Clinic time has always been a place for me to truly see the people, and by see I mean to know the heartbeat of the culture as well as to connect with the hearts of the people. In my first few years here I could be easily brought to tears through some of the stories that were told, by seeing a malnourished baby or listening to the concern that a father had for their daughter. Over the years much of this has not changed. Each of our clinics is diverse and the people that come there have their own flavor. This past Thursday we had our monthly clinic in Chumisa. This is an area of spiritual darkness where we leave wondering sometimes how we were received and if anyone is listening as Armando preaches. It is an area to be easily discouraged also as the people are less receptive and different. We have many questions over stories that we hear and people that we meet.
Our placement here though has been unique as the village leaders actually invited us to come almost 2 years ago. They have invested time in building a block building that we can use for clinic and they organize the people for us while we are there keeping watch over everything that we do. As I watch them I sometimes wonder what they are thinking or if they are listening during the preaching, but I have learned in this culture that it is very difficult to read faces or eyes. Their ears are always listening and they hear you even when they appear to be disinterested.
By spiritually dark I mean that Mayan law, as well as Mayan religion, are very strong in this area. Although some of the men have been to the states, there has been little outside influence or governmental influence in this area. It was one of the last areas to get electricity and many Guatemalans will not venture into this area. There is no church in this area and we have found a very strong pagan and idol tradition. In these areas witchcraft and other medicine is often used to cast spells upon people as well as “heal”. In fact, for most of the day on Thursday we were serenaded by a chanting of some sort for a celebration that was occurring very close to our clinic. We witnessed a “parade” of people carry idols down the hill, in front of the clinic and then have a gathering with them beside the clinic.
Many of the people of Chumisa were consumed with this celebration, we did have some bright spots in clinic. One thing that we noticed was there were more professing Christians in clinic – truly clinging to their faith. One woman came in with a large mass in her abdominal region. She has been experiencing pain and has felt weak and sick for a year now. Her ten children have left her body ravaged for strength, but an ultrasound revealed the growth that is more than likely cancerous. In explaining the news to her, Leslie asked her if she was in a church and her face lit up. I noticed not only did she have a smile on her face, but the lady who was having her own consult next to her slid closer to her while we prayed for her and also added bits of information about their church.
Later on in clinic a woman came in with her two youngest children concerned for their health. Her seven year old daughter looked about the size of a four year old and had swollen hands and feet – one of the last stages of malnutrition. Her younger daughter was faring about the same. As she told a story that has become all too familiar with us, her countenance and demeanor was different. Her husband left her for another woman and now she was left alone to care for her eight children. She had become worried about their health and so she came for them to be evaluated. Leslie asked her about going before the village leader or getting help (child support in Guatemalan terms) for the children because often times the village leaders will require fathers that abandon their children to do this, but her response was factual and decisive – No, she wasn’t going to do that. She didn’t want to hold any grudges against him or cause any problems. Even more, she didn’t want another husband either because then her children would be mistreated – sent to collect firework and do all of the work. And she didn’t want that to happen either. This is a mama who truly is putting her trust in God and her children first. In Guatemalan culture, if a woman takes another man, the children from her first husband are often mistreated and treated like the “Cinderella children” because they are not his blood. Occasionally we will hear of a man who does not cast off these other children, but all too often they are abused and mistreated. Hearing her speak this truth was encouragement – not that she is now left alone to care for these children, but that she loves them enough and understands that her worth does not come from how she is treated. She is in the church and supported by the church and is at peace with knowing she will be the sole caregiver for her children.
Our last patient of the day was a boy almost two years old. Her whimpered a little as Leslie listened to his mama and looked in his ears and listened to his lungs. His stats were in the 50s meaning that his oxygen level was extremely low and her had progressed pneumonia. His first treatment of the best antibiotic that we had he threw up. Knowing that there was little chance that he would make it, Leslie talked to the mom again about taking him to the hospital. She offered to give them a ride to Canilla and help them get there. As we took her to her house, her family ran down the driveway shouting. This young mom was met by her parents and soon a young boy was sent to get the father of the child. When he came they consulted. Knowing that they would be unfairly treated in the hospital and the child would most likely die there, they chose the option of praying for him and trusting him to live with the antibiotic we could give. His chances are slim, but we understand. We have watched so many go to the government system and return home without their children. It seems that there has to be a better option.
The family discussing their options.
We had many new villages and people in clinic that we had never seen before which means that our reach is expanding and our light is being cast among the shadows in this area. We only visit Chumisa once a month because of the distance and the demands that we have, but we trust this place is hearing the truth and will one day comprehend what all of that means.