Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Homeward Bound

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. Getting out of bed meant it was time for the dream of Belize to end. It meant having to pack, say goodbye, get on a bus and start the journey back home. I didn’t want to leave.
I love my family and friends back home. I love my home. I love my job, and I love the Minnesota summers, but the call of Belize seemed stronger than all of that. While staying was not really much of a viable option, I left having much to come back for… visiting the keys, scuba diving, doing the zipline, revisiting newly made friends, endless days of home visits, helping document the shaman’s rainforest medicines, serving in the hospitals, making a difference, and following a path that I know God continues to whisper directions for me to follow.
All together, we had set up 9 clinics, seen more than 600 patients, educated more than 1,000 children in the schools, and done dozens and dozens of home visits. The number of lives we inspired is hopefully much greater. I also leave knowing that we not only touched many lives, but feeling confident that we actually saved at least a handful of lives as well.

My newly made friendships and solidified bonds with those friends I came with will forever be lasting. I came in wonder and left in awe. I came expecting a worthwhile experience, I left feeling it was priceless. I came with sympathy for those in need, I left with a new empathy for what they live through every day. Every expectation I came with was completely shattered because everything I expected far exceeded anything I could have imagined. Beautiful, profound, insightful, reflective, stunning, breathtaking, and life changing are things that I carried home not in my suitcase, but in my memories and my heart. I feel like a more blessed person to have been given the honor of touching the lives of the Belizean people. Reaching out to them ended up leaving a far greater impact on my own life than I'm sure any of us could have left on theirs.
The flight home was interesting... my injured ankle gave me the high honor of riding in the silver throne and being a human luggage rack. The flight back was exhausting for us all too, but comforting knowing we had much to return back to.
Now back in the states and back in school, I walk through life with a different pair of lenses and appreciate the life I have more fully and more completely. Belize... I'm not done with you yet!

Final Adventure

Our final day in Belize was spent doing one last day of adventure. The rains continued to fall and flooding was happening in parts of the region, so many opted to stay at the resort to catch up on some rest, get some packing done, and do some last minute shopping downtown before we had to leave. A handful of us though couldn’t resist the call to adventure.

Hanna, Amanda, Stepho and I made our way with our guide Johnny to Mountain Pine Ridge, the Rio Frio Caves, and Twin Caves.

While we thought we would be wet the whole day, we were quickly mistaken. After a few short hikes through the rainforest, we ended up going 9 levels into the depths of the “Mayan Underworld”. Some of crevices we had to crawl through left us having to squeeze and twist our way through. A bottle of grease would have helped more than once. It was certainly not a place for anyone claustrophobic. This particular area had not been truly excavated yet, so the remains of many Mayans were most certainly under the ground we walked. Shards of pottery and artifacts were scattered along the way.

The cave also had its share of creepy crawlies...

It was a great adventure!
After a lunch with no flatware, we made chopsticks out of sturdy pieces of elephant grass and then headed back out on our way.
We nearly skipped on of the waterfalls and went back into the caves with a lighter we had found in the van, lit candles, and done an ancient Mayan ceremony with drops of blood let from a sliver of obsidian, but we knew there was more to see. It just gives me something creepy and strange to look forward to going back to. From the caves, we went to the waterfalls. This is where we didn’t get to stay dry anymore.

The rain water coming down from the mountains had left this most pristine and usually calm swimming hole a giant raging gorge of rapids of torrential waterfalls. We got as close as we could… just close enough to feel the mist of the waterfalls crashing upon the rocks blast upon our faces in a fierce mist. Although there were no gorillas, I kept feeling like I was in a scene from the movie Gorillas in the Mist.
Along our way back to the resort, now soaked and cold, we all had to pee and had no toilets along the way. We laughed so hard as the four of us had to squat on the dirt road behind the van and let her rip. Suddenly, there was some additional flooding on the backroads of Belize. On our way back in we stopped at the 5 sisters resort to view another waterfall and get some drinks. Steph O and I split a chocolate milkshake (the worst milkshake I’ve ever had) and we all got to change into some dry clothes. The rest of the drive back to the resort was filled with laughter, a coconut cigar, and a very bumpy road. We were thrilled we had made the choice for adventure over rest. Afterall, once we’re dead we can rest all we want.

After returning home to our resort, we were all able to get cleaned up and begin our farewell ceremony. A beautiful spread of food had been set up for us all… beans and rice, plantains, turkey, stuffing, chicken, and chocolate cake. After getting our fill of food, we had a very touching goodbye ceremony. Each one of us received a certificate that had our name on it, the number of patients we saw, and the villages we had visited. We had a few special gifts that we had put together along with individualized thank you notes for all of our resort and ProBelize staff.

Johnny Belize was also wrapping up his last couple of weeks in Belize before he goes to become the director of Pro Peru, so it was his chance to say his own farewell words to his staff and give them each tokens of his appreciation- special books, a calculator to make some of the office work easier, pictures, and little items to make his colleagues and friends lives a little easier after he left. It was very touching to hear the words that each of us had to say about our experience. It was honoring to know that ProBelize was so positively affected by our hard work and dedication. It was sad to know that we were all going to have to say goodbye and that our lives were all going to profoundly change.

The Rav5 will also be dearly missed...

Steve brought out all of his jewelry that night to our celebration and many of us got some gifts of our own as well. I ended up getting a gorgeous necklace from someone very special to me along our trip as well. A group of native drummers and dancers were going to come out and do a special ceremony and presentation for us that night, but the flood waters had prevented them from being able to travel to where we were located.

Oh, but the night was not over yet. We had access to the van, which took us all out for one last night on the town. A live band was playing at this place called Culture Club. Mostly reggae, salsa, with a very Latin American beat played throughout the night. We danced, we did the salsa, the shook to the meringue, we laughed, and at one point even got to join the band. I took up the congas and added to the percussion, Audrey took up the tambourine, and at one point they even put Amanda, myself, and another friend we had made down there on the microphone to sing some Bob Marley.

A few of us didn’t want to stay out too late that night, so left around 12 or 1am. On our way out, my foot set down on the stairs just at the wrong place, my ankle went out to the side with all my body weight on it, and I fell into the Belizean sewer. My amazing friends pulled me out, carried me to the van, and I my night was officially over. I got carried back to our cabana, took something for the pain, and laid there in bed listening for one last night to the sounds of the jungle as I drifted into my last night of dreams in Belize.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last Day of Clinics- Village of Unitedville

It was a busy day today...

The rain continued to fall today... But despite the weather we set a record number for patients. We saw over 130 patients today! What miracle that so many people came through the doors to receive help.

Our pharmacy seems to have expanded as well... partially thanks to our pharmacy friend Daisy.

I spent much of today finishing up a number of interviews. It's been so nice hearing the culmination of each student's experience, the interpretation of the last 12 days from the ProBelize staff, and the direct comments from those in the villages. Each person had something beautiful and unique to add to my own experience. So far I've got about 20 interviews, about 12 hours of solid footage and an elaborate news segment and documentary that's ready to get put into the works.

Anyhow, as I sat down talking to one lady about what she was grateful for, she just kept talking about her children and her children’s health. She said the best day for her was when she and her children would get fixed up on Sundays and go to Church. When she missed the bus, she said it was her worst days. I distinctly understood that this woman’s faith was strong and an integral part of what gets her through day to day. At that instant, her little boy came up to me and passed me a little booklet filled with bible verses. It looked like he had just pulled it out of the trash, but it read some thing profound… a verse out of the Bible, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)” I have no idea where the little kid got it and he just looked up at me and smiled. It completely struck me… our last day, a bit of compassion fatigue, knowing our day of rest was finally on its way in the morning, an then the idea of the creator bringing so hundreds of people to us to serve their needs whatever they may be an give them rest. We had the chance to ease their fears and help restore them to optimum health. I tried explaining to the woman what her son had just given me and what perfect time it was and how much I believed it was a sign from God, when I started crying. I couldn’t get through reading the article to the woman to explain. Finally, I asked the woman if she would like to pray together. I was too choked up to say the prayer myself as the culmination of a long couple weeks all came to a head for me and yet I was overjoyed and inspired by this woman's health. She prayed and thanked God for the things he's given her, she thanked him for all the times she was hungry and he provided food for herself and her children. She thanked him for us students being here and making a difference in the community and it just went on. She myself and her son held hands just praying and in gratitude. It was beautiful. At one point, our classmate Mat came over and joined our little prayer. She gave me a big hug afterwards and told me that she loved me... my hopeful highlight of the trip.

Later on in the day we finally left after our record setting patient number. We've seen nearly 700 patients over our time here, given out a number of medications, sent dozens to the hospital for life saving emergency treatmen related to their ailments, diabetes, and hypertension. I can leave here feeling like I can say we actually made a difference.

On the way home, we stopped at a local drug rehab center. Most people know I'm in recovery and have been for several years. The local Narcotics Anonymous group up here in Minnesota donated a ton of NA literature including books, meditation books, pamphlets and more. It turns out the guys at the center had just been talking about Narcotics Anonymous here and why there are no meetings. They had been talking about how nice it would be to get some information on the whole thing and there we come along, show up, and give them the resources they needed. I also got an experience to share my own recovery hope with them as well. Amazing how a recovery group in Minnesota was able to reach out to a recovery group in Belize and continue to spread the message of hope.

Here's some of my thoughts. I think I definitely want to come back here again. I'd like to get back to Belize and do a few things. If I were able to come here over a period of several months, I'd like to work doing home visits during the days and working in the hospitals. In my freetime I'd like to focus on creating a visual documentary on the shaman's rainforest taxonomy. He has decades of experience in what each particular plants medicinal use is for. He knows the purpose, what it looks like, and how to prepare it to create a more wholistic medicinal use. However, he's never written anything down. I think it would be neat to help further his ambition to pass that knowledge down to further generations through documenting all those details about what makes his healing garden so special. During the nights, I'd go work and assist at the local rehab center in town and work towards furthing the message of recovery. On my occasional day off, I'd go scuba diving, exploring, and maybe get involved in some sort of an archeological project. What a neat few months that would be. I'll just have to keep my possibilities open and try to simplify my life along the way before making a decision to do something like that.

One last note... the child with the pulmonary atresia named Wilmer has some hopeful news. The folks we arranged through the Mayo Clinic have agreed to review his records, an echocardiogram for his heart will be performed by a group coming down here in a couple of weeks, an a local organization out of Belize has agreed to consider paying for all the flight, lodging, and additional expenses related to bringing him to the states.
Another follow up on the little girl Julie with the huge cyst. She's walking again and finally back in school after a month of missed classes. I know without a doubt that God has been working in us and through us.