Sunday, August 7, 2011

A quick letter home...

I need a quick vote…bat in the house…do I need to get it out? If so…how quickly??…I remember having to recommend rabies shots “just in case” to a child in the US that had merely kept a bat in a Styrofoam cup and looked at it through a cut-out hole…I also remember entering a cave after dark and finding a large rock to stand on so that I could listen and hear the bats flying around my head…so, for the current bat in our home here…I might feel hypocritical either way…

Well…as it was getting dark, we had closed the screen-less windows and doors to keep the number of mosquitoes inside to a minimum…so we re-opened the windows and doors and tried to inspire movement outwards…we turned on the lights and waited for the bat to fly out…the bat was flying around, yet not any closer to what seemed to me to be a fairly decent opening…especially considering everything I could remember from my safari animal wildlife card collection…up to this point I had incredible faith in their innate, non-visual ability to fly unimpaired through all sorts of obstacles…and additionally to find big openings…the bat kept landing upside down and hanging out (…) on the ceiling, so I had the idea to start up the new ceiling fan…it too had the desired effect….the bat was flying closer and closer to the doorway…it seemed like he/she was in tune with the fast-moving metal ceiling fan…avoiding it appropriately…then a fairly definite “TWAKK” echoed from above…the fan wobbled a bit, slightly off kilter…then it released the startled bat, which careened very much under gravity’s pull…it soared gracelessly nearly ten feet toward the open door…not only was it startled, it was also dead…I killed a bat, I couldn’t believe it…yep, doing great, productive work here in Colombia…the kids sitting in our doorway were completely amused…maybe at the dead bat, or maybe at my wide-eyed reaction…I found a broom and swept it into the rising water that is currently surrounding our home…I felt pretty smooth…

All is well here, from my own human standpoint…As this trip is to be slightly longer, it had the initial benefit of being better paced, so that I didn’t have to start teaching immediately. I have had a bit of time to organize things from home and get ready for things to come here. I spent the bulk of the week getting the office, equipment and medicines ready to start seeing patients and to travel to communities again. As always, there have been distractions. I am still fairly confused about the state of health care that is being provided in the town where I live, but I am learning more daily. People are really troubled due some recent changes that have made it more difficult for people to get medical attention. We aren’t really equipped to meet those needs in this bigger town, but the promoters in town and I are doing what we can. It is hard to walk down the street, and hear the stories and the general concern all around.

And the water is rising again. It is coming up fast. I think last year’s flood left so much sediment in the town that now all the homes seem closer to the ground. When I arrived last week, Main Street was dry; it is currently under water. The planks, serving as walkways, have been reconstructed. This is weighing heavily on people too, especially after last year’s long flood and subsequent destruction.

Despite the rising water and difficulty with health care, this has been a week of celebration here. This is the annual celebration of the local patrona, La Virgen del Carmen. Each day a different barrio pays tribute with music, dancing, processions and drinking. All this occurs in the street, as there isn’t a decent common space. I can't begin to describe the dancing here. There are amazing movements to beats I can't hear. It all culminated Saturday with church services and La Virgen taking a spin around the river and though the flooded streets. We have been keeping a low profile, but have enjoyed the festive mood.

After an amazing thunderstorm, I awoke yesterday morning happy that our water tank had filled from the rain. I cringed at myself as I looked down, fully knowing this would also mean that the water had also risen. Then my fellow volunteer, Teri and I got ready to walk to church. As she is still getting used to commuting on narrow, wobbly planks, we decided to use Main Street. Thinking that not only would the passage be easier, but it also had the additional advantage of being able to see the aftermath from the prior night’s festivities. There wasn’t much to see on Main Street beyond large expanses of water. We spent nearly 20 minutes trudging through nearly boot-height water. We searched for a route with established planks or at least water shallow enough to keep our feet dry. Over boats, around homes we went, and finally came within visual distance of the church. Our neighbor was perched in the doorway shouting helpful directions. “Step on that floating grate, not that side, the other one…good, now go straight toward the green house, then walk along it and then cross over here…”…after the focused trip, we were able to look up as we neared our destination…the normal congregation was depleted from La Virgen del Carmen celebration and the fact that the priest had left early in the morning for his annual retreat…we walked up the steps, dry and proud of arriving that way…it did take a village however…”great, they are here…now let’s start” said the nun (who is also one of our health promoters)…a man with cymbals stood up and started to play, the man with a goat-skin drum to my left took up the beat...and we were off…I don’t talk very much about going to church here. As we work locally as an arm of the Catholic Church, the church structure is more a part of my life here than it is at home. It is a great way to feel a part of the community and have access to the needs of the smaller communities in the area. The order of priests living here is dedicated to dispersing education into the more rural parts of the region. As we are doing the exact same thing for health care, our work is very similar, parallel and complementary. Getting to know the clergy is usually pretty entertaining. I can’t wait for their vote on the bat situation…

I wrote this note nearly a month ago. I want to send it along as I am feeling pretty far away. The past month has flown by. The treatment room is functional. The promoters are working in their communities. We are in phone contact with difficult cases. I just got home last week from a 10-day trip to 4 communities. Each time I go out, I learn new things and feel more a part of the work here. I hadn’t been to this particular river in nearly 3 years and it was great to go back. In our absence, the water has subsided slightly. I am currently in a bigger town preparing a course that starts the beginning of September. I head back Tuesday and leave for another visit to the communities at the end of the week.

Despite its brevity and lack of a catchy story-line, I am going to place this on blogspot. It is challenging to share what living and working here is like, but I love hearing how much people like reading about it.

I hope this finds people healthy and well.

Please take care,


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