Last week I traveled to Guatemala with a friend from dental school (Mike Lindman) and a friend from his ward (Jeff Newton) to provide dental services to an orphanage. We mixed the trip with a bit of business and a bit of pleasure. I wish I could tell you all of the things that occurred, but the following is a brief travel-log. (More photos and videos will come after I get them from Mike and Jeff. My camera broke after the third day)
Saturday February 23
Arrived Saturday evening to Guatemala City and stayed at a Holiday Inn.
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Sunday night we slept at the branch presidents house. It reminded me of my days in Brazil while serving a mission. Early Monday morning we started working on the orphan children. Each one of them laid on our make-shift chair (a round table covered with a sheet and pillow) while we examined their mouth. We fixed the teeth that could be fixed and extracted the teeth that couldn't. Jeff did a great job jumping back and forth to translate for us and assist where he could. The process was slow, which made me really grateful for my trained assistant back home. We were able to see most all of the orphan kids on Monday. On Tuesday we opened our services up to the members of the branch and the community. We had a manageable steady flow all day.
It was interesting to me that the condition of the teeth between the orphans and the public. When we opened the clinic up to the public on Tuesday, we saw significantly more decay and tooth problems. It was immediately apparent and obvious that one segment of the population had access to sugar and the other segment did not. The orphan kids had relatively good oral health. They also didn't have access to candy and sweets like the other kids did. Many of the kids outside the orphanage would beg and cry until they could get candy, or the parents would use candy as a mechanism to control behavior. "If you stop crying...or if you are good...you can have some candy." The question really is; who is controlling the behavior of who?
We packed up late Tuesday afternoon and drove back to Guatemala City. We had to "get out of Dodge" before it became dark because the road we were traveling was pretty dangerous. There had been many roadside blockades while thieves stop the cars and steal everything. When we got into Guatemala City we went out to a nice restaurant to celebrate the work we had accomplished. 58 patients, and 170+ procedures: Not bad for two dentists, two days, a headlamp, a make shift dental clinic, and no trained assistant.
It was at dinner when we had one of the more funny experiences of the trip. After we ordered our meal, three singers came to our table and began to sing to us. We enjoyed their performance and tipped them accordingly. When they looked at the tip, they got very angry and said that the cost for three songs was $10. (Interesting that they didn't tell us before they started singing). After a few very awkward and tense moments, we satisfied their request and then mentioned the scam to our waiter. A few minutes later we saw the three amigos arguing with the manager as he kicked them out of the restaurant. We later found out he fired them from all three of his restaurants in town. Apparently, the singers had been warned before for their questionable business practices and that night they got the boot. We were afraid we were going to get jumped and beaten with a guitar as we left the restaurant.
We spent Tuesday night at the hotel and got up the next morning to catch a flight to Tikal. We arrived in Tikal Wednesday afternoon and went on a zip-line adventure before entering the park. You can see in the video that we had a rambunctious time. We walked around the ruins and climbed on the ancient temples. The next morning we awoke at 4:30 a.m. to go on a tour of the park and sit and watch the sunrise while listening to the monkeys and other wildlife wake up. It was a beautiful sight and sound. We finished walking though the park and then that night we flew back to Guatemala City.
Friday we took a taxi to the Guatemala City LDS temple and went through a session before we caught our flight back home. It was interesting to me the oasis the temple provided. The city was dirty, rough, dangerous, busy, and uncaring. As we entered the grounds of the temple a feeling of safety was palpable. What a blessing the temple provides to the members of the church to have a place to go and remove themselves from the struggles of life. Though I've had those feelings before, the safety the temple provided was even more apparent in an environment where safety was not the norm. God bless the USA.