Honduras – this is a long one.
January 19th, 2013

Okay, so I should try to keep this blog orderly because I am a bit behind since I didn’t have internet access for a week. First stop: Honduras!

First I should explain what I was doing there though…

I went to Honduras with the Global Medical Brigades chapter at my university. Global Brigades is a student run organization that seeks to bring sustainable changes to communities in Honduras, and a few other countries in Central America. There is medical, public health, water, environmental, microfinance, and architecture brigades, and each brigade focuses on a different aspect to address in the community to help improve the community overall. I went with the medical [and technically also dental] group, where we opened a temporary health clinic to a rural community. The awesome thing about Global Brigades is that it strives to bring sustainable change, so it has a lot of focus on a holistic model to address community needs from different angles. For example, the water brigade goes in and digs trenches to lay down pipe to bring clean water to communities. Cleaner water would improve the overall health of a community because many of the health problems people have in third world countries comes from lack of clean water. So setting brigades that play off of each other is how Global Brigades hopes to bring a sustainable change. Eventually, the help that is provided to these communities will educate and empower the people of the communities, such that the brigades can pull out and the community can improve on its own. It’s a pretty awesome system.

And now back to our individual adventure.

Tuesday January 8th

Things started off a bit crazy – waiting around on the ground in the queue line in front of the Delta check in area. We got to the airport in Boston at around 11 PM, and the Delta check in didn’t open until 4 AM, so we just sat there and waited. Literally. Nothing but a single 24 hour Dunkin Donuts was open in the airport…

Wednesday January 9th

With 34 students’ luggage, we were a big group, but after checking our bags and going through security, we had a 6 AM flight to Atlanta, where we had then a two over layover before journeying to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Nothing much happened on the flights; mostly slept..I tried to watch Dark Knight Rises, but I fell asleep…I didn’t sleep much in the airport because the ground was too cold and I was obsessed with playing Whale Trail…

When we were flying into Honduras, the landscape was beautiful. It is extremely mountainous and green there.

Customs was a bit annoying. They were crazy slow and we thought we would be clever and get on the shorter line…but of course that one was the slowest and although a few us were the first of our group to get towards the customs desks, we were also the last few to get through…There was also another brigade group from Columbia there.

After finally getting through customs and gathering up all our luggage, we loaded a van of students, two pickup trucks of luggage, and two cars of a few more students, we took a two hour drive through and out of Tegucigalpa to the compound we would be staying at.

Driving through the city was very interesting; the area is so mountainous, it amazes me how the houses dot the mountainsides. Most of the houses and buildings are pretty poor looking. They’re all different colors and on all different levels, with random stairs along the mountain alongside buildings. The roads are dusty and crowded and people are all over the place, walking on the side of the road, on motorcycles weaving through traffic, and just sitting around waiting for what I wonder. There were also a lot of stray dogs wandering around, their heads hung down low. Horses and cows were also common grazing on the sides of the roads. There are also a lot of Pepsi signs around. This was all very different, and yet, there was also a charm to it.

Driving farther away and out of the city, the houses became fewer and far between, but the colors and conditions didn’t vary that much. Most of the roofs are metal sheets, and some buildings were also just metal sheets along some wooden beams. As we drove through smaller towns, I noticed that so many people are just sitting outside their homes or standing against poles. I wonder what they’re doing, what are they waiting for. The nice thing was when we did drive through, most people waved to us. I imagine that in such rural places, a loud van of American students blasting vulgar music isn’t an everyday occurrence, but people would just wave as we passed. The children were the best; they would just smile and wave vigorously, all the time.

We stayed at a place called Rapaco, which was once an ex-president’s home, so compared to many of the homes we passed, this place was pretty nice. It housed quite a few students since there were two other water brigade groups at the compound at the same time as our group. There were also flushing toilets and showers. Compared to other places in Honduras, this place was quite nice. Compared to what I’m accustomed to though, it was a challenge.

The water from the tap is not filtered enough to drink from, so we weren’t supposed to use it to brush our teeth. I ended up using the water from my water bottle and spitting on the ground, which was a new experience. Showers had poor water pressure and even poorer temperature control – but let me not complain too much. The insects in the outdoor showers were my biggest issue. We also could not flush toilet paper in any of the toilets; I got use to it, but it’s just different.

The food was really good there; a lot of beans and rice. The chefs did an excellent job though and everyday the food was delicious and there was a lot of it. They also prepared really good fruit juices everyday. Oh, and plantain chips and Honduran coffee – so good. The coffee especially. I had at least a couple of cups each day.

Anyway, the first evening, after getting settled in, we unpacked the medical bags and organized shelves of medications and supplies. It was actually pretty awesome looking – we had like a small CVS drug store of vitamins and other bottles and tubes.

Thursday January 10th

The first full day there, we spent the entire morning med packing. What that entailed was dividing all the pills into doses (i.e. for a week, or for a month), bagging, and labeling them. We did that for a few hours and while at first it was actually kind of fun, I think we all had enough med packing by lunchtime.

After lunch we took a trip to the orphanage nearby. The person who started the orphanage actually started it as a place for single mothers and their children, but then overtime they took in orphans too and then later two areas were made, one for orphans and their caretakers, and one for single mothers and their children. The kids at the orphanage range from ages probably 2 – 14 or so. They just run around and play like kids do. The compound consists of several houses that each house 8 – 10 children and an “aunt,” who was their caretaker.

We gave some of the kids toys, played tag with them, carried them around, and just had fun for a couple of hours. I brought my Polaroid camera and took a lot of photos of them and handed them out; they liked that a lot, but all I could hear was, “uno más,” one more! It was cute though.

After playing with the kids we went to a small place to buy plantain chips! So good :] The place also sold soda for 50 cents [USD] in glass bottles, but they collected the bottles afterwards to sterilize and reuse. Although people were happy the soda was mad cheap, we then realized that it’s unfortunate that the soda is so much cheaper than just water :[

In the evening we had a long meeting about logistics for the next day…I was seriously falling asleep in my chair though, and it was only 10 PM! Get so tired out in the wilderness…

Friday January 11th

The first day of the actual medical brigade! We woke up nice and early for a 6:30 AM breakfast and then headed out by 7:30 AM or so. The community we visited is called Buena Vista, or good view, and the name was appropriate because it was high up on a mountain top. The ride there took about 2 hours and it was an interesting parade of vans, cars, and trucks. We had maybe 20 suitcases worth of medicine and equipment, in addition to 43 volunteering bodies, plus staff. Our access to the community was actually dependent on whether or not we could get there. There was a part of the road up the mountain that gets particularly muddy and when we got there, we could see how mushy the ground was. The bus didn’t make it, but I was fortunately in a car so we went right on up. The people in the bus, however, had to get out, walk a bit, and then be shuttled by trucks up the rest of the way. We all made it eventually though. But really, the ground was so unstable that when the trucks came back down, you could see them slide…

We opened our clinic in a small school, with three buildings and an overhang over the common ground between the buildings. One building was for the dental station, another for the pharmacy, and the third for medical consultations. Three triage stations were set up in the common ground.

I worked in the dental station the first day and it was awesome! The dentists explained as they went and gave us a quick run through over the names and uses of the different tools before we started. It was interesting. While the tools were obviously legit, it was just interesting to see patients getting their teeth extracted while sitting on a lawn chair…but you do what you have to do with what you have. I shadowed a fourth year dental student; it was really cool to see her do fillings and such. She and the other dentist explained why they drill to get rid of the decay and how they fill it and such. Us students helped by mostly passing tools, loading syringes, and just cleaning up. The dental station probably took the longest of all of them because people are getting work done on the spot. All the drills and water tools that are at the dentist came with two luggage-bag-looking things that were actually portable systems. We also brought a generator since Buena Vista has no electricity.

In addition to a dental station that did screenings, cleanings, filings, and extractions, there was also a little charla-presentation for the kids that showed them how to brush their teeth. The kids were so cute with their toothbrushes!

Unfortunately, it was a pretty gloomy and misty day, so we had to close up shop a few hours early in order to get back down the mountain safely. We saw I believe 120 people the first day.

Saturday January 12th

The second day was sunnier and we made it to Buena Vista alright and arrived to a line waiting outside the walls of the school. I worked triage the second day, and I must say I was quite worried since I know no Spanish, aside from what I briefly studied a couple days before. There were three triage stations set up to record some information about people’s medical history and their principle reasons for coming to the clinic. Each group had one conversational to fluent speaker [which obviously wasn’t me!] and then two others that helped. I took blood pressures and pulses on everybody. I had to do a few practices on a peer beforehand, but I got better at it as the day went on. Guys are way easier to find the artery on…but aside from that, I had a lot of fun. I also was so proud of myself because I was actually useful in the Spanish aspect since I knew two of the medical Spanish terms [score!] that our Spanish-speaker wasn’t familiar with. Yay, usefulness! Calentura and lumbencio. Fever and dizziness :]

Although I didn’t think I’d like interacting with people, it was actually really fun. I know these people aren’t necessarily coming in that happy since they have aches and they are sick, but it was nice interacting with them [and trying to ask if I could take their blood pressure in Spanish…]. I distinctly remember one older woman who shook all of our hands and smiled as she sat down. The kids were also cute as we took their weights and temperatures. Another woman even brought in her 15 day old baby – he was so tiny!

Anyways, I did triage all of the second day, but in the last hour or so, I checked out pharmacy for a bit. All the bags of medicines were lined along the walls of the room and they all had big labels of what was in them – analgesics, vitamins, cough/cold medication, etc. When we got a prescription, we had to consider the age of the patient and their allergies and such, and then fetch the appropriate stuff. One of the pharmacists then checked over everything before bagging and labeling the medications to be given to the patients at the end of the day. It was pretty fun; got to learn some of the names of various medications and the pharmacist that came down with us was really great; he would just explain things as we went along.

Sunday January 13th

The last day of or medical brigade. The mountain was muddy again and so we had to be carted off in groups. I got to ride in the back of a pickup truck for the first time – well obviously since it’s illegal in the United States…That was fun though, haha.

I worked triage again in the morning. I took children’s weights and temperatures this time. The kids that were old enough to know what was going on were cute and smiled while I waited for the thermometer to stabilize…unfortunately the little ones thought it was a shot or something and started to cry just as I took it out of the case…>.>

In the afternoon I actually got to shadow a gynecology exam, which I doubt I’d have been able to back in the US if I wasn’t a med student. The gynecologists was really awesome too; she thoroughly explained what and why she was doing what she was doing.

After a few exams, I sat in on doctor consultations, where the doctors and nurses inquired in greater detail what was bothering people, and they then wrote medication prescriptions and such. I wish I could have been of greater use, but I can’t translate, so I kind of just recorded and observed.

After the third day, we counted up the numbers and we saw over 530 patients over the course of the three days. We didn’t see has many the first day because of the poor weather, but overall, it was a great brigade and we were able to see everybody who came. By the end of the last day, we had so much extra toothpaste and shampoo and other random things that we were just giving them away, haha. It’s all gotta be used up sometime anyway, and we didn’t want to take it back to the US with us.

Monday January 14th

So for our last full day, we participated in a “pilot” and helped with an architectural brigade, which was working on building a medical center in Cantone, another small community. The location was specifically chosen because 10 other communities would also have access to it. Helping with architecture was just labor. Mixing cement, yeah it’s not as fun as it sounds, haha. Our group of nine girls scooping up and mixing cement mix and sand…it was quite laughable. We then made a little volcano-looking pile and filled it with water to mix the cement-sand mixture with. We then scooped up that and used it to lay down some bricks for the building.

I did that before lunch, and then afterwards I switched to moving rocks. Literally. We took a pickup truck to a nearby stream and just stole rocks, roughly the size of a loaf of bread or a small watermelon. We chucked ‘em into the truck and then drove them back to the construction site, where the rocks were being used to make a wall for the back of the building to protect it from the nearby cliff of dirt, so in case during rain storms, the mud won’t wash out the building. While we were choosing rocks, we ran into three tarantulas and a small pit viper. Unfortunately, Hondurans don’t like any of the above because our driver killed them all…it was sad to watch him kill the snake…he just smash the spiders with a rock…

After all the manual work, we were all pretty tired. It was also a hot day. However, although it was physically tiring, it was also a relief because when we worked the clinic we were inside or in the shade all day, so it was good to get some sun.

Afterwards, we also stopped by another community where a previous architecture brigade finished a school building. Our Honduran coordinator explained that education is very low in Honduras, and part of the problem is that there are no facilities. If there is only one classroom for 3 grades, it’s difficult to near impossible to teach everybody appropriately. It was a brief stop, but it had a beautiful view and it was encouraging to see a near-finished project.

In the evening, we all had a little sharing session about our week. Everybody was basically on the same page; everything we did we were able to because of the organization of our e-board and Honduran staff, as well as the help and support of all the professionals and of each other. Afterwards, we had a fiesta, or a little dance party mixing Spanish and American music. It was pretty fun; one of the dentists tried to teach my friend and I how to dance…I’m physically uncoordinated D: But it was still fun.

Tuesday January 15th

Our last day was more like a travel-all-day. [Or because of my situation…a travel-all-week to get to Japan…but that’s a different story]

We left the compound at 8:30 AM to get back to Tegucigalpa airport around 10. The ride back to the airport was pretty silent, except for the blasting of poor-taste in vulgar American music…

At the airport, we went through slow check-in lines, and lines to pay the exit tax [yes, they charge you to leave the country…and if you can’t pay I still wonder what happens…]. Customs took a while and we only ended up waiting at our gate for about 30 minutes or so. We did take some time to grab souvenirs and some food beforehand too, but overall, the down-time wasn’t too bad.

The flight back was pretty good. I didn’t sleep, kind of just listened to music and played on my iPhone. I would have tried to watch the Dark Knight Rises again, but unfortunately the sound on my TV wasn’t working…ah well. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

We had a three hour layover in at Atlanta, but about half of the time was taken up by going through customs, grabbing our luggage, having that go through customs, and then going through security again. We had just enough time to get dinner at a TGIF and then sit at the gate for maybe 20 minutes. The flight back to Boston was pretty smooth. I still was awake [I don’t know why or how I did it…]. As we arrived back in Boston, we got a little shout out on the announcement PA system, which was cute.

Anyways, after deplaning, we basically went our separate ways. It was an awesome week, but it was only the beginning. Next stop: Japan :D

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A little bit of an intro...

This is my personal site to post some stuff – stuff that is so random I can’t really be any more specific. But if you care for photos of food, panoramas, my day, or just the thoughts that go on in my head, please stay!

I love to travel, bake, burn time on tumblr, read, cafe questing, and run around pretending to be a photographer. I also have a thing for Japanese, classical music, and food. Wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, I hope to do it with a smile, see new things, do everything, and just experience and take it all in.