On the beauty.
Here in Honduras, I’ve had the privilege to experience beauty.
Some of it is crazy, knock your socks off, stunning beauty, while some of it is subtle, simple, quiet beauty that you have to pay close attention to notice. Some of it is visual, in the verdant green hillsides and the quaint landscape of rustic villages, while some of it is less tangible, and can only be sensed in the stillness of an evening or the kindness of a stranger. And some of it is something else…an example of which I will attempt to share here.
The first day of clinic, we were seeing women from Potreritos, the most far-flung community of the six that we serve. The women of this village have to wake before dawn and travel by foot for hours – through thick brush, steep mountainsides, and rocky, muddy footpaths, to arrive at the clinic site. With the heavy rains in the past week, however, the most dangerous aspect of the journey that day would be fording the engorged river, which holds local fame for drowning a woman who attempted to cross during rainy season last year.
That morning, I spent the hour-long ride in the back of Pedro’s rusty pickup truck soaking in the stunning views of the lush, beautiful countryside and feeling the cool early morning wind in my face…all the while recognizing that the ruggedness of the landscape was lovely from our perch, but that it could be the very thing that could prevent us from accomplishing our mission that day. We arrived to the clinic building and busied ourselves setting up the rooms, recognizing that if nobody arrived, it was all for naught. Given that women normally arrive hours early to claim their place in line, the quiet was foreboding.
And then, over the hill, they came. For me, it is always powerful to see these women all gathered together in one place in the name of their health, but this was different. It wasn’t just the women who came – it was as if the entire village of Potreritos descended upon our clinic. Women and their babies were on horses, led by men wearing jeans and worn cowboy hats. I went to greet them and learned that the river had been too high for the women to safely cross alone, and so the community had come together to make it possible for them to come. The older children stayed behind to watch their younger siblings. The men, most of whom are sustenance farmers, left their fields to lead their horses, which carried the women and their babies, across the river.
A woman I met, who had come to clinic every year for the 8 that HHA has been here, explained it to me like this: “I have 8 children. If I get sick, who will care for them? Who will make sure they grow strong and healthy? My family can only be healthy if I am healthy.” She went on to say, “The road here is long and hard. Many women say no, no I cannot go. I have to stay here to care for my children. I am afraid of the river. And I tell them, no. To care for your children, you must go. You must have this test, how else can you know if you are sick? The river is one thing, but the sickness, it is another. So I bring them with me. Some of the men know this too, that their woman must go, and so they helped us cross the river….because they know we need this and our lives depend on it.”
For me, that morning was beautiful for many reasons.
It was beautiful because of the way it demonstrated community.The women arrived together, and they left together. The younger women came because their older vecinas encouraged them to. On the way there, they spoke about their fears in anticipation of the exam, and on the long trip home I’m certain they compared notes and reassured one another that their results would come back normal. The communal nature of their health care experience this week sits in such stark contrast to my experiences back home – where I drive to my annual appointment alone (likely grumbling if traffic makes my commute take 20 minutes instead of 15), read a magazine in silence in the waiting room, and receive my results in the mail several days later – likely never speaking to anybody, even my closest friends, about my experience.
It was also beautiful because of the role that the men played. So often here, when we discuss the role of men in women’s health, the story I hear is the story of machismo. The story of a debilitating power differential between the men and their women. The story of husbands forbidding their wives from using family planning, forcing her to plan escondida, hiding her pills and taking them after he has gone to sleep…or forcing her tired body to bear 8, 9, sometimes over 10 children she doesn’t have the resources to feed. The story of women who are not allowed to come to the clinic because their husband’s don’t want anybody else – even a doctor – to see her parte. These stories are real and I hear them often – but that morning, it was beautiful to see the other side. It was beautiful and it was hopeful to see their support and participation in the process.
Here in Honduras, I’ve had the privilege to experience beauty. I have a camera full of pictures and a head full of stories to show for it – but sometimes, it is the slight adjustments in my perspective and my perceptions of what life, health, community, gender, power, and love really mean that are most beautiful.