Saturday, July 5, 2008

Honduras: Hardest Day of my Life Story

The second day of the trip was our first "brigade". I'll get more into the details of how things worked later. Lots of people are asking me what I thought of the whole experience and the story of my first day pretty much sums it up.

I had assumed that I'd be working as a massage therapist who happened to speak some Spanish. We arrived at Santa Rosa #1 about 9am and immediately had to divide into teams. The first team needed to speak Spanish fluently, as they would be doing triage/intakes. I looked around for people to volunteer for this job. One girl did, but no one else. I didn't think I spoke Spanish well enough to do this, but since no one else claimed to speak it at all, I tentatively raised my hand.

We sat side-by-side at a short desk with two pens and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Our job was to greet people, take their forms from them and ask them a series of questions.

1. Are you allergic to any medicines?
(1. Esta alergico a alguinas medicinas?)

2. Are you currently taking any medication?
(2. Esta tomando medicinas ahora?)

*3. Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
(3. Esta embarazada or dando de mamar?)

*Asked to every women between the ages of 12 and 60

4. What are your symptoms? What do you have?
(4. Cual es sus sintomas? Que tiene?)

The first woman approached me and I gave her a big smile. She sat, I took the paper. I asked her the first question. She stared at me. I asked again. She said yes. I asked which medicines she was allergic to. She stared at me. I wanted to cry. I called "Pichi" over to me (he's a helper with GMB who is native to Honduras). He asked her the allergy question 4 more times before she understood it. And, no, she didn't have any allergies to medicines.

She then began rattling off her symptoms in words that I could swear were Dutch because I didn't recognize a single one of them. In my ear Pichi began translating for me: cough, cold, headache, bellyache, hair going away...

I got through the first hour with Pichi speaking in my ear. I wrote in a small purple notebook every word that I didn't know (cough = tos, cold = gripe, headache = dolor de cerebro, stomach ache = dolor de panza, etc.). Sometimes Pichi would get frustrated and grab the pen from me, lean over to the notebook and in bold letters write a word and its translation. He left after a while, rolling his eyes.

We worked for 3 hours in a row. Sometimes it would be only one person in front of me, sometimes one mom with 8 kids. Each person had their own form and their own list of symptoms. The line never stopped. I spoke to about 150 people between 9am and noon. Finally someone told me to take a break, it was lunch. Everyone cleared out of the room- the volunteers walked to the pharmacy for sandwiches. I stayed behind in the large classroom.

And I cried, and cried, and cried. My Spanish wasn't good enough to do this. There were so many people still outside the gate. So many sick people. So many sick babies. So many pregnant women, young women, fevers, colds, coughs, parasites, poverty. So many smiling children. So many toothless old men and women. All their faces rushed past my eyes even when they were closed. We had a whole afternoon left to go. I wanted to quit. I wanted to get out of there, go somewhere air conditioned and not so humid. I felt like I was failing, not good enough, just guessing at the translations. What was I doing here??

Then the break was over. I looked down at the journal I was writing in- the only words I'd managed to print out were the list of swear words that I kept repeating over and over. I thought the day would never end.

Despite totally freaking out in a way I'd never known possible I still made sure to wave and give a gigantic smile to every person who walked in the door. I'm guessing it was 375 people who spoke to me that day. I smiled at every one of them, and gave them my full attention. It was nice to see the nervousness melt away when they saw a smile. They looked so scared, unsure of what was about to happen. But a smile is international, and the only thing I felt I could truly give them.

When the day was over I crawled into my seat on the bus and wanted to just sleep, or cry, or get drunk. I did all three that night, and got up and did the same thing for the next two days. I never really felt comfortable with the language, but I wasn't as tired the second or third day. Am I glad I did it? Oh yes. Wow, yeah. It's always nice to find yourself completely outside your comfort zone rocking it out... or at least getting by.

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