|Mission Report : The Unofficial Mission Report|
the bread capital of Nicaragua.
Another successful mission to beautiful Nicaragua. Not having served on the board in any advisory capacity, I am truly at a loss for most of the logistical details. This is a good time to recognize the commendable dedication of our board members who worked tirelessly to make it all happen. Without their efforts there would be no need for this report because it would be impossible to run such a successful operation. I apologize to those of you who expect to learn of pertinent details. I will instead provide for you a recollection of this mission from my own point of view…which naturally explores the condition of the bathrooms, the state of the family and the disparity between social classes. Then I might give some background on how many people experienced trouble of the digestive kind on this year’s trip and why. Please feel free to skip ahead to the mission stories at any time.
Again we found many asking the familiar questions “why do they always serve nacatomales?”, “what exactly is a nacatomale?” and “how do you spell nacatomale?” There is no one answer to such questions. We continue to be grateful to our hosts for their gracious hospitality. Visit any VOSHer’s online Kodak/picture site to see photos of this popular dish.
Geoffrey Burns took over as mission doctor this year. Added to his duties was the collection of 24 hour diet histories on each mission member. His enquiries revealed interesting results. Food to avoid included anything served in cream sauce (that might have been prepared several minutes ahead of time) and salad containing tomatoes (that might have been washed in water). Continue to use common sense when purchasing anything from the venders. Be skeptical of a waiter who answers “yes” to purified water but “no” to a bathroom, or any response resembling this hypothetical. The remaining recommendations can be downloaded by emailing Geoffrey (that’s pronounced “Jeffrey” not Gregory).
Bruce reports that the distribution of stuffed animals exceeded expectations. He was grateful this year not to have to distribute the remaining 10 toys to a line of fifty or so eager children (Just a little reminder of the humorous position that Bruce found himself in while responding to the spirit of giving and generosity). Many of us collect toys and small gifts to bring because we look forward to seeing the joy on the faces of the children and their parents. We also bring many bags of lollipops to give out to each of the children to gain their trust. Mostly these gifts are received with smiles and thanks. It is worth mentioning however, that gift giving can be perceived in an entirely different light when done outside of the clinic setting. While there was much evidence of extreme poverty, we also noticed overwhelming signs of pride and dignity within the poor families. If we look at gift giving from this perspective, their acceptance of us becomes a gift, their trust in us, a rare privilege, and this exchange of gifts can be considered a blessing.
On the subject of the local transportation this year, we were very pleased. “Sammy” of course we all know as the more popular and faster of our 2 bus drivers. The fast driving is an interesting phenomenon to grasp after some of our experiences having to wait for hotel rooms, jumper cables, returning bus rides, dinners, drinks, luggage and things of this sort. We have all become accustomed to hearing the term “Nica” time. The fast driving gives a new aspect to Nica time. It remains a mystery. The conditions of the buses were top notch, not one hole in the floor was found. The most memorable bus was the one chartered by V.O.S.H. to bring the “transfer station kids” to the clinic. Having exhausted all possibility of an outlying day trip to this extremely needy community, Carl made the decision to “move the mountain to Mohammed.” Despite their seemingly desperate poverty, this group seemed to be the most joy filled group in Nicaragua. Visit Sue Seidler’s Kodak/pictures to see the beautiful children and their enthusiastic departure.
This year was unprecedented in terms of displays of appreciation and thanks. At the conclusion of the clinic, each mission volunteer received a carefully wrapped 1 pound bag of homegrown coffee with a beautifully composed letter of appreciation. The letter highlighted the “generosity, commitment and admirable work” we did for the country. This outpouring of generosity was influenced by the “caring attendance, kindness and dedication” of our audiology group. Great job Ken and company! We were commended for our successful efforts to “uphold, preserve and enhance human dignity.” I would like to recommend that we incorporate these awesome complements into our mission statement and that we all review them when it comes time to make the decision to return next year.
On the first day of clinic we were welcomed with clapping and waving from the long lines of waiting patients. This may have occurred before on a previous mission but it was no less significant. The expressions of hope, trust, appreciation, joy, and even curiosity that were present in their welcome seemed to make whatever sacrifice we went through to get here a distant memory.
On the second day of clinic, the entire V.O.S.H. crew was invited to a “farm” belonging to one of the Rotarians. The farm was a gorgeous bungalow nestled on 32 acres of lush land over looking Lake Managua. The food, drink and scenery were spectacular. Our host, Bo, was delightfully funny. Once having gathered up a small group of young women VOSHers, he announced to his wife “They are all single!” and “I am now going to show them pictures of our (eligible attorney) son living in Florida.” Bo’s wife was a gracious host as well, giving tours through her stunningly decorated home. She spoke of her desires and plans to start her own humanitarian work. The spirit of giving which we experienced as missionaries in the clinic was present in this home and among this family who had opened their home and hearts to make us feel welcomed and appreciated. I should add that several of the translators were among the invited guests present at this gathering. Many of whom, one can suppose, are not accustomed to this standard of living. Their cup was kept full and their contribution to this mission was similarly acknowledged. In a world of sharp contrasts between old and new, poverty and affluence, there is hope for the poor and suffering. This is true for any community that responds to this powerful spirit of giving.
Before the rush began on the first day, some of us were lucky to catch sight of a marching band. That day was the start of a week long celebration marking the feast of 3 patron saints of Nicaragua. We rushed to the fence to catch the parade and were treated to a surprisingly loud marching band of 6 people at most. Contrary to what one might expect having heard the commotion and having romanticized about Nicaragua for the preceding months, not a single person rushed to join in on the parade. Over the four days in the clinic, we could hear the Parade of 6 passing by. It reminded this Jamestown resident of our Fourth of July parade back home where glamour and glitter is lacking but a good strong sense of thanksgiving and community abounds. The other major difference I noticed is that here the celebratory parade repeats its 2 block march several times throughout the day. The music was very festive and catchy; I was able to capture the entire musical selection on a 10 second video. I also captured on camera, an authentic, fully outfitted, horse and rider clip clopping down the road on its way to the festival. It was an impressive sight to see after viewing so many emaciated horses common to Nicaragua’s poor working families. It was a perfect timeless glimpse of life before the automobile and before the revolution; however, just before the horse and rider were out of view, a small truck plowed by at five times the speed. In the bed of this small truck seemed to be several hundred people making there way to the festival. This scene with both modes of transportation continually competing for space was a common one here in Nicaragua.
Along with the music, the parade included fireworks.; many poorly timed ear piercing explosions and blasts of smoke. We later learned there are a large number of people treated for burns at this time of year. Again I am reminded of the Fourth of July back home. Strip away the Rocket Dawgz (who solicit donations, oversee and run the fantastic display) and the D.E.M. and local police (who ensure safety and minimize chaos) and you have two communities dedicated to the joy of celebrating. One can admire the efforts of those who strive to keep the joy of celebration alive while remembering to appreciate the unsung heroes who work to ensure our safety.
I am happy to report that the toilets were complete with seats, paper and soap this year! We have learned to make provisions for the lack of running water and to consider it a luxury to be able to sit every now and then. All joking aside it is a privilege to be treated as missionaries who come to work for the poor and do not expect special treatment. On occasion we need reminding of this, like back at the hotel when we found that there were no libations to be served and that some of the rooms had been stripped of their water heaters and a few, of their actual pipes. The new owners responded in commendable fashion and had water heaters installed and waved the drinking ban for the remainder of our stay. Our host apologized for being unaware of our needs. I was not privy to the specifics of what was discussed with regards to the needs of our mission but apparently it included a good supply of local beer.
Years of mission experience teaches one to embrace a challenge; this virtue was never more obvious on this trip. The dentists proved to be the most resourceful by relocating their dental chair and filling equipment to the wheelchair/lunch room after several power outages; giving new meaning to the mission dinning experience. Carl’s chartering of the transfer station bus and Ben’s contact lens story (told by Jane) is close second. I am sure there are a dozen or more stories that we have yet to learn of.
The numbers of patients seen is in no way the litmus test for a successful mission. It would be misleading to qualify our success by simply stating that we restored vision to ____ people and hearing to___ people; pulled ___ teeth, filled __ cavities or that we treated ____ medical patients. However… through the generosity and perseverance of people like Ken Startz in audiology and the endless list of individuals responsible for the wheelchair program (beginning with Al Amerigian’s earliest efforts), these figures are irrefutable factors in the success of this mission. We are blessed with the generosity of our donors, the creativity and capability of those involved in fundraising, the quality of our leaders and the endurance, creativity and skill of our individual members. We have also learned to trust in the goodness of strangers. We have learned to count on one another in times of stress. We know God is one of the most under rated members in our group; always finding us jewels like Henry, Donna, Miguel, a translator who is also a 3rd year medical student and always keeping us safe from harm and watching over our families back home.
How great it is to be a part of this effort. During the mission our primary focus is the patients, now we are given the opportunity to reflect on how this experience has affected us and to tell our stories. How great a privilege it has been to work along side people who are not afraid to try when error is probable, to help when help seems impossible, to hope when hope seems lost and to love when we seem worlds apart. Many thanks for this mission that has allowed each of us to be a part of a much greater good than anything we might have had the privilege of experiencing in our daily lives.
2012 Panama & Tennessee | 2010 Nueva Esperanza | 2009 Nueva Esperanza | 2008 Nandaime | 2007 Monimbo | 2006 Nandasmo | 2005 Catarina | 2005 Mus | 2004 Nindiri | 2003 Jinotepe | 2002 Ticuantepe | 2001 Monimbo | 2000 La Concepción | 1999 Masatepe | 1998 Niquinohomo | 1997 Lake Yohoa | 1996 Jutiapa | 1995 Omoa | 1994 Vera Paz | 1993 Coatepeque | 1993 Salama | 1992 Chimeltenango | 1991 Chichicastenango | 1990 Comayagua | 1989 San Manuel | 1988 Omoa | 1987 Santa Rosa
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