helping women, I think about how this trip helps me recognize what we
have back home and what "standard of living" really means.
We Americans tend to have so much. And we get frustrated when our
paved streets have potholes. Or when the bus is five minutes late. Or
the car has a flat. Or the drain is clogged. Or the cellphone drops a
call. Or Safeway runs out of Cheerios and we have to settle for one of
the 102 other cereals on the shelf.
People here have no opportunity to have such worries. Because they
have so little. They walk everywhere or share a bike because there
are no cars or public transportation.
In this village near the Honduran border, I take pills to ward off
malaria, I apply mosquito repellent frequently to try to avoid Dengue
Fever, and I complain because Ultrathon with 30 percent Deet is greasy
and can stain my clothes and damage my plastic gadgets (like the
iPhone I'm writing on).
Our hotel here in Jalapa has only cold water, and only every other
day. I have to fix or fill the tank on the toilet from a bucket every
time I want to flush it. At home, I'd run to the hardware store and
replace the broken flapper; here, no such luck.
Staying in a "hotel," though, at least we HAVE a toilet. Many here
The "paved" streets are strewn with rubble and huge rocks, marred by
holes, muddy ruts, horse manure, and running creeks, prowled by
skeletal dogs that people treat like vermin. Some former streets just
aren't useable anymore. Money for repairs is out of the question, so
now they're footpaths.
When I hear the charming clip-clop sound of the donkey-drawn cart with
mismatched, bald tires, I have to remind myself that the cart driver
and his son would much rather be driving a pickup truck.
A scorpion in the bathtub, a mosquito carrying a deadly disease,
starchy food in meager quantities, walking or biking to every
destination -- all part of everyday life for Jalapa residents.
Food you want because you actually like it? How about just whatever
there is, whenever it's available? Dinner the other night was red
beans, chunks of boiled banana (plantain), half a hard-boiled egg each
and a slice of white bread. (I realize there are many hungry people
back home, but this is different: I'm not aware of entire communities
of thousands of people living in utterly impoverished conditions, with
no hope whatsoever for effecting change.)
Plenty of people here have extremely limited access to health care,
and the access they have is to care that even poor Americans would
find simply unacceptable. Imagine walking into any American emergency
room and finding that the place has soiled sheets, broken or missing
basic equipment, few staff, and certainly none of the specialists we
take for granted.
Need a gynecologist? Sorry, but she has been transferred to another
place where the need was deemed greater. Something like 10 of the 12
health centers in this province are shuttered because there aren't
enough doctors or nurses to go around.
Cardiologist? Neurosurgeon? Orthopedist? Allergist? Endocrinologist?
You're kidding, right?
Women may have a pap smear here but never get the results. Their kids
may die of diseases we never see in the U.S. because they've been
eradicated. Sometimes parents can't afford the vaccine. Sometimes the
vaccine simply isn't available. I could go on and on and on.
The next time I'm home, I hope to be able to have my sense of
appreciation deepen and last longer, and I hope my memories of the
warm, wonderful people I've met here -- and the struggles they face
all the time -- remain more indelibly a part of my ongoing awareness
of what the world is like in so many places beyond the small part of
it where I live a very comfortable life.
-- Larry Shushan