Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The bags are packed

Last day in Nicaragua… I can’t believe it. I leave tomorrow morning at 7 am.

Here’s what I did on my lat day in Nicaragua.:
- woke up early and went to an 8:00 health class at Pedro Davila. A group of nurses is here for 2 weeks, and they’re teaching nutrition classes to 1st graders twice a week. The kids giggled and chatted as they colored their food pyramids and discussed their favorite fruits.
- Packed, said goodbye to my incredible Spanish tutor, Yacerely
- 12:00 the last lunch. Then we walked the 25 minutes over to Cedro Galán and almost got bitten by about six dogs (typical)
- from 12-1 I worked at our feeding program. About 35 little kids ate lunch there today. I helped Racquel cook the food, hugged all my little ones who I’m going to miss dearly and said many goodbyes
- 1:30-2:30 music class. We sang songs in preparation for the upcoming July presentation and I cried- they’re just so cute when they sing, and I’m so proud of them for learning so much in music class this year. Elba sat on one side of me, arm draped over my shoulders and Yuvi sat on the other side, holding my hand.
- 3:00 I got a haircut from Carolina in her home. Doña Juana sewed on her sewing machine and Jasmina sat in a rocking chair next to me. We chatted while Carolina cut my hair, laughed about how sore we were from exercise class and then I said goodbye, promising to keep in touch.
- 4:00 Went to the Flores family’s home. We sat on the porch on rocking chairs, reminisced a little bit, cried a little bit, and hugged for a long time.
- 5:00 walked over to Racquel and Marcos’ house. We sat in their living room, chatted, and I caught the end of my last Telenovela (Latin American soap operas that are just too funny).
- 5:30 I taught my last women’s exercise class. The class was full. Lydia, mother of five, brought her 6 month old baby girl to class. We set up a mat and towels where the baby could stay while her mom exercised. Linette, the baby, cooed and gurgled the entire time.
- 7:00 Advanced English class. Lots of goodbyes- this time in English- lots of email swapping and hugs. More tears.
- 9:00 back to the Manna house to finish packing, to sit on the roof one last time, to chat on Tracy’s bed one last time, and take one last big group picture.
- And now it’s late. My alarm is set for 4 am. My bags are packed. I’m feeling sad to leave but excited to see family and friends at home. And now I’m thinking, wow, how lucky I am that I get to do Manna Project again for another year- but this next time in Ecuador.

¡dale pues, Nicarauga! Adios, por ahora.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Meyling's Story

Last week I went to Hospital Mascota (a public children’s hospital in Managua) with four of our summer volunteers (Thomas, Laura, Mike and Bailey) to shadow in the ER for the morning.

At 7:30 am we hopped in the Manna microbus decked out in scrubs (donated by a recent medical brigade) and drove 30 minutes to the hospital while listening to Manu Chao’s “Me Gustas Tu.”

Hospital Mascota has dated architecture from the 70’s and cream-colored walls decorated with bears, butterflies and balloons, giving the building a child-oriented feel. The place is bustling with coughing Nicaraguan kids, fathers wearing cowboy hats, anxious mothers fanning themselves with newspapers while nursing their babies, doctors in white coats, and a few over-worked nurses. The air felt humid and sticky from the recent summer rains and smelled like, well, hospital. We walked through the busy, winding hallways until finally we made it to the ER to meet Dr. Guido, the attending physician.

Dr. Guido led us to two rooms that make up the ER. One room has two beds and is where patients are first brought in with their emergencies; it’s where doctors figure out what’s wrong, and then stabilize the patient. The second room is where kids go after they’ve been stabilized. It’s kind of like the “wait until there’s a doctor available who can tell you what they’ll do next” room- it has 20 beds. Some people have been waiting there for days. This room is where we met Meyling.

Meyling is 14 years-old, has beautiful, light brown skin dusted with freckles, brown hair that falls to her shoulders in loose ringlets and striking golden-hazelnut colored eyes. When we walked into the room I saw her laying on one of the hospital beds holding her mother’s hand, and with much effort, she sent a weak smile our way. We walked to her bed and introduced ourselves. Her sparkling nail polish caught my eye and when I told her how much I liked it, she struggled to respond- she couldn’t get the words out of her mouth- stuttering and slurring her speech, it was apparent that she had lost motor control of her tongue and mouth. When she tried to raise her head from the white hospital pillow, she couldn’t do that either. Her hands flopped around in clumsy, uncontrolled movements. I glanced down at the chart hanging from the foot of her bed and it said “diagnóstico: tumor del cerebro” which translates to “diagnosis: brain tumor.”

Apparently just a few months ago, Meyling was a healthy, happy sophomore in high school. Her favorite subject was math. She has four sisters, is the second eldest and loved spending time with her friends. Meyling was excitedly preparing for her Quinceaños on June 10th, which is pretty much one of the most important days in a Latin American teenage girls’ life (the quinciñera wears a big princess dress and hosts a large party of family and friends for her coming of age). Two months ago, Meyling’s mom noticed that she was walking a little funny, and having trouble moving her hands. Every day, Meyling’s motor control got worse and worse, until 25 days after the onset of symptoms, she could no longer walk. Her family, worried sick, took her to several doctors near their home in southern Nicaragua but because of the lack of technology in the area (namely, no MRI’s), nobody knew what was wrong with her. Once Meyling could no longer speak or focus her eyes on an object (she lost visual motor control as well), her mother brought her on a 6 hour bus ride to the ER at Hospital Mascota in Managua. After a few tests, doctors told her that she had a massive brain tumor pushing on her motor cortex. They said it was too big to operate. They referred her to a physical therapist. And when we met Meyling, she was waiting to be discharged from the hospital. Her mother, tears streaming down her face while she told us this story, had no other choice but to take her 14-year-old daughter, who’s invasive brain tumor was causing the rapid deterioration of all brain function, home. And this is when my heart broke for the thousandth time for this sweet girl and her terrified mother.

Meanwhile, Laura, a rising sophomore pre-med at the University of Kentucky and MPI summer volunteer, was making a new best friend. Meyling quickly attached herself to Laura, very much drawn to her sweet and gentle nature. Meyling held Laura’s hand, smiling and so happy to have a friend. They sat that way for a while together- hand in hand- sometimes giggling, sometimes crying, while we asked Meyling about school and her friends at home. They had formed an instant connection, and when Meyling managed to say to Laura, “you’re my beautiful friend,” Laura, Meyling’s mother and I all fought back tears. When it came time to leave, we borrowed a pen and drew a small heart on Meyling’s hand, “para fuerza,” for strength.

The van ride home was pretty quiet. It’s hard to know what to say after an experience like that. Meyling’s story broke our hearts. As an aspiring physician, I know that moments like those light small fires in my desire to not only become a great doctor but to bring great healthcare to families like Meyling’s. And I’m not hesitant to say that meeting Meyling sparked a similar flame in Laura’s heart.

So this is in honor of Meyling, the beautiful 14-year-old with golden-hazelnut eyes and sparkling nail polish.

It rained!

I'm happy to report that about a week ago, the first rains of the wet season finally hit Nicaragua. The dry, dusty, hot air has been replaced by cool, wet breezes and a humidity that makes my hair curl. The land is green again, and everything feels lush and tropical. So what if I've developed a fro'? I'm loving this change of pace.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Musically Minded

Every Tuesday at 1:30 in the Manna schoolhouse (called “El Farito”), Scott and Andie (short for Andrea) teach music class. They go equipped with tambores, maracas, una guitarra, instrumentos de percusión, and plenty of patience.

The kids come to class excited and antsy after being in school all morning; talking, laughing, playing around, practicing karate kicks, trying to mess with Scott’s hat (which is SO not allowed), arguing over which instrument they want, hugging Andie (over and over and over), etc. The kids are so wound-up, that the first few minutes of class could be spent trying to get them to calm down- but instead, Scott and Andie give the kids 5 seconds to make as much noise as they want. The kids jump up and down, yell and scream and flail their arms about frantically, and when Scott shoots his hand up, they’re suddenly silent (pure genius, I know).

Then Scott starts playing music on his speakers- sometimes it’s jazz, sometimes blues, sometimes something Nicaraguan. He asks the kids what feelings they have when they listen to the music, and what adjectives they’d use to describe it. The kids may say something like “aburrido” (boring) or “necio” (annoying) and then start whispering to their friends, but more often you can see them tapping their foot to Miles Davis, or listening calmly to Beethoven, or using words like “desorganizado” (disorganized) to describe a complicated jazz piece. And then occasionally, Scott plays a classic rock piece (think Led Zepplin), and the little boys stand up and start jammin’ out on their air guitars.

The class has been meeting for 8 months now. I go as often as I can, and the progress the kids have made in music class is truly remarkable. The (sometimes crazy) kids have learned how to identify time signatures, rhythms, they can read music (seriously), they’ve performed in a holiday concert and are currently learning songs for another concert in July. These kids, who before MPI had never had a music class in their life, now understand more music theory than the majority of North Americans. They not only know the difference between a half rest and a whole rest, but they also know how to write and identify them in a piece of music. Plus, they’re learning to love a wide variety of music. I asked 9-year-old Daniel (who’s famous for his air guitar impression) what his favorite song was, and he said “Money by Pink Floyd.” When I asked why, he said, “porque tiene siete tiempos” (because it’s in 7/8 time). And then he ran off and proceeded to practice more karate kicks with his friends, while Scott and Andie cleaned up after another successful music class.

playing Music Note Bingo

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mango Rains

The mango trees in Nicaragua are in full bloom; their blossoms are bright orange and red mangoes. Mangoes drop from the trees like beads of water from a leaky faucet. The streets are covered in fallen mangoes, smelling sweet and over-ripe. Kids can be seen walking away from a tree down the street, grinning, with shirt-fulls of the juicy, sticky fruit.

Sometimes we sleep outside under the stars for the cool, night breeze. There’s a mango tree that sits in the back yard, so large that its shade covers the entire pool house. At night, the mangoes drop from the tree and crash onto the pool house roof. When several fall in succession there’s a pitter patter banging noise... we call it the mango rains.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

(trying to) Beat the Heat

Right now in Managua, it's hot. Really hot. March, April and May are apparently the hottest months of the year in Nicarauga, and we're all well aware of it.

It's so hot that...

- I need to sleep with a fan about 10 inches from my face.

- The new style is "sweat marks," everyone wears them.

- We had to make a mini-pool for our Rotweiler puppies. The puppies can be found laying in the small bucket of water pretty much any time of day.

- Drinking about 4 Nalgenes of water a day is completely necessary.

- Little kids refuse to wear clothes. Really, any child under the age of 2-and-a-half can be found in only diapers.

- We haven't had ice in our freezer for about a month (because it melts so quickly every time we open the freezer door).

- Rather than drink the water during feeding program, the kids dump it on their head to cool off (ok, this only happened once).

- Rather than read on the bus, men and women fan themselves with newspapers, magazines, and school homework.

- I'll walk 45 minutes to the community center, for the sole purpose of buying one of their all fruit, FROZEN paletas (popsicles).

- We take trips to the gas station 25 minutes away just to stand in the air conditioning for a few minutes.

We're all dreaming of the soon-to-come rains that summertime in Nicaragua brings about. But in the mean time, I'm learning to love the every day humor that comes with men, women, children, MPI volunteers and animals all trying to beat this insane Nica heat.

Monday, April 30, 2007

First of many Ecuador updates

On January 11th, 2007 I was one of five volunteers from MPI who boarded a plane to Quito, Ecuador for eleven days to conduct a MPI site feasibility study. The goal? Eventually start a new Manna site in Ecuador.

I’d never been to South America before, and was taken aback at how beautiful it was to fly into Quito, the capital city (where MPI will have its new site). Quito, long and narrow, is literally sandwiched between the green, Andes Mountains. It’s absolutely gorgeous. So landing in Quito is like this: you see beautiful mountains, huge volcano, beautiful mountains, beautiful mountains and then out of no where, there’s gigantic city that’s about twenty times as long as it is wide. Needless to say, it’s easy to start dreaming of hiking Cotopaxi and Pichincha (two huge, dormant volcanoes close to Quito), considering that from the center of the city all you have to do is look up to see their ominous, snow covered peaks.

Quito is divided into northern and southern parts by a majestic statue of the Virgin Mary called “El Panecillo” and is two miles high (the subsequent lack of oxygen meant we were often out of breath while exploring the hilly, cobblestone streets of Old Quito). Women walk around in traditional Incan attire of felt hats, knit shawls, and babies strapped to their backs with colorful, hand-embroidered material. Northern Quito boasts modern buildings, clean streets and an impressive infrastructure that helps business flourish. Southern Quito, on the other hand, is less developed and, generally speaking, is home to greater poverty than its northern counterpart. The dichotomy between resource-rich Northern Quito and resource-poor Southern Quito is striking, and part of the reason why we chose Quito as the next Manna site: the division means a) access to resources and b) communities of real need all in the same geographical proximity.

The itinerary for our trip was jam-packed meeting with several non-profit organizations, hospitals, a microfinance company, friends of friends who lived in Ecuador, etc. The hope was to (1) begin networking and develop connections in Ecuador (2) find a community where we could work and (3) find a partner organization, through which we’d be introduced to the community and learn more about the area where we’d serve. The days were full and wonderfully exhausting. I personally found solace in the brief hot-water showers at Casa Victoria (a huge treat because we don’t have hot water in Nicaragua at the Manna house) and the occasional cup of coffee from Café Oro, which is seriously the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.

If you’re interested in the details of the trip, click here (LINK TO FEASIBILITY REPORT). Otherwise, here are the “take home points” from our eleven days in Quito:
1. We found several potential sites. Our favorites are a place called “Santa Isabel,” a quiet, little town about 25 minutes south of Quito and “San Roque,” which is an urban site in the heart of Old Quito.
2. The boys from the trip will basically eat anything (including hot chilies that will make you cry and guinea pig. Yes, guinea pig, which happens to be quite common in Ecuador. They say it tastes like chicken).
3. We connected with several organizations and people in Quito. The really exciting one that seems to fit best with our needs as a partner organization is a small, Ecuadorian non-profit called UBECI. They connect international volunteers with service opportunities in Santa Isabel and Quito and are looking to expand the programs they already run (which is where MPI comes in).
4. We’re going to be able to start a new Manna site in Ecuador. We’ll begin in early September, 2007 (woo hoo!).

So what are we up to now? After finalizing our Ecuador team in early April (it will be an amazing group of 10), we’re now busy solidifying partnerships in Ecuador. We’re working on getting our Visas, continuing to network with our contacts in Quito, researching Spanish schools, getting in shape to hike Cotopoxi and fundraising, fundraising, fundraising. And I’m counting down the days when I can get my hands on some more Café Oro coffee. On behalf of the MPI Ecuador team, we’re pumped, and we look forward to keeping you updated on our progress.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Los Sapos, Honduras

Copán is a quiet little town nestled in the northern part of Honduras. White adobe buildings with red-tile roofs line the cobblestone streets. Men wear white cowboy hats, children splash around in a wide, clear river at the base of the pueblo, and a cool breeze often blows through the Copán valley, a lush, peaceful land filled with archaeological footprints of the ancient Maya civilization.

My favorite part of the pueblo, however, was Los Sapos- nestled on the mountainside over looking the valley, it is a ruin…
of two huge toads.

We had just been to the Copán Ruinas the day before to see beautiful stone sculpture after beautiful stone sculpture: ornately carved mosaics, buildings with thousands of steps and sacrificial Mayan temples.

So you can imagine my delight when the next day we hiked 45 minutes up the valley to see different ruins of two large, ancient, carved-out-of-rock toads standing foot to foot.

Apparently, in Maya tradition the toad is a symbol of fertility. Historically, Mayan women would travel to Los Sapos to give birth, believing in the birthing and fertility powers of the toads. Little stone toads (replicas of Los Sapos) are sold in all the markets in Copán, many which are given as gifts to pregnant women to bless their labor.

I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up with an obstetrician father and a nurse midwife mother, but I was particularly drawn to this toad legend of fertility. To me it’s just beautiful that this ancient site was the birthing place for Mayan women. And that fact that two frogs represent it is just, well, awesome.

Before leaving Copán I bought a tiny stone toad for 10 lempiras to give to my mom for her nurse-midwifery practice. Who knows if the ancient legend is true, but I’d like to think her patients might benefit in some way from the centuries-old, magic, Mayan birthing powers of Los Sapos.