I’m opening up my computer for basically the first time since leaving for Honduras. I got the privilege of staying in Pinalejo (Western Honduras) for about 8 days, and El Progresso for another couple of days after that. I’m somewhat sad upon seeing my computer screen – it was such a wonderful break from normal life (more on that later) and it’s proving difficult to come back to every day life. I miss my new friends, I miss the place, I miss the work, I miss everything about it. In short, this trip was absolutely incredible. But, since I don’t always like to be short, here’s my review of the Honduras experience.
This was my first time on a plane – ever. Airports have always scared me more than airplanes, and what better way to experience first-time flying than to do it by yourself? I had my flight booked a good month and a half in advance, at least, and I was feeling pretty good about things. I’d go to the Lexington airport, and basically, I’d just follow the signs as well as I could.
Except that I wouldn’t be flying out of the Lexington airport.
I got a text message at 11:30PM from Delta, saying that my 6:15 out of Lexington was now a 10:00. Well, that wouldn’t do. The Atlanta flight was 9:50AM. So, I had to rebook the flight to be out of Cincinnati, which also meant an hour-long drive in addition to being early – so my brother kindly drove me up to the airport at 4:00 in the morning, armed with Red Bull and his favorite metal bands.
Flying on the way there and back was relatively smooth. The airports were easy to navigate, and my two biggest problems were forgetting to take consumables out of my carry-on bag, and being dumb enough to grab a coffee BEFORE going through security (I had to dump out a whole drink. Bummer.) Other than that, flying proved to be a fun and enjoyable experience.
Perhaps the single most interesting thing about this trip was how quickly group dynamics set in between a bunch of people, most of whom have never met. When we arrived in San Pedro Sula, we were encouraged to eat. I nearly opted out of eating simply because I didn’t feel comfortable ordering in Spanish, and I’m the type of person who wants to respect the national language. So fortunately, a kind soul named Jhosdyn (Justin) translated and ordered for me, so that I didn’t have to starve that day. It’s amazing to me how quickly relationships can develop. Literally the first time I saw his face was when he was translating for me. By the end of the week, I knew where he wants to practice dentistry, where he’s from, where he grew up; and he knows the meaning of my tattoos, where I’m from, what I do, and what I’m thinking about doing in the future. I knew about 5 names out of 65 going in there, and I’m pretty sure I knew 60 by the end – because you’re around these people every single day. You get to know them fast, and yet not fast enough – a working relationship is always very interesting because you’re close, and yet all you do is work together, and you know (in this case) that you won’t see them for a while after about 10 days. Simultaneously, you have infinite things to talk about, and yet not a whole lot. There’s no reminiscing about memories, or hashing out certain ideologies, and you can’t necessarily talk about the news (again, more on that later, if I can remember.) It’s an exercise in the art of friendship – you could choose not to bond with these people, but at the same time, what’s the point? If you all want to come back, and you all want to enjoy the experience, then why not make friends?
Anyway, the team. I’ll forget some to be sure, but there were departments: Oral Surgery (which featured dental students and their professor from the University of Maryland, a couple of retired oral surgeons, translators, and general helpers;) sterilization (featuring a couple of general helpers who’ve done this for a while, and they keep all the stuff clean for the oral surgeons and dentists;) general dentistry (featuring a currently-practicing dentist, dental students from UM, and general helpers,) pharmacy (featuring a pharmacist from the Chicago area via Lexington, our pastor, and general helpers;) maintenance (where I worked, featuring a brilliant mechanical/engineering/electrician mind from Pennsylvania, a couple of grunts from Kentucky and Washington State, and two locals – a mechanic and an electrician, both of whom were absolutely brilliant;) pediatrics (with doctors from I-can’t-remember-where, translators, and medical students from San Pedro Sula;) General medicine (same,) and piprozene (featuring general helpers from all over the place.)
Everyone interacted. At least, about 95% of people interacted, making this such a unique and special experience – it was truly a team, and while we all had our fair share of issues, there was so much positivity and grace that you’d never guess it.
I’ll miss the people the most.
We stayed in a town called Pinalejo, and drove every day about 10 minutes to another town called Quimistan. The roads aren’t great. The traffic is hilarious, and there are almost no rules. People are constantly passing one another. Stray dogs and various other animals are all over the neighborhood. Lots of people walk. It’s not a rich place – but the poverty also seems to create some sense of community. There is always someone kicking a soccer ball – really. TONS of Barcelona jerseys (in fact, they ask you if you’re a Real Madrid or Barcelona fan – even at rodeos they have the Barca fans cheer and then the Real Madrid fans cheer.) The houses are small and quaint – around here, we’d call them abandoned or unfinished, but they’re homes there. At least where we stayed. The architecture interests me – almost everything is made with bars, gates, fences, or extra concrete blocks. There are very few “neighborhoods,” at least the way we think of them.
But, Honduras is beautiful. Picturesque. I hope someone with a better camera than an iPhone5s was there, because it’s a gorgeous view. On the way to Tela (the beach where we want towards the end) there are tall tropical trees planted in perfect rows, creating a fantastical view underneath – shaded, but visible; cool, but light – something out of a Tolkien book (though, I may think that because I was reading Tolkien on this trip.)
In some ways, it’s a big culture shock. Time moves really slow there. Often times we went 35MPH maximum. People walk a lot, so the pace is pretty slow. Nobody’s rushing – gosh, even at clinic when things went crazy, it didn’t necessarily feel like a rush.
The people are kind and really good-hearted. They’re welcoming, they smile, and everyone who hosted us or worked with us who was from Honduras (medical students, dentists, doctors and translators) were absolutely amazing: so generous and so gracious.
In other ways, they’re just like us (not to say that kindness is unlike us.) But really – sometimes it seems like poorer countries are patronized for their poverty and somehow they’re seen as different because of that, but they’re a lot like us. When you look around at how people behave, what they’re wearing, and their demeanor – they’re just human. It’s not like they’re different because they live in a different part of the world or have a different amount of money – they end up JUST LIKE US. They wear the same clothes, they can be scared just like us, excited just like us, mad or sad just like us, happy just like us…
So – I already went over the different departments: sterilization, oral surgery, general dentistry, pharmacy, maintenance, pediatrics, general medicine, and piprozene. I only did maintenance and spent one day in pharmacy – it was hard work, and in lots of ways, it was over my head. I’m very little good with tools – at one point they asked me to find a crescent wrench and I realized I’m not entirely sure what that was. I didn’t know what vice grips were, or what a pipe wrench looked like…
I joked (but I mean it) that my dad would be thrilled (if possibly ironically) when he hears about what I did on this trip – it was all of the stuff he was trying to get me to do when I was a teenager, more concerned with baseball and video games than working with my hands. We had to set up a suction system and make sure that the tubes drained downhill so that spit and blood didn’t get backed up in them. There was a generator, and they used these words like “air compressor,” “air dryer,” “motor,” and “breakers,” a bunch of stuff I’ve never heard of before. [that’s a joke, by the way.] I’m definitely not qualified after this trip, but it was really great to learn from Klaus – the genius from PA – and I don’t know if there was anyone better qualified or more gracious I could possibly learn from.
I was looking forward to this so much, and I feel significantly changed by it. We had wifi at the center we stayed in, but I chose to stay off of it most of the time. It was nice to have 10 days where my phone wasn’t such a habit. It was great to not scroll through Facebook every five minutes and have my mood ruined. It was awesome not checking my email when I got bored. The lack of group texts was AMAZING. You get my point?
I got to get off the gosh-dang grid, and it’s so much easier and nicer when you don’t have a choice – to know that the world is gonna keep on spinning without me being on my phone 18/7.
Also, I think it taught me to do just one thing at a time. I listened to podcasts on the way home yesterday, and for the first time in forever, I could probably tell you what they were talking about within 30 mins of listening to it – normally, I listen nominally while I’m walking or playing a game or working around my house – but to gather my news, I need to actually focus on what’s being said. Not only with podcasts – but it’s different to do anything without texting someone every few minutes. I’m hoping to keep up the practice at home – to watch a movie without hanging out on my phone; or write a blog; or read the newspaper; or read a book, etc.
Here, it seems like we try to cram as much as we possibly can into every passing second – so it’s ideal if I’m folding my laundry while listening to a podcast and drinking a sparkling water and taking a walk and putting in the next load of laundry and unloading the dishwasher and cooking and going to the grocery store….
get it? Multi-tasking has a time and place, but for me – I’m realizing it needs to not be all of the time. Sometimes it’s okay to fold the laundry with nothing in my ears. Or to read a book with nothing else happening.
In some ways, I was really excited to see Blue Grass Airport. We flew over farms just before touching down, and I saw isolated lamp-posts, indicating to me that we were back in the land that I love: the beautiful state of Kentucky. And I was happy to see my dear friend Meredith, my house, and to sleep in my bed – and it was great to get a cup of Starbucks coffee first thing in the morning; but I also have a sadness in the bottom of my gut. I’m sad because I miss the people; I’m sad and scared about getting back into a rushed routine; I’m sad because I could have done that for a few more weeks; I’m sad because I’m sure there was more we could have done there. But I’m also glad. I’m glad that it happened. I’m glad I got out of the rut for a little bit, and maybe, just maybe, this’ll help me get out of the rut for a while. I’m glad I got challenged; I’m glad I was forced to make new friends; I’m glad I met people from Canada, Honduras, others from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, etc. I’m really, really glad about all of this.