Saturday, July 17, 2010

Final Reflections / One-Way Tickets

In terms of material possessions, Carey and I are leaving Guatemala tomorrow with less than when we arrived. In terms of lessons learned, however, we return to the States richer than we could have ever imagined.

Most Important Lessons Learned:
1. It's all about family, friends and faith. The rest is just details.
2. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
3. When you know your neighbors, it's a lot easier to love them.
4. When you learn another's language, you acknowledge their worth.
5. All the "things" you really need can fit into two suitcases and a carry-on.
6. There is great joy in giving.
7. God is SO much bigger than we realized.
8. If given the opportunity to drive a chicken bus, take it!
9. Personal hygeine is overrated ; )
10. As a good life rule, beware of foods that start with "ch..." (especially chicharron, which is pig skin)

What We'll Miss Most:
1. Those who have become our Guatemalan family, especially Lety
2. Playing with children at the preschool
3. Greeting neighbors in the street
4. The generosity of those who have so little
5. Inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables and inexpensive services (e.g., $2 haircuts and $15 computer repairs)
6. Joking around with the clinic staff (except the blank stares, of course, which usually followed Jay's attempts at humor in Spanish).

What We Won't Miss:
1. Roosters!
2. Bed bugs and mosquitoes
3. Fear of water (Did you disinfect that??!!)
4. Black beans and corn tortillas at every meal
5. Chicken bus fumes during the long commute to the clinic
6. "Fijase que..." (which always proceeded bad news)

U.S. To-Do List:
1. Hug our family and friends
2. Flush a whole roll of toilet paper (just because we can!)
3. Drink water straight from the faucet
4. Eat Tex-Mex until we're sick
5. Take a bath (Carey); continue to avoid bathing (Jay)
6. Go to Sonic between 2-4 p.m. to enjoy a happy hour Route 44 Cherry Limeade
7. Share our experiences with anyone who will listen

The Salud y Paz staff gave us a beautiful sendoff with hymns, heartfelt songs, and communion.
The "guardian" of the SYP clinic, Tomin, his wife, Micaela, and their son, Tomas

The preschool cook, Sebastiana, and teachers, Mary and Paulina

We both shared our appreciation for and love of those who make up Proyecto Salud y Paz

At the end of the service, Juan presented us with a beautiful, homemade wall hanging. And although they have so little, every single staff member gave us a gift. To say the least, their generosity was overwhelming.

One-Way Tickets
Every journey has to come to an end, and it now time for us to leave Guatemala. We fulfilled a life-long dream by learning Spanish and living and working in a developing country, leaving us with happy hearts and cherished memories. The lessons we learned here will forever influence the way we live our lives. It is for this reason that we have decided to make this country and its people the primary recipient of our giving for the rest of our lives.
To those of you who have supported us through your generous giving, encouraging words, and ongoing prayers, we are eternally grateful. We could not have done this work without you.
Dios les bendiga siempre (God bless you always).
Salud y Paz,
Jay & Carey

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

Carey and I were recently invited into the home of our friend Sebastiana, who works as the cook at the preschool. She is one of the hardest-working and nicest people we have met here. If she lived in the States, we are convinced that she would be the C.E.O. of a major company. In order to support her family (husband and five kids) AND finish school (she went back to get her degree and is currently in the 4th grade), Sebastiana wakes up at 4:30 a.m. each day to travel an hour and a half to get to the school. And get this - she had us over for lunch last Saturday to thank US for our work with the project.

Carey and I were so impressed that Sebastiana was willing to invite us over despite her family's poverty. It was humbling to be in her house and receive such hospitality. I can't imagine how much it cost them to buy so many drinks and cook so much food for us. We initially tried to explain to her the week before that we are vegetarians - but I guess it was lost in translation. Carey wanted so much to make a good impression that she ate BEEF for the first time in 10 years! From here on she will be known as Carney.

Sebastiana also gave both of us purses (mine is more of a European carry-all). Her acts of generosity were extremely inspiring to us. How can someone with so little give so much? Hmmm....

Passing of the Torches:
It's official: Carey's replacement Janet has arrived and is the NEW Susana Wesley Preschool Director!
It's also clear that Jay is extremely happy to pass the sacred team folder (and all the duties that go with it) to his successor Wayne. Wayne is with his first team today and no doubt will learn the ropes fast.

The biggest reason it's easy for us to leave next week is because we know we have really incredible people filling our shoes here. Best of luck and vaya con Dios, Wayne and Janet!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Going to the Chapel...

We got to attend our first Guatemalan wedding recently and it was quite the marathon fiesta. An hour and a half civil ceremony was followed by an hour and a half religious ceremony which was followed by many, many hours of eating, speeches, dancing, and more eating.
The happy couple: Edwin (who works in the Salud y Paz clinic lab) and his beautiful bride Fabiola. The religious ceremony was actually pretty similar to the ones we're accustomed to in the States except they do this cool thing where they wrap the groom in the bride's veil.
Of 250+ people there were only 3 of us gringos. For the first time in my life I was the tallest person in the room (actually, our friend Heather is a little taller than me - OH, the injustice!)
Carey and I received a great honor from Edwin & Fabiola: they asked us to be the Padrinos del Pastel, meaning we bought the cake for the wedding. I told the Priest to refer to me as the Sugar Daddy, but he wouldn't go for it. Geez, talk about uptight. To any extent, it was a bigger deal than we expected b/c we processed in with the bride and groom and then sat by them throughout the ceremony. Here's one tradition I know most couples wish would fail to translate across cultures.
As Sugar Daddy & Mama we got to serve everyone cake. I saved a 1/2 pound piece for us then proceeded to go into a sugar-induced coma.
Congratulations Edwin & Fabiola!!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

If Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy

Like most non-profits in Guatemala and around the world, Project Salud y Paz has discovered that if you want to ensure the future success and development of a nation, you invest heavily in one group of people: the women. Sociologists and others could explain why this is better than I, but from what I've seen over the past two years its the women who are the most serious about growing healthy families, building solid economies, and establishing peaceful relationships with others. When loaned money, they pay back the loans with interest. When they learn new things, they pass this knowledge on to their children and families. When they're given big responsibilities, they know it is a rare opportunity that they must take advantage of.
Towards those ends, Salud y Paz has formed the Amigas group. The Amigas is an ever-growing group of local Mayan women who meet regularly to learn about health care, economic sustainability, education, and personal empowerment.
The Amigas are led by a Methodist pastor named Juan Ixtan (he's wearing the hat). Here he is teaching the women how to make basic home health care remedies with things they already use everyday. There is one man who is in the Amigas program, but we all know he's just there to pick up chicks.
The best thing about the Amigas is the confidence it gives those who participate. It has been amazing to me to see super-shy Mayan women join only to become vocal and confident leaders within the year. For the first time in their lives they are learning about the opportunities and rights they have within their families and their world.
This is Maria Xirom. She joined the Amigas over a year ago and has really come into her own. When I first met Maria she barely looked at me in the eyes and now she likes to joke around with us and even got a job with Salud y Paz working in the pharmacy. She wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning to take almost a 2-hour bus ride to get to work. It's her drive to give her children and herself a better life that motivate her. You go girl!
"Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, "She doesn't have what it takes." They will say, "Women don't have what it takes."
-Clare Boothe Luce

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Or so say the ancient Mayans, groups of extremely anxious doomsday sayers around the world, and of course, actor John Cusack. Unfortunately, you and I are going to be hearing a lot more about the END OF THE WORLD for two more years. That's right, folks, the world is going to end in December, 2012.

The ancient Mayans, of whom Guatemalans claim their ancestry, used a very unique and interesting way of counting days, and according to the cyclical Long Count Calendar, our days are up in 2012. Hollywood, in normal fashion, has
jumped all over the upcoming hysteria with the movie, '2012' (just as they did in the year 2000 - remember those duds?)
I'm not quite sure why human beings are so obsessed with the world ending, and especially why so many want it to end in such dramatic fashion (fireballs from space, flesh-eating locusts, etc. etc.). There seems to be, however, something in us that craves some sort of end or resolution to time - even the ancient Egyptians and more recently the ancient Maya had calendars that "ended."
Don't worry though, according to conversations I've had with people who read and understand the Popul Vuh (Mayan bible), the world isn't necessarily ending around Christmas 2012, it's just "starting over." Good luck to everyone! ; )

Or maybe it IS the end!? As you may have heard, 2012 started early in Guatemala. Several days ago Pacaya Volcana erupted, spewing inches of ash all over Guatemala City and the airport runway, killing 3 people (this is the volcano where Carey and I roasted marshmallows).

Then 3 days ago the rains started and haven't stopped yet (from Tropical Storm Agatha). In my village of Panjachel the lumber yard and a few homes couldn't withstand the force of the river. Mudslides and flooding have killed over 20.
The worst news came last night when I had to cancel the surgery team which was supposed to start work today. Now 80 people will not receive the operations they needed. I literally felt like crying as I made the calls to give them the bad news. Ugh - the poor just can't catch a break sometimes.

Unfortunately for Carey and me the end really is near. With mixed emotions we leave Guatemala on July 18th. It has been an amazing and life-changing journey but the time has come to return to the States and jump back into our careers, bringing with us what we've learned and many cherished memories. It's not goodbye, though, just "see you later."


Saturday, May 22, 2010

How Do You Spell S-u-s-t-a-i-n-a-b-i-l-i-t-y?

Carey and I want to make ourselves obsolete in Guatemala. Since we arrived here, an important aspect of our mission has been long-term sustainability. It goes back to the old saying, "Catch a fish for a man and you've fed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you've fed him for a lifetime." We've always known that Project Salud y Paz belonged in the hands of Guatemalans, not gringos, and so it is our hope that within a few years this will become a reality.
This is Jose. He has been with the project for several years now, first as a driver and registrar, then as a pharmacist, and now as the Team Host-in-Training. I have been training Jose to eventually take over the management of our mission teams, and so far he's done a great job. I guess it doesn't hurt that he's fluent in English, Spanish and K'iche.

This is Mary. She's one of the most natural teachers Carey and I have ever seen. She was the first teacher Carey hired and will eventually be the director of the preschool. Her love for the children and her community plus the speed at which she has learned English make her the perfect choice.

This is Janet and Wayne. When Carey and I leave in July they'll take over our positions. We are super lucky to have them and they're excited to get started. Wayne and Janet will continue training Jose and Mary in order that they'll be prepared to take over for them when they leave in a couple years. It's all about sustainability!
Salud y Paz,

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Raising Arizona?

Carey and I are moving to Arizona in August. It's unlikely we'll see any of our new friends from Guatemala there.
As you know, Arizona just passed the nation's toughest bill on illegal immigration with the purpose of identifying, prosecuting, and deporting more illegal immigrants. From my understanding, the bill will give law enforcement officers in the state the ability to request citizenship papers from civilians to verify their legal residency (however, apparently the bill was recently amended to say police could only request papers from "suspicious" individuals or individuals whom they've stopped for some other infraction of the law or crime). Many in the US and abroad have responded strongly to this new legislation. For Carey and me, it's become a personal issue as well.
During our time in Guatemala, we have met many wonderful people - some of whom will be our lifelong friends. As we've gotten closer to them, a few of them have revealed that they have either lived in the US or at some point been tempted to cross into the US illegally. These confessions have brought the issue closer to home for me.

Until I lived in a country south of the border, I guess I never thought much about the individual people and families who make up the estimated 12 million illegals currently in the US. They are guys my age without much education who go to find work. They are men desperate to provide for their families. And they are families looking to escape corrupt governments and militaries.
Now, I'm no fool. I also recognize that there are criminals, drug-dealers, and people who will take advantage of the welfare system among them too. And I also recognize that this is a very contentious issue, without any easy answers or solutions. However, I can't help but cringe when I hear lawmakers in Arizona call all illegal immigrants the "bad guys."
I say this only because I recently started thinking about what I would do if I were in their position. Admittedly, this was uncomfortable for me to do, because it made my morality a little less black and white. But Carey and I will have children one day (yes, mom, soon - we promise!), and we'll want to do everything we can to provide them with opportunities (education, health, jobs, safety) to live a happy and well-rounded life. With this thought in mind, the issue comes down to only one question for me: "If I happened to be born on the south side of a border instead of on the north side of a border and desperately wanted to provide these opportunities for my family, would I take the risk of crossing that border in order to ensure that happened - even if I my action would be considered illegal and I would be termed a 'bad guy?'"

Yes, I would.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Children of the Corn

In Guatemala, corn is king! Mayans have had a very special relationship and history with corn - even from the very beginning:
"In the beginning..." according to the Mayan creation story from the Popol Vuh (the Mayan bible), it took the gods three times to successfully create humans.
1. First try - they made us of dirt. We only spoke "nonsense" (dumb as dirt?), so they let us dissolve. Doh! (parallel this with the creation story from Genesis in the Bible).
2. Second try - they made us of wood. Nope. We just walked around and got nothing done. Wild animals chased us into the forest where we became monkeys (this is why monkeys kind of look like humans - interesting twist on evolution, huh?)
3. Third try - they make us of corn. Success!! "Our flesh is yellow and white ears of maize..." Finally, the perfect being.
The Maize God is the most sacred of deities - get's because he gave his flesh so that humans may live. Is God BIG, or what?

The Maya refer to themselves as people born of a different flesh ("true people"), and I wouldn't doubt if it were actually true based on the amount of corn they consume daily. The average Mayan's diet consists of 50-60% corn (although there are apparently close to 400 different corn-related recipes they use to keep things exciting). Corn tortillas, the real thick, small kind, make an appearance at every meal (God, if I never see another corn tortilla again...), which is why you can't look in any direction this time of year without seeing a corn field.

Here it comes again! Farmers plant the corn during March and April, and then comes the rain (for 6 months), which produces some crazy-mutant-sized cornstalks. "We eat all we can and sell the rest."
Hope you're all well and received HUGE tax-refunds! (subliminal message ~ send a chunk of it to your favorite charity ~)
ps - a friend here just told me that she tried corn-flavored ice-cream last week. Yum?

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's All About the Kids

Back in the day kids didn't spend their summers by attending camp after camp or vacation after vacation - they'd just be hanging out in their neighborhoods. Pastors of local churches would drive around in buses to pick-up these bored kids to bring them to what we call today Vacation Bible School. It was a week of fun, games, and bible songs and lessons for young children.
Well, as you can imagine, children in Guatemala, when they're not working or in school, have very limited options of fun things to do (there are no camps, playgrounds, pools or YMCAs).
So one of the best things our teams do when they visit us is offer a week-long bible school...

During the week, kids sing about God... new friends...

...and do art projects! This lesson was no doubt about God loving children even if they look like something from my nightmares.

On Monday we usually see around 30 or so kids, but once word gets out about the bible school we end up with over a 100 by Friday.

It's amazing to see how incredibly happy kids can get by simply receiving a .99 cent gift like these small boats that they constructed and painted in March.
VBS is also our chance to brainwash them by teaching them American sports like baseball and football. Any man who has ever watched America's Funniest Home Videos can see exactly where this ball is headed...

We play a few games with our parachute that the kids go crazy for. We usually try to bring games and arts/crafts with us to rural locations also so the children can play while their parents are in seeing the doctor.
The New Playground!
For over a year we've been dreaming of building a playground at our clinic in Camanchaj and now it's finally done!! We went from a bare dirt field... THIS in only 3 days! Thanks so much to the team from The Turning Point UMC in Evansville, IN!
Christening the new slide - whoa! This kid needs practice! (fortunately for us liability forms don't exist in Guatemala : )
Tell me this smile isn't worth a week of hard work and sweat. Giving kids the chance to actually be kids is easily worth its weight in gold.
Carey and I hope you're all well and had a great Easter!
Peace to you,

Monday, March 22, 2010

How Many Children Is Too Many?

You are a 29 year-old Mayan woman with 7 children. You and your husband don't use birth control because 1) according to your church it's sinful to do so, 2) your culture tells you that a woman's job is to have children, and 3) if you walk into a local pharmacy and buy condoms word will get out that you're a tramp and sleeping around.
Today is Sunday and you've come to the Salud y Paz clinic to see a surgeon in hopes of having your tubes tied. The decision to have this surgery was a difficult one but there simply doesn't seem to be any other option - there's no way your family can afford to feed another mouth. Despite this, you haven't told your husband or friends what you're doing because you know this news would harm your marriage and perhaps your standing in the community. As you nervously wait outside the operating room the surgeon walks up to you with the news, "I'm sorry, we can't do the operation. You're pregnant."

This very scene played out two weeks ago before my eyes as we hosted a surgery team from California. It was heartbreaking. I felt for this poor woman and her desperate circumstances. It made me think a lot about birth control and how we respond to it as people of faith and as people dealing with situations that are far from black and white.
On one hand, I greatly respect and generally hold the belief that all children are a blessing from God. And I also understand why many Christians (mostly Catholics) choose to not use "artificial" forms of birth control, such as the pill or condoms. In many ways it is a great step of faith to say that each time you have sex you are trusting God's will over your own.
On the other hand, I also believe that sex can be a sacred gift from God and was created for our enjoyment. In our world today, it's also easy to understand why most Christians and non-Christians (in America, at least) choose to use various forms of birth control to "choose" when they become pregnant - affording them greater control over their career choices and family planning.
Whatever your beliefs, the issue raises many difficult questions. If you're against the use of birth control, is the woman in the above example "sinful" for what she was choosing to do? If so, however, which is the greater sin: using birth control or bringing a child into the world that you can't afford to feed? If you support the use of birth control, do you underestimate the blessing that unexpected children can be or have you allowed the ability to control birth turn you into a controlling person? There doesn't seem to be any easy answer - which unfortunately many of us are unwilling or unable to accept. We choose a side and dig in our heels.
In situations like these, perhaps there is another option - doing our best to understand the "other," and choosing to leave the judgment to the only One who is worthy of doing so.

We had patients come from as far away as Tikal (12 hours by bus) for surgery.

Surgery weeks when we operate on children are especially exciting, but also a little nerve-wracking for everyone due to the increased risk of having children under anesthesia.

We were able to repair 5 cleft lips...

...which left us with some very happy and proud parents.

This is why we did 20 hernia surgeries and already have 17 signed up for the surgery team in May.

I honestly thought this thing was gonna jump out of his back and start tap-dancing. Dude had lived with this large mass for 30 years...
...but no longer! Wow, our surgeons kick butt. My boss made me get a new little fridge to keep biopsies b/c last time I just double-bagged the "specimens" in zip-lock bags and put them in the fridge with the food. The staff got a little upset with me. Geez, let's loosen up people : )
As always - peace to you.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cloak & Dagger - Guate Style

I spend many of my Saturdays (including later tonight) at the Guatemala City Airport - palms sweating, heart racing, and with a large wad of cash in my pocket. Why? Because the Guatemalan government wreaks of corruption.
If you have no qualms about screwing your own fellow countrymen, want to know how to make a quick buck? Tax the heck out of incoming medical mission teams, of course. Or worse, take ALL of their meds away. The government here (the Haitian government is now doing this also), after seeing "rich" (read: generous) gringos come into their country with thousands of dollars of medicines every week, finally decided last year that these teams needed to share the wealth, so to speak. So now, every single time I go to pick-up a team, I have to go in to baggage claim and beg, plead, and yes, bribe the officials to allow us to pass. The worst one was late last year when the team leader started crying after customs said they were confiscating every medical suitcase (around 20). God bless the almighty dollar, though, which apparently can change even the hardest of hearts, and the ingenuity of our volunteers, which have taken to hiding medicines in their socks and underwear.
Part of me hopes there is a special place reserved in hell for those who would try to rob the poor of medicines and other necessities just so they can get rich off of it, but another part of me is trying to understand. I guess when you've struggled your whole life to get by financially, you do things you may not do in other situations.
Once, a janitor at a church I worked at was caught stealing money from the church office. I said to my Senior Pastor, "What kind of person steals from a church?" He said something that helped me put it in better perspective, "A desperate one."

Let's all pray for the desperate ones, and keep battling the injustices that put them there.

ps. Please help me pray that all goes well tonight with customs - about 70 Mayans that need surgery certainly are.
UPDATE: ALL of our meds made it through customs!!!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Just the Fax, Ma'am

The project Carey and I work for continues to grow and bless the people of Guatemala.
2009 by the numbers...
5,800 Medical patients seen by rural mission teams
5,773 Number of lab tests done in our two clinics (3 of these were for Jay's jacked-up stomach)
5,315 Medical patients seen at our two clinics by Dr. Fredy
3,753 Dental patients seen at our two clinics by Dr. Luis (37% were extractions)
1,800 Dental patients seen by rural mission teams
600 Vision patients seen by rural mission teams
240 Surgeries completed by surgical teams (the sawed-off toe was the coolest)
67 Percent of patients that are female
33 Percent of patients that are male
21 Mission teams led by Jay
19 Women trained by the Amigas program in Camanchaj
19 Preschool children graduated in Carey's first class
13 Percent of our patients with respiratory-related complaints
13 Percent of our patients with diabetes or hypertension
11 Percent of our patients with diarrhea-related complaints
10 States represented by mission teams
9 Percent of patients with urinary infections
9 Percent of patients 5 years old or younger
2 Countries represented by mission teams (if you count Canada as a real country)
2 Gringos named Jay & Carey who had the most amazing experience last year

Thanks for checking in, but most of all thanks for supporting us last year. Much of this work could not have been done without your incredible generosity and prayers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Eyes Have It

We do a ton of eye surgeries each year at the clinic for two reasons: 1) older men have worked out in the fields most of their lives without proper eye protection, and 2) older women have been in the kitchen most of their lives without a chimney on their open-flame stoves, causing the smoke to pour into their eyes. This past week, University UMC in San Antonio, TX successfully operated on 50 patients, allowing many of them to see clearly for the first time in many, many years...

We removed cataracts from these three gentlemen. I'm no doctor, but even I can spot a cataract - the eye is completely clouded over...

This is a cataract after being removed. Good thing it didn't have an "M" printed on it or I may have accidently eaten it. Yum!
The surgeons bring new lenses to surgically implant in place of the old, clouded one.

We were also able to operate on 5 children this week. This is Nery and his mom, Esther. Nery attends the preschool and the teachers noticed that because his eyes are crossed he can't properly read or write.

Nery's mom said he was so excited about surgery that he woke up at 1 a.m. for the big day. Esther said that night he prayed, "Please God give me good eyes, and please help the surgeons operate on me." His mom was super nervous.

This is kind of intense, but here's what they did: the surgeons shortened the muscles on one side of his eye in order to stop it from "wandering" to the other side...

...and after just one short hour, both of Nery's eyes are fixed! He loved that we were calling him Spider Man. He came in the next day with a huge smile and his mom, with tears in her eyes, thanked the surgeons.

Here's another little guy we operated on, named Elvis. Before the anesthesia wore off Elvis was like a drunken sailor.
A huge thanks to University UMC for the great work they did in Guatemala last week!
Next team from California March 7th (cleft lips, gynecological, and hernia removal). Yee-haw!