Saturday, January 28, 2017

Getting Lucky in Mexico

So now my second mission,  2016, ah yes, I believe the luck o' the Irish was with me, at the very least, I had Fr, Bennet on my side, in Mexico once again. And it goes like this.....
What the flock?

Due to circumstances beyond my control, and a challenge to the flexibility of the mission director's life, I felt compelled to rent a car while out last fall, while based in Cancun, but travelling to a different village everyday outside of the big city, which took forever and many topés to get out of. Driving in Cancún is a tangle of one way streets that never seem to make sense, except that you arrive at your destination, but you don't know how. I was born with a decent sense of direction, which earned me the moniker "The Navigator" during my life. I instinctively knew which way to turn, without the guidance of a map.

Cancún has changed that. After renting a nifty Volkswagon Jetta, I managed to get back to our Cancún base safely with the guidance of one of my Mexican doctors, and it made sense. Following our Drag-a-pharmacy out to the main highway to go to a distant mission site, however, was a series of twists and turns that was lost in the spider web of my mind. Using the GPS on the way back in took me on a different more confusing route. To this day, I cannot reconcile that route in my mind as being fast or logical. Eventually I found my own way out, and my own way in, using a minimal number of turns and roads that made sense. To me. And God saw thankfully that it was good.
Don't try this at home....

One fine morning as I was following traffic, truly not going any faster than anyone else, I was pulled over by the long arm of the law. Apparently doing 86 in a 60km zone. And to my great advantage, I had in my back seat the best possible weapon: my lovely Dra. Iskia, who sweet talked and charmed my way out of a ticket. All I had to do was wait until another stopped car had gone on, so they wouldn't realize I had gotten off. With a smile and a "Slow down!" we were on our way.

Imagine my surprise at the law flexing its other arm another day, this time for doing 73 in the 60 zone. I won't lie to you and say I wasn't sh*tting bullets in my driver's seat. My car said rental, my face said tourist, enough to earn me a fine in spite of all the cars passing me by. And of course my driver's license was in the trunk. Dra.Iskia to the rescue once again. Pleaded our case of being missionaries helping the Mexican people, she got out of the car to retrieve my backpack and driver's license for me, and came back with another reprieve. Another smile and admonishment to slow down. And thankfully I did not have to show my license. Because it was back at the hotel.

People can be stink heads all over the world. Take the guy who parked next to me at the hotel with his lovely BMW, and scraped my driver's side quarter panel quite nicely when making an early morning getaway. there is no way he/she would have not noticed the scraping, such was the damage. And yet off they went. The hotel has security cameras, for a fee they could retrieve the videos, but when they looked at them, and would not let me look at them, they said they did not show anything. the owner's daughter, bless her heart, came by with an amigo, who managed to buff and polish most of the scrapes into oblivion. I had insurance on the car, but likely would just pay a deductible and not much more for the remaining damage. I hoped.
I think I like you better than a roach...I think. 

The night I returned my vehicle, my Mexican amigos had forgotten all about it and had returned to Playa del Carmen while we were in Cancún. While I have a bit of Spanish, and the car rental guys speak perfect English, I had wanted someone who could converse with them in Spanish regarding the ding. When I had picked up the car, we had driven during the day, but returning the vehicle it was night time, so I conscripted a German volunteer who spoke fluent Spanish to help me out. All I needed was to get to the hotel zone. He led me there in our mission pick up truck, and I took over once I recognized the now dark surroundings.

It is amazing how much the night time changes your perception of distance. After what I thought was a forever drive, I pulled to the side of the dimly lit road to confer with my buddy who was now following me. And what do you know, the long arm of the law stopped again. With my heart in my boots, I thought "What now...?" maybe they thought one of us was broken down. Apparently on the hotel zone road it is illegal to stop.  We were chided to get moving, and denied a ticket yet again. I asked the one chap on the motorcycle where the particular car rental agency was that I wanted. He looked at me like I had six heads. But it was "just over there." And off they and we went.
Always welcome in my clinic. 

I nervously pulled into the parking lot of the agency, while my German buddy had to find a spot in the crowded lot. The same gentleman I had rented the car from happened to be on. I held my breath as he went out to perform his inspection walk about. I might have even turned blue. I just about fainted when he said all was well, and in fact, he was going to give me a discount from the original price we had negotiated earlier in the week, but to por favor not forget him at tipping time. I gave him what I had in pesos. Which coupled with the new discounted price was still less than the original price of the vehicle. My buddy had not needed to speak for me. And me arse was saved yet again.
You had my shoe where? You can keep it now, I have 3 more...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Murphy's Law - News From the South

The Gang.
The first two weeks of the spring Mexican medical mission were great, said our wonderful Chaplain, everything went perfectly. So I knew I was doomed.

It all started on the return trip from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen. I love boat rides, big boats, small boats, everything in between. I laugh in the face of bad weather, high seas, the rocking of any ship except for this one little trip on the ferry. The weather was fine, but the wind had stirred up a few waves. This was going to be fun, so I thought as we headed out to less sheltered waters. And then it hit. What the heck was that, in the pit of my stomach? Maybe just the leftovers from last night's dinner...? Had I consumed any tequila...? I thought not. The ferry was bobbing up and down, and swaying gently, so I thought, back and forth. The guy with the barf bags had come by prior to the departure, and I thought to myself that folks must have pretty weak stomachs. How many times one has to learn in one's lifetime to never criticize anyone in any situation, until  the situation has been personally experienced. The bobbing and the swaying combined with the lack of air, the number of people, and I finally had my first taste in 57 years of being sea sick. I wasn't even interested in an on board cerveza, now can you just imagine that? Feeling that brash in the back of my throat, until I really thought I was going to lose it. I high tailed it to the bathroom, and stayed there until we were a few minutes from Playa. And then to the nearest farmacia for dimenhidrinato. And God saw that it was fit for me not to lose my breakfast.
The work is hard......

When acting as the Director of Logistics, one has to sometimes think on their feet and flexible, and find solutions to everyday problems. Usually that means finding water, medicines that we don't have, alternate clinic sites when something promised does not pan out. So... we arrived at our pre-arranged, sight unseen hotel, in Bacalar.. It was evening already, we were all tired from our long journey. We were expected, it did take a moment to find the hotel guy to check us in, but he had all the rooms for us. Now, part of our group was in another two vehicles behind us, towing our farmacia. This figures a bit later, so keep with the tour. I divvied up the rooms, placing folks in appropriate rooms as I could. Then we all went to them....

My room was not yet made up. It was evening already. Sheets that you could read a newspaper through. But a nice big bathroom. No paper. I told the manager. "Don't worry. It's okay. It will be done by eight." Can't remember what time it was, but okay. Then one of the missionaries came out, no working lock on her door. One of the others jiggled her door, got it to lock, and all was well, until she checked out her window. Sure she could feel the lakeside breeze, with no window slats and no screens, and in an area known to have mosquito borne chikungunya. "Really? Don't worry, it's okay, maybe I have extra slats." said th ehotel guy. Which never appeared. "It's okay, don't worry, I will give her another room." Bless his heart. He gave her the one that smelled like raw sewage. "Oh. Must have been the divers. Don't worry, it's okay, I have another room." Now I could have these two incidents somewhat mixed up such is my mind, because the window slats may have happened in a third room for the same missionary and not in the first room. But no matter. Because the result in the end was the same. So I informed the manager that the second room had actually been assigned to our chaplain, and God only knows what reparations he must make here on earth, but I did not think that sleeping in a room over a ruptured septic tank was what the good Lord had in mind. "Don't worry! It's okay, I have another very special room left for him." Then the other reports of glassless, screenless rooms filtered in from other missionaries, and I had to decide. We were not staying there. It was dark now. I remembered seeing a lit "Hotel" sign up the road not too far, so one of the missionaries and I walked up. Could they accommodate I think it was 15 people on short notice. He showed me a room. It was clean. There were windows. Decent sized bathrooms, and air conditioning. Sold! So we packed everything up. And started to head out, handing in all of our keys. I apologized, explained my reasons. "Don't worry. It's okay." And my room, after 8 PM, was still not made up.
King of the hill.

Our little group still on the road, in the meantime, had punctured a tire. No problem said they, with a spare in the boot. Which was flat itself. I received a frantic phone call to send someone back to "pick up your mother". Kathy had separated her shoulder a few nights before, and I was requested, before I knew the state of affairs in the hotel, to send someone to pick her up. Which I did not do. Unbeknownst to us, because the tire was flat, they had to go find air on a highway with few towns on it. This is Mexico. there is no Esso (or Petro Canada for us Canucks), on every corner. The two of them, our Chaplain and Kathy, drove on, in the second vehicle, with the flat spare tire, to find air. And wouldn't you know it. Sunday. Nada. They ended up going to several places as directed by the inhabitants of a wee town, before finally filling the tire and being able to return to the traveling farmacia. They met us in a nice little resto in Bacalar later in the evening, where some good Mexican food, margaritas, and cervezas made everything better.
Oh would you like to swing on a star?

Did I tell you the one about losing the brakes....? Our farmacia on wheels went right past the first mission site, which I thought was kind of weird. By the time they had turned around and ventured back, I had decided where the farmcia was going, in a most logical way, being director of, well, logistics. I went on the road to direct them where to turn. One of the missionaries, the six foot four one, was hanging more than halfway out the passenger window. Yelling at me. Me with my good hearing..."What...?" "Blah Blah!"  "What?" "BLAH! BLAH!" "Sorry, can't hear you!" "NO BRAKES!!!! Fortunately, the site was on an incline, and so was easily and safely reached with no casualties, namely me.
We were ruined...

Now let me tell you about the amazing folks that we met. Who offered their own vehicles and time to pull our farmacia around to the various sites we visited while our truck was being repaired, because things like repairs do not happen quickly in remote areas. Who came before we were even out of our rooms to quietly hook up the farmacia to their personal trucks and get it over to where our next clinic would be. This could be a half hour or close to two hours away, depending on where we were going. And every night, they would faithfully plunk it back to its resting spot in the parking lot, usually later than when we got back. Rinse and repeat. Who returned us a repaired truck when parts were finally obtained. Without the kindness of many people, many others would have suffered.

This should scare them roaches...!
Having the lowest of the rooms ensured me of a fine wild life experience. What was crunching in the middle of the night, you ask? The dang roaches, that's who, and rightly so, shame on them for dancing in the Director's room on a nightly basis, crawling up the concrete bed base whilst listening to my pleas "Get out! GET OUT!!! GET OUT NOW!!!!  Ya f***ing bastards!  Filthy neanderthal arthropods!!!" They were stomped on, towel whipped, cursed at, thrown at and suitably squished many times. By the time I had become as wobbly as the roach guts, I had to enlist Kathy to clean up one particularly bad result of insecticide. But oh those roaches had one last surprise left for me, in a fit of hari kari, one particularly nasty specimen saw fit to crawl out of the toilet paper tube of the new roll I had put my fingers in, and skittle up my arm. I bet he didn't know he could fly so far. I could hear faint roach laughter right before I did the Mexican Hat dance on him. It was a three tequila shot night after that.

And so those were my little sufferings on what a very successful mission for those we served. The abuelos and abuelitas, the niños, and everyone in between.

Did I tell you about the attack turkey.......?
Attack consequences.