Thursday, September 14, 2006

Michael Journal 3

I’m very sad that the three-week milestone is already here. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been here for that long, just as it’s hard for me to believe that in a week and a half I’ll be back to the drudgery of university life.

My time here has been everything I expected and more. I’m getting to see so much more of Honduran culture than I’ve ever seen of any other culture when I’m traveling. I used to wonder what the appeal of traveling was to people – to me, it meant long hours on tour buses, smiling photos in front of obscure landmarks, and unfamiliar hotels. My month in Honduras has showed me what traveling is really about: taking the time to live and learn in a foreign location with different cultures, perspectives, and expectations. I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to interact with patients both in and out of the clinic and to see how they live. The population in Honduras, I’ve learned, is very courteous – a personality trait often lacking in California, where time and patience are in short supply. I’ve also had the chance to meet a lot of locals through church here, and I’ve learned that islanders are very religious people.

I’ve really enjoyed my work in the clinic. It’s really great to be able to help patients get the care they need. This week, one particularly complicated case involved rapidly spreading pneumonia – subsequent x-rays show a drastic diffusion of liquid through the lungs within a span of 3 days. I remember screening and admitting the patient, and I saw them again in the wards as I accompanied the doctors on rounds. I had to travel to Dixon Cove, about a 15 minute drive, to the Galaxy Ferry office to get them tickets, and hitchhiked back because I wasn’t able to get a taxi. I was just glad to be able to help them in their situation.

In my last two weekends here, I am determined to make the most of my time. Tomorrow, a group of 10 volunteers and American workers are going on a shark dive – that is, a dive where they feed the sharks right in front of you. The weekend after that – my last weekend – we plan on going to La Ceiba, the port city closest to Roatan. I’m excited to see other parts of Honduran culture; Roatan has a very distinctive island culture that is not completely representative of the mainland culture. I’ve also heard of a nearby island called Helena, which is a small undeveloped island of 900 people with no roads and no cars. Last week, at the Parrot Tree church, I met a group of medical workers who had built a clinic there and was serving the population there, which was essentially all the descendents of 5 slave families that had been left there a few generations ago. It sounded like a very different place, and I’m sad that I won’t have the time to visit the island before I leave.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Michael Journal 2

Last week we went hiking through a barrio in Roatan called "La Colonia", which basically means "the settlement". La Colonia was created in 1998 during Hurricane Mitch when basically all the poorest islanders living on the shores of the island had their houses destroyed by the hurricane and fled up the hills to escape the water. Once the hurricane left, the people stayed and built their houses directly on the hillside. The problem was, they didn't own any of the land they'd built their houses on; it was owned privately by a Canadian. But they're still there today.

Since it's built into the hills, and since it was built so quickly, La Colonia has basically no infrastructure. As we hiked through the villages, we were taken up narrow and really steep dirt paths completely surrounded by tall grass, completely inaccessible by car, so anything the people needed had to be carried up by hand. The water is pumped up through PVC pipes that we saw above ground, and even then, the people only get running water 3-4 times per month. And there is no sewage system - which means that the sewage from the people at the top of the hill runs through the yards of the people at the bottom of the hill, creating a huge health hazard with GI diseases. This is especially a problem when there's no clean running water to begin with. I guess that's why a lot of the kids we see at the clinic are from La Colonia.

Anyway, here's La Colonia in pictures:

Built on the hillside

The locals we talked to insist that it's safe, even in the heaviest of rains

At the very top of the hill, where there was once a cellular tower, now destroyed. Doesn't look like it's going to be rebuilt any time soon.

Some cute kids we saw, doing chores I guess.

It doesn't take much to build a church.

I finally finished Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. Everybody swears by this book, and gushes about Paul Farmer and how great a visionary and model he is and how he inspires you to want to change the world, and I can see his influence as they try to open new clinics in other parts of the island too. It's really inspiring to see such inspiration in other volunteers, but I wonder if I could ever lead the lifestyle that they or Paul Farmer lead - spend a few months in the States, and then fly out to wherever poor place to raise money, build your clinic, and see patients. A lot of the doctors/nurses here spend about a quarter to a half of their time here, and there's really no good reason not to when you could be helping so many people directly. One of the other volunteers asked me whether I’d ever come back. I’d definitely like to return again, preferably as a doctor (in 8 years when I’m done with my residency, if all goes to plan) so I can be more useful. It’s kind of frustrating working with all these other volunteers who are nurses and doctors and pharmacists who are helping out so much with Global Healing or Peggy’s Esperanza Clinic, and although I know I’m helping out too, I want to be able to help out more. Also, it seems like with all the tourism and diving, Roatan has attracted enough donors and volunteers that in 8 years, there will be enough clinics to serve the population – perhaps I should consider other destinations to help out, like other Latin American countries or some African countries.