Sunday, September 26, 2010

A perfect day

Esther's feet, 6:34PM Guatemalan Standard time.

Gross... feet. I know, it's not your typical breath-taking Guatemalan picture you were probably expecting to see on my blog. But those are my very happy feet on a friday evening. Right around the time the picture was taken, my feet were excited, having just brought me home after walking, hiking, and living a perfect, happy-hearted day. That's right, I said a perfect day. I'm not even sure I know what a perfect day means, or let alone make you understand how out of the ordinary this particular perfect day was. In a land where rain, inefficiency, miscommunication and culture differences are everywhere, a perfect day is a rarity.

The sequence of events begin early in the morning when I find my glasses I had lost a few weeks ago... I know not a big deal to you, but HUGE to me! I hop on a pick-up out of town to head toward one of my rural villages where I have a meeting with my health post and local village leaders to discuss garbage management solutions. As always, I'm anxious... it's 8:15am, the meeting starts at 9:30, and it usually takes at least an hour and a half to get there. I look down at my skirt, my stupid plastic flats and then up at the cloudy, brewing sky... It'll surely rain, foolish me.

Out of sheer luck, the pick-up I caught a ride out of town with took me all the way to where I could catch the bus directly to my village (this NEVER happens!)... After a 20 mn. windy ride in the back with chickens and local villagers I get off at my stop, shaking off the cold, only to look up and to see none other than my NGO pick-up going right by to go up to my villages.... I jump up and down, throwing my arms, I get their attention, they stop. I get a tough, bumpy ride all the way up to my village. I arrive at 9:15AM! As I shake off my stiff knees from the ride up the mountain I think to myself "that never happens, weird."

Next up, the meeting. In typical Guatemalan fashion, the meeting doesnt start until 1030ish. I'm a little flustered though, out of the many people we invited to the meeting, very few showed up. But I calm myself down, after all, it is Guatemala. The purpose of the meeting is to come to a resolution about the garbage problem in the village (this is the same village where I am doing my recycled bottle project) between local leaders, vendors, sports athletes, and the health commission. Slowly but surely, everything comes together, the mayors are committed to improving garbage management, agreeing to have subsequent meetings with the vendors and sports athletes, finding an appropriate spot to have a land fill, contracting a person to clean the plaza, and there's even talks about enacting an ordinance that would prohibit the use of plastic by vendors!!! Say what??? I'm obviously excited as the health post and leaders agree on meeting dates, and coordinating joint-petitions. As we were ending, the mayors asked to keep the Action plan and follow-up posters we had just elaborated. Again, maybe not a big deal to you, but to me, it meant the world to me. Guatemalans actually caring and being active about garbage management?!??!?! The meeting ends. I feel so happy, overwhelmed as Nelson Mandela must have been at the end of Apartheid (I'm trying to make you understand my heart quivers here folks). I look at the sky again, I'm looking for those stars that seem perfectly aligned just for me, just for today.

I"m happy, but I'm still nervous. I still have another important afternoon meeting at a village next over (where I am also doing my stove and cement floor project). At this meeting, I'm hoping to convince a group of health vigilantes (same thing as promoters but paid), to continue on their workshops and meetings with me although I won't have any money to give them each month. I start the 40 mn. walk over, I look at the sky, it's surely going to rain. I make it to the house right as it begins to rain. Lucky. The atmosphere in the small room is tense. The health vigilantes slowly start strolling in, most of them speaking to me in ki'che. They sit in the empty room. During any other ordinary week, the room would have been filled, tight-quartered with busy ngo workers who coordinate their work with the health vigilantes here.

But on this friday they're not there. They won't be there ever again. The ngo, whose services are rotated in days in three of my rural villages, can no longer work in these villages because there's no more money. The ministry of health can no longer contract out their services, in fact they hadn't gotten paid in months because, well.... the ministry of health is broke. By the time I found out a few days earlier, I was upset, sad, angry at the backwardness of it all, and the ineffeciency of the Guatemalan government. These poor villages (16,000 people) would have no local access to health care services any more. I know right away that I need to convince the different health vigilante groups in these villages to keep going with meetings with me, these groups can't fall apart. But I also know that I don't have 50Q a month to pay them each to come back each month. After all, most of them are very poor and depend on that small amount of money. I have a meeting with Don Alberto, the president of the health commission/vigilantes, he agrees with me, I'm invited to a meeting this friday.

Back to the empty room... The meeting starts late as usal, I give a charla on the importance of hygiene, and then I give them the news. The NGO would no longer be there, they would no longer get money, but I wanted to continue the meetings with them, we couldn't give up, they would be the only health workers and facilitators in the village, the community needed them. As I stood in the awkward silence that followed, I wondered how I, a gringa, had ended up being the person to tell them the news... How would the rest of the villagers find out? Would they just show up to an empty office? My thoughts are interupted by the really fast Ki'che' conversations that are now filling up the room... I desperately look at Don Alberto for any signs of clarity, I can't quite understand all of it, but I know they're not happy. I repeat that I want to continue with them without the NGO, it goes back and forth for about 20 minutes. It's getting late. I suggest they take a confidential vote on whether to continue on or not. They continue to speak in Ki'che', I think I understand, but I'm not sure... Could it be???? They all raise their hands, they're all looking right at me, as someone says, "Why should we do a secret vote, when we are all in agreement?" And then another voice in broken spanish... "You know, we've gotten used to you anyway..."

I feel like crying, I'm so happy, as they ask me things like, "what should we tell the rest of the villagers? where should they go for health services?? Can they still go to the health center in San Andres? what about vaccinations? Should we still tell people to go get their vaccination in the health post in the village next over." And I answer, "yes! yes! YES!!" And the final question..."So when's next month's meeting?"

As I walk out, I wonder to myself... could everything be possibly working right?? There must be a star looking after me. I have two more health vigilantes groups to convince as well in other villages within the coming weeks, but after this meeting, I feel optimistic. After they all leave, I do my last three house visits for my stove and cement floor project with two health vigilantes. It's pouring now, but I don't care, my stupid plastic shoes are sliding all over the mud, but today I don't fall. One by one, we do the visits, suprisingly they're all home. As I finish the last visit, I feel great, I've just finished my very last house visit out of hundreds I've done over the last 5 months.

It's still raining and muddy, and there are no more buses at this hour, I have to hitch a ride. Luckily, as I say goodbye to the health vigilante, I am picked up right away by an old man in an even older pick up that gives me a ride to the main road. On the ride there, the man wants to talk, and talk about.... FAMILY PLANNING! Could I be having this conversation with a 70 year old conservative Guatemalan? I sure was! This never happens. As I get dropped off on the main road, I start walking down to the main town to try to hitch a ride. But not 5 seconds too late, I hear someone trying to get my attention... A company snack vendor says he'll give me a ride into town in his van. Great! This never happens (and he even gave me free gum!)...

As I take my final walk to my bus stop back home, I see my bus patiently waiting for me there... It's all meant to be.... I look down at my dirty feet squished in my stupid plastic flats, and look up at the night sky, I look for her, I look for the star... It's out there somewhere looking at me looking for her. I know right then just for one day, we're one in the same in one perfect day.