Oh boy, have I ever neglected this blog. Many of you may have been waiting on it, and I apologize for that. Still I want to say that we have been extremely busy. The work at Shoulder to Shoulder is fully engaging, and mostly Laura and I are very grateful for that. I suppose, however, that as of late Laura and I feel like we are part of a Morton Salt commercial: “When it rains, it pours.” We are in the middle of the school year here as it runs from February through November. It is not summer here either, as ‘summer’ occurs during the dry season of late February through early May. So, we are seemingly far removed from the seasonal movements experienced in the US. Still, universities want to squeeze their summer activities into August and this has a great effect on our time and energy. In these first two weeks of August, we have three medical brigades taking place in different places at the same time. Brown University and Wingate School of Pharmacology have been in the small community of Guachipilincito. Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) is in Camasca. Finally, the University of Minnesota graduate nursing program is in Santa Lucia. Bouncing around from one place to the other has been difficult enough, but Laura and I have also been hosting Dick Buten, our board’s Chief Financial Officer, who has been visiting this past week. Dr. Jan Tepe, the responsible agent for our extensive dental program, has also been down, seeing many patients and shoring up the program. Laura and I have not had a moment to think.
In the midst of times like these, one feels the force of the winds and waves. Keeping the ship afloat becomes the primary goal while the direction and destination of the voyage is no longer of consequence. At least it has seemed so over these past few weeks.
I have been very aware of this, and have noted something of a living metaphor for it in the pattern of our life here in Honduras. We are so much closer to nature here than we ever were in the States. Lest you think I am about to make a Granola, back-to-earth’s-goodness, commercial, I find this a particularly annoying reality. Necessity has made me something of a maven in the hunting and killing of tarantulas and scorpions. This issue presently seems resolved with the installation of ceiling sheetrock that has sealed the space between our walls and our roof. Still, many other exotic insects are unimpeded by these barriers. These come in spurts of time lasting from a day until weeks, but when they come, they come in hordes. At any given moment, there is a specific genus of ant that invades us. A number of weeks ago, it was a beetle that I would refer to as a June beetle. Those came in such large numbers that we were literally shoveling them out of our outside sink drain. In these days when we have been so busy, it has been the flying things. Calling these things insects is really a misnomer, because the immensity of their size would dwarf many birds. There have been a variety of these. The very ugly ones have long (about 1 ½”) feelers. Another kind presents as a hybrid between a dragonfly and a bat. One flew directly into my back the other night while I was washing dishes and it darn near knocked me to the ground. The big green, flying grasshoppers (locusts?) might be the worst of them all. I suspect that airport flight control centers throughout Central American have confused many of these with small, single-engine, prop planes.
To be sure, metaphors limp (which is using a metaphor to describe metaphors). The insects come in force and we are ill prepared to receive them. They take up all our time and we cannot return to regular activities until they have left. They often require extraordinary efforts and creative practices to attend to them. These are the things we have felt over the last few weeks.
In reality, a great deal of our time was consumed with Dick Buten’s activities and business while he was here. This was actually a wonderful thing as he had come down with laptops, televisions, and tablets. The equipment is to be used to initiate a top-notch, computer-driven curriculum at our bilingual school. This is very exciting. Still, it’s also very nerve racking as we only had a few days with Dick to learn the system. Also, it represents a steep learning curve for our teachers. Apart from the new technology for the bilingual school, exciting, yet anxiety provoking, Dick is also dealing with the financial challenges Shoulder to Shoulder faces. Because he’s only here a week, he’s in high-powered meetings with all our partners from early morning into the evening. Laura and I are generally with him, feeling the intensity of it all. We are grateful that he is dealing so well and thoroughly with the critically important aspects of the organization. But does it really all have to happen at the same time?
On Wednesday, the bees came. In the morning, frantically buzzing about my sugar infused coffee, one dove into the cup. I drank without looking and got stung on the roof of my mouth. At around 2:00 PM, another one stung me on the elbow. So very exhausted and very overwhelmed, sometime shortly after the second bee sting, standing outside of the clinic in Concepcion, Dick and I were taking a little breather. Even though maybe our intention was to rest, I’m certain one of the high energy, critical themes was being further considered and evaluated. The insects were buzzing about, literally and metaphorically. Maybe at this moment I was wondering whether it was all worth such tremendous efforts and energy. Perhaps I might have even asked Dick the “what’s it all about, Alfie?” question. But just at that moment a pickup truck pulled in up next to the entrance of the clinic. Two teenage boys jumped from the bed of the truck. An older boy, perhaps 21 or so, climbed out of the driver side of the cab. It was clear by physical resemblance, the three were brothers. One of them opened a wheelchair aside the open passenger door. The eldest reached in and cradled an older woman in his arms, lifting her from the seat to transfer her to the wheelchair. Another brother waited at the back of the wheelchair ready to push her into the clinic. The last brother attended to straightening her dress in front of the chair. The man driving the pickup looked like he might be the father of the boys. The older woman grimaced in pain with the transfer, but could not have been more lovingly attended to by these boys. They wheeled her past Dick and I, acknowledging us as they passed. Their expressions shared a strange mix of apprehension, fear, and concern coupled with gratitude. Dick and I were silenced.
Instead of the cynical question of what were we doing, I made a declarative statement. “That’s why we’re here. That’s why we built this clinic.” Dick thought about what I said and answered, “But it’s likely we won’t be able to do much for her.” “No,” I said, “It’s not what we can or can’t do that’s important. It’s that we’re here; that they have a place to bring her; and that what they’re feeling can be honored.”
Dick was quiet. All the buzzing insects quieted for a moment or two. In the midst of so much that needs to be done, we must not fail to celebrate the miracles that spawn about us. Lest all our effort be wasted in a vain exercise of arrogance.