Friday, 8 February 2013

Let's try again!

Sadly last night, after a long time composing my two day detailed blog entry, my battery died on my iPad and took my entry with it!

So now it has been three days since I last posted, I am tired and obviously frustrated from the loss so I apologize in advance for the "roughness" of the following entry.

Wednesday we finished up in the hearing clinic with just a handful of patients in the morning. We had a man with gold stars on his teeth and one very special and grateful woman, along with her daughter, who came armed with a beautiful cake to thank us. It was a wonderful way to end our work.

By noon we had tidied up our space and Laurie had completed the inventory. It was a great 11 days working with an amazing team of women but more importantly was what we got back from the wonderful Guatemalans we treated. We received countless blessings, gifts, hugs and kisses. I can't recall one person who didn't express sincere gratitude to us as they headed out the door of the clinic, all of them hearing better than they had when they arrived. I truly feel that we were the lucky ones! I really hope that I have an opportunity to do this again but even if I don't I will forever be grateful for this experience.

It was actually really nice that with the clinic finishing on Wednesday we had some time to see more of Antigua and take a couple of spectacular field trips. We started our time off by having a fun shopping afternoon on Wednesday when five of us headed to the artisans markets. Laurie, Maureen, Lavinia and I each bought a huipiles ( we-p-lays). Huipiles are the traditional tops worn by Mayan women. They are beautiful with hand embroidery. Each village has a specific pattern they use on the huipiles so your top will identify where you are from. We all had great success in the shopping department. Laurie and I stopped to visit with Maureen, Ann, Dr. Patty and Dr. Linda on the way home. We all shared our "new stuff" with each other.

Thursday was both a heart wrenching and an uplifting day. Maureen, Lydia and I visited the Guatemala City dump and the safe passage organization. Hanley Denning who started safe passage has left an incredible legacy in her far too short life. Along on the tour was a group of eleven high school girls, four teachers and the principal of a traveling school. A school were girls travel for a semester and study along the way. Check out

We viewed the dump from a large cemetery. Kind of creepy for me but it had an excellent vantage point to see what was going on. The sky and trees were filled with vultures. It looked like a scene from "The Birds". The dump was filled with people chasing the garbage trucks, swinging from the sides of the trucks and jumping into the backs of them. Until recently families actually lived in the dump. Laws have changed and now you must be at least 14 to go into the dump and people are no longer allowed to live there. It was so sad to see people actually choosing to live like this.

When Hanley saw this she made it her mission to get the children out of the dump. The first safe passage building we went to was a beautiful early childhood education facility complete with green space and play structures. This facility is a little oasis surrounded by a shanty town that built up in 48 hours once people were no longer allowed to live in the dump. Next we stopped at their tutoring and adult centre where we purchased jewelry made from recycled garbage. 20 plus women who used to work in the dump are now supporting themselves through this venture. We made our last stop at the largest facility which is an after/ before school program as well as a newly started school that will continue to grow. I learned on this trip that 49 % of guatemalan children under 5 suffer from malnutrition. The children involved in safe passage are all feed by the organization. We had lunch in their cafeteria along with them.

Watch the documentary "a recycled life" to learn more about life in the Guatemala city dump.

Today was another opportunity to take a phenomenal field trip. The group today included Laurie, Lydia, Cindy, Dr. Mario (aka Murray) and I. We went on the most amazing coffee tour with "as green as it gets". This is an organization which has formed a coop for small local coffee farmers. We first meet with Andres (the farmer), Melvin (his 11 year old son) and Jane ( our green as it gets guide and interpreter). We started the tour by taking a fairly long hike up Agua Volcano to Andres' little plot of land to pick the coffee off his trees. It reminded me of berry picking in PEI. The coffee bean is bright red when ready to be picked. After we had picked for a while we headed back to Andres' home so he could show us the steps involved in getting the bean to your cup. It was very interesting to see how the family lived. Their home had very few possessions. There was a horse in the house! The main living area was open to the outside, four bedrooms and a small kitchen. He showed us how he used a bike contraption to hull the beans, how they dried the beans on the roof, and then we sorted through the dried beans to take out any undesirable ones. From there we headed into the kitchen to roast our beans with his wife on an open wood stove. Next we ground our freshly roasted coffee with a big stone rolling pin. I drank what was the best cup of coffee I have ever had using the coffee we had just roasted and ground! This was followed by a simple lunch of chicken and rice. What a great tour and learning experience!

Tonight was a goodbye party for medicos en accion, complete with the padre from Hemano Pedro hospital giving us a thank you certificate for volunteering!

good bye Guatemala, I hope I get to see you "proximo anyo"! Not the other one I keep Portuguese has not served me well here....I kept saying proximo ano ....let's just say the translation is not a good one!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A job well done

Our supplies are all packed up for next year. Lisa went into Guatemala City with Safe Passages today. She watched people sorting garbage at the dump and visited nearby schools.
This afternoon we actually sat down by the pool for a bit before finishing some shopping and having a nice dinner.
We have looked at the weather forecast for the weekend and are concerned about flight delays for Saturday.
Picture 1: our hotel with our bedroom windows on the right
Picture 2: Santo Domingo for dinner

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


We saw our last few patients today and then completed an inventory. We have one large bin for our supplies, but will have to repack them tomorrow as the lid cannot possibly close. We had a couple of hours to shop this afternoon. Luckily we now have an empty Medicos en Accion hockey bag to take back to Ottawa. We will fill it with beautiful Guatemalan textiles. After shopping, we visited with Maureen and Ann at their hotel before going to Hector's restaurant for an early dinner.

Lydia just called us to the kitchen to see an ant parade. Someone left their peanut butter knife on the counter.

Lavinia, our wonderful translator is leaving at 4:00 in the morning to take a bus to her parents home in Mexico. Lisa, Lydia and Maureen are heading to Guatemala City in the morning to see the enterprise happening at the dump and nearby schools. (I did this excursion last year.)

Our time in this beautiful city is coming to a close.

Picture 1: hearing clinic client. N.B. Gold stars
Picture 2: cake given to hearing clinic team from Feliz
Picture 3: Maureen with Nellie at artisan's market
Picture 4: ant parade in our casita

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


We have very limited hearing aids left, so we expect to finish up with our clinic tomorrow. Luz Elena, the Guatemalan secretaria, has booked 10 people for audiograms in the morning and then we will do our inventory for next year.
The padre visited the hearing clinic today with a videographer. I jokingly suggested that we were going to be on Guatemalan television; the photographer replied that it was for Italian TV.
Joanne stopped by our clinic at the end of our day when were showing off our salsa skills and gave us an excellent little lesson. Now we understand the seven count!
Lisa, Lavinia and I made it to a 5:00 p.m. dance lesson, which turned out to be bachata, and not salsa, today.
The group photo is our hearing clinic team. (Ann is missing, as she is working with a school this week.)

Monday, 4 February 2013

The second Monday!

Today started with no hot water in our casita. Hot water has been an ongoing problem but Laurie got some last night so I was counting on some this morning. Unfortunately it was not to be so my shower had to be put on hold.

We had a great day in the clinic and actually finished by about 3:30 today. Our patients arrived with us at 8:15 this morning. Typically they were arriving a little later so we were just getting organized when the masses arrived. It's crazy to see this whole stream of people arriving at once. The charts are all numbered based on arrival. Seems they all may arrive within a few minutes of each other in the early morning hours but are assigned a number based on where they are in line. Most of them will spend many hours with us and some the whole day. Most of it is wait time.

I had one man today who had travelled 15 hours on bus from Tikal to come to the clinic for a working hearing aid. The travel time was clearly less important than the ability to HEAR. It's hard not to be moved. We gave him extra batteries, hearing aid tubes, as well as custom building him molds for each ear so he could bounce his hearing aid from ear to ear. He was very grateful and left to catch a 5pm bus which will get him home tomorrow morning at 8am.

I think we are down to only about twenty hearing aids left which means we will certainly need to shut the clinic down by Wednesday. One man I fit last week was anxious for his mother to get a hearing aid but her appointment wasn't until the 5th which is tomorrow. He was concerned that we wouldn't have one left for her! I hope we can fit her tomorrow. We have no severe or profound hearing aids left. Just those in the mild to moderate loss category.

After work 4 of us from the clinic headed to the bank and then out for ice cream. I have made some wonderful new friends with the other women who have volunteered at the hearing clinic. It has been a great group to work with and we have a good rhythm going. I am hopeful I will be invited to return next year and I will get to see this group again.

When we got home I had literally a 5 minute break to sit in a hammock and check my "Facebook" account. We, as usual, were running late (we are just trying to fit so much in) so Livinia, our wonderful Mexican Canadian translator, Laurie and I hailed a tuk tuk to head to a free salsa class. It was great fun! Besides dancing with the 3 male dance instructors our partners were several Japanese students who spoke english.

Then off to Don Rodrigo for a typical guatemalan meal of chicken, rice, black beans, fried plantains, guacamole, tortillas, and salsa. The setting was once again out of this world. Beside us a woman was making our fresh tortillas and a marimba band was playing live music. As we were preparing to leave a hostess came over and encouraged us to stay on as a Guatemalan dance troupe was going to be performing a traditional dance. So we stayed! It was fun until one of them passed me a maraca and made me get up! It was Laurie's fault she refused and forced me up. Unfortunately instead of dancing in the traditional Guatemalan style I tried using some of my salsa moves but Laurie says it looked more like I was dancing the river dance! We just keep laughing recalling my ineptness.

1. Man from Tikal with Lavinia and I
2. My 5 minutes in the hammock
3. Salsa class


We finished work a little earlier today. Lavinia, Lisa and I made it to a free salsa lesson. We were 10 minutes late, even after taking a tuktuk ride. I was pretty lost through the dance class where the chicas and chicos changed partners every minute. The chicos were Japanese students and were almost as lost as me. We are hoping to get to salsa classes again tomorrow, hopefully on time.
We then headed to dinner. When we were about to leave, the server informed us that a folklore presentation was about to begin. We stayed and Lisa was chosen to dance with the performers. She put her new salsa skills to good use! (Personally, I thought it looked a lot more like an Irish jig that she was performing.)


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Busy Weekend!

Laurie posted pictures that speak a thousand words. We worked hard last week with a 6 day work week and we played hard this weekend.

We started yesterday morning with a quick breakfast here at the hotel. We then had about an hour of running around Antigua getting tickets for tonight's concert, grocery shopping, and finding a sandwich shop for our day trip. The day trip was a four hour hike up the Pacaya volcano. The hike was quite strenuous. It reminded me of the hike I do with my gym friends at crystal springs but harder,especially given the altitude, and much longer.It was incredible arriving at and hiking across the volcanic ash to an area where we made s'mores and literally toasted sandwiches in the heat coming up from the volcano. It was an incredible experience I won't soon forget,

When we got back to the hotel we headed out to the most incredible French restaurant "como como". Laurie and I had dinner surrounded by many couples out for a romantic meal. Some were even feeding each other. Laurie was so exhausted from the hike she was acting drunk and kept putting her head down on the table. Antigua is a very walkable city as it is basically 9 x 9 blocks but for the first time we got a tuk tuk home. Laurie was too tired to walk. I must say I was happy and a little scared to experience the tuk tuk. Taking corners on cobblestone roads is a jarring experience.

This morning we had a quick breakfast in the town square and headed to the ancient laundry. Having watched the locals do their laundry this past week we thought it would be fun to experience washing our clothes the VERY old fashioned way. Laurie posted some pictures in her entry. By the time we were finished we charged home to hang the clothes to dry using every possible location around the casita. We were in a hurry because we were heading to see the Antigua professional soccer team play against another Guatemalan team.

Laurie and I suited up in our jerseys and had a lot of fun at the game even though there was no score. We sat beside a large cheering section complete with drums, bells and noise makers of all kinds. We did learn some valuable Spanish phrases however, In particular "hijo de puta" (son of a bitch) which was screamed pretty much incessantly. I took off my jersey after the game as it was getting quite hot but Laurie kept hers on. For the rest of the day people in shops and restaurants kept stopping us wanting to know what the score in the game was.

After the game we went to the ruins at casa Santa Domingo as I had only seen it after dark previously and I wanted to check out the art exhibit that was there. I am now a proud owner of a piece of art by Angelina Quic. The piece had struck me when I first saw it! Thanks Michael for the early Christmas present!

We continued to shop in little markets all over town and had a lovely lunch at tartines overlooking, yes, more ruins! We spent the afternoon with Jesse, one of the OR nurses. She hails from Ireland but immigrated to Canada and lives in Halifax. She told wonderful stories about growing up, one of eleven children, in a pub, that was started by her family in the mid 1800's.

We ended our crazy day by heading to the ruins of Santa Cruz, a stones throw from our hotel, to see a concert by an Israeli group called "voca people". The concert was enjoyable but the venue was spectacular!

Tomorrow it's time to head back to work at the clinic. We didn't get much rest this weekend but I am excited to get back to the work we came here to do!

Picture 1. On the volcano
Picture 2. At the soccer game
Picture 3. 5th caille/avenue Antigua after the game with Jesse and JP (one of the ENT surgeons)
Picture 4. My new piece of art