A day in the life with Doña Eulalia is in some ways rhythmic, slow, and simple, and in others more varied and exciting than I could have dreamed of. It frequently involves waiting for several collective hours, usually for busses, sometimes for meetings, and occasionally in the offices of other practitioners. The temperature while we wait is entirely dependent on whether or not we are in a cloud, which depends on which town we are in. Being in a cloud is actually much cooler than I would have given it credit for being. If I’m roasting in cotton pants and a T-shirt in Itzapa, all we have to do is go 15 minutes and 700 vertical feet up a dirt road, and if Chicasanga happens to be enshrouded, I will need a hat and my alpaca sweater to be comfortably warm. Enough about the weather.
Our days can begin as early as 5 and as late as 9, but always with a hearty Eulalia-style breakfast. My showers are always hot, out of a basin, and heated over our open fire in the kitchen. Those of you that know me well, know that personal hygiene may not always be my top priority, but I particularly enjoy my showers here… There is something to be said for sitting on a small wooden stool with cold tile under your feet and cold air drafting in from underneath your corrugated metal roof, pouring steaming hot water over yourself while a heavy rain pounds away on the tin overhead.
As I mentioned before, our days are usually a pleasant mix of transit, patients, pharmacies, and eating. And of course, waiting. We wait on curbs and in people’s homes, sit on grassy embankments and rocks, for our busses – all Blue Bird American Made – and if not busses, for a passing pickup, or perhaps our good friends the bomberos (whom we have strategically run into almost every day since I have been here).
Speaking of the bomberos, I mentioned in a previous post that the local government does not offer them financial support, not even for the diesel to fill their 2-wheel drive ambulance nor to pay their electricity bill at the station. One day that Eulalia and I anticipated a ride from them, they picked us up and said they just had to make a small (40 minute) detour to Parramos to drop of their squad of youngsters to do some fundraising.
Riding the camionetas (chicken busses) here is another experience, though I think it is quite civilized compared to other countries. The locals all maintain a miraculous mental time table of when the busses leave for various destinations. Sometimes people ask to know with greater certainty, but for the most part there is this innate knowledge in everyone over the age of 10 about how to get where they need to go. It is Q10 between Antigua and Calderas, about an hour long ride. The busses all have names like “Dina” and “Yolanda” and Regalito de Dios.” Most are adorned (be way of detail) with various scriptures or blessings, from “Este bus está protegido con la sangre de Cristo,” (this bus is protected by the blood of Christ), to “Dios me Guia” (God, guide me). Who knows if it actually works, but I roll with it because the locals all seem to believe. The busses also include other personal touches; more religious idols, colorful wrapping on various pieces of equipment, a representation of a spider in a blown-glass looking handle used to operate the door. [0893.jpg]
I personally enjoy my time in the camionetas. Granted, I am more or less a leper when I ride alone – nobody sits next to me, and if they do, they move the instant another seat opens – but nonetheless I love watching the slow rhythmic interactions around me. Whenever anyone enters the bus, they give a hearty “Buenos Dias” or “Buenas Tardes” and the bus answers the same in a chorus back. They announce themselves in towns and around corners with a 15 second pull on the horn, so they are tough to miss if you didn’t already hear their engine.
I live with two dogs, two cats, four kittens, 20 chickens, a few gobbling turkeys, a few pigs (their days are numbered), two dogs named Tigre (for his brindle stripes) and Nero. Tigre is sort of a jerk, and Nero is among the most pathetic animals I have ever encountered. And then a few days ago, Eulalia walked in with the cutest, fluffiest bundle of puppy I have laid eyes on in some time. Her current name is Muñeca, but Eulalia is in the process of searching for a different one [0885.jpg].
I also am surrounded by some of the sweetest, most self-sufficient, and energetic children I have ever met. Lately my boring adult-ness has gotten the best of me and I haven’t been super stoked on playing all day long, but these are the kids who can run for, play at the park, draw, paint, and imagine for hours on end. They slipped a PILE of drawings for me under my door when I was ill last week, and work our park schedule around when there are the fewest creepy gawking men playing soccer… What troopers.
The pace of life here is mostly slow, but in other ways is remarkably accelerated. Kids are running around pretty independently at about 5, and start helping out with their younger siblings at about age 6. The boys go to work on their family farms at about the age of 12 or 13, and it is not unusual for girls to be married and pregnant at 16 with husbands who sometimes look shockingly their senior. That said, in six out of seven families I have attended, the husbands have been extremely attentive to their spouses, pregnant or with sick infants. I have even seen a few show up at the Dona’s home with the women for their 15 day check ups. The pickup truck is an important daily tool, for transporting all matter of people and products. It doesn’t matter if the roof has rusted through or you have 14 people crammed in the truck bed. If the motor kind of runs, it is put to good use. Other daily necessities include for men, machetes and for women, “mantas” – woven blanket-type things used to carry everything from children to harvests. I swear, the women here are ALWAYS walking around with at least 40 lbs. extra weight in the form of toddlers slung around their back or firewood or produce balanced atop their heads. The Machetes come in handy for picking apart little landslides to free up the road in a matter of two minutes.
Skipping around again, I make this part of post with a certain amount of hesitancy because I am not an anthropologist nor a sociologist (and I do not want to make assumptions or sound like I really know what I’m talking about academically), so please take everything I say here with a grain of salt because this is all how I feel. For me it is like this: I am incredibly happy with my simple life here, and it is easy to write about it as charming and romantic, but I wonder too if it doesn’t seem that way because I have a way out. The other side of the coin is that this is country where if you ask why someone’s daughter died at the age of 46, “Oh, she died of stomach pain.” Is a viable answer. In particular, Calderas is situated in such a municipality that doesn’t want to fund their emergency workers, who are then strictly volunteers, forced to send their youth volunteers out with little boxes with holes cut into their tops to implore the public for support.
I have met two single mothers so far in our town, one of them works for Eulalia, helping with laundry, cleaning, tortilla making, etc. She was 15 when she had her first child, her boyfriend at the time, 33. She says she was madly in love. It is normal here for the girls to be married and having children by 16, with slightly older men, but even with this cultural context, that age difference makes me bristle, seeing as it is strictly criminal in the US. She now lives with her father and step-mother, who it sounds like is less than supportive. She says she made her mistakes, but now she is happy with her two kids and only wants to work for them and encourage them in their education. She has no interest in romance right now. The other lives up the street. Her husband left three years ago to go to the US in search of work. They had a 1 year old baby, and didn’t know it yet, but a second one on the way. Somewhere along the way, he disappeared. End of story. Nobody knows if he was killed or is sitting in prison somewhere, but the rumor stands that he never made it to the US. For Guatemala by the numbers or to donate, click here
All that said, Eulalia and MFM are working to change those statistics a little at a time. In my one month here, Eulalia was immediately caring for 28 pregnant women across five communities. She estimates in her time as a midwife she has attended about 4,000 births, only 4 of which were delivered deceased. She is an extreme asset to her community for women’s health as well as other fields, and she always knows when and to whom to refer her patients. She is partnered with the Guatemalan Centro de Salud, Midwives For Midwives, and various other Guatemalan and US-funded organizations working to collect data and deliver better healthcare for women and children. Again, to donate, go to the MFM website, here.