I am sitting alone in the church in Los Llanos. Children’s playful voices drift through the air; the same sound that echoes on playgrounds all over the world. But these are poor children, with parents who struggle to feed them, clothe them and to give them the best that they can.
Our team is working like a well oiled machine. I believe our doctors and interpreters have made a heroic effort to care for each person who comes to them. Their genuine care and passion to serve are beyond what one could even hope for. All of the other team members have worked diligently in their duties – nursing, intake and pharmacy. And yet what we do is not so heroic. Tomorrow we will return to our warm homes and loving families and friends, renewed in our desire to embrace each day with more compassion and love, renewed with a wonderful gift which challenges us to break open the Gospel a little more vibrantly in our everyday lives.
The heroes we see here in Mexico are the poor who live with a humble grace and steady courage. We have heard stories of women who carry 65 pound bundles of wood on their backs three miles each day. They repeat the journey carrying 40 pounds of water to their homes. And they only weigh about 100 pounds - including their heavy clothing. It is no wonder that their bodies ache. One man had teeth so rotten that he wished we could pull them all. And we all know what a simple toothache can feel like. Today a girl came to the clinic. She said that her throat had hurt terribly for 2 years. Her tonsils were so infected and swollen that one can only imagine what her days have felt like. Just surviving can be a challenge. At the village we were at yesterday, we learned that a mom who was at our clinic last year had passed away from a fever. How different our worlds are. Sitting in the beautiful Cathedral in San Cristobal on Sunday evening I wondered how many of the people in the villages have ever had the opportunity to even visit this church. Their world is so different
We are burdened with our American ideas of solving problems, yet we must respect what we do not understand. It bothers us to see the people drinking too much pop, but we don’t know how it feels to walk in their shoes. Has the marketing by the big corporations made them to feel like that is a slice of moving up in the world?
The people in most villages are happy –but some entire villages seem to be sad. Smiles create a universal connection. Yet some people cannot smile. Perhaps they don’t want us to see their missing teeth. But I suspect some are trudging through great difficulty and must muster extraordinary courage to do what they must do each day. They might not have the strength or reason to smile much.
We have met matriarchs of communities watching over everyone to make sure all is well. We have those back home too. And what patience people here have! They wait for hours and hours in hopes that they can see a doctor. In Pantepec, some had gotten up at 4 a.m. and waited all day – children and mothers mostly, each in their own little space expecting whatever good they can receive, and trusting that these strangers from America can make their lives even a little bit better. How many times are we impatient? How many times are we too demanding?
The people we have seen have a faith of blended Mayan and Catholic tradition. It is a beautiful thing to see. At one clinic there was a statue of Mary behind the pharmacy area. It was old and not that nice looking. In fact it was in such poor shape that we had to ask who it was. At one point I saw a very elderly lady genuflect, make the sign of the cross and kiss her hand and then touch her heart. Her reverence humbled me. At another clinic, Susan was walking a woman to see the doctor. Susan directed the woman in one direction and the woman turned away from her. Susan looked confused. The woman bent at the waist, kissed her hand and touched her heart as she turned to reverence the tabernacle behind us. Had we even noticed?
There are so many stories we can and will tell. One that will haunt me is the story of Christina. It will bother me because I know there is not a solution. It is simply the way it is. Christina is an interpreter who worked with us yesterday in a very poor, remote, mountain, farming village. She was beautiful, bright and had a smile that radiated joy. She translated from Tzotzil into Spanish. Over our lunch break I invited her to have some of my food. She eagerly told me that she could speak a little English too. She sat next to me on the bench so close that her elbow pressed up tightly against me. We looked at pictures from this trip on our MDP computer and her eyes twinkled with anticipation and pure joy at being able to see the places we had been. In her village we were not allowed to take any pictures because of their belief that it might take away their soul, so it was interesting to me that she was so glued to the computadora.
We proceeded to pronounce and read the labels on the foods together. Forming certain sounds was difficult for her – yet she persisted. Practicing colors and names was our next lesson. The time passed quickly. I have been taking some Spanish lessons and must confess that I felt a bit sheepish that I am sometimes a little lazy with homework. Just think what Christina could do with a little opportunity! She could soak up an education with such enthusiasm – if she had a chance. I asked about her education and was told by Lia that Christina had finished junior high via satellite. That was two years ago. Now this bright mind sits in her village hungry to learn but there will not be an opportunity. How I wish that could change.
We are not asked to be successful at what we do (however you wish to measure success). In the end it is the effort that counts. That is what God asks of us. And we must try to make a difference however we can. As I wrap up this reflection, a little girl has walked into the church singing a beautiful song approaching the altar with a little skip in her step. Her eyes are fixed on the statue of Jesus. She doesn’t see me until she is almost to the altar. I marvele at how she kept her eyes on Jesus and has such a happy song in her heart!
What can we learn from the poor? Plenty. We are continually amazed. Each encounter brings so many blessings to our life journey and I hope the nearly 450 patients we have served this week feel a little lifted up too!