The door opened to the small hotel room in Bonanza and I think I almost gasped as I saw a big fluffy mattress, a modest sized room fan, and then turned the corner to see the bathroom with a real toilet and running water. The first thought that jumped into my head is Que lujoso (Wow! This is luxurious.)
I spent the past month traveling to different Acción Médica Cristiana project sites in the RAAN or North Atlantic Autonomous Region. (I talked a little bit about this region in my previous blog post). I visited midwifes, natural medicine doctors, and community health leaders in their homes; I traveled with a mobile medical team to 8 different communities that are located hours from a road or health center; I stayed with a hospitable family for a few days that lives on the Prinzapolka river; I went to a Regional Assembly in Puerto Cabezas with inspiring volunteers; and I talked and met a group of young people who are helping to educate their communities about sexual rights and health.
I want to be able to share the humble living conditions I experienced not for you to feel sorry for the “poor people”, but more to understand the differences in the way you live and the way people live in very remote areas in Nicaragua. I had a brief time to live in solidarity with such wonderful people and I want you to be able to understand the lifestyle, too. Also, I hope to share not just what I “did” and experienced, but more the stories and experiences of the people I encountered. The people who I will carry in my soul… in my view of life forever.
After spending a week in Rosita, it was nearing the time for me to move on to a new project site and I was helping count medicines for the upcoming mobile medical brigades. Many AMC projects receive funds from AECID() to help execute and organize medical brigades with local doctors and nurses. AMC also receives donated medicines from Farma Mundi and the ministry of Health or MINSA. The brigade travels 7-9 days to remote communities where people live hours from health centers or hospitals.
Sarah, the other Mission Fellow who is stationed in Rosita and Carolina were scheduled to travel with a team of two nurses and two doctors for 8 nights. They would travel on horseback for hours at a time each day, sleep in hammocks, and bath in rivers. Jokingly I mentioned I wanted to go, too. Doña Cecilia who is the project coordinator for Rosita immediately began thinking aloud about how we could organize and call the big boss lady, Yamilet, in the main office to see if I could go. We could run out and buy a hammock. I already had rubber boots. I didn’t need any money. Wah! For a moment, I was really excited, but then I started thinking about how we would be messing up my original schedule (how North American) and then I started getting worried about sleeping in a hammock and all the other challenges I would encounter. (It was weird because I’m normally such an adventurous person.) However, it was also because I had just found out my Uncle Kent had passed away and it made me sad/worried I would be without a way to connect with my family during his funeral- it would be our first day of traveling. After being able to talk to my family, being able to think and reflect and morn, and lots of positive pressuring from Doña Cecilia, I decided I had to go and I reflected on how many people are actually willing to visit these people. I was willing. And after the trip it felt more like a privilege.
The first day on our adventure we loaded up the truck with AMC personnel- Sarah, Carolina, Jorge (carolina's boyfriend) and myself and then picked up the nurses and doctor from the local hospital. We rode with 5 in the front and 5 in the truck bed on top of our luggage. Once we arrived to the end of the road took our luggage and put each back inside a plastic bag and then a large sack. The sacks were tied together in twos and then thrown over each horse. One horse was loaded up as a carrier- the large ice box with vaccines was loaded up on the horse along with heavier luggage.
The first day it took us 6 hours to arrive to San Augustin and the horses sloshes and mushed through mud almost the entire time. I just had to relax and stop worrying about my horse or it would have been an even longer ride. The most impactful realization I had was that I was riding my horse on the day of my uncle's funeral and he was a real cowboy- he would be so proud. The whole day I thought about Uncle Kent and his family as I rode.
I’m not going to lie- the first day was quite a challenge for me, because once we arrived in darkness, I could barely stand up due to tremendous pain in my knees and lack of food during the day. Dinner wasn’t ready by our gracious hosts yet, so a group of us decided to go bath in a nearby waterfall. However, the waterfall was about another 15 walk in pure mud again. We tried our hardest not to drop our clean clothes in the mud and made it to the refreshing waterfall. On the way back we were lead once again by a little girl from the community with a flashlight and managed not to fall over. At that point my body was officially fatigued and I was grateful to receive a warm plate of food; however, I had the smart idea to try and step outside of the house to put on bug spray and immediately slipped out of the door and landed on my butt and head in the mud as a threw my plate of food in the air. At that point, I almost cried and yet all I could think too was there are a lot of people who have to make the hard trip several times a month and they live with mud all during the rainy season.
We were grateful to have a dry place to stay and yummy food in our bellies. Also, we were grateful for Carmelo who walked the 6 hours the day before with the horses and then returned with us to his community the next day. In the 7 communities we visited, there were always volunteers who went over and beyond to help the brigade arrive safely, eat hearty meals, help organize people during the consults, and provide a place for us to sleep. These families did not receive anything in return for their help, yet they still were happy to provide amazing hospitality.
Each day AMC lead the crowd in a devotional, then taught others about the new inclusive health model in Nicaragua. Then, the consults started. The brigades usually only visit a community for one day and sometimes the community members still live 1-2 hours from the consult site. Also, many people pass the entire day waiting to receive vaccines, pap tests, a humble amount of medicines, and a moment to talk to a doctor. One night we arrived late to a community and the consults didn’t start till the afternoon, so some families had to spend the night at the church we were staying in and head home in the morning because it was raining and dark.
Many of the communities we visited do not have schools. The children work at home and help with daily chores once they are old enough. Many of the adults cannot read or write.
However, I met so many community health leaders and midwifes who work hard to help take care of their communities.
Mariluz is the mother of 3 little girls and her and her husband hosted us for two nights. Mariluz recently decided to become a midwife simply because her community does not have anyone who is working as a midwife. She already has a lot of work in the house but decided to attend one of AMC’s workshops in order to learn about being a midwife. Sarah and I also tried to spend some time learning some of her everyday tasks like carrying a bucket of water on my head and milking a cow. Work in the country is no joke, hombre. Mariluz is such a brave and strong woman.
The most vivid memory I have from the house of Mariluz and her husband Nicolas is sitting on a bench with their three daughters in front of the house with the moon shining down on us. The 3 little girls were telling me silly things and we were all giggling for the longest time, when earlier that day they would barely even look at me without running and hiding. It was a really spiritual moment. It was hard to leave that family- A family that is always willing to help out their community by hosting the medical brigades and be hospitable, loving hosts.
Don Arsenio is another person whose care and dedication to his community really touched me. Sarah and I did an interview with him because he his a community leader, is always helping with medical teams and is the host to the community pharmacy or botiquin and we discovered he had walked about 13 hours in two days to help out the brigade. He also worked throughout the entire day of consults to make sure all the patients were being helped and were in order. Also, Don Arsenio has three children who all became blind when they were 2 years old and on top of that responsibility he is in charge of maintaing the community pharamacy.
In final community where we worked, we stayed at Doña Rosa’s house. Her and her sister Berta are famous in the area for their hospitality as well as the efficiency of their house. The house is still 5 hours from the main road but Rosa has a solar panel which powers the electricity for her house and the family built there own water system with pipes leading down from a waterfall on the nearby hill. The kitchen is enormous at Rosa’s and it is always busy. Rosa is always willing to host medical teams.
I will never forget the long trip with the mobile medical team outside of Rosita and all the generous people and beautiful people I met along the way. I think of how Jesus traveled with his disciples. They were dependent on the hospitality of others during their journey and teachings, yet we often don't think about the people who helped Jesus and the 12 disciples by opening up their homes, providing a warm, dry place to sleep, and gave of their resources so that he could continue his ministry. Lord, thank you for your children who share their gift of hospitality.
To be continued…