In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading to Guatemala for ten days. No big deal for Abi, you say? Well, this time it is a big deal – because this fourth trip to Guatemala will be unlike any of the others I’ve made. I’m going to be challenging myself emotionally and mentally, and if I am successful, I’ll do a bit of good for some of our neighbors to the south. At the very least, I’ll learn how to say scabies, warts and constipation in Spanish. Now, these aren’t words I’m accustomed to using, nor do I want to have to use them. But I’m sure I will once in Guatemala.
Okay, I’ll explain. Those of you who know me are aware that I love to travel, especially to Latin America, and especially to countries with high biological and cultural diversity. Guatemala fits well into these categories. You’d expect that I’d be climbing volcanoes, looking for rare birds (the avian type, really!), swimming in lakes, and traipsing through rainforest. Probably I’d be leading an ecotour there. Those are all things I’d be expecting of myself, too. And frankly, I’d be a lot more comfortable, if that were the case.
But, this time I’m going to try something new. I’ll be participating in a medical mission with Timmy Global Health, a nonprofit organization that sends medical brigades to communities in Guatemala and Ecuador every two-three months. Because my Spanish is pretty good, I’ll be serving as the team’s interpreter, facilitating communication between the locals and the medical professionals on our team. And, I’ll be doling out medications (that we’re bringing with us) to needy campesinos in remote Mayan villages. Our week will consist of long hard days, mostly on our feet, meeting with lots of people, listening to them describe their pains and illnesses, and trying to help them in small ways.
The thought of this type of experience scares me. First, I’m not a medical specialist, and know little about health care, aside from the typical advice – e.g., when you have the hiccups, drink from the opposite side of the glass or get someone to scare the mierda (that’s Spanish for you know what) out of you. I’m told that previous medical knowledge is not required. Rather, all that’s needed is a willingness to contribute, a positive attitude, patience, flexibility, and a sense of humor. If anything, I might qualify for the latter, but only if laughing stops hiccups.
My other fears are numerous and eclectic. It could be depressing, having to face sick and injured people all day long. It is likely to be tiring, with little down time. It will require being indoors all day, depriving me of my freedom to move around as I wish. It will try my patience, as I will, no doubt, have to say the same things over and over again to different people. And, it will test my ability to interpret Spanish that may not be very clear (many of the patients are more comfortable speaking Mayan languages), and to correctly understand and transmit sensitive health concerns. Finally, it scares me because I may run into difficulties that I can’t even imagine at the moment.
This kind of work will be new to me. I don’t know how I will react and perform. As I near the second half of my fifth decade, I have a pretty good idea of who I am and what my strengths and weaknesses are. Regarding the latter, I’ve never been the compassionate, self-sacrificing caregiver type. Nor do I possess huge amounts of patience and fortitude. At least that’s how I think of myself – hopefully, others see me otherwise. If things go well, maybe I’ll see my self as otherwise, too. Which brings me to the reasons that I’m doing this, in spite of all my trepidations.
It’s time for me to challenge myself, not in a physical way but in an emotional, personal and social way. I want to do something outside my comfort zone, to test myself and learn more about what I’m capable of. I’m looking to do something that’s not already me or mine – something altogether different that benefits people, as well as the environment. For when people are healthy and have their basic needs met, they are better able to take care of themselves and the natural world around them.
I also want to immerse myself, even for a very short while, in a society and culture that’s different from my own. By working directly with individuals with critical and immediate needs, I hope to gain more insight into the human condition than I normally do from my travels that focus on the natural environment. I imagine that I will gain a sense of the fragility and the commonality of all people, wherever we are from, which can contribute to a better understanding of – dare I say compassion for? – others.
These are noble goals, no doubt. But even if a small portion of what I envision proves true, it will help me build my own character. And, it will contribute to building healthy (yes, pun intended) bonds between peoples with differing resources and perspectives. Finally, in a least case scenario, it might also provide a better cure for hiccups – which I’ll be happy to share if I can figure out how to translate it.