The Life of Liz

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ~Anne Frank

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Week in Esteli

The waterfall in Esteli
On a Mission Within a Mission:

Way back in April, I got the chance to hang out with a mission team here from Mississippi doing construction on the church in Esteli. They came by to check out the warehouse with all the Stop Hunger Now food in it and invited me out to dinner with them. The leader of that group, David, is more or less my boss (or at the very least my primary American contact) for the feeding project. Anyhow, I mentioned my incredible amount of unwanted free time and David said there was another Mississippi team coming in June to finish the roof in Esteli and suggested I might tag along. I joked that I might even know Spanish by then and could help translate!

Fast forward to June.

It turned out that the mission project only included construction in theory but in practicality was actually a medical mission. Fine by me! I hate ladders. For five days, we ran a free clinic and pharmacy out of the church in Esteli.

I think it was Teddy Roosevelt that said, “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” The church, as I vaguely mentioned before, has no roof and it is currently winter, which means almost daily rain showers. No roof, no problem! With a little rope, some gorilla tape and giant sheets of plastic, we made little shelters for the two consult areas (one doctor and one nurse each saw patients) and the vital sign station (blood pressure, pulse, temperature, blood sugar, etc). The pharmacy we stuffed in the back room of the church, which actually has a roof. I felt a little bad for the pharmacy staff as they were stuck in one dark little room all week. They kept a wonderfully positive attitude the whole time, although they did go slightly insane (they started calling themselves Cucharaditas R Us after the roughly billionth time they gave out the instructions: toma 1 o 2 cucharaditas al dia…take 1 or 2 teaspoons daily). Actually that statement could apply to all of us…

I figured I’d help out in the pharmacy, writing out directions in Spanish. Nope! I ended up being the translator for Debbie, the nurse practitioner. I was all, uhhhh, are you sure you want me? I don’t know too much of that kind of vocabulary. She was sure. IEEEEE!

Fortunately, Debbie could understand a bit of Spanish so I figured between the two of us and the medical Spanish/English dictionary, we could make it work, and if we ran into trouble, we could call in one of the native Spanish speakers. The first day was super nerve wracking for me. I was afraid I was going to misunderstand something and kill somebody! I was so exhausted that I nearly fell asleep in my rice at dinner.

By the second day, I relaxed quite a bit. Basically everyone complained of the same three or four things so I was able to learn the new vocabulary very, VERY well. And since hardly anyone dies of colds or headaches, I wasn’t wound so tight. By the third day, I was doing nearly all the talking while Debbie just wrote out prescriptions (“and how long has this been going on? Have the children taken anything for worms?” etc.). We were a well oiled cucharadita dispensing machine! The only times I really ran into trouble was with the old people. Turns out Spanish spoken without teeth sounds distinctly different. At those times I would send up a flare and Ramon (hired to be our driver, but proved invaluable as a crowd control specialist and organizer) would come over and help me.

The only rough patch was Wednesday when half the group was felled by a sudden episode of volcanic diarrhea and vomiting. Thanks to Gatorade, soda crackers, and a timely dosing of Cipro, everyone was back on their feet, if a little gingerly, by the next day.

On the last day, we had a piƱata for the kids. Robert, the group leader, asked me to ask the pastor to say a prayer before we got started. I started translating what Robert had just said, and then came to a screeching halt. My poor fried brain couldn’t remember the word for prayer! I remembered that it started with an “or” sound, but the only verb beginning with “or” that I could dredge up was the one I’d been saying all day: “orinar.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean “to pray,” it means “to pee.” And there was no way in hell I was going to ask the pastor if he would pee before we got started! Horrified, I turned to Robert and said I couldn’t remember how to say prayer. He said, “what kind of missionary ARE you?” We all cracked up laughing. By the way, the word “to pray” is orar.

If I remember correctly, we saw about 430 patients in five days. It’s so hard, in situations like this, to know if you’ve done any lasting good or if all you‘ve accomplished is giving out 6,000 Tylenols. You can only have faith that God remains and keeps working long after you pack up and go home.

But I will say this. I was incredibly blessed to know the whole team from Mississippi. They are just awesome, hilarious, kind, generous, and completely nutty people. They were so nice to me, I get a little misty just thinking about it. It was a great week. A really great week.


Sabba and Nanny June 27, 2011 at 11:17:00 AM MDT  

We ran into that whole "speaking Spanish without teeth" thing in southern Spain. Good on you for persevering in your pursuit of the language.

Mrs. Wallace June 27, 2011 at 11:33:00 AM MDT  

AMAZING!! So glad you got to go help out :-) What a wonderful memory and experience. (oh and have I mentioned lately how proud I am of you?? no...well now I have!!!) In other news...your comment about the new phrases you learned and the accent you picked up make WAY more sense now that I know you spent time with a whole group of wonderful folks from Mississippi! :-)

Jo June 27, 2011 at 5:45:00 PM MDT  

I'll definitely have to remember orinar. Would it be correct to say "Quiero orinar" or maybe "Necesito orinar"?

Kath June 28, 2011 at 12:45:00 PM MDT  

An inspiring story! When I read your wondering if you have done any lasting good, I thought of what Keith Green used to sing, "Just keep doing your best, and pray that it's blessed, He'll take care of the rest!" Sounds like your best was done!

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A brand new mom trying to navigate the crazy world of mixed families, babies, and working full time. Phew! Just writing that makes me want to lie down.


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