Living in Central America (in my case Honduras and Guatemala) is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…
week ago we were on our way to the doctor in Guatemala without a clue about what
could possibly await us after that split-second decision to leave Teresa (a
56-year old woman from a small village in Copán with a terrible infection in
her face) behind for emergency surgery.
whole week has been about Teresa. Each morning started with excited yells back and forward as my
roommate Argi and I happily exchanged how many more donations we received
overnight in our Paypal accounts. The next thing would be a call to Teresa to
see how she was doing and how many times she went to the bathroom. Yes, life
turns surreal when your first thought on a Sunday morning is: I hope Teresa
peed well! Not that the danger was anything surreal, because the medication is
very hard on the kidneys and at the first sign of kidney failure, we were to
take her of those specific antibiotics. Which could lead to yet another
problem, since Teresa already turned out to be resistant to the first
antibiotics prescribed. But all well, she had a blood analysis yesterday and
there’re no problems on the kidney front.
I’d start writing people thank you notes, update the blog, inform people how to
donate and so on while Argi would call the doctor in Guate for a daily update
and make sure the right medications were taken on the right time. It was not so
much time consuming as attention absorbing. And besides Teresa’s health, it was
also the uncertainty whether we would be able to raise enough money that was quite stressfull.
we went to visit Teresa who’s staying at her colleague’s house, just outside
Copán. Logistically it’s much easier to stay there, with of all the
nurses’ and doctors’ visits, but also because Helda’s home is, though tiny,
well built, meticulously clean and much easier to maintain that way than
Teresa’s own house where it’s a coming and going of neighbours, kids, dogs, cats
and chickens. I think she’s secretly also happy to be away from the family and
village hubbub for a bit. After all, a lot of people in her village, including some
family members, believe that the maggots that were crawling out of her face were
a result of witchcraft, which doesn’t do much good for relationships within the
Teresa was doing great when we saw her, talkative and joking around. I think
she only half understands the effort it has been on behalf of so many people to
get her were she is now, which is fine, because she’s the last person to worry
about that. She told us how friendly the people in the hospital had been and
that it wasn’t half as bad as she had expected (Little does she know that she
stayed in a private hospital, because the surgery was anything but regular, and
yes, that’s why she didn’t have to share the bed with two other patients!) and
how great people have been in general. She is very grateful for all help
received. And it’s just about the money, it’s knowing she was not alone when she
most needed help.
Thursday she’s going back to the clinic for a check-up and from there probably
back to her mountain. Unless there are some major changes or complications, I
guess this will be my last post on Teresa. Weird. Sad somehow too. Of course
we’ll continue to visit and monitor Teresa in the following weeks, but all the
excitement of last week will leave a strange hole behind.
behalf of Teresa, her family, Argi and me, there are really no words that can
thank you enough, all those wonderful people who stepped up and generously
donated to help out a poor women many of you have never met. It has been an
amazing experience, starting in great anguish, ending in a jubilant success,
making Teresa’s health a small victory, if not for entire mankind, then at
least for Teresa and for all of us involved, learning yet again that there are
so many people full of compassion and generosity among us, and that makes all the difference.
that leaves us here. Mission
accomplished! We have raised more than enough money, a whooping total of $3,611!
Please don’t send us any more money (but if you do, we’ll make sure it gets to
so much to the following people:
Interiano, Al Steele, Alejandro Ferraro, Alice Dearden, Alice Wilbur, Amanda
Mopeth, Anna Smith, Annemie van Nieuwenhove & Geert van Vaeck, Argi Diez,
Beatriz & Aura Martínez, Bill Corba, Bill Sain, Café San Rafael, Carlos
Alvarado, Cesar Borregón, Darlene Carlton & Gary, Diana Pineda, Elisa Orsburn, Elizabeth Butler, Elsa Rubin & Lizzette Soto,
Fito Alvarado, Flavia Cueva, Frida Larios, Hacienda San Lucas, Heather Butler,
Helena Ihamuotila, Hilda Santos, Jennifer Casolo &; Pedro, Jessica Fashun, Jody Patterson & Paul Willcocks, John
& Marianne Bodrug, Josue, Karen Leiva & Bill Hare, Katie Miller &
Marc Wolf, Kristin Landau, Mark Zipperer, Michelle Fitz, Michelle Vandepas,
Miguel Raymundo, Missy Kluth, Nina du Mée & Ingrid Schreuder, Open Edge, Paola Carías, Personnel
Hacienda San Lucas, Oneida Rivera, Radiant Health Institute, Rina Peña, Robyn
& Geoff Affleck, Ronald Speer, Señor X, Shannon Kring, Suzette Cardona, Wendy
Russell and Yvonne Santiago.
is back home! (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, see my previous post
how the healthcare of one person in a remote village in a far corner of Honduras can
mobilize so many people from all over the world. We have received donations
from as far as Chile!
But beside our friends; friends of our friends; and friends of friends of
friends who have so generously donated to this cause, there are many others
the cash we received and adding up the donations through Paypal and bank
deposits was a lot of fun and a huge relief, although a bit complicated because
of the various accounts we used and donations in no les than five different
currencies (American dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, Lempiras and Quetzales).
A friend who’s in the in & export business offered us to use her bank
account to deposit the Lempiras and take it out straight away in dollars (or
was it the other way around?), just to save a few bucks there. She also set us
up with a trusted money exchanger at the border who gave us a good deal. When
all the cash was changed intoGuatemalan
quetzales, Teresa’s coworkers Bea and
Pilo left for Chiquimula to pick up her up and buy her medication, at least for
a few days, because we planned to buy the rest in Honduras at a lower price. That
turned out to be a bit more complicated than expected and required in the end
visits to several pharmacies, but they managed to get a supply for three days
of super duper and very expensive antibiotics.
was happy to go home, although the doctor would have preferred to keep her a
few more days. But we simply can’t afford it. At least we made sure she’ll
receive all the care she needs in Copán, including some new rules on hygiene
that will have to be applied in her home. Bea paid off the hospital bills and
left around $300 for the surgery, which was still $1000 short (we had some more
money in our accounts, but Paypal transfers last 1-3 days) but the doctor was
so nice to give is a few more days to pay. By the way, I want to give this
doctor (Dr. Jorge Mario Mendez Paiz) maybe the biggest THANK YOU of all,
because without hesitation he operated on Teresa, knowing very well that none
of us had any money and all of us being foreigners too!
Teresa came home in the early evening. Happy. For us, the shock was that we
learned that the antibiotics she needed were much more expensive than we
expected: at least $800!!!! She was supposed to get her first intravenous
antibiotic treatment at home right then and there (through a catheter in her
hand she had gotten in the hospital) but the medication they brought back from Guatemala was
in powder form, and didn’t come with the IV fluid. It was too let to find any.
Oops! More phone calls to doctors which ended with the decision to give her an
injection of other antibiotics in her behind, administered by a friend of us, a
nurse, who was so nice to go all the way to Teresa’s house in the middle of
nowhere at 9pm… It turned out that Teresa needs three injections a day and as
nice as our friend is, he’s not that
nice… (Actually, he is, he just has other things to do too.) But another
solution presented itself: Hellda, a co-worker of Teresa offered to take her in
for a few days. She lives in a village much closer to town and in a concrete
house, much easier to maintain clean than Teresa's humble house made of mud and
sticks. Helda’s neighbour is a nurse, so the injections are no longer a
the meantime yet other friends were in San
Pedro Sula buying the antibiotics we needed. Teresa
was brought to town for a visit to the clinic and then to Helda’s home when we
received the results of the exams from the doctor in Guatemala: it turned out that
Teresa is resistant against the main antibiotic that she needs. This is a mayor
problem for Teresa (for now, but also in the future) but something that happens all too often
due to the fact that here you get antibiotics for the slightest sneeze. And also
because people stop taking the pills as soon as the symptoms of their illness disappear.
Anyway, we were just in time to call our friend in San Pedro Sula NOT to buy
the antibiotics. Unfortunately we already bought 3 doses in Guatemala, but maybe we’ll be able
to resell those through doctor and pharmacist friends.
spent much of the morning in doctors’ clinics to discuss Teresa’s antibiotics
treatment and as far as I understand, they worked something out. So far, all
goes well. Teresa is doing okay, although the bones of her face have been
affected too, we’ll need to monitor her kidney closely. and she’s in a lot of pain, so the
road to full recovery will take a while.
for Argi and me, we are very happy that more donations have kept coming in and
we hope they continue to do so. We were very excited when we reached the amount
of $2,500, thinking we were almost there (the hospital bill and surgery were
$2,600 together), but the medication and after care is going to be more
expensive than we hoped for. But we can’t complain: so far we have $2,887.72,
which is more than I could ever hope for when we sent out our cry for help less
than three days ago.
is what we raised/spent so far:
Millennium Hospital$ 1,366.00
(bought in Guate)$130.00
(bought in Copán)$49.00
& necessities for Teresa$50.00
Still needed for medication
and follow-up care: About $ 500.
you want to make a donation, you can do so using Paypal (connected to my email
address carinsteen at yahoo.com) or write me for other options (bank deposit,
Western Union etc.)
Thanks so much to the following people who
have donated and/or helped otherwise:
Interiano, Al Steele, Alejandro Ferraro, Alice Dearden, Alice Wilbur, Anna
Smith, Annemie van Nieuwenhove & Geert van Vaeck, Argi Diez, Beatriz & Aura
Martínez, Bill Corba, Café San Rafael, Carlos Alvarado, Cesar Borregón, Diana
Pineda, Elisa Orsburn, Elizabeth Butler, Fito Alvarado, Flavia Cueva, Frida
Larios, Hacienda San Lucas, Heather Butler, Helena Ihamuotila, Hilda Santos,
Jennifer Casolo Pedro, Jody
Patterson & Paul Willcocks, Josue, Katie Miller & Marc Wolf, Mark
Zipperer, Michelle Fitz, Michelle Vandepas, Miguel Raymundo, Missy Kluth, Open
Edge, Paola Carías, Personnel Hacienda San Lucas, Oneida Rivera, Radiant Health
Institute, Rina Peña, Robyn & Geoff Affleck, Ronald Speer, Shannon Kring,
Wendy Russell and Yvonne Santiago.
Doña Teresa in better times (artwork/photo by Frida Larios and Tyler Orsburn)
two days ago around this hour I had just come back from a trip to Chiquimula, Guatemala,
to the vet. It was only sort of a coincidence that we took Doña Teresa, a lady
from a small village near Copán with us to see an orthodontic surgeon because
of the nasty infection a pulled tooth had left her. Little did we know that the
situation was so grave that there was no option left: we had to leave Teresa
behind for emergency surgery, if not she would surely die soon…
left me and my friend Argi baffled and overwhelmed, to say the least, but also
very preoccupied. The whole treatment was calculated to cost about $4,000 and
where the hell would we get that kind of money from?
since it was either taking Teresa back with us and let her die a painful death
or leave her behind and have her have her surgery… As I said, there was no
there we went, back to Copán, in the back of the pick-up truck with our rather
subdued dogs on our laps. The conversation went something like this:
we do the right thing?”
course we did, we had no choice.”
how are we going to pay for the operation???”
idea, but we’ll find a way.”
but we’ll find a way.”
we’ll find a way. Any ideas?”
of us slept very well that night ($4,000 hospital bills kept popping up in my
dreams) but probably not half as bad as Doña Teresa whom we had left without
even a pair of clean underwear. But as dawn arrived, we continued our quest.
Argi went to work early in the morning and learned that Teresa’s son and daughter-in-law
had already left for Chiquimula. That was a good thing, at least she wouldn’t
be alone when she’d wake up after her surgery. Argi spent the rest of the
morning talking to doctors to find out ways to cut down costs, for example by
bringing Teresa back to Copán, even though the specialist in Chiquimula would
like to keep her there for at least ten days. But at $50 a day, plus medication
and no money, well… how??? The local doctors as well as the surgeon agreed
finally that we could bring her home after three nights in the hospital and
that we could give her intravenous antibiotics here in Copán, which turns out
to much cheaper in Honduras
anyway. So far, all well. Teresa was doing reasonably well, although in a lot
of pain and with a face swollen up about three times the size it was before she went into surgery.
spent my morning writing my blog post and writing emails. Argi and I agreed to
get together in the afternoon to synchronize our posts and start asking for
money wherever we could, because so far the operation had gone well, but it was
on our shoulders to somehow pay for it all. We were both on the edge and
extremely nervous but especially Argi was hit very hard. She sounded awfully
depressed when I talked to her several times on the phone, so I offered, the
least I could do, to make her a nice dinner.
we got together yesterday afternoon we were still $4,000 in the red, but had
our petitions ready. We both posted them on Facebook and through emails and sat
down for dinner.
let me tell you, I don’t believe in witchcraft and I am a 100% sure that Teresa’s
horrible worms are the result of a nasty fly and an infection, not of any sort of black
magic. But still, I can’t stop believe in miracles.
had just sat down for dinner (nice steamed tilapia and pasta with mustard
leaves) taking our first bite when: Pling!
computer. Facebook message. A pledge for a $50 donation!
Argi’s laptop. A $100 donation in Paypal!
Mine again. Another donation!
went on and on. Friends started sharing our links and the whole thing went
viral. When I went to bed around 10pm we had already raised about $700. That
was 700 times more than with what we had started the day…
these things take a spurt and then die a quick death. But oh, no, not Teresa’s
case. Today I spent the whole day answering emails to people I’ve never met in my
life but who were willing to help Teresa out. I went to the bank to pick up
donations through Western Union and from friends
in town and did one Paypal tranfser after the other. I just met Argi this afternoon
and we were besides ourselves, piling up cash. So far we have raised about
$2,000!!!! After talking to the doctor, we have now narrowed down the bills to
$2,600, not including the medications Teresa will need, plus the after care. But
in the end, we think around $3,000 will do, which is at least a $1,000 less
than we originally thought.
still not there yet, but already soooo much further than we ever imagined being
only 24 hours ago. Tomorrow we’ll bring Teresa back home. Her family is already
preparing the house, cleaning it and making it as adequate as possible for a
adventure isn’t over yet, but we’re getting there. I can’t thank people enough
for their generosity, trust and faith.
(Donations can be made through Paypal connected to my email adress: carinsteen at yahoo.com )
poor and living in the Honduran countryside is hard as it is, but some families
have some extra blows to deal with.
is about a family that I’ve known for years, living in a small village near Copán
Ruinas. The oldest kids were some of the first students I ever taught and the
rest of the brothers and sisters steadily followed over the years,
participating in our photo, mapping, art and video projects.
remember all too well how we celebrated the end of a video project about five
years ago when we noticed that one of the participants, the thirteen year old
daughter of this particular family, looked a bit chubby. I remember thinking
that she might be pregnant but discarded the idea. I mean, I’m all too aware
about teenage pregnancies, but this one was only thirteen and still such a
a shock to get a phone call only a day after that the girl, let’s call her
Doris, was rushed to the hospital in Santa Rosa de Copán were she had given
birth to a premature but otherwise healthy baby boy. Her mother, Doña Teresa
was there with her, without money or clothes, so with some friends we put some
things together and sent it to the hospital.
baby boy turned out to be the cutest thing ever and is going to school this
year. His mother Doris is also back in school while her mother watches her son.
So far, so good.
real tragedy struck when not long after the birth of yet another mouth to feed,
Teresa’s sister Leticia, mother of a six year old daughter, was diagnosed with
cancer, a nasty tumor right behind her eye.
to doctors isn’t easy if you are not used to it since birth, let alone if you
don’t have the money to pay for it. But luckily, Leticia was not alone. Argi,
the manager of a local B&B where both Teresa was working, dragged her along
to a doctor in town and from there from one specialist to another. She
contacted a medical brigade (the Rice Foundation) that comes to Honduras to do
surgery once a year and Leticia had surgery twice in the following years plus
fellow-up chemotherapy treatment. That was quite an ordeal too, because she had
to travel to San Pedro or Tegucigalpa,
scary as hell for a country girl that had never traveled further than the
central park of Copán Ruinas. Leticia was doing much better every day and
learned to smile and enjoy life again. Alas, not for very long. Despite the
operations and treatment, Leticia passed away last year. Her daughter is being
raised by her sister Teresa and her grandmother. Leticia was only 33 years old.
doesn’t only look after her children and grandchildren all by herself, she also
takes care of her elderly mother Doña Munda. This old lady isn’t too fond of
the modern ways of life, such as using a latrine, so she does it the way she
always did. One day, about two years ago, she was just doing her business in
the bushes on the edge of the village when a friend of mine walked by with his
dogs and a tourist he was guiding around. Doña Munda all of a sudden appeared
from the bushes, startling everyone, especially one of my friend’s dogs, who
thought she was a fiendish enemy, and bit her in the leg. Although not life threatening,
it was a nasty wound, so my friend did what needed to be done and took her to
the nearest clinic. This was easier said than done, because they were way up in
the mountains. Luckily, the tourist that accompanied him was a big fellow, so
he scooped the tiny Doña Munda up in his arms and carried her all the way down
to where the car was parked. From there they drove her to the clinic, gave her
money for treatment and a taxi back home and then continued their hike. There
wasn’t much they could do for Doña Munda at the moment: she was in good hands
(her daughter Leticia was there too), and the tourist had paid for his now much
deserved hike after all. So far so good. Except that ten minutes later the
clinic was robbed by some armed guys and the doctor and patients were all
robbed of their valuables.
everything, Doña Munda was doing okay, she just needed daily shots of
antibiotics for a week or so, so the same friend (who happens to be a nurse)
went up to the village every day for the next week to give her the injection.
year, bad luck yet again. Six months ago, Doña Teresa went to the health centre
in town to have a molar pulled and the wound got infected. The same friend who
had helped her sister, Argi, dragged her from doctor to dentist to yet another doctor.
Teresa received various antibiotic treatments but the swelling wouldn’t go down
and over the months she got sicker and sicker. Last week, the family was in the
middle of a praying session when all of a sudden worms crawled out of Teresa’s
eye and cheek. Shock and panic all over and the conclusion was, of course:
intervened yet again and after consulting some local doctors, she made an
appointment with an orthodontic surgeon in Chiquimula, a town in Guatemala at
about an hour and a half drive, for us in Copán the nearest medical facility.
She was going there anyway because Argi’s employers dog needed chemotherapy
treatment. My dog was sick as well, so I went along for the ride.
I took the dogs to the vet, Argi went with Teresa and her daughter in law María
to the lab for an x-ray and from there on to the surgeon. The news was bad. The
infection had spread beneath the skin of her whole face and larvae were eating
away the rotten flesh. The larvae are from a fly that usually infects only
horses, but isn’t too picky on which kind of infected skin it lays its eggs. Apparently,
Teresa had had some teeth pulled previously (or they had fallen out, that’s
unclear), but the roots were never removed. They are now also infected and
feasted upon by the larvae. The main problem however, was that the infection is
still spreading and can get her brain infected anytime, which will most likely
result in death. So the surgeon suggested to operate her as soon as possible,
but wanted to consult wit a colleague, an internist, first.
we waited for another few hours and for more bad news: the internist agreed and
insisted on emergency surgery. So from there we went straight to the hospital
were yet another doctor came to the same conclusion: an operation as soon as
possible, or else…
problem was… A surgery costs an enormous amount of money, at least for people
here. A quick calculation by the doctor came up to $4000. Daughter in law Eva
went pale when she heard that amount and said that she hoped that the doctor
was talking about 4,000 Lempiras and not 4,000 Quetzales. Unfortunately I had
to tell her he was talking about dollars, which comes up to about 80,000 Lempiras.
what to do? Argi explained the doctor that Teresa has no money whatsoever, but since
it really was a matter of life or death, he promised to do the operation
at 5.30pm we left Chiquimula to go back to Honduras, one person short. It was
awful to leave poor Teresa behind, without toiletries or anything, but at least
she was well taken care of while getting ready for the operation this morning.
latest news is that the operation went well but they want to keep her in the
hospital for another ten days. This costs a considerable amount of money (about
$50 per day), but Argi has been going around doctors in town and has been in
contact with the surgeon in Guatemala and they all agree that Teresa can get
the intravenous antibiotic treatment here in Copán at a lower price, which will
lower the overall costs considerably. But still, assuming there will be no
complications, we’re looking at a huge amount of hospital bills…
for how to pay for it all? That still remains the big question… Argi and I are
writing letters to any person or institution that might help. So far we have
$500 pledged. This family has been lucky enough in all their tragedy to receive
help when needed and we hope that once more they will. So if you want to help
out, any donation is more than welcome! We need money and we need it NOW!!!
privacy reasons I have changed some of the names and omitted last names as well
as the name of the village the family is from. If you’re interested in helping
Doña Teresa, I can give you specified details on the treatment and other
details. Please write me at: carinsteen at yahoo.com.)
a year or so, the small town of Copán
Ruinas has a Big Supermarket. A real one. As in a
small cousin of the Wallmart family. And I don’t go there.
hardly ever. I’m compellingly local to local producers, the market and of
course Doña Berta’s (read my previous post for a description of that fabulous
store) but every once in a while I go to the supermarket, especially when I have
to buy lots of beers (I have lots of thirsty friends). The beer is $0,25
cheaper than at Dona Berta’s, so that’s a $3 discount on two six-packs. Worth walking
the extra block.
the other day I went there again (oh those thirsty friends!) and couldn’t help
laughing at how out of place this store is. I mean, they did try. It’s not even as ugly as other supermarkets of the same
chain, because the architect went out of its way to conform with Copán Ruinas’
never implemented urban plan and its restrictions. So there’s a lot of woodwork
and tiles on the outside as well as all the conveniences offered at other
stores, such as a spacious parking lot with a separate entrance and exit. There
are even two parking spots reserved for disabled people, which is very
considerate since the parking lot is actually the ONLY place in Copán where
people in wheelchairs, roller scooters, rollators, the blind, the limp and mothers
with pushchairs can move around without tripping, bumping, skipping or
hopscotching. The entrance/exit is a different story, because the entrance is
at the left, the exit at the right. People in this part of the world tend to
keep right, so if you’re bored out of your mind and want to have some fun, sit
at the steps of this supermarket and watch how cars regularly almost collide
before the drivers get out of their cars for a stand off about who’s right (or
left, in this case). Another very funny thing is the sign at the parking lot
that says you can only leave kids in the car under supervision of an adult. Nothing
about maybe leaving a window open. So I guess smothering kids in cars accompanied
by adults are okay.
funny are the tremendous speakers outside the store that almost blast you from
the stairs. No soft, soothing elevator musac on the background here. But you
won’t find that anywhere in Honduras
anyway. Here the retail philosophy is: the bigger the boom box, the higher the
sales. I’m not the greatest fan of musac either, but the Honduran alternative
is worse. I’m just glad I don’t live next door to the store.
the store looks pretty much like every other supermarket in the world. The
products are plenty, but basic, so unless you are in love with MSG, as most
Hondurans are, there’s not much variety. Lots of Bimbo bread (a friend recently
told me he uses it as a pillow when he’s out in the field. Says it works great,
like memory foam!), sodas, beer (yes) and cleaning supplies. The supplies are clearly
based on the demands in a small town, but the service pretends to be, or
actually pretty much is, big city.
that is a problem, because many
people here, especially the ones from the mountain villages, have never been to
a supermarket and don’t know how to act like big city consumers. So forget
about waiting neatly in a line. Hell no, people will actually walk around you
in the narrow passage between two checkouts, and lay their products on the
counter without waiting their turn. And the idea about a quick check-out? Forget
it! Just like at Doña Berta´s, each costumer needs to discuss the weather, the
latest politics, and oh my, if someone has died, the line lasts forever.
also no credit at this supermarket, so you can’t just buy whatever you want and
have it written down in an old dog-eared notebook. So people load up a bunch of
stuff in their arms (few people use the shopping baskets or carts, another
novelty in town) without doing the math, so when they’re at the counter and are
told how much they have to pay, they start taking things away until they can
afford what’s left. No problem, but it sometimes lasts forever while the
counter gets loaded with not such necessary stuff.
are the signs on the many refrigerators that ask people to choose before opening the door. I guess there
are many analphabetics under the customers. Also new in town are the coins. The
prices are not neatly rounded as they are everuwhere else in Copán (even if you
want to buy a 50 cent piece of candy each, you’ll just have to buy two!), so
you always end up with a few coins which are a pain in the butt if you carry
your money, as local custom for women’s requires, in your bra.
one thing I absolutely dolike in this supermarket is that they
charge you for each plastic bag. Now, that might actually cause a riot in town…