With the project in Honduras quickly approaching, those of us who are a part of HHA are scrambling to get everything in order. We’ve been planning for months, but now, our plans are in super turbo mode. My spare bedroom looks like a medical supply warehouse explosion, my desk is covered with IRB applications, and I’m beginning to envision how I will possibly pack for a journey that will include fly-fishing on an Alaskan river, hiking on glaciers, being a bridesmaid in a formal wedding, and backpacking through Central America, sleeping on hammocks, riding donkeys, and taking bucket baths by the light of a headlamp. (Perhaps I should have mentioned that I’m traveling to Honduras directly from my brother-in-law’s wedding…in Alaska.) I should have reserved my last post on preparing for a trip for this time around – if I thought I had a lot to think about then, I was sure kidding myself. So to reign in the craziness, I plan.
As the trip approaches, I’ve been asked a lot about what I’m actually going to DO while I’m in Honduras. “What are your plans?” they ask. Its a good question. In a mere 3-week trip, we are setting out to accomplish a lot. We have a lot of plans. If there’s anything I’ve learned about working in a developing country, its that nothing goes according to plan…however, the itinerary that we hope to go by is below – in other words, this is the plan:
Friday, June 24: Don a green bridesmaid dress, walk down the aisle, pose for photos in the eternal Alaskan twilight, eat some wedding cake, and dance the night away at my brother-in-law’s wedding in Anchorage (perhaps only slightly reliving my own wedding almost exactly one year prior.
Saturday, June 25: Wake up, wash the smeared makeup from my face and the crusty hairspray from my hair, and board a plane bound for Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Enter the twilight zone of 30+ hours of travel from the far reaches of the inhabitable northern hemisphere to the sweltering jungle that is Central America.
Sunday, June 26: Arrive in Tegucigalpa. Ride in a careening taxi through the noise, dirt, and energy of urban Honduras. Sleep off the travel and perhaps, if I’m lucky, meet up with a fellow HBHE at the local Applebee’s (yes, there is an Applebee’s in Tegus. I wonder if their Sizzling Smokehouse Chicken Stack is up to par…)
Monday, June 27: Board a bus and head 5 hours south toward El Corpus with a group of 16 other UNC medical and public health students. I’m sure the first thing I’ll do when I arrive is give my 7-year-old friend Samantha a big abrazo and share a chocobanana, then we’ll all settle in and meet our host families. HHA gives health education talks (charlas) on nutrition, family planning, sexual health, and gender-based violence, so I will spend the first couple of days leading a training for the medical students in preparation for presenting the charla material.
Thursday, June 30: Head for the hills. Our group of 17 will split into groups of 2-3 to head out to the rural communities HHA exists to serve. Although El Corpus itself is a small, sleepy village, it does enjoy the modern conveniences of electricity, spotty running water, cobblestone roads, and a school, several churches, and even a baseball field. We will travel by bus, burro (donkey), and foot to small communities that lack all of these things. There we will stay with the local health promoters (lay health advisers who voluntarily serve their community’s health needs as best they can) and spend several days presenting charlas to the women who live in the communities. I will be traveling to Los Terreros, the most far-flung but largest community, and in addition to charlas, will be conducting in-depth interviews with the women as a part of my qualitative research project for my practicum.
Sunday, July 3: Return to El Corpus, take a nice shower, brush our teeth, and swap stories…then begin preparing for the week of clinic.
Monday, July 4: Clinic begins! We will wake up before dawn, board Pedro’s pickup truck, and make the 45-minute journey to Madrigales for clinic each morning. Each day of the week is designated for one of the communities we visited the week before, and women from the assigned community will travel to Madrigales each day to visit the clinic – for many of them, the only time they will see a doctor all year. Women will receive pap smears, family planning services (including a year’s supply of the pill, male/female condoms, and even IUD’s for those who choose), and diagnosing/treatment for STI’s and other gynecological problems. Our makeshift clinic will be set up in a community center, and we will see up to 80 women per day.
Saturday, July 9: On the final day of clinic, we will travel beyond Madrigales to Los Terreros – the community I will have visited the week before. Because it is so far and so many women live there, HHA comes to them and sets up clinic in the local school house.
Sunday, July 10: After an exhausting couple of weeks, we will have a couple of days to kill. The samples from the pap smears conducted in clinic will be sent to the Planned Parenthood affiliate (ASHONPLAFA) in Choluteca, the nearest city, to be analyzed. In the meantime, our group will spend some time there to check email (it may be our first access to internet since leaving Tegus), enjoy some American fare (ahem, Wendy’s), and air conditioning. We will also likely tour ASHONPLAFA or the HIV testing facility to get a sense of healthcare in slightly more urban Honduras.
Tuesday, July 12: We will return to El Corpus and on to Madrigales to assist with some improvements to the building that we use for the clinic – over the past few years, the roof has slowly given out – making clinic very difficult to maintain given that we visit during July, the rainy season in this part of Honduras. We will also hold a small conference for the village health promoters, in which Amy (my travel buddy from March) will present the findings of her research and discuss ways that we can better support and/or train the village health promoters in health care provision for their communities.
Thursday, July 14: The final step for us will be to return to the communities we visited at the beginning of the trip with the women’s pap smear results in hand. Rather than asking hundreds of women to make the grueling journey to return to us to receive their results, we will come to them. For women who need follow-up care, we will leave funds with the local health promoter that will pay for the women’s travel to Choluteca to receive the needed services from ASHONPLAFA. When they do make the journey there for their follow-up visit, HHA will cover the cost of their care.
Saturday, July 16: Return to El Corpus for a final night of celebrating the end of our project. I’m sure many tearful goodbyes will be said (and many chocobananas eaten).
Sunday July 17: Back to Tegus, back to the States…and on to the next adventure!
So there you have it. Our plans. After July 17, I’m sure I’ll be sharing with you all the ways that things didn’t go according to those plans. While that is stressful in some ways, in others, it is a bit liberating to let go. We’ve been planning this for months, but I know that when we arrive, surprises will happen and we’ll have to go with the flow. Our plans will guide us, but our ability to be flexible, resourceful, and cheerful are what will make this a success. At the end of the day, sticking to the plan will not be our measure of success. As long as we engage with the communities responsibly, empower women to make healthy choices, and provide healthcare to a bunch of people who wouldn’t have it otherwise…that is what we truly plan to accomplish, and that is what matters most.
So there you have it. Our plans. Check in with me in August and I’ll tell you what really happened.