Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mountain roads, food, and the clinic: First week in Honduras

By Kerry Huang

La Unión, Lempira, Honduras

Hi, I’m Kerry Huang, one of the interns here at Unión MicroFinanza in La Unión, Honduras. I just finished my freshman year at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. I haven’t decided my concentrations yet, but I have many different interests within business, including marketing, entrepreneurship, finance, and statistics. This summer, I will be doing a variety of activities with UMF and will be able to work with local coffee farmers on financing, analyzing leaf rust, and more. As a result, I will be writing blog posts throughout the next few weeks to share my experiences in Honduras and with UMF!

So much has happened in the 10 days that I have been in Honduras. Everything is so, so different from my comfortable life back home in New York and my college life in Philly. Right as I grabbed my luggage and walked out into the airport of San Pedro Sula, I took a good look around. Even though San Pedro is the “industrial” city of the country and has one of the busiest airports, this airport was miniscule. I felt like a stranger amongst so many Hondurans (also referred to as catrachos). Jeremy and Heather were there to welcome Sakina (the other intern) and me with hugs and to introduce us to Albin, whose house we are staying at.

The central park in La Unión.
Albin also drove us back to La Unión, which took about 3 hours. My experience in the car that day was very exciting, for lack of a better term. I felt like I was in a video game playing Mario Kart as we tried to dodge all sorts of carts, humans, animals, trash, wildlife, and dead trees. I never knew cars could swerve that fast in a second or that drivers would feel so comfortable driving in the wrong lane. I was not terrified, since I felt safe in Albin’s hands, but it was a vicious ride. As we finished the longer leg of our trip, we decided to take a “shortcut” through some rocky mountain roads to arrive in La Unión the back way. The roads curved back and forth, up and down, and had so many rocks. It was also very muddy because it had just started raining (it was the first rainy day in a while). I was amazed at Albin’s ease and the way he handled the car. His sharp turns felt so smooth, and I secretly loved going up and down the steep mountainsides. Right when we arrived in La Unión, I was unaware that we were already there. I looked down and saw a neat, organized town with a variety of houses. We also heard fireworks, which sound exactly like gunshots. People set them off randomly, which gets quite scary and surprising at times. Men also carry machetes, which I think I have gotten used to. They use these as a tool for pretty much anything, from tree-trimming to fence-making to digging holes in the ground. 

We stopped by Heather’s house and could hear Albin’s kids screaming “papi, papi!” The three children are very adorable but too hyper for me to handle. They all have a sweet tooth and get much too excited when there’s chocolate in the house. We even have two ice cream freezers now, since the parents decided to start selling ice cream as another side job! They are definitely going to make a lot of money off of us gringos!

Local fare includes pollo con tajadas
(fried chicken and plantains)
I wanted to focus the rest of this blog on my experience at the local clinic and talk about the medical care they have here in La Unión. Sadly, I started to feel nauseous on the first weekend. Sunday morning was not a great start, but I still went to the church’s fundraiser lunch: carne asada, or grilled meat. I felt even worse after that. I got to use some internet (finally), but my stomach was not doing well. I went to the mini super (one of the bigger pulperias in La Unión, about the size of a typical gas station store in the U.S.) and bought some milk, which was quite stupid since I knew I was feeling sick. When we got back to the house, I took a long nap and headed out for dinner with Sakina and Beth. We ate some food at a local comedor and had a relaxing night. However, the next few days only got worse for me.

On Monday morning, I was too sick to go to the office. Although I went to bed feeling better, I woke up at midnight feeling sick again and really needed to go see a doctor. Here in La Unión, there are clinics for checkups. Heather brought me to the public clinic, which was a great experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the doctors here in Honduras, but I was very pleased. We arrived around 7:30 a.m. and got to talk to the doctor in the consultorio (consulting room) fairly quickly. She explained to us how there would be no consultations in the office for the next two days because she was going to the nearby aldeas (villages up in the mountains) to treat pregnant women (who don’t get many opportunities to check up on their health). During the checkup, I explained my symptoms and how I felt over the past few days. She felt my stomach and asked if I felt any pain (no), and then listened to it with a stethoscope (apparently there was a lot of noise). My lips were really dried out, and she kept on commenting how I was dehydrated. She also listened to my heart and checked my throat, both of which were good. The doctor quickly concluded what medicine I needed and then suggested I get an IV since I had lost a lot of water and would probably throw up if I tried to drink anything.

Chickens are free to wander around La Unión.
I was a little nervous, but everything happened fairly quickly. I went to a different room and lay down until the nurse wiped my hand clean to put in the needle. Instead of injecting it into my arm, she put it in the back of my right hand. Then, to test if I was allergic to the antibiotic, another person poked the inside of my right arm (which hurt, SO MUCH). It kind of formed a bump automatically, but there was no redness or any itchiness, so they then put the rest of the antibiotic into the IV. I stayed there for over 2 hours and tried to nap. Heather checked in a few times from the office and was very helpful and caring through it all! I would not have felt as comfortable without her, although the doctors were so accommodating and wanting to help. The facility was quite clean and had no strange stenches. I was quite surprised at how good the service was. The total cost for the medicine, the consultation, and the IV was only 10 Lempiras…which is equal to 50 cents. I was really amazed. The public clinic is made so that most people can afford to get health services without having to pay most of their income. We had to go get a few other medicines from the pharmacy, but that was also quite cheap. All totaled I got 4 different pill types and a mixed powder to put in my drink, which tasted so nasty. I thought I was going to throw up again, but I finally finished the last packet. I definitely feel a lot better now, almost like a new person.

It has almost been 2 weeks since my arrival, and I am excited for the 8 weeks to come! We are distributing microloans for farmers this week, so it will be quite busy. Despite getting sick, I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience in La Unión so far and can’t wait to learn more. The people are very kind and have a simple but fulfilling lifestyle. It’s impossible to explain everything that has happened, since you really need to live here to understand, but Sakina and I will be writing blog posts throughout the next few weeks to talk about our experiences!
Me in front of the UMF office.

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