Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brigada to Choluteca

As you can maybe see in the above picture that I tried to annotate with Apple Preview, Monday afternoon we left for our first brigada. So Wyatt and I went with Victor, who is an optometrist and the outreach director at the clinic, three hours south to Choluteca, which is both a city in a region, but we actually went to the city. (... Surprise, parents! Kind of close to Nicaragua.) Victor said that for the past couple months there haven't been any volunteers so brigadas have been hard on his own, because he often gets between 80-100 people who come to them in one day. Which is great, but solo I am sure that is quite stressful. He says that usually there are 4-5 volunteers who come on brigadas, so with just the two of us we were not sure what would happen. Nevertheless, we were both really excited. This is what we came for!

Anyway... the drive was beautiful, the area between Tegus and Choluteca is really mountainous and green so it was beautiful.

Side note about roads: not the best. Every once in awhile we would get to a patch of highway that was covered in dirt and rock because part of the mountain had collapsed on it during a period of monumental rain in October. As you may be able to see in the above picture, part of the road had collapsed during the rain three months ago.

So we got to Choluteca around 4, which was a really cool city. With about 150,000 people it is much smaller than Tegus (1.5 mil), but the feel was completely different. We got set up at a hotel Victor stays at every time he goes on brigada to Choluteca, and it was really nice. Choluteca is a lot hotter than Tegus since it's farther south, and reminded me a lot of beach towns I went to in Ecuador... minus the beach part. We were still pretty inland.
My hotel room. Even with AC, it was a sweatastic night.

That night, Victor drove us to a restaurant that he said was really good. Which was very true. It was like meat paradise. I've put vegetarianism on hold while I am here and very glad that I have done so.

In Choluteca, Victor has a friend named Ramona who got cataracts surgery two years ago as a result of one of the brigadas. Ramona is all about volunteering and helping other people get surgeries they need, so she helps round up people and organize them for Victor. She's also a trusted local, and carries clout with the community. She made us tamales for breakfast.

Outside Ramona's house

We went to a nearby Catholic church that was hosting the space for the brigada. This was also beautiful.

Some of the 600 pairs of glasses I lugged 2,000 miles. When we figured out people's prescriptions, they were directed to the correct bag of reading glasses and we helped them pick out a pair. For people who could pay or needed glasses in a prescription number higher than what we had, there were frames they could chose from to get a special pair made up.

Ramona, explaining the cataracts surgery process. This is the primary function of brigadas. Patients with cataracts are identified, and then it is arranged for them to come to Tegus (Javier picks them up) and stay 2 nights for the surgery and follow up.

We taped eye charts to the wall, and tested vision. This is not always easy to explain. Partly because asking "Which direction do the legs go?" seems kind of weird. And there is no one way to answer this question. Some people point, others say "E," "M," W," or "3," while others just say up/down etc. And then there are the people who don't quite understand what is happening, and clearly understand that the backwards E they are seeing is a backwards E, but just say "E." Sometimes this test can get a little unnecessarily complicated, but in general people are happy to do it because their world is blurry and they want glasses.

Victor, setting up his part of the church.

Victor, explaining how he was going to use a light to check for cataracts. The red reflection that you see in pictures (every single picture of me) means that your eyes are healthy. However, when a person has cataracts, the lens is cloudy and the red reflection is obscured. Seven people with cataracts were identified, and Ramona got their contact info to help set up their trip to Tegus.

While Victor handled the technical part, Wyatt and I did VA exams and helped people get their glasses, which was actually really fun. Most people were pretty excited to be getting glasses, and it was interesting to be part of the choosing process. Restoring Vision donated the glasses, and some of the patterns are kind of goofy. One pair has dog bones printed all over them. However, most women preferred the brighter color frames, in stripes and polka dots. Men were kind of a challenge because there just aren't as many frames for men, but this was a fun challenge that my year of working at the GAP Outlet in Freeport helped with. People like getting compliments and encouragement.

It was a long, hot day, but incredibly rewarding. We left for Tegus around 3:30 and as soon as I got back to my room at the hotel I put my socks to soak in the sink because they smelled like poison. Wyatt is leaving on Friday and five more volunteers are coming on Sunday, and Victor said we'll be going to the west (to Lempira) on brigada next week. Exciting!

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