Saturday, April 19, 2008


We move forward at a place that is not recognizable in the states and still movement is being made. We have made it thru the first phase of our WASH (water, sanitation & hygiene) project. We will soon be training many people of the 24 villages chosen to train their communities in waste & animal management as well as safe water practices. It is very rewarding to know they have concern for the environment and are willing to make moves to better their situations. It's a lot of work and very time consuming as the travel is very difficult. We have been asking since January for driving privileges and again at a very slow pace they may come thur - lets hope before we leave.

A couple days ago I was travelling into the villages with the public nurse from Punta Gorda Hospital. Nurse Hazel. We were investigating an infant death at 1 yr and 2 mos in a family of 7 children as well as 4 infant deaths in another family of 7.

As we contact the Community Nurses' Aide, CNA, we find out she has been called to deliver a baby. We headed to Teresa Cucul's home. Teresa is 22 and this is her second child. Her first is three years old. The fact that she doesn't already have 4-5+ children and that they are spaced more than a year apart makes her a positive example within the village according to Nurse Hazel. However, Teresa has been in labor for over 12 hours and there is concern on her mother's face as well as Teresa's. Nurse Hazel says she must remain there to "catch this baby". We enter the one room dirt floor thatch. A tarp and blanket have been hung to create a birthing room. There is a twig bed inside and a large loop of some fibre hanging over the bed. Nurse Hazel takes Teresa's hand and brings her out into the daylight to see her coloring. She is very exhausted looking, yet still walking and not one word of complaint leaves her lips. In the next minute Nurse Hazel has her back in the room examining her to see how far along the birth is and we hear - the baby's head is right here. Women are carrying jugs of water slung around their heads and pouring water into a pot on the fire hearth next to the "birthing room". Not one complaint do we hear from Teresa. Teresa's husband comes in and out but for the most part stays outside with a couple of friends. One and half hours later a little boy apprx. 6lbs is born. After the little one is born Teresa lets her hair down and puts some in her mouth. This is believed to initiate contractions to expel the placenta. Nurse Hazel cuts the cord before the placenta has been expelled much to the shock of the Mayan women. They do not cut it until both baby and placenta have been "caught". Not yet bathed he is wrapped in a "clean" thin towel. After Teresa has been cleaned up Nurse Hazel asks me to take pictures of mama nursing here baby for the first time as well as pictures of the birthing room. (She will use these for education purposes)...I feel I am being somewhat obtrusive by doing this but I do believe Teresa felt my awe at letting me part of this little miracle. There was such naturalness and simplicity in this event thankfully. The Hospital is trying to encourage mothers to come into town to birth their babies but the travel is difficult - many fathers still deliver the babies and do not want their wives to come into town for many reasons - all of which we can only guess at.

After this event we investigate the infant deaths. The little girl that died on the way to the hospital at 1yr & 2mos - her mother is still feeling the pain as Nurse Hazel has to question her. She has seven living children all very close in age. Her living conditions are very meager and food is scarce. The child never gained her proper weight and would not take any solid foods. They did do a post Morton at the time (which was two months ago - there was no transportation until now to do the investigation). During the post-mortem they found brown liquids. The mother at the time said the baby had had nothing to eat. Now the mother says the baby was given coffee and cacao.(chocolate bean)
We move on to another home where the mother has had 7 pregnancies and only two children are living. The second child about 6 and the seventh a newborn. The first child, - babies 3,4 & five did not live past 6 months and it was determined just before they passed that they were blind. The 6th child was stillborn. Nurse Hazel asks many questions. She encourages the mother strongly to come into PG to have the opthamologist now there look at her baby. They are trying to determine whether the children were born blind or become blind It is difficult at this time of the year as the father's are working on their milpas (corn or bean plantations) either harvesting or preparing the soil for the rainy season and the father's have to give permission for the mother to go. It is suspected that these children may have a sibling pair for parents.
It's hard to reconcile this life with the one we all know and are grateful for, especially our beautiful families.

We hope your Easter was wonderful. We spent ours with the wonderful Miss Dita (62 yrs) who took us to San Ignacio for a couple days. There were about 10 of us Peace Corps and otherwise who toured the ATM cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal) It was a 45 minute hike into the bush, stop for lunch then a jump into the river to swim in the mouth of the cave. We traveled (walking & swimming) 1500 meters in. We reached a boulder about 10-12 feet high we had to climb. After that we removed our shoes to enter the dry portion of the cave and experienced the energy of the ancient Maya. I was imagining what our moms would say about walking in our socks. There were many artifacts as well as skeletal remains. Quite awesome.
The archaeologists can not figure exactly what the caves were used for. Caves are entrances to the earth mother and the spirits of rain, clouds, water all reside in caves. It is known that in burial ceremonies the shaman would gaze into the smoke and once the image of the departed was recognized they captured that spirit in pottery and turned it up-side-down. The prayers were said, ceremony performed, communion with the spirit, and once finished the pot was broken so the spirit could be free again. Many of these pots were still in the cave, just as they were last used and had been calcified onto the floor of the cave or altar rock. Skeletal remains were everywhere from 6 mos. to 47 years, possibly a rather old person for the times. Some skulls have signs of a blow to the head, therefore creating the impression of sacrifice. Still.........nobody knows for sure. We just made up our own stories.

Dita also took us to see what is arguably the premier ecotourism lodge in the country. Chaa Creek Lodge was the creation of a couple of 70's hippie societal dropout runaways. They came here the year we got married. Had to be a very different world. We were also treated to a visit to Spanish Lookout. This is an area populated mostly by Mennonites. After a trip down a gravel/rock road, taking a hand-crank ferry across the river, about a 1/4 mile ride up the hill from the river we came out somewhere in the US Midwest! Farmland as far as you could see. Implement and service companies on the corners of section roads. Just about anything you would want to find for farming and a drive through soft ice cream shop. If you got out of the car you could get lunch and a complete array of dairy products. All together a most memorable Easter.

We better get out for now. Hard work today trying to get laundry done. The rain gods from the caves are playing tricks.

We don't have all our photos off to Nathan yet but soon.

Love to all