Thursday, November 8, 2012

News From the South: Mission Impossible

It was pleasant to wake up to this each AM. Bocas Marina.
In my altruistic little world, I finally came upon a mission that truly made me wonder "What the hell am I doing?" Everything on the website of the organization seemed well suited to me, and I was told by the same organization how well suited I seemed for them. Neither of us could have been more wrong. And oh, I hate to be wrong about things that pertain to me.
Where shall I start? Well, I think I kept in pretty good contact with all involved, except I now know that the correspondence was sort of divied up. However, my dates and flight plans were all sent along, so someone would meet me at the Bocas airport.
Of course, leaving Panama City was an experience, as the plane was late by an hour and a half. Once I was staying in Bocas, I observed that the plane was always an hour and a half late. I could watch the planes coming in from my perch in the marina, cerveza firmly in hand. Everything in Bocas time, I guess. At any rate, I arrived in Bocas in the dark, in the pouring rain. And no one at the airport to meet me.

Poor embarrassed doggie!
I waited until the last passenger had been taxied away, then there was Antonio, an airport worker, and me, and still the dark, pouring rain. "No worries, Senora, I take care of you." I had to trust someone. In a brief moment of pre-mission sanity, I had printed off the mission package, which had the directions to the marina where the mission boat was parked. Okay. Moored. Docked. Whatever. Antonio grabbed me a cab, hoisted me and my belongings into it, and accompanied me to the water taxi dock. It was a long, dark alley, the kind you are told never to go down, even in your own home town. I nervously followed Antonio, and we came to the water taxi dock, where I and my bags were assisted into the covered taxi. Only when you are tooling through the water, the cover means diddly squat during a Caribbean rainstorm. For $2 USD, I was ferried to the Bocas marina, after a pit stop across the way to drop off another passenger. The driver put me out at the dinghy part of the dock, so we heaved my stuff out, I was wet, I was hungry, and a little cheesed off that I hadn't been met. But, thought I, the flight was delayed, maybe that's why no one was there. You see, I have this apprehension about arriving in places I don't know at night, maybe irrational. And as the water taxi took off, I realized that in my little huff of being scared and wet and hungry, that I had yet again, forgotten my backpack. Driver couldn't hear me for the buzz of the motor as he chugged into the middle of the rainy night. Have I mentioned that it was raining??? Made my way to the mission boat. Tossed my remaining bags and me on board. Dead silence. No one up top. I yelled down the stairs. Still nothing. Stomped around, yelled some more. Nothing. Left the boat, went to the marina cantina, still in the rain, where, thank the Lord, one lonely expat was sitting, trying to watch Sunday Night Football. Instead he was treated to Sunday Night Whine. Until his Missus came, with her computer and phone, and knew, thank goodness who to contact. Graciously, she sent the Mister to score me three cervezas, which I was ever so grateful for. You see, the cantina was closed, so barley sandwiches would be all my dinner consisted of that night. Missus, after a series of phonecalls, reached the Medical Director, who managed to reach someone on the boat. The Boat People had all been down in their rooms, either asleep or plugged into their electronic worlds. And I found out later, no one had been expecting a volunteer arrival for another couple of weeks, and certainly not me.

Stats entry office. Not too shabby!
I did not meet the Medical Director for a couple of days. First time was a handshake when I returned on my own after a clinic. The next time was at a clinic. All the days in between, while I was ready to give my heart and soul and work for the people of the area, all I can say is I felt useless. The clinics were being organized and run by non medical volunteers who had been there longer than I had, and were much younger than me.What they were missing, and what I was missing, was Fearless Leader, in the form of the Medical Director, who would be apparent for clinics, but otherwise was off doing other things for the organization, everything but directing. A huge insult to me was the use of the word "hand holding'' as in "He wants the volunteers to know that there is no hand holding." I am sure if you had looked out your windows at that moment, dear readers, that you could have seen what looked like a volcanic eruption from that area in the world, anywhere in the world you are living. No one holds these hands. No one. Maybe someone should someday, but that is another story, another context. Of course I kept my cool. I was told to the tell the Medical Director my concerns. Gladly. If I could find him.
And so it went for my 12 days. I saw the Medical Director a couple of times, had a private meeting scheduled after a general meeting, which, if I hadn't reminded him (the private meeting), might never have happened. I saw maybe 20 patients during my 12 days, and then I did something that was at first devastating to me, yet the best decision possible for me. I questioned myself, the validity of what I was doing, what I was expecting, and what was expected of me, and then, I bailed.
Beauty is skin deep, but ugly is that turkey (chick).
We were supposed to go into the Panamanian interior, and we water taxied to the mainland, a bus ride and a 3-5 hour hike into the hills would have had us to our destination. However, Panamanian politics being what it is, there was a road blockade enroute, so the multi day clinic was deferred until the following day. By this point, I had already changed my flight out of Bocas to Costa Rica to leave the weekend right after the clinic as I didn't want to spend another free weekend in Bocas. Now they were going to stay in the interior until Saturday, they would have to hire a guide to take me back down to the road, put me on the bus to Almirante, and then I would catch the water taxi back to Bocas Town. Along the way, the impromptu/recurring road blockades threatened to interrupt my journey back. Although the blockades were not the fault of the mission group, the writing was loud and clear on the Timeline of my life. The following day, the group left again. I, however, left the mission boat, and stayed in a hotel in Bocas Town, so I would not miss my changed again flight to San Jose the following day, and yes, I do know the way to San Jose, the San Jose I like, anyway. The flight was late, it was pouring rain, but never was I so glad to see a sign with my name on it. Andre, a driver I had during my previous visit to Costa Rica, was there with a smile.
Stairs to exam room. I did not fall off.
Of course, not all was bad. I still met an amazing group of people who had as little direction as I did. They just didn't have as loud a mouth as I did. In their own way, they are doing the best they can. In particular, my one translator for the clinic in Valle Escondido, a little town of stilted wooden homes with palapa rooftops, was an absolute joy to work with, he brought so much sunshine to that day, having to translate the art of self breast exams to one of my patients. He enjoyed challenging his Spanish, and it was one of the few days I felt that I had accomplished anything.
And then, there was the resident volunteer, a diamond in the rough, who got my backpack for me, intact, the morning after I had lost it. The computer had been sitting outside the pack itself, between the mesh that separates the backpack from my back in order to cool things off, so important for an impending Grandma. It came back as well.
So this is not my usual funny stuff, and I apolgize. I had to think, maybe I was not worthy of this mission. Or maybe the mission might not have been worthy of me. In the end, I cannot help everyone, poor or otherwise. Lip service is superficial. Actions speak. And while bailing was an action I am not particularly proud of, it spoke my mind more than any of my words had so far, although I fear that those silent words spoken by that action were not heard, again. And now, I will continue to help others, with a light and happy heart.
Why I keep doing what I do.

1 comment:

  1. Oh you poor thing...the sadness I feel for your experience is the kind that comes from being sure that you can use your love of the people to make their lives a little better, and then having your heart broken. I think you must be very brave to have handled it all so well, and thank goodness you are okay. Wow....:(