A Travellerspoint blog

Day 3: Homecoming


storm 50 °F

This morning arrived overcast with some threatening clouds. When I went down to breakfast I walked through a group of pilots discussing this fact and I detected some concern over the weather. There have been times in the past when they elected to stay an extra night to avoid risk, so my first thought was my clean underwear inventory (=0). That quickly morphed to thoughts of my need to update my will. STOP, CAROL!
Obviously, since you are reading this, I’m back on the ground in Sacramento and my will is back in procrastinate mode. It wasn’t the smoothest flight and there were long periods of flying blind through clouds, but these guys know how to do all that, so I just settled into my little cocoon in the back of the flying VW and listened to the ground control and pilot communications and kept my eye on all the various gauges for signs of pilot error – kidding, sort of.

It’s interesting, from the clinic we flew about an hour to Mexicali to officially depart the country. This involves paying an exit fee of $5 and getting your passport stamped while the pilot confers with the officials and files whatever documentation he files. From there, we flew 10 minutes over the border to Calexico to officially re-enter the USA. That was another quickie involving passport scrutiny and an ice cream bar in the lobby. “Lobby” is a very extravagant term for the little room with four chairs and a brochure rack, but it is what it is. From there we flew about three hours to Sacramento. This is a completely different process from what I am used to (i.e. hours in long lines in huge airports) and so much more fun.

In between the blind periods, I had a chance to reflect on my experience and I came to the conclusion that I am indeed going back. . . . the sooner the better. If I am going to be of any benefit to the clinic, I need to learn the ropes. I don’t want too much time to pass between my “lessons”, so I will sign up for the May clinic. In the meantime, this little trip was of great benefit to me personally. Of course, it is always beneficial to interact with different people and cultures, but there was more to it than that. I saw first-hand how a bunch of different skill sets can fall into place like choreography to get a job done under less than perfect conditions. I saw delight and gratitude in the eyes of people who received the simplest gift of medical attention when there was nowhere else to go. And I learned a bit about myself in the process. Nothing earth shattering, but I passed my own test of resourcefulness and the ability to play on a team (the last being a sixty-three year challenge for me). I also learned that I really need to get “Learn Spanish” off my bucket list.

Posted by Follow Carol 08:49 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Day 2. The Clinic

reaping the rewards of our endeavors

overcast 65 °F

What a day! I did a lot of grunt stuff today: everything from inventorying bottles of vitamins to hanging plaques to counting pills to handing out backpacks for the kids, to taking out the trash. It was crazy and it was fun. I was one of the least specialized volunteers in the clinic. For a new kid, that was understandable, but I need to learn more in order to contribute more. Are you detecting a desire to return? Yeah, you are. But one thing I really need to do is become more proficient in Spanish. This drives me crazy. I have taken sooo many Spanish classes and am still not even remotely conversational. My experience has always been that I can pick up a lot of lost vocabulary by traveling to Mexico. That has always worked in the past, but that was because I was a tourist and the native speakers were trying to placate me. Today, the patients knew almost no English and had no reason to try to make me comfortable with my broken Spanish. They were as sweet and courteous as anyone could ever be but they had very little experience with “tourists”, so they were unable to make up for my shortcomings.
The clinic is comprised of two buildings on either side of a courtyard where the patients hang out waiting for their names to be called. One building is the dental wing which has four chairs. The other bigger building has three sections, 1) intake where vital signs are noted and the patient is initially interviewed, 2) four draped cubicles for medical treatment rooms, and 3) the optometry section. There were quite a few volunteers on this trip, a record breaking 30, so all the sections were well staffed. I should also note that there are three or four local ladies who help out.
Let me introduce you to a few of the patients. Little Maria is seven and her mom brought her in to pick up her first pair of glasses. The patients are interviewed and tested one month and then they pick up their glasses the next month when the clinic returns. A month or two ago, Maria had chosen pink frames and when she put them on, her face showed a bit of surprise and confusion. No wonder, her eyesight must be terrible. I was stunned by the thickness of her lenses. Her life changed today.
Laura is in her 20’s. When she was seven she grabbed ahold of a hot wire which sent a bolt of electricity through her body and out her foot. The foot was horrifically damaged and she has been hobbling on it since. The risks to her health are becoming more severe because she is constantly battling infections in that foot. Months ago she was scheduled for a foot amputation, to be performed by a surgeon recruited by the “Flying Sams”, but she backed out. . . . .because her husband didn’t want her to go through with it. (Unfortunately, this is not surprising in such a male-dominated culture.) Today she came back with her mother and her case was revisited by our doctors and nurses. She was counselled about the risk of losing much more than a foot if infection spreads and she agreed to reschedule. The surgeon has graciously agreed to travel back to San Quintin to perform the amputation. The surgery will not be done in the clinic – I don’t know how that is arranged, but all of this is completely free of charge to Laura.
These two were a couple of the highlights of my day, but there were so many more patients. The optical team saw 91 patients. The dentists probably saw almost that many and there were dozens of general medical visits to the various doctors and nurses. The place was teeming with people all day long.
When we finally got back to the hotel, we collapsed into pitchers of margaritas in the courtyard before we cleaned up to go to dinner at a local restaurant. It was an evening of coming together and story sharing – a very fun time. But by the time dinner was over and I was back in my room, I was once again exhausted and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Posted by Follow Carol 08:45 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Day 1: En Route to San Quintin

reunions and tacos

semi-overcast 65 °F

As I write, I am 9500 feet up in the air somewhere over California. Phil (pilot) and Paul (volunteer dentist) are chatting in the front seats. Paul mentioned that he had taken flying lessons but never got his license, so Phil turns the controls over to Paul and they joke about the amount of Valium that I’m going to need now. I am completely unfazed. I’ve never been a nervous flyer and it’s a good thing because this craft is no bigger than a VW Bug with wings. It’s a 4-seater but there wouldn’t be much room for the 4th person back here. I’m sitting sideways in order to accommodate my long legs. . . .no different than a United flight.

One hour after take-off and I am already trying to entertain myself. I thought I was smart when I double-checked to be sure that I can access my book on my computer. Looked good to me! The problem is that while I was at home I was accessing it online. You can probably guess the rest of the story, there is nothing to read up here at 9500 feet.

Later, we crossed the border and went through Immigration and Customs in Mexicale. I don’t know anything about the town but the airport is a tiny office with two side-by-side, cheap metal desks which comprise the Immigration and the Customs offices. The passengers went through in a flash. The pilots had a lot of paperwork so we were there for nearly an hour. Then off to San Quintin!

The last leg took only an hour. When we landed, we were driven to the hotel, the “Mision Santa Maria” which is a really nice resort hotel right on the ocean. This is soooo different from what I had envisioned. There is a nice courtyard where margaritas and guacamole were devoured by the gallon and the pound, and my room is quite big and very clean. Mind you, this is no Sheraton, but I am very surprised that it isn’t some po-dunk motel on a dusty street.

I was introduced to the rest of the crew and was so delighted to reunite with Grace Perez. She and I worked together in the 90’s and haven’t seen each other for at least ten years. She’s happy and healthy and as beautiful as ever. She is fluent in Spanish so she is an interpreter. Her husband John is a pilot.

For dinner, many of us went into town for beers and street tacos. Sounded fun so off I went! Excellent food and Tecate beer made for a tired evening. I could barely keep my eyes open on the way back to the hotel, and I am struggling now.

Posted by Follow Carol 06:46 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

April 6


As I am writing, I am only certain of this:
On Friday I am flying in a teeny plane to San Quintin to help a group of dedicated medical personnel (and their dedicated grunts, of which I am one) deliver medical assistance to a poor community located 120 miles south of Ensenada. I know the name of my pilot, but I have never met him. I have not been apprised of the location of the airport from which we will depart, nor do I know the time of departure. No big. I have all day tomorrow to discover this information. The important stuff is:
1. I am limited to a very small amount of "luggage". Luggage is in quotes because what I am carrying does not qualify as "luggage". It is a backpack. Well actually, it is a light blue book bag. When I went to S. Africa for three weeks in August, I had to pack all of my belongings in a duffel bag. I managed, but only because I decorated the duffel with some plastic "bling" from Michael's that I glued on before the trip. I am convinced that the bling bloated the ego of the duffel and therefore I was able to accommodate the necessities. Of course, when I arrived at the airport, I was rudely educated about the fact that size is not as important as weight. I had to schlep that sucker around, bling and all, and my back shouted my age to me with every step. Eventually, I gave in and checked the bag. When I got home I donated it to Goodwill, figuring I would never need a duffel bag again as long as I lived. And then. . . . . . .
2. I'll be in the air for four to five hours. So? So - this plane does not have a flight attendant asking me if I would like some more champagne. In fact, this plane does not even have a bathroom. THAT is the one thing that concerns me the most about this excursion. I am often too busy for six or seven hours to think about a pit stop. But to not be able to think about it? I'm sure I'll be fine, but that is what has taken up the biggest part of my planning process. It's like getting ready for surgery. How do I hydrate myself beforehand so I don't need to hydrate myself? I'll figure it out.

I have to laugh. A couple of my friends have counselled me to be careful of the food and water in Mexico. Well, for one thing I have been to Mexico many times and am aware of the risks. But for another, I just returned from India - hello? You wanna talk about food sanitation issues? Thank goodness there isn't a lot of curry down there. I am still not the least bit interested in that cuisine. Some street tacos and a beer sound great to me.

Posted by Follow Carol 00:09 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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