The guitars are out. The night is cool, here in the hills, nearly to the Honduran border, but not so cold. We have been welcomed by a pageant – Peace Corps volunteer with profound sayings, twelve-year-olds doing a bump and grind, speeches and translations. We toured the clinic, tired and grimpy from the trip up here – in the short bus, the one that could wend its way over the mountains and their hairpin turns. We got dinner late, and it is still early in the trip; there was cheese and fried plantains to go with rice and beans.
The guitars come out, when we return from a flashlit trek through a town in the third-poorest region of this near-poorest country, out as a soft strumming accompaniment to the sad wail of harmonicas under a sky with stars bold and bright and too numerous even to imagine. They are out, and I sing myself literally hoarse, chanting Andy Murray favourites after the guitarists tire until I can no longer speak. It feels so good to sing, here in the wild mountain air. It feels like freedom. I can lose myself in the music and the night air and the stars – O, Best Beloved, the stars!
It is enough to make one forget about the lectures on handwashing and parasites and bug spray, enough to surpass the tedium of dust and clay and horse dung. This place, filled with electricity and curbs to the streets, beneficiary in a thousand ways of disaster aid money from Mitch the hurricane, this place makes one almost forget the poverty that surrounds. It is luxurious, almost.
But then I go to brush my teeth with purified water and I remember, looking from the doorway of our room over the precipice that leads to one flush toilet and a latrine. I remember.
Pain. My head aches, and I will make little comment. The highlights:
Women, giggling around a model of a uterus
I walked into the clinic, O Best Beloved, to find V and a group of women standing around a model of the uterus and Fallopian tubes. The women, every one of them, had their hands pressed to their abdomens and were giggling in that embarrassed self-conscious way. It was quite clear that a revelation in female anatomy had just occurred.
The walk around town and to the hill. The view.
Tortillas and beef stew for lunch; fried tortillas for dinner.
Blood pressure cuffs.
I was loaned a cuff, a stethoscope, an otoscope after realizing that I had forgotten to bring mine on the trip. The more fool I. We had some trouble getting the cuff to work properly, and at last had to replace the bulb.
My head. I want my Angel.
Even a Nicaraguan laundress cannot get blood out of a white cotton shirt once it has set. The only disappointment of the day, a day which leaves me now wide awake at 1 in the morning. The things I will do for a boy. Translator R is not only lovely, funny, and seems to have an endless wealth of conversational topics; he speaks French. Someone mentioned that I as well spoke the tongue, and the next thing I knew, we were engaged in a deep discussion comparing language studies. Pride makes me still fluent; his accent is quite good, perhaps Spanish, but the “r”, that cursed consonant, catches properly in the back of the throat. What a delightful surprise. Promises to talk more later chased me onto the van to today’s site. I am most pleased.
The site itself was a schoolhouse in the mountains; we had no Tylenol or adult medications, and not enough tongue depressors, and L didn’t get the time she wanted to spend with me, but I saw 16 patients on my own, from headaches to organophosphates, to realizing that I know nothing about dengue fever. One referral for TB workup and one for gallbladder – silly child I, I didn’t even consider it at first.
Lunch, unrefrigerated: two sandwiches of bologna and hard-boiled egg. Dinner, ready on our return: mashed potatoes, beans, cheese, and squash. Delicious. The food here is tastier by far than last time, and we are spoilt with meat on a regular basis.
After dinner, we packed – two suitcases for the truck folks and three knapsacks for lucky us. We’re walking to site tomorrow. Pharmacy is all ready. We leave at 0600. It is bedtime and past; I have stayed up far too late with the others, trading stories. Cousin R won us over with her tale about worms.
[We call her the Parasite Queen, cousin R. And there is a reason for this, but I will have to see if she will give me permission to relate it.]