08 July 2012

A really, really long recap of Honduras 2012

"Why would you go when there are people right here in America that need help?"

"If God has blessed me with just one week to serve overseas, then that gives me 51 more weeks to serve here at home."  ~ from the BMDMI "One Week" video

I have a really selfish confession.

I wasn’t looking forward to going back to work after I got home from Honduras.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being a nurse. I love being able to comfort people before their surgeries, before their heart caths, before they go home and have to learn to manage their illness on their own.

But being a nurse in America vs. working at our little makeshift Honduran clinic in a remote mountain village is two different things.

Obviously, right? America has everything. Honduras is a third-world country. Of course there are major differences.

My main eye-opener was the attitudes.

The village we were in hadn’t had a medical team visit in more than five years. Needless to say, these people were incredibly grateful for whatever we could provide. Tylenol? We had millions. Benadryl? Honduran allergies are right up there with Mississippi allergies, and one little old man with itchy eyes and a runny nose equated his Benadryl and eye drops with winning the lottery.

Back here at home, Benadryl and eye drops are something we don’t even think twice about. It’s on every shelf in every grocery store. We scoff at the idea of not having access to aspirin or cough syrup. We are Americans. We’re entitled to cheap drugs. It’s our right.

That’s what made me nervous about returning to work. After experiencing the amazingness of our trip, I didn’t want to come right back and get slapped in the face with people screaming for their morphine or complaining about the hospital food. Some of the Hondurans we saw would have been grateful for food picked up out of the dirt, much less the endless supply of baked chicken that comes out of the hospital cafeteria. A clean cup of water. A band-aid.

Oh, the water. It was pretty sweet to come back home and not have to brush my teeth with a bottle of water. I was able to wash my hands with running water out of the sink. Let water get in my face when I showered.

America is blessed. We just sometimes forget.

My God is so much bigger than my stupid, petty worries. I prayed so hard coming back that I would have a chance to unwind and be re-acclimated to the fast-paced American culture slowly. And God does answer prayers! These past two days at work were fabulous. Great patients – I even had a chance to talk about the trip with one patient and her family, and they were very excited – even told me they would be praying for me to have another chance to go back to minister even more.

I love how God surprises us with little moments like that throughout the day.

Ok, soapbox over. Let’s get back to the trip itself.

We saw roughly 1501 patients over 3.5 days of clinic. Filled 9000+ prescriptions. Gave away thousands of shoes, hats and toys. 

Met some amazing people we will always remember as friends.

Ate pupusa even though our team leaders told us to stay away from local cooking. Hey, I was taking Doxy and Levaquin…I think everything’s covered.

Day One: Met the team at TBC at 1am. Checked in at the New Orleans airport at 4am. Flew to Atlanta to catch the plane to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 

Landed in Honduras around lunchtime. We got through Honduran customs with no issues (other than our cooler of iced antibiotics, which the customs agents were curious about)…and we were promptly taken across the street for our first Honduran meal.

Pizza Hut.

Yep, that’s right. Fly to a third-world country and still be able to get a cheese pizza and a diet Coke.

Actually, a Coca-Cola Light. And it comes in prepackaged bottles, no ice. Do not ever ever ever drink the water or use ice. Ever. 

After dining at The Hut, we were bussed about an hour away to the Baptist Medical Dental Missions International (BMDMI) mission house. It looked like a palace! 

Bunk beds and showers – that’s all we cared about at that point. We were able to just rest and relax from our loooong day of traveling. Bedtime was early, because Day Two would take us into the village.

Day Two: Travelled to Las Crucitas and the BMDMI Bible Institute where we would stay for a majority of the week.

Las Crucitas is a tiny little mountain village about 30 minutes from the Nicaragua border. There is a church, a school, a couple little markets (think gas station, without the gas), cows and dogs that roam the streets – and policia that stand in the street waving down whichever vehicle they feel like stopping and searching. They came to the clinic several times to see what was going on.

The Bible Institute is a school run by BMDMI that is similar to a seminary, but a lot more rustic. No air conditioning. Open windows that allow bugs to travel in and out at will. No huge libraries with internet access for research. Dirt roads. Icy showers with questionable water. 


Showers. Just you, the stars above you, a garden hose...and giant, man-eating frogs the size of miniature horses. For real. 

Handwashing station: First wash with soapy water, then rinse in bleach water, then rinse in bleach water again. Just to be safe. 

After we unpacked, hung mosquito netting and spread Sven dust around our bunks at the Bible Institute, we walked the half mile to the village church where we unpacked our boxes to set up the medical clinic.

NOTE: We shipped hundreds of boxes of medicines, shoes, our bedding, etc. via shipping barge out of New Orleans back in March. Every single item made it – nothing missing, nothing broken. Pills and liquid medications were in perfect condition. God’s hand? You bet!

We decided to have a “soft” opening of the clinic that night, just to make sure we had all systems in place for the next three days. We opened it to the church members and saw a couple hundred people that night. The clinic ran like this:

Stage 1: Church service in a big tent in the middle of a field on the other side of the village. At the service people have the chance to register for the medical clinic – the only access to a doctor is a green medical card that will get them through the gate.

Stage 2: Line up at the fenced gate that surrounds the church where we set up the clinic.

We each had our own translators (Kiomi and Enma and Daniel and Jose…LOVE YOU!!) and one at the gate let people in a couple at a time. They would sit on benches on the church porch – our Triage Area. In Triage, we would get weights, blood pressures and give children a icky syringe of piperazine based on age and weight. Piperazine is a de-worming medication given to kids – the adults would get chew tabs from the doctors themselves.

Stage 3: Once triaged, people were brought to one of six tables where a doctor was waiting to see them. They would be assessed, able to tell their primary symptoms/issues/concerns, and the doctor would write a prescription to be filled at our pharmacy. 

We also had an eyeglass station where we tested vision and handed out glasses. Our dental team gets a special kudos, especially from this girl who does not do mouths. They pulled so many rotten teeth over three days that it's ridiculous. 

Stage 4: Pharmacy to turn in their green cards that had medications listed that the doctor wanted them to get. I worked in la farmacia the majority of the time and had such a great time. It was so humbling to see people brought to tears over the sight of cough drops and children’s Tylenol. And our pharmacy team was amazing! Kara, MK, Kayla, Suzanne, Kevin...love love love our team.

I think if we lived closer to each other Kara could be my very best friend forever. I had some great conversations with this girl, and I'm so sad we live so far apart. Next year, my friend! 

Stage 5: The Store. After receiving medications, the people would shuffle right next door to get a pair of shoes, a hat, a toy…whatever they seemed to need at the moment. One item per person, and I don’t envy my friends working that area. Alisha was amazingly great at this job - she was able to determine what people needed most. Several people would try to get back in line and claim they didn’t get anything – it made us sad because we knew how needy they really were but we had to be strict so that we could have enough items to hand out.

Lines outside the pharmacy and store:

We also had a vet team that would drive around the area helping local farmers with their cattle, horses, dogs…whatever needed to be treated to increase the livelihood of those individuals. It’s an understatement to say people were grateful.

Days Three – Five ran in that similar order. It was one of those experiences where you would fall into bed each night exhausted but knowing it was a good kind of exhaustion. 

FHG nurses unite!

We would return to the Bible Institute each evening for dinner and to change into skirts and dresses, then return to the village for nightly revival services.

It’s amazing to grasp that God knows what we’re praying in both English and Spanish. He has no cultural bounds! He understands all of us! Gloria Dios!

One interesting story that came from the clinic was the day that a boy was carried into the church after cutting his foot open with a machete. Lawn mowers are non-existent in this part of the country - people cut their grass by chopping at it with giant knives.

I'll definitely remember that the next time I grumble about my push mower.

Anyway, his family carried him in and our doctors set to work. We were told that if we hadn't been there, this boy probably would have had to have his foot amputated due to infection. 

Then he hops on a motorcycle - stitched and bandaged foot right next to the bike chain - to head home. I thought Dr. Ross would have a heart attack. 

The kid returned the next day for surgery wound care - my specialty. :) I was able to talk to his sister about how to keep the wound clean at home, and we sent them away with hydrogen peroxide, bandages, etc. 

Day Six: Load up and head back to the BMDMI house, which seemed like a resort spa after our time in the village. A big shout-out to Alisha for thinking to pack a hair straightener and being willing to share it with all of us. After we had our wonderful de-lousing bonding experiment Sunday night, of course. 

Note: Quell shampoo will fry your hair. But no lice!

That afternoon we went to visit the kids at the Good Shepherd Children’s Home. I had reservations about visiting an orphanage, purely for my own selfish reasons. I didn’t want my heart to break. I would have almost preferred to live oblivious to these kids growing up without a mom or dad.

But I went, and I’m so glad I did. I met this 15 year old girl named Daniella who has been at the children’s home since she was nine. The home provides shelter, food, clothing and education to all of the kids, and Daniella spoke beautiful English as a result of her schooling. We found we are very similar – she likes quiet places and reading, and sometimes all the little kids running around get on her nerves. She has wonderful goals and dreams, and wants to be a dentist.

Here’s the terrifying part: When Daniella turns 18, the Honduran government won’t let her stay at the home anymore. What in the world are these kids supposed to do? Just get turned out on the streets? The home directors have other plans. They’ve created what’s known as the “Transition Program” where they’ve set aside housing that’s not technically inside the actual home gates. These 18 year olds then get the opportunity to learn work skills and possibly go to college – hopefully with the help of sponsors. A couple girls have what I would consider foster parents, and are actually here in the US on education visas studying at our universities. One girl is even here in Hattiesburg going to William Carey studying to be a nurse.

I fell in love with Daniella and her dreams. Since M and I don’t have children, how amazing would it be to foster kids that really need a good home and a safe place to stay? Maybe that’s God’s plan for our house. How wonderful would it be to be her foster home so she could come to America and study? I would gladly welcome her with open arms.

The kids also thought Scott's bald head was stinkin' hilarious

Would you consider sponsoring a child? I’ve been here, I’ve seen the facilities and the kids. It’s for real. It’s changing lives. I want to go back. Head over to their website if you're interested in learning more. 

Day Seven: Valle de Angeles! Otherwise known as Valley of the Angels, this little village is filled with local artisans more than happy to earn a few coins from us as we search for the perfect gifts to bring back home.

This is also where I ate pupusa. On the street. Shhhhhhh. Don’t tell.

Pupusa. So, so good.

Jose was kind enough to hang around with me and Scott and would translate for us as we shopped. He also carried my bags and told me that shopping with me was like shopping with his sisters. I told him to chill and to keep helping me look for a bag. 

My bag: 

I seriously wanted to bring Jose home with me, mostly to carry my bags when I shop at Target. I know he’d be thrilled. Although he seemed to not be able to focus on the seriousness of my shopping abilities. Texting his girlfriend was apparently the priority of the day.

Day Eight: The Day of Airport Craziness. Our three hour flight from Tegucigalpa back to Atlanta ended up lasting about seven hours, thanks to thunderstorms that shut down the ATL airport. We were diverted to Savannah where we weren’t allowed to get off the plane since we were international travelers who still had to go through customs, which Savannah is sorely lacking. Luckily the storm pushed back ALL the flights, so once we got back into ATL we were still able to make our connection to New Orleans. We got back to H’burg around 3:30 in the morning on Wednesday. Yes. I was a sleepy girl.

And thank you, US Customs, for ripping open one of my bags of coffee to make sure that it was, in fact, coffee. And thank you for making sure the bag was closed before putting it back in my bag. What a great time to open my luggage only to find coffee beans spilled everywhere. Fabulous. I guess that’s what I get for buying coffee in silver bags that kinda look like bags of drugs. You know. Like in the movies.


Luckily I bought six bags. There is no such thing as too much Central American coffee.

Now that the trip is over, you will probably think I’m nuts – but I already am planning for next year. This recap doesn't even convey half of what we experienced and the closeness of the team. If I make this post any longer no one will read it - if you're even still reading at this point.

Things to do differently? No ankle-length skirts – too hot. More granola bars and less jelly beans.

Although I think I will have to pack bags and bags of Swedish Fish for Enma and Kiomi. They were very hesitant to try them, thinking they would actually taste like fish. One bite later, they confiscated the bag and I never saw my red fish again. I think I’m to blame for a serious addiction here.

My girls! Kiomi and Enma, the most fantastico translators ever! Muy bien!

I miss my friends, my translators, my team. Grateful for the experience and looking forward to making this – hopefully and prayerfully – a yearly event.

And finally, to my Honduras Team – who is still taking their Doxy?

Be honest.

Today I Love: Freshly ground coffee beans from Honduras and the knowledge I have new, fabulous friends just a three-hour plane ride south of here. And the fact I don't have malaria. Yet.  

Click HERE to see even more photos of the trip on Facebook!