Monday, December 17, 2007

Small is the new big

It slapped me like a wet fish that for all the blogging we've done, people don't really know the day to day things about us that make us... us. You can ask someone if they've been to Moscow (haven't) or whether they've seen Cats at the Winter Garden Theater, but that's not knowing someone. Knowing someone is knowing that they hate smelly towels or that they add baking soda to their toothpaste or that they wear dirty clothes again after spending two weeks on the floor. Maybe that's just knowing a college student.

So there are some things you need to know. Like the fact that our place is hemmed in by railroad tracks, so that there is always a slim but distinct chance that day or night you could be trapped inside or outside our little world for up to 45 minutes at a time. This poses some fun logistical challenges and some amazing car rides where you attempt to beat the train to the next crossing, jumping the tracks in a flurry of sparks and the trunk pops open like in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

That our shower consistently sets off the fire alarm if you leave the bathroom door open longer than 40 seconds.

That we use ski poles for curtain rods (I think I deserve to receive an honorary editorship to Readymade Magazine for that) or sliding door tracks for picture shelves. That one... not so cool. More cheap than cool.

You might not know that we save all our important conversations for Tuesday afternoons to be more efficient in our use of time.

That last one is ridiculous. We don't do that.

Sometimes we can see Mt. Hood from the window of our office if you crane your head up and to the left and it's not cloudy. December has not been kind.

Our favorite breakfasts are granola and yogurt or cereal and soy milk. Usually frosted mini wheats unless the soy flax is on sale. That sounds so earthy. I might as well tell you that we put wheat germ on both at this point.

That's enough for now.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Some Things in No Particular Order

This happened. We stumbled upon this sight while on our way downtown to check out the Portland Christmas tree. It's as weird as it looks.

Don't look too closely.

So you deserve an explanation. Imagine we just bumped into each other, and you ask something innocent like "What have you been up to?" This requires an in-depth response, so if you've got time, get comfy. We've moved on from the thousands of Santas in the picture, if you're still hung up on that.

Let me start from the beginning, or at least go back with me a few months for some good buildup. Emily is in her 4th year of med school, which means she applied for residency programs all over the US (this happened in September). This also means programs have responded with offers to interview (this happened over the last few months). This also means that we've been interviewing all over the place (not as bad as it sounds since we've been thinking about it for a while).

We did a nice little run down to San Francisco for a month, stayed with our friends Alisa and Philip and house-sat for some new friends Stuart and Nicole. Emily interviewed at Oakland Children's Hospital and UCSF where she also did a month long rotation at "The General," which I always thought was a song by Dispatch but it's also the county hospital for the city of San Francisco. That went really well and opened our eyes to some new possibilities for programs - they have some really forward thinking residency options that deal with underserved populations and global health issues. That's gear!

San Francisco also has the best coffee on the planet (so far). Blue Bottle. Drink it.

So where does that leave us? I'll keep it simple. Interviews completed at Oakland, UCSF, Seattle, Portland. One more in DC coming up in January. Then we make a list in order of how excited we are about these places in February, then we submit it to the powers-that-be of the ERAS (Electronic Residency Application System) and they decide our fate the third week of March. Then we might do an away rotation somewhere far far away to clear our heads. That means traveling. Think exotic, like Taj Mahal or Vegas.

Questions? If you don't have questions, you weren't paying close attention because I'm not sure I understand the whole process. We're learning to become accustomed to the unknown, and I think it's an important lesson. We might leave Portland, we might stay, It makes things really hard to plan for - but we can't stop living! So we keep on living. It's all about being present in the moment without worrying too much about the future. It sounds like a great idea but I'm having a hard time with the practical application of the concept. My brain just wants to pin down a detail or two so it can move on, and those details are just squirmy right now.

I've been tempted to print up a laminated placard with the previous information on it, because we're out of town enough that people are always asking us for updates, or better yet to re-explain the schedule and how it all works.

One of the coolest parts of all this is about me. I got a cool job where I can work remotely from anywhere and get stuff done. Isn't that awesome? I've got to pump myself up a little because sometimes it gets a little lonely in a random coffee shop somewhere while Em is saving the lives of little children in dramatic fashion all day long.

The drunk santa rampage was part of our attempt to be normal and live in the present. Maybe more like an unlikely detour that was unexpected and not altogether unpleasant. Either way, it makes for great conversation. Tell a friend or loved one. We really did just bump into "them," we didn't plan it or dress up or anything. The most Christmasesque thing we did that day was make candy cane cookies with some friends.

We've got a lot of fun ideas stirring from all the soul searching that inevitably happens while traveling and feeling unsettled. We're both in the middle of The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs (so into it that we have TWO copies from the library, one for each of us. I think that borders on odd.) It has this hope in it that is infectious. What if? What if extreme poverty could be eradicated in our lifetimes? That is the postulate of the book and after 21 pages, I'm excited. I want to tell the whole world to read the first 21 pages of this book, it's so good. I'm nervous to vouch for the rest because I haven't read it and Jeffrey Sachs has some weird stuff written about him in wikipedia, my new best friend. Wikipedia, not Jeff.

"Oh so Emily and Ryan go away for a month and work in San Francisco and read the foreward to a neo-hippie book and now they want to save the world and stuff." You could say that. It's a world worth saving, and people have accomplished amazing things armed with hope and the slightest bit of information. We'd have help, of course. The celebrities always are willing to lend a hand.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

So we went sailing...

We have a 925 page book called "Chapman Piloting and Seamanship, 65th Edition" from the library sitting in our office. There's something about sailing that makes me want to know all the details, like it's a living breathing thing and not just another hobby. It's a sustainable version of an RV that travels over water instead of land and has its own subculture.

We took a triple certification class for a week from the ASA (American Sailing Association) that resulted in our ability to charter a boat. What? That means we can go to any charter company anywhere in the world and charter a boat on our own for a period of time. I don't know what that sounds like to you, but to me that sounds like sweet freedom and adventure.

We finished the class at the end of August, and we have yet to charter a boat since. It seems like Portland is more about owning boats than chartering. We're really excited to get out on the water again.

Emily was a fantastic sailor, she was behind the helm as we started our trip into 20 knot winds and heeled over with the lee rail nearly in the water.

I think my love affair with sailing comes from the thin lines between cultures. There are destinations and there are journeys, and sailing creates the idea of a journey like nothing else I can imagine. It's the slow way to get somewhere, taking only what you need and nothing more, taking your home and a piece of what you know along with you into the unknown. It was substantially different to visit the San Juans by boat than to roll in on a ferry with your car.

I see boats in our future.

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Monday, September 24, 2007

You're a good person!

I know that Mike Pacchione has made our blog his homepage in an incredible gesture of friendship, and so I wanted to reassure him every time he opens his web browser.

You're a great person, Mike.

So it's September. Temperature drops a few degrees, gourds and pumpkins are all the rage, I'm wearing a lot of orange, and Em made a tasty squarsh dish called "Winter Hash" - welcome Fall! Fall was ushered in timely fashion during our first family camping trip, so Em and I got really cold up around Mount Hood last weekend. We thought we got frostbite, but Wikipedia says that's impossible for another 35 degrees or so. We had a great time, made a big campfire and snuggled in a double sleeping bag which can be made by taking a right zip and a left zip version of the same sleeping bag and zipping them together. Take that, Ready Made!

So... what else? We went to the beach with some great friends this past weekend and had a reading frenzy. Everyone brought their coolest reading material and we read it all. It was so great! We hiked and walked on the beach as well, just so you don't think we read too much.

Today is Emily's birthday. It's weird to think that we've only known each other for three birthdays each. That's nothing! That's shorter than high school! It struck me that we have a long stretch of birthdays together in front of us, and I decided to pace my gift giving accordingly. She hasn't gotten her gift yet, but I think it will make sense to her when I explain the big picture.

We've applied to residency programs and we're starting to hear back about scheduling interviews. It's a crazy time in our lives, and it's really hard to accept this time as transition and not start up involved hobbies like skydiving certification or a book club since we might be moving in June. We'll try to keep you posted on the process, but it might be easier to do in person since we'll be all over the country from now until next April. Maybe all over the WORLD!

Just the country, actually.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I Can't Believe You're Still Reading This...

Hi there! Enough people said "You're such a great writer, you should blog more!" that I got guilted/flattered into another entry. If you're reading this, you really deserve another entry since you've been so faithful or accidentally made it your home page and don't know how to change it.

Last entry was March 31st. Feels almost like a lifetime ago. A lifetime of flights and humidity and being more used to traveling and living in other places than being home. It makes coming home really sweet and really hard.

We bummed around in Belize for a few more days with Reade and Lisa, made our way back to Honduras to collect our belongings and say goodbye to some new great friends, and hopped a plane for Portland. We spent the last few days of our trip figuring out the details of renting a place from out of the country (ask me about my criminal record sometime - our landlords did!). We originally swore we wouldn't rent a place sight unseen, but we really needed a place to land and although friends were kind enough to put us up, we wanted a home.

That's where I'm writing this from, and it seems ridiculous now. I can look out over the Willamette River and see the Steel Bridge from my window, my iMac is happily purring in front of me and I just finished making some sun dried tomato pesto. Life is really good, but somehow feels artificial after what we've seen and experienced. I can't think of a way to make you feel it, but strong words like heartsickness or heaviness are a couple that come to mind when I taste the disparity between here and there. It's good that as Americans we have blessed lives, are free, get to choose our government and our clothes and our cars but ... but...

I think Don Miller is on to something when he muses about what it would be like for aliens to land on Earth and evaluate our existence without pretense. He sums it up by saying that our defining characteristic is that we're constantly comparing ourselves to one another, and it's the cause of all our strife, pain, economic hardship and success. I chew on that for a while and then can't figure out whether to be sad for the neglected people in neglected countries or for ourselves.

The flip side is that opportunity is born out of these things. Opportunity for reconciliation, opportunity to help change places like Central America, opportunity for ourselves to be changed in the process. I suppose one of the most difficult and eye-opening things we've learned traveling and living is to question things we used to take for granted. Funny things like obeying stop signs or diamond engagement rings or engagement at all don't necessarily exist everywhere and it makes you stop and think about how much "normal" we've created all around us - even in Portland.

So what now? Emily is back in school, her "what now" is pretty cut-and-dried (at least for the next four years). My "what now" scares me a little bit, but I'm ready to face down those questions like "How do I help the world?" and "How can you be lazy and make money at the same time?" We're wrestling with the American dream right now, and odds are in our favor.

On the side, don't take this entry as a condemnation of yours or anyone else's lifestyle. Think of it more like the part in the Matrix where Neo wakes up outside the Matrix for the first time and reacts by barfing. It's just a lot to take in right now.

One more thing - we really like it when people ask us about our trip, or how we've changed, or what's going on in our lives and really mean it. It's hard, there have been scores of times where I didn't ask someone else because it was too big to tackle over the noise of a game on TV or other distractions, but we feel like it's a gesture of wanting to know us and our hearts better. So ask away, don't tell us you read it on the blog, and our friendship will grow deeper.

Saturday, March 31, 2007


Reade, Lisa, Emily and I are walking along the beach on the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye, cooling down after an overly warm run, when a grizzled rasta shouts and changes his inertia to saunter along the beach with us. "You guys look like you're in good shape. Want to see what I've got to keep me in good shape?" We all come up with similar uncomfortable responses to the offer of marijuana we know is coming. He pulls out the better part of a jumprope from his bag, and begins touting the life-prolonging qualities of jumping rope several times a week. "Keep up the good work!" He yells after us. We don't know what to say.

The last month has been a transition. We left Honduras, which tried it's best to not let us, and arrived a little stunned in Belize where we once again processed the previous few months staring at aqualine blue water under cloudless skies. Just like last time.

Honduras tried to pull the old "You overstayed your visa, which was stamped in El Salvador but counts for Honduras as well since we agreed to confusingly blur our borders and exit and entry rules and now we're 67% confident that you owe us a lot of money and we don't care that you were here to help our nation by volunteering."

We answered with the tried-and-true "You've got to be kidding me that you are going to charge me an exit fee AND a fine for overstaying our visa for EL SALVADOR which was short since we were only spending a day in transit to your crappy consortium of disorganized central american countries and since we have a flight in 15 minutes you better figure this out or we'll never come back to volunteer at your hospital."

We ended up with a half price discount because the woman behind the counter could tell that Emily was going to fling her file cabinet across the room if she tried to charge us an exit fee that cost roughly the same as our flights.

Belize has been very soothing every since then. We spent some days with our friends Mindy and Jonathan in an amazing resort in a secluded area of San Pedro. Sailing, fishing, sunning, kayaking, snorkeling, reading and cooking have been really therapeutic, and having incredible friends to talk to was the icing and the cake.

Mindy and Jonathan moved on down the coast, and Reade and Lisa showed up on their extended trip. So we decided some more days here couldn't hurt. We'll let you know how the unwinding goes.

Que le vaya bien!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Boiling Water and Schoolbuses

I'm boiling 3 gallons of water in 1/2 gallon increments this morning. It takes a surprisingly long time. So I thought I would dazzle you with a description of my bus ride home from Nueva Suyapa.

The giant yellow tin can on wheels lurches to a stop and exhaust belches into the open windows. The University again. "Estadio! Estadio! Estadio! Estadio!" The charger jumps out, finds the exact spot where my knee rests against the hot metal and bangs it in an unmusical rhythym with his chant. Is he punishing me or attracting potential customers with the sound of flexing sheet metal? The bus hiss/squeaks forward a couple feet launching the newest passengers into their seats and each other.

Yell, bang, jerk, repeat.

Now we are blocking nearly all traffic in and out of the University. People have no choice but to ride the bus! The last few taxis squeeze by as the gap closes, leaving only white paint as evidence of their passage. The bus driver doesn't notice, so engrossed is he in a rolling/lurching conversation with the bus next to us. Together they create a complete and oblivious roadblock to all traffic - now everyone will ride the bus! The police are here, emphatically telling the driver a third time he must move. I write a mental "x2" next to the neatly stamped bus capacity sign for schoolchildren of the disco era, whose music I watch everyone sway to once more, this time involuntarily and with remarkably similar attire.

The driver snaps awake as if from a dream and jams on the gas, only to brake once more as a taxi makes a life or death attempt to skirt our accelerating behemoth. The charger hops aboard with the grace of that guy who grabs onto a helicopter landing rail as it lifts off the roof of a building, legs flying behind him and a wad of bills grasped neatly in his free hand. We're off! The University stop is unique to this route - there's none other like it. I hand over my $.15 for the show.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Just another week in Tegucigalpa

We spent our weekend in the mountains with Jorge and Monica in a quiet forested area up above the little town of San Juancito. They own a little retreat/getaway on the edge of La Tigra, the first national park in Honduras. We spent our weekend hiking in the park, and Chris and Maureen from Nueva Suyapa came and visited for a night. It was a great escape from the city and quite close by, though that means a two hour bus ride and a vertical ascent that leaves you breathless on arrival. The food was fabulous, with the first salad we've had since we've come to Honduras - right from their garden. Jorge is a horticulturist and Monica is a veterinarian, so they grow many of their own vegetables and spices and tea, and they inoculate most of the dogs between their home and Tegucigalpa. Actually, Chris vaccinates many of the dogs while Monica takes down their information. It's a long story, but it basically involves Chris getting dragged into jabbing 70 something mangy dogs and accidentally sticking himself with a doggie needle. Monica assured him that he won't get some dog-disease human-jumping variant, but we'll just have to see.

I started working with Chris and Maureen this week in Nueva Suyapa, on the edge of town (feels a little bit like the edge of the world). I started tutoring Carlos, a third grader from Nueva Suyapa and have been observing Chris and Maureen run and grow a few different businesses that are becoming vital to changing the Nueva Suyapa community. It's an honor to be involved, and I'm trying to grow my job description from "watch and learn as much as possible" to "Someone Who Contributes." I do feel like I contribute, but it's an experience that leaves you going home wondering whether you've changed and grown more than the community you're working with.

Emily, on the other hand, has had a great experience running into some of the directors from St. Jude's research hospital who commissioned the project she is working on. The director of the international program and some other visitors were at the hospital this week, and Emily was even more impressed with the organization and vision after getting to meet various members of the organization. We're interested in pursuing more contact with them when we're done with this project.

Honduras Tip: when you coat yourself with bug spray, don't forget that aggressive (and somewhat rude) mosquitos bite through the seat of your pants. Oops!

Check out pics from our weekend and more from the hospital:

Monday, February 12, 2007

Where Franchises Go To Die

Church's Chicken? Alive and well in Tegucigalpa. KFC? Still slinging chicken. Wendy's? Pizza Hut? TGI Friday's? Applebees? Ruby Tuesday? Tony Roma's? All rocking and packed with people.

Why? Why so many, why so popular? The first question is easy - a greasy law states that "new" fast food franchises are tax exempt for the first ten years of operation. Sweet! Why so popular?... It's like the music here, all 80s, all the time. It's just what you listen to. It's THE thing to do.

This Sunday we re-attended Ram's Horn Four Square (actually called La Cosecha), where unfortunately the ram's horn didn't make an appearance. The music was again rocking and the message solid. We went to an English speaking church in the evening (a bit of a shock) and got a more familiar, if not local, experience. We even met a crew from Oregon teaching at the international school here. It was so inspiring to look around the room and see all the different ministries represented, and the cool people behind them. Our taxi driver who brought us there told us the ride was free, no charge. He must have been impressed with our piety or the fact that we volunteer at the public hospital. We were touched but paid him anyway. Free cab ride? I haven't heard of that anywhere. It made up for a rather rough day of getting yelled at by some street kid while we were hauling groceries home.

We spent some time with our new friends Chris, Maureen and Anna on Sunday night. It was our biggest night out so far - we ate 14 pupusas (tortillas stuffed with cheese, meat, or a combination of the two) and three platters of "pinchos" - giant shish-kebabs. Today we snagged a bus ride out to Nueva Suyapa to check out their turf, where they showed us several of the many businesses they are incubating, their friends and their home. It was really eye-opening, and filled us with some new dreams of how to be part of communities. We're still thinking about it at home this evening, talking about the possibilities. One of the fascinating aspects is the "trickle-down" effect of changing a community through opportunity. More kids are going to school, more jobs are being created, more opportunities are appearing from where there was nothing. We were impressed, especially since a lot of this work goes on in the face of some incredible obstacles like local gangs and corrupt government.

On a lighter note - While Em was working at the hospital, a little adorable, un-shy and curious girl came up to her and showed off her "pelo nuevo" (new hair) that she was growing under a hat her grandmother had made her. She was bouncing around the room, excited to be done with chemo and feeling back to normal. Emily responded by almost melting, then resolving to always be ready with candy and stickers for these cute young ones.

We are headed to the mountains around Teguc this weekend to get some fresh air and hopefully find some good hiking. That, and not see any fried chicken for 2 days in a row.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Honduran Intersections

I honestly believe you could spend the rest of your life at a Honduran intersection if you refused to step in front of a moving car.

I also believe if you actually crossed the street when the green "walk" light was on (at the only intersection that has one) you would immediately be squished flat.

Enough about traffic. We were at the cafe at Hotel Marriott yesterday and witnessed a well dressed looking American dude meeting with a well-to-do Honduran. He was selling a high quality digital camera. He explained some of the features and the purchaser left very pleased. The next couple waiting sat down at the table and proceeded to buy a late model laptop. Apparently this "rep" was some sort of technology consultant who met people at coffee shops and sold them the latest and greatest technology. I gave him my resume.

Laptops and coffee shops don't go together the same way they do in the states. Instead of working quietly with headphones, the thing to do is play all your latest music acquisitions at full blast so everyone can enjoy them. We unknowingly tested this theory when Emily put on headphones to try and get some work done - she plugged the headphones into the wrong slot and realized after a short while that she could hear music DESPITE her headphones and not through them. No one batted an eyelash - it's what you do!

Other things you do in Honduras - put sugar in coffee, toppings on pizza and ketchup on tacos. Our first night here we ordered a PLAIN CHEESE PIZZA at Pizza Hut and got the same look I gave a single file of ants streaming from the electrical outlet of our kitchen marching to eat a pineapple left out on the counter. Our server confirmed 6 times that we didn't want any toppings. It was on the menu, we didn't invent the Honduran cheese pizza. Same thing with sugar in coffee - to refuse this condiment leaves you wondering what you might have accidentally said in Spanish. The server dejectedly puts the sugar back in the dispenser not knowing what else to say. Imagine walking up to someone you've never seen before and yelling "I hate you!" Same reaction. The ketchup on tacos is just sick. You have to specially request no ketchup, and that requires a manager to confirm the order.

We finally met some Americans who live here, who could be described at "legitimate". They've started a community of evangelical christians that live in the slums of outer Tegucigalpa with the population they seek to help. They've been training local Hondurans to become leaders in the community, start businesses and just help the local population in general. We are really excited to see what they do, we are planning on meeting with them later this week. What they've described to us sounds similar to some of the dreams Emily and I have shared. We'll keep you posted on where that leads.

Click here to see some more pictures of the past weekend in Copan, Honduras. Daveyray, our friend from DC, took some time from his busy schedule learning Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala to meet up with us and explore some Mayan ruins.

That's it, other than confusing a recent celebration of a Honduran holiday with an active early morning gun battle. It ended up being a holiday after all.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Market

From the Parque la Paz, a vantage point relatively high above Tegucigalpa, you can see the weekend market spread out near the soccer stadium. It looks like any other market, with countless stalls, blue tarps above to keep out sun or rain, milling people and live music.

Upon arrival it becomes a terrifying and overstimulating world of produce, yelling, and near death experiences. Through some horrific miscommunication, the market is set up in the stadium's parking lot. In the off-chance that a soccer match is scheduled for the weekend (as they always are), the parking lot is majestically overwhelmed by a torrent of anxious amped up fans and thousands of actively transacting marketeers all vying for the same space.

As the first people from outside Honduras to ever set foot inside the parking lot/market area, we were welcomed with open-jawed stares and offers to buy produce in 10 pound increments. We would have loved to buy large quantities of zucchini-like squash or squishy local cheese, but we were worried we didn't know the protocols for exchange and about getting run over by rabid soccer fans. In the end we watched the live music/auctioneers sing prices to the excited crowds, and then went home to take a nap and think about what we'd seen.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cardodging and a Ram's horn

You might be interested in an update of our Tegucigalpa experience so far, or at least hearing about what it's like to be newly married and living in a foreign country.

We've spent a good deal of time "cardodging", which some people might call running if it wasn't so exciting. Cars aren't used to navigating around people running for exercise or enjoyment and try to pretend like you aren't there - leading to some close calls. Whatever gets your heart rate up.

We went to church this morning. We found out from the armed guard in front of the church that the service started at 10am. It was fun and boisterous! We recognized some of the songs, and the sermon really challenged our Spanish skills. The people were really friendly and welcoming and we really enjoyed it. One highlight was a man in the front right of the auditorium who had brought his favorite instrument of worship, a HUGE Ram's horn, and blew it with gusto whenever he saw fit. Though quite out of tune and rhythm, it certainly added an interesting element of Old Testament tradition to the otherwise contemporary and charismatic service. You couldn't quite get accustomed to it though, everytime that thing went off, we jumped and then tried to deny the fits of laughter welling up from within. Pure joy.

We climbed to the top of a hill in the center of town with Parque la Paz crowning the top. From there you can see a good portion of Tegucigalpa and hear the incredible cacophony of car horns and city noises. Apparently the monument was erected as a peace tribute to the end of the Soccer War. The Soccer War ran a bit deeper than sports rivalry, but started when Honduras played Guatemala back in 1969.

We also decided it was time to start cooking for ourselves in earnest, partly because we've been eating out since we got married in August except for some lovely occasions with friends and family and some good home cooking. Partly because we like it. Partly because there aren't a whole lot of places to go out to eat in Tegucigalpa. We spent a couple hours at the grocery store today and made a project out of it. We made up a grocery list and realized that although many of the ingredients are available, it's hard to find substitutes for things like ricotta cheese.

We added more pics to the Tegucigalpa album in response to reader feedback (More pics more pics!), now you can have a visual of all that we've told you about. Tell your friends.

Long Awaited Pictures!

First of all, we finally uploaded a select 142 photos from our Fall/Winter Central/South American trip. Check them out! I recommend viewing the slideshow so you can see the full comments. You can speed it up if you're a good reader.

We also have our Tegucigalpa album started!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

We Have Some Catching Up To Do

Last time we saw each other, we were in Bariloche. You are a faithful blog-follower, you! Thanks for tuning in. Since then we made it back to Seattle in one piece after a harrowing 33 hour journey. We lost three good bottles of Argentinian Malbec in the DC airport, so it's still hard to talk about the journey without getting choked up. Apparently "relaxed" restrictions on liquids doesn't mean all the wine you can lug aboard, it means whatever saliva is in your mouth plus a chapstick. We had to check the wine under the plane without preparing it for the rigors of baggage handling, and when we got to baggage claim it looked like a murder scene with a giant purple puddle in the middle of the floor. The rest of the wine (1 liter per person valued under $800 in case US Customs is following our blog) made it safely!

We spent a week in Seattle with Em's family and they pampered us and gave us presents, and we gave them presents and celebrated the birth of Jesus in style. We love them so! We hauled cross country to see my family, exchanged gifts again, celebrated the New Year and had a blast. We love them too! Then we came back to Portland, tried to catch up on four months of mail and find some winter clothes and got bitter real fast. Luckily we have amazing friends in Portland who made our time there a joyous one - thank you amazing friends!

So we recently repacked our winter clothes and found one of our backpacks (Emily doesn't want to see hers until Spring when we can use it for something it was made for, like camping). We even had room for some books and some fancy towels from Costco, just to make it feel like home down here. Where's down here?...

Welcome to Teguc! (Pronounced "te-goose", not "te-guck"). We decided to let United Airlines give us the runaround once more and it took a little while to get here. Two flights and a too-swervy bus ride where they played "The Hot Chick", a movie about Rob Schnyder switching bodies with a high school girl, and we arrived in Teguc! The doctor we're working with met us at the bus station and carted us to our new apartment. She was very nice, and we were in a little bit of shock. Our apartment is an exercise in re-using decor from the 70's and 80's but it's home and it has everything we need. It's up the only dirt road we've seen in the city.

Teguc is a rather friendly city, but it's a little intimidating because there aren't a lot of foreigners here. Five, to be exact, including ourselves. We saw one girl at the park today holding a coffee (dead giveaway) and a couple of Oregonians wearing Chacos that looked like they arrived to work on a hospital project 20 years ago and never left. Guys stared at Emily like she's 10 feet tall, which was troubling at first but easily solved with a sign readable at a distance that says "I neither cook nor bear children" in Spanish.

We went to the hospital on Thursday and Friday, and it was eye opening. There are lines of people outside the hospital, and people everywhere inside as well. We got to see the patient clinic first thing, and on Friday morning we were invited to make rounds with the specialist in the pediatric oncology department. The hospital we are working at is a public hospital for people who can't pay for private treatment, so the patients are needy and there is never quite enough of anything to go around. We have been working at someone else's computer in a 8x8 office with as many as 8 people in there at one time. Luckily we have exciting Latin music rocking at all times.

We all know third world hospitals are rough places, and we're lucky if we never get to see the inside of one as a patient. Yet it was an honor to be invited into a world where innocent children are battling for their tiny lives and doctors do everything they can despite the circumstances to help them. It's nice to feel useful and needed, but this was a humbling picture of need that breaks you. In a good way.

The project we are working on is to research costs of care for a small group of children with a blood disorder called aplastic anemia. The goal is to propose to the Honduran government that it would be more cost effective (and save lives) to provide a more expensive but effective treatment for the condition than to withhold funding.

To accomplish this requires communication between the hospital and St. Jude's research headquarters in Tennessee. More specifically, ridiculous phone conferences where we try to hear the doctor on the other end over the cacophony of the clinic, the other doctors, and general hospital clamor. I think we got disconnected five times, but we finally got everything we needed.

As long as you promise not to tell anyone, you should probably know I've been posing as a medical student just so I can tag along.

Now it's the weekend, and we have time to think about the whirlwind of experiences we've had since Wednesday. We're accomplishing that in a cafe at the Marriott hotel, drinking capuccino and connected with wi-fi. It's an oasis in a troubled land, with the only espresso machine in Tegucigalpa.

Pictures (many of them) to come - we get internet in our apartment next week!