Saturday, 8 August 2009


JOYABAJ, GUATEMALA — The mountain scenery of southwestern Guatemala is a colorful mix of the old and the new.
Fields of corn hang onto the sides of mountains. Vegetation ranges from pine trees to bamboo to cactus plants.
Banners advertising cell phone plans are placed next to farms that have been cultivated for more than a 100 years.
Wednesday, the medical missionaries from Oklahoma took their clinic to Joyabaj. It’s a half-hour closer to our home base than was Las Lomas, where more than 100 villagers were treated on Monday and Tuesday.
Before we could start for Joyabaj, though, we needed to deal with another pressing issue.
We stopped first in Santa Cruz, the capital of Quiche. We’ve made the stop four times in three days, all for the same reason. We keep running low on ibuprofen.
"It’s hit or miss,” said Carla Seitz, a nurse at The Children’s Place in Bethany who distributes medicine during the clinics. "Last year it was all coughs and colds, this year we’ve seen barely any.”
This trip, aching feet and heads have been more common complaints. The money for the medicine is provided by Volunteers in Mission.
Las Lomas was sort of a suburb of Joyabaj. Joyabaj is much larger, but no wealthier.
Trash litters what would otherwise be a perfect mountain landscape.
Ducks drink from puddles of water in the courtyards of houses.
Trucks spew thick black smoke as they inch down the hills toward the main part of town.

Las Lomas residents typically spoke a Mayan dialect, but in Joyabaj most of the patients know Spanish. So I use what Spanish-speaking skills I have to give them instructions about when to take their medicine.
A little girl, Maria Isabel, walked behind the pharmacy table and gave everyone a hug.
She held the hug for as long as she could, giggling through her teeth as she was given a toy and her mother the medicine.
Several young boys gathered around as Carla’s husband, Scott Seitz, took photos of them.
Children are initially shy in this region, especially in the more remote locations, but take a picture and they’ll instantly become your friends. Bring toys and they’ll crowd around for hours.
Maria Isabel’s grandmother made us a lunch of beef with a savory brown sauce and corn tortillas. Maria Isabel smiled as she showed me her room.
Her grandmother, also named Maria, made sure I washed my hands before the meal.
It was one of the best meals I have had while in Guatemala.