We ran out of water this week at my house. There was water to bathe, wash dishes, and mop the floor. But no water to drink. The water truck comes on Saturdays with filtered drinking water and we typically pay $4.20 to exchange our two empty containers for full ones, but this past Saturday we weren’t home. We spent the day at the airport with a medical team from Illinois, working hard to get their medicine through customs. “No, they’re not going to sell it,” we told the interested police officers. “They’re going to give it away.” The customs workers were very friendly as we showed them all the paperwork the team had prepared, but it still managed to take a couple hours and a couple hundred dollars to get everything cleared.
We worked in Santa Maria and Las Delicas, turning the churches there into clinics and serving over 450 patients in four days. The most prescribed medicines were antibiotics, Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, vitamins, cough syrup, and parasite pills. Besides gripe (which is like a chest cold) and diarrhea, the most common complaint was “nerves.” Person after person complained that their nerves were affecting their sleep, causing headaches, body aches, and stress. At pharmacies here, injectable vitamins are often given to “treat” such complaints. In fact, I went to a pharmacy the other day to find a multivitamin, and after clarifying that I was looking for pills--not shots--the pharmacist showed me several boxes of vitamin combinations with claims that they were for NERVES, FATIGUE, and STRESS, dramatically written in large shaky letters. In fact, I never did find a box with the vitamins just listed in a row with daily percentages, and I missed my old bottle of clearly labeled “Woman’s Daily Multi-Vitamins,” which I knew had all the calcium and iron I need.
“I have problems with my nerves,” they would tell me when I helped to do intake--los nervios. I wondered what on earth the doctors, sitting in their makeshift offices made of bamboo and bedsheets, would prescribe. We had some iron pills, but no adult vitamins to give away, nor boxes with large shaky letters that cure stress. But Dr. Bill Pierce, a pediatrist who has been coming to El Salvador with his church for years to help with ENLACE initiatives, was not afraid to spend time with each patient, giving them opportunities to share a piece of themselves and their worries. He dug deep, asking his patients about the causes of their stress, without fear of what they would say. He prayed for them and their broken homes or empty tables. He talked to them about the rest that comes from letting go and trusting God. My roommate, Michelle, spent the week translating for Dr. Pierce and said that there were many tears and prayers, but also much-needed sharing and healing.
One evening from the pulpit in Santa Maria, Dr. Pierce (pictured right) gave a dynamic presentation about breaking down barriers in the heart so that the Holy Spirit can reach our minds and direct our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Life happens, he explained, but we interpret the events through the filter of our hearts and minds, and these interpretations produce our thoughts, which cause our feelings, which provoke our actions. I was impressed at the way in which basic cognitive psychology and deep spirituality were used in his message: Life happens. We cannot change the experiences we have had, but we must let the Holy Spirit penetrate the barriers in our hearts and renew our minds, leading us to new and positive thoughts, feelings, and actions. After all, it is the only cure for our “nerves,” and the only way to peace in a troubled world.
We bought drinking water yesterday. And if we had really wanted, we could have boiled our tap water or gone to the store down the street to buy water earlier this week. But the people we were with in Las Delicas still do not have clean water to drink. They pay 75 cents for the trucks to pump dirty water into a barrel in their homes. They spend $4-$6 a week on water, but only make about $200 a month. This explains the diarrheal disease and infections, and certainly contributes to their stress. For us, running out of drinking water is a blessing sometimes because it reminds us to pray for our friends.
This week was wonderful, watching the Illinois team connecting with old friends, participating in the successful clinics and seeing half of the group help to build a retaining wall and repair a crumbling road. Some of the group members have seen the community’s children grow up over the last seven years that their church has partnered with ENLACE, and many of the reunions were filled with overwhelming joy and emotion. Observing these moments or translating for them is just one of the amazing parts of my job. Another is knowing that the pastor and his church in Las Delicias are helping to support an initiative, Project Milagro, that will one day bring clean water to their homes and reduce the need for medical teams in the future.
Check out my photo page to see more pictures from our week!