feet. Two of the rooms, where the dental clinic and the triage nurses set up, had electricity. The physician took a room with a light bulb but no electricity.
These were, as group leader and retired Dentist Bill Brewer said, the have-nots of the world, those with little money who would be willing to walk miles just to be looked at. Women came in ornate dresses and smiled with chipped teeth as we approached. Children hid behind wooden posts, peeking out only to giggle as they saw the flash of a digital camera. Most of those who came to the clinic came to see the doctor.
People crowded around the doors as soon as everything was set up. We handed out numbers to families to try to organize the chaos. I worked in the pharmacy helping a nurse fill out prescriptions and trying to explain the dosage in Spanish. The Guatemalans smiled and thanked me as I butchered Spanish to tell them to take the Ibuprofen three times a day after each meal, or to take the sleep medication one time just before bed. I thought my Spanish had improved, but I found out later that as soon as they walked away they pulled one of our translators over and asked them to give them the instructions in Ki’che.
Honestly, I wasn’t too disappointed. Rosetta Stone doesn’t offer a course in Mayan.
Most of those who came were the suffering from the same problems: headaches, foot pain and intestinal problems. These are societal problems, consequences of the Guatemalan lifestyle.
“You saw all the people walking with poor shoes, with stuff on their back and head, and poor nutrition,” said Matt Crespo, my dad and team physician.
Scattered throughout them were those with mouth pain, who were sent to Bill. Bill spent the day hunched over, pulling teeth. There was little more he could do with as few supplies as he had, but despite the pain they were appreciative.
The pharmacy began to run low on medicine near the end of the day, something we were to rectify once we got back into town. Throughout the day we saw about 60 patients, including many children. Everyone who saw the doctor left with at least a pack of multi-vitamins and often much more. The local church asked for money to help cover the costs of the lights, but even those that couldn’t pay received numbers and saw the doctors. It was a unique day for the missionaries. Every patient that came was seen. We return to San Lomas tomorrow, expecting larger crowds as the news of the area’s first ever medical clinic spreads.
“Bring them on,” Matt said, smiling as we jostled around the rough dirt road on the way home.
When the sun rises on Guatemala City, the true nature of the city comes with it. In between the staples of North American life, the Taco Bells and the Sherman Williams, is a city of painted cinderblocks, street vendors and beggars. Crowds flock to the square in front of the Presidential Palace where these groups congregate.
The scents of roasted corn and fresh cut fruit permeate the air in the market as vendors shout their inventories to anyone who will listen, and even those who won’t. One man carries a large bag of boiled peanuts while another totes bags of cotton candy. Old women sell baskets while children sell baskets of various fruit. Near the road a man slices the skin off pineapples and sells the cut fruit for about 60 cents. It’s sweet and wet and sticky and a little sticky. A few streets of way under a sign that says Tipicos is the underground market, where hand woven goods meet with various tact types of mass-produced t-shirts. The vendors there act the same, calling out their goods as we walk by. Several say proudly that their goods were made in Atitlan, where we’ll be going on Saturday.
Beggars sat on cardboard outside the large Cathedral de Santiago de Guatemala on another end of the square. Inside, there was a christening and confirmation going on. Outside, in the square, a large stage was being set up for a visit from the most recent Latin America Idol winner. Those stereos duel with a marching band that’s leading a processional for the celebration of a saint.
When we left Guatemala City, it didn’t take long for high rises to give way to the cinderblock slums and automobile salvage yards. Small homes were stacked on each other closer to the city, but as winding mountain roads snaked and hair-pinned northwest to Chichicastenango, homes of brick and scrap wood and sheet metal began to take the place of the cinderblocks.
Driving in Guatemala is like skateboarding down a roller coaster with no harness and no helmet. Buses loaded with people, some hanging on top of the bus, barrel around jackknife turns while swerving around traffic. The road was out in some place where mudslides, the consequence of carving the roads out of the mountains, had washed it away. In some places, the road narrowed to two lanes. Pedestrians, whether children on foot or men on bicycles, traveled the same roads in a way you don’t see too often in the United States. At the end of this treacherous stretch was the city Chichicastenango, a town full of gray one-lane wide cobblestone streets and devoid of the chains that dot Guatemala City.
But the people are the same, which has made Chichicastenengo perhaps even busier of a city than Guatemala. The market may only be open two days a week, but people still line the streets in an attempt to sell whatever they can. The streets are still packed with buses, cars, and any other mode of transportation that can possibly take a person from one place to another.
Most of the streets of Chichicastenango are one lane wide but the natives still drive like an open field. Only now pedestrians are more prone to walk directly in the street. The buildings are concrete or cinderblock and the city can seem quite chaotic at times.
However, the people of Chichi have been like everyone else in Guatemala. They are helpful, understanding and cordial. They run on their own time, a trait that makes it difficult for a person whose life is normally centered on deadlines.
From my limited experience with the two cities, it’s amazing how two cities so different in size and scope can come with the same feeling. The people have, thus far, been friendly and hard-working.
Our next stop is in the mountains. The first village the missionaries will visit is so remote that they haven’t had any medical care in years.
Lightning was still arcing in the sky when our plane traveled through the heavy turbulence into a landing so hard that my father, who was sleeping in the seat next to me, let out a yelp and clenched the seat in front of him.
In Oklahoma, it was just after midnight on Sunday when we landed after long delays in Houston. I stepped off the plane, taking my first steps into Guatemala City.
My first sight was a Playstation 3 set up in the terminal a few steps away from a Pizza Hut.
In many ways, Guatemala City is a lot like any other major city. In the rainy Guatemalan night, or rather really early morning, familiarity was not hard to find. Whether it was the logo of the Volkswagen dealership or the Sherman Williams paint store near the airport or the Burger King that are identical to the stores at home, one could be forgiven for believing they were in the United States. Despite the suitcases of pills and syringes and various other medical implements, the customs agency didn’t examine the suitcases. That was a far cry from what Bill Brewer remembered about the first time he came to Guatemala in 1991. Then, customs wouldn’t let one suitcase of medicine through without searching it, much less 20. Now our customs forms were given a quick glance and we didn’t lose a step as we wheeled them out onto a waiting bus where we met one of our interpreter’s for the trip, Raul.
It’d be easy to look at the flashing fast food signs and find such familiarity, but even in one night the differences started to creep through. I could smell the water even through the persistent rain. I couldn’t tell whether it was sulphur or something else, but it reminded me immediately of the first thing I was told about my trip to Central America. Never drink the water. Even after midnight we could hear the blaring horns of a taco truck as it drove past, its driver unhappy with the speed of the buses’ progress on the street. Dance clubs darted the street view and we had to take a detour to the hotel when we ran into a police blockade. Shortly before we got to the hotel, a man was walking through the street in plain view, his eyes darting around as he held a loaded shotgun in his hands.
Raul told us that such a sight was common, not only in the relative metropolis of Guatemala City, but throughout the country.
“It’s everywhere,” Raul said.
It was well after 1 a.m. when a doorman at the hotel locked the door behind us when a drunk man knocked on the glass and tried to get in. We’re exhausted, but in a few hours we’ll leave, traveling to southwest Guatemala to the city of Chichicastenango where we’ll set up our base for the bulk of the trip.
On Saturday, a group of volunteers will leave Oklahoma City and fly into the Central American country of Guatemala. Their suitcases will be loaded with bottles of medicine, latex gloves, bandages and anything else they can pack along with them. They’re medical missionaries and from through Monday through Friday, they’re going to provide basic health care to natives in rural areas.
Guatemala is located south of Mexico and west of Belize and Honduras in Central America. According to the CIA World Factbook, there are more than 13 million people living in Guatemala, according to the most recent estimates. The average life expectancy is roughly 70 years and the risk of infectious diseases is high. More than half the population is below the poverty line.
That’s part of the population the medical missionaries will be targeting. The group will base out of the city of Chichicastenango in southwestern Guatemala and travel to rural villages to set up clinics. Many of the people they’ll treat have no other access to medical care.
I’ll be with the group, helping out where I can. I’ll be blogging throughout the trip, assuming there’s internet access throughout.
The group consists primarily of medical professionals, a doctor, a dentist, and three nurses. Including me, there are five others making the trek as well.
What’s it going to be like for doctors to provide health care to places without running water or electricity to people who may have no other access to a health care?
Come Monday, I’ll find out.
I was saddened to hear of Randy’s M&M’s closing. I feel like the store and I started careers at the same time.
When the store opened in 1981, I was a 10-year-old embarking on my baseball career. Just happened that a player on the team was somehow related to the store’s owner. So over the next four or five years my team was the Edmond A’s sponsored by Randy’s M&M’s — green jerseys with a yellow lettering on the back promoting Randy’s. I remember feeling pretty cool to be sponsored by such a hip store specializing in music and video movies.
Randy’s lasted longer than my baseball career — two broken thumbs in 8th-grade ball was pretty much the end for me.
The memory has lasted for a much longer time. I remember those days spent with my dad as he coached the team, the last outs and the winning runs. I can still remember the names of most the players, some who have reappeared from time to time in my life.
I’m not sure if the Randy’s at 3200 Boulevard in Edmond was the first store. Seems like there might have been one before that.
What I am sure of is that the Boulevard store has been on my route home from work for the past six years or so. At the end of a long day, it’s nice to drive by and see the M&M’s sign and just for a moment flashback to those days as a child playing ball with my friends. It makes me smile and occasionally brings a tear to the eye.
So thanks Randy. I’m sad to see you go.
Michael Baker, Local Editor
Flew in somewhat late Friday night and I’m already missing the dry heat of Reno. How did it get so hot and humid here?
Yesterday was somewhat of an emotional day. In the morning I said goodbye to a great group of journalists that I spent six weeks with.
Good people. I will miss them all.
But, I’m happy to be back in Oklahoma, with family and in my own house.
And I’ll be happy to return to another great group of journalists at The Oklahoman. I’ll be back at my desk next week.
So, I’ve said goodbye to Reno.
And, I’ll say a hello to all my friends and coworkers in Oklahoma. I’ve missed you all.
… Oops, I almost forgot. I did 0ne last video while I was in Reno. I’ll share it with you here. I found an interesting landscape photographer with a gallery on the Truckee River. Here’s his quick interview.
We graduate from the Maynard Institute multimedia program on Friday. They call it graduation, but I don’t believe there’s a final exam.
Before that, I want to share a trip I took when I headed out of Reno for a day.
First up was Carson City, the Capitol of Nevada. The Capitol building sits in the middle of town surrounded by nicely landscaped grounds.
I stopped in a nice little coffee shop across the street, Comma Coffee, and had a quick cup.
Then I headed south to Minden. I first heard of Minden when I saw an advertisement for a uekele festival the other weekend. I didn’t make the festival but the town stuck in my mind. It has a mix of new and old. There’s some old buildings on the main street and a few newer areas just off. The Sierra Nevada Mountains make a beautiful backdrop for the town. When I was there it was July 4 and the city was getting ready for a celebration.
Back to Reno after that. A nice day driving around. Some real pretty country.
I was walking around downtown Reno the other day with my roommate here at the Maynard Institute multimedia editing program. We came across a real nice woman with a really peaceful and engaging demeanor.
Kimberly Allcock is a henna artist and she was working at a farmers market on West Street near the Truckee River. My roommate and I sat down and spoke with her a bit.
It was a nice conversation and experience. Very calming and I’m sure I’ll do it again.
I’m getting ready to enter my last week here in Reno and I’ve had a great time. I’m hoping to add one or two more blogs before I go.
I spent part of Saturday at the ElDorado BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival here in Reno.
Nice to have good barbecue in Reno. Made me miss home.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last four weeks, it’s that Reno knows how to throw a party. It seems like every weekend the city finds a way to get thousands of people to show up downtown for a special event.
This one blocked off a section of Virginia street, where most of the casinos are in town.
You could pay $20 and get a mug and about 10 beer tokens. Each token got you a 4 ounce taste of beer from one of the two dozen or so microbreweries with booths.
After spending a few hours out in the sun, I went with a group of my fellow fellows here at the Maynard Institute multimedia editing institute to the Truckee River, which cuts through downtown. It’s in the Reno Riverwalk District.
We blew up a few tubes and headed down the river a few times. No major injuries but my baseball cap is likely in Sparks, Nev., by now. It was lost as I went under.
But, I’m doing more here in Reno than just floating down rivers and eating barbecue. During the week, I’m in a classroom daily, learning how to provide multimedia content for the readers back home.
At the same time I’m doing that, there’s a group a couple buildings over at the University of Nevada, Reno, that is building a stage for a huge Shakespeare festival they have in the area in July. The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival begins July 11. Unfortunately, that’s one day after scheduled to leave.
But I did speak a bit with some of the people putting the stages together.
I’ll keep updating this. I’m looking for a new video story to do and will post it here as soon as I get to it.
OK, so it’s been a while since I blogged. I was down with a cold for a bit and then returned to Oklahoma for a weekend to see my family.
But, I’m back in Reno now and wanted to share my thoughts of a visit I had the other day to the Nevada Museum of Art.
To begin with, the building is really cool. The natural light in the galleries makes for really nice viewing of the art work. Designed by Will Bruder, the new museum opened in May 2003. The roof-top deck has a tremendous view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
On the outside, the building is surrounded by sculptures.
There is also some pretty cool art on the inside. If you’re in to industrial photography, you should certainly check out the exhibit by Bernd and Hilla Becher.
There’s also a cool media exhibit by Jennifer Steinkamp called “Fly to Mars.” The exhibit is a computer-animation of a tree as it cycles through the four seasons.
I’m in class at the Maynard Institute multimedia editing fellowship for most of the week, but I’ll be sure and update my blog as soon as something fun comes up. Maybe I’ll find a nice golf course this weekend. Anybody know of any in the area?
Or maybe I’ll take a trip to Carson City.