I was blessed to spend this week with a team from Arizona who came to Guatemala with open hearts to share God's love in tangible ways. Together with two Guatemalan doctors and a dental crew in a makeshift church "clinic", we saw several hundred patients. But more, we built relationships, listened, learned from, encouraged, received and played with the community of Pojopon. We were welcomed with open arms and the day we left was a celebration of many tears, hugs and photos with our new friends.
The days were as long as the patients lining up outside the church and I was stuck in a dark "cave" made from blankets hung by ropes from the very dimly lit church ceiling. However, God gave me strength and clarity with each patient to understand and help meet their needs...physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Dogs and children ran in and out from under the blanket dividers, grandmas beamed, proud men gave sincere thanks and widows cried.
There was a young man who could barely make eye contact due to the embarrassment of his sun allergy, an elderly woman who took nearly five minutes to move into the exam "room" due to pain from severe Osteoporosis and young children with illnesses they should not even have to think about. But so much joy. The church's pastor shared with us the vision God had given him for his church and community. We talked about the living water of Jesus and he told a story of faith and fresh water springing from dry ground where they are building a larger church. The church they have now is connected to the pastor's house so it was a tight fit for our "clinic" with our seemingly never ending lines of patients along f the adjacent cornfield. What a pleasure to spend time with these humble people of the Western Highlands in rural Guatemala.
The afternoon clouds rolled in and the rains came, yet from inside the blanket walls of my exam room I could still hear the sounds of my teammates praying for healing and helping people of all ages find the correct glasses prescription, the dentist drilling and the joy of children singing songs to God in Spanish. When I stepped out to the pharmacy counter the smiles beamed as children played with stickers and blown up exam gloves (no wonder my box of gloves was empty that last day). I rode away exhausted and yet full of love and encouragement, thanking God for His clear presence.
Our week in pictures below...click on the photos to view the captions.
As I sit on a comfortable wooden chair in my dimly lit kitchen staring at the bright screen of my 5 year-old laptop eating buttered bread (so grateful I brought a box of gluten free bread mix from the US!)...I think of all that I take for granted in life. Although I reside in Guatemala City, living off financial support and holding a large medical school debt that I willingly incurred in order to follow a call to the developing world, I still have much more than most people on earth. I am able to afford to rent a small, comfortable apartment in a safe neighborhood. I have a stove, refrigerator and small washer/dryer unit. These appliances may be from the 80's and all have malfunctioned several times, but for the most part they work. Although the shower pressure is lacking, many evenings I do have warm water. A grocery store that carries a variety of foods and medicines, nearly all of which I can afford if I needed them, is a mere 20 minute walk away. I currently have a fan blowing on me as I have been sweating from the heat and am drinking a glass of purified water while waiting for my vegetable soup to boil. I am educated and have had job offers in Guatemala City. I was born in a nation that is celebrating it's independence this weekend. Though it is far from perfect, it is vastly different from the corruption I see here daily. What I have may not sound that exciting to you and I, but for most Guatemalans these are all luxuries that many will never afford or see.
To put things a bit into perspective, recently I was in another noisy and polluted city called Chimaltenango. I was looking for a room or apartment to rent as I am considering working with a local organization there who works with the rural poor. Felipa, the director, took me to her friend's house. The husband and wife are what I would call middle-class for Guatemalans. They have their own small business as tailors and a simple cement home connected to their neighbors on a city block. I was greeted by their sweet smiles welcoming me inside. But from the moment we entered their house, a strong foul odor caught my attention and I it was difficult to imagine staying there more than a few minutes, much less living there. We walked into two empty cement rooms with dirty walls that were connected by a doorway. The husband pointed out the metal bars covering the one small window that didn't open and an (easily breakable) latch on the door to the noisy street outside. Concerned but not wanting to offend, I asked about the security of a gringa (foreigner assumed to have money) like myself and the possibility of attracting negative attention to the family or compromising the security of their home. They pointed to the cement wall that encircles their small dirt patio area and I immediately realized that anyone could easily scale it with a ladder.
Grateful to be outside and away from the large flies swarming in the room, I followed them to an open pipe with cold water coming out from under a set of stairs that I could use to shower. Being curious yet polite, I asked about where I might be able to cook. The couple looked at each other and then around a bit, eventually pointing to a small screened room outside with only a wooden sewing table inside and kindly offered it to me as a kitchen. As a water source they showed me their pila, a large outdoor cement tub, with standing water filled to the brim since that day they were able to get city water from the pipe. Drifting atop the water were plastic bowls used to pour the water over your hands or dishes for cleaning. They were eager to have me live there. Felipa explained that I would need a stove and refrigerator and they look at each other a bit puzzled. Unlike many Guatemalans, they actually have these appliances in their kitchen upstairs and it seemed like they were about to offer to share them with me but I didn't want to put them out. I was also realizing that although I've lived in some pretty primitive places, this would probably not be a feasible place for me to stay and still have the energy and health to serve the rural poor, who have so much less than even this family. I think Felipa was starting to realize the same thing, so we politely changed the conversation and soon thanked them for showing us their lovely home.
For the poor in Guatemala's rural areas, the situation is worse. Some survive on only tortillas and coffee. It is common practice to feed newborns a bottle with sugar saturated coffee and children sometimes drink sodas as the only water available is polluted with parasites. Children generally do not attend school past 6th grade and instead the girls help with washing, taking care of the babies and other house chores while the young boys work in the fields, sometimes with their father if they are blessed to have one present. Those farmers whose fields are not destroyed by mudslides and other natural occurrences that we in the US have the means to recover from, might at some point be able to buy vegetable seeds. But they frequently cannot afford to feed these nutrient dense vegetables to their families so instead they sell them far away in the city markets. Women continue to pass the day collecting firewood, grinding corn and making tortillas to feed their families.
In the end, though we are all born into different circumstances and some of us have more choices and opportunities than others, we are all given life and an ability to choose how we will live it. I am grateful that God brought me here to Guatemala to share his life and hope and also for daily opportunities to learn with my Guatemalan sisters and brothers. Regardless of our levels of education, upbringing, beliefs and cultural differences we are all perfectly created by a God who loves us. He is teaching me to keep my eyes on him, to learn how to be a good steward of what he has given me and to daily trust him, including with the vision he has put in my heart for the developing world.
Rachelle Price, ND
I am a naturopathic family physician, a graduate of naturopathic medical school at Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. After many years of feeling a call on my heart to pursue further education in health care to better serve in the developing world, I attended naturopathic medical school a few years after earning my Bachelor's of Science in Biology from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
My passion is learning from and serving my community as a physician, friend and educator. I focus on helping my patients discover the root cause of illness and improve their overall mind/body/spiritual health.
I also enjoy being active outdoors, backpacking, soccer, skiing, photography, cooking, gardening and working with medicinal herbs. Living simply, sustainably and creatively are important to me as well as song, laughter, music, friends, deep discussions and growing within a supportive community...and, I love to have fun.
Please peruse this website, check out my linked in profile or email me to learn more about me and how I practice naturopathic medicine.