Icoteas and The Orphans
Most of the team went to a clinic an hour away. I don’t think it was terribly far in distance, but we traveled down a dirt road that was clearly meant for horseback, not for our 35 passenger 1970’s vintage school bus. The clinic was on a hill which overlooked the adjacent palm plantation. Picture palm trees as far as the eye can see, a veritable ocean of palm. Absolutely beautiful.
We saw 115 patients. One was a baby with the worst case of chicken pox I have ever seen, but the doctors assured me that’s just how chicken pox looks in the third world. We also saw a 94-year-old woman. We’ll call her “Abuela” (grandmother). Tim, who was working the pharmacy, said the she required fewer prescriptions than anyone else we saw today.
That led me to wonder about several things. One was whether some of the patients come, not because they are sick, but because the clinic is open. They seem to subsist in villages that don’t have much industry. I’m sure a few of them must work for the palm plantation, but most seem to simply cluster around their homes, sit and talk. So I suspect a medical team coming in from the U.S. is probably not only a big opportunity to stock up on medicines (whether needed at the moment or not), but also just an attraction in general, something to do that breaks up the routine of normal life.
Abuela also led me to rethink my concept of a “significant” life. I tend to think of life as something of a movement, a striving to reach a higher level than our present one. I picture this movement being from subsistence (or dependence) to sustainability (or independence) to success (the ability to support others) to significance (the ability to help move others along the path). It’s been my way of saying that I think success is not the ultimate goal, that it’s possible to accumulate wealth and still be insignificant because of hoarding instead of helping. Or, as Jesus put it, “A man’s life does not consist in the sum of his possessions.” And I still think that’s true. Witness self-absorbed celebrities. The world seems to adore them. I have both loathed and pitied them.
But I wonder if “significance” fits what I’m really trying to say. Take Abuela. She’s lived 94-years in a remote village in Honduras. She’s lived all that time without owning, or accomplishing, much at all. Perhaps apart from this journal, no one will ever know of her or pause to contemplate the story of her life. But none of that makes her life insignificant. To the contrary, every one of us who saw her honored her just by virtue of her having survived a century of life in this rugged, desolate, difficult place. Her life is significant even apart from the ability to reach back and help others along the path of life.
So I have a lot of rethinking to do. In some very strange way, Abuela may have redeemed for me all those silly, self-absorbed celebrities.
We did triage on the porch of the small clinic. As we always finish before the doctors, I had more time to play with the children. At one point, I took an alcohol swab and wiped my face, both to partially remove the brown film that was gathering there and also to have at least a moment of coolness in the brutal heat and humidity. That led me to an idea. I began to give “makeovers” to the kids, wiping their faces with a swab. The loved the attention and the “pampering.” And I danced with a few, and sang “Eres Tu” when I had run out of other ideas.
I was touched particularly by one vivacious little girl, perhaps 9 or 10 years old. Her skin was lighter, more like mine than the caramel color of her compadres. But her most striking feature was her green eyes. She was simply beautiful. I called her “La Ojos Bonita.” She giggled, and it made my heart glad.
After supper, we had planned to travel to the orphanage. Instead, they came to us. Roughly 50 children, ranging from toddlers to teens, filled the small outdoor auditorium of the church next door. They were to perform a program a program for us, but saying that just doesn’t capture what actually happened. They swarmed us with love.
As I sat in the makeshift pew, Dixon sat next to me. He rested his arm on my leg and started patting my knee. Eventually, he scooted over until he was under my arm. His name was called and he went up front, because someone who supports him, Marci, had sent him a care package. He opened it with joy and wonder. Along with Marci’s picture and a sweet note, there was a coloring book and some colored pencils. There were also five rubber bracelets with the words “Admit, Believe, Confess”– he insisted that I take one. There was a pack of Orbit gum. He promptly took every stick, divided it into thirds, and shared with every other child. And there was a pack of Skittles. Those went unopened. Maybe he will get to keep those for himself, but I suspect everyone will get to taste the rainbow.
Just when I thought my heart could take no more, Joselyn, a girl of about four, decided she wanted to sit in my lap. She just rested there like that’s where she belonged. I started asking myself what the adoption procedure for Honduras must look like. And a little bit of my overflowing heart spilled out from my eyes.
The children’s program was emceed by one young lady who welcomed us. She introduced another young lady who prayed for us. Charlotte translated. Then, we watched children grouped by age or gender sing and dance. The highlight for me was when several boys took turns playing conga drums as other children performed various “cultural dances.” In the middle of this routine, Roger, a seventyish doctor who loves to dance, took the arm of a young lady and joined in to add a little South Carolina culture to the mix. He expertly blended his shagging to the rhythm of the drums and led the young lady so adroitly that it appeared she knew the moves, too. They brought joyous laughter and received well-deserved cheers from Honduran children and American adults.
God bless Sister Leonarda, who manages all of this by herself. He alone knows how.