Before the crack of dawn, Elizabeth’s mother gets up to shower and open the corner store. The rooster insists that we all rise, so by 5:30am I’m dressed and ready to go. Nicaraguan coffee is made too sweet for my taste, so Elizabeth’s mother prepares a thermos of unsweetened coffee. I can taste the mountain in each sip. It’s so green and wet and hot here that the coffee is rich and smooth. Mom would have loved it.
We breakfast on fresh papaya and pack fruit and vegetables for lunch. It takes time to prepare meals here. While there is running water, it’s not hot and the stove must be lit by hand. Electric appliances cannot be run all at once. It’s a lot like camping in our Lance trailer who has is one of mum favorite things to do. The nicest part is cooking with so many other women. Elizabeth’s aunts, sisters and sisters-in-law all help prepare food for the family.
We pack up a four-wheel drive truck with 25 food baskets, a cooler full of 50 pounds of frozen chicken, two huge sacks of clothing, six 40 pound sacks filled with shoes. I bring my medical bag just in case.
Elizabeth’s nieces jump in the back of the truck to help. Marlen, Elizabeth’s pregnant sister, drives. It’s a family affair.
We leave the cobblestone roads of the village and over a narrow bridge. The river is wide and unusually low. Women wash clothes on the rocks at the rivers edge while children play in the mud. A few cows wade in for a drink. Skinny dogs wander about looking for scraps.
The houses, mostly made of concrete with metal or thatched roofs, have a front and rear entrances for ventilation, sometimes windows, rarely doors. Kitchens are outdoors with clay stoves. Families sleep in the single room on mats or blocks of the dirt floor. Rough honed tables and a plastic chair or two are the only furniture.
We stop at the poorest houses to find women, small children, the elderly and disabled. Most of the men and older kids are up on the mountain picking coffee. I carry the heavily ladened basket up to the first house. At first the woman is not sure about our gift, but finally accepts it when we reassure her we are not with either political party. There are no ties in accepting our gift of food. We take pictures with her and the children, then invite them to follow us back down to the truck.
Time to fit the children with shoes. By the time we are done with the first seven kids another household finds us and we put shoes on five more children. Most of the kids are barefoot, so new shoes are welcome. Erika did a good job finding a variety of shoes and sizes, but it takes a lot of time to fit so many.
It’s such a simple gift yet what a profound effect a pair of new shoes has in the life of a child.
And the mothers are even more excited than the children! Their precious children have shoes to walk down the mountain. More so they can go to school. The best way to break the cycle of poverty is education. While education is free, families have to pay for school uniforms. Not having to buy shoes too helps these families so much.
At our next stop we bring a basket of food and fit a disabled young man with a new pair of shoes. One of Elizabeth’s favorites, he’s so happy with his new converse tennis shoes! His mother thanks us profusely.
In a barrio, we look for more families to help and run into a young deaf girl. She’s super excited to meet me. Divine Daughters Unite donated funds to purchase pedicure supplies for her last year. She’s been able to support herself ever since, going to her clients’ homes to give them manicures and pedicures. She’s quite the artist and shoes me some of her designs. So she’s not taken advantage of, her mother arranges her appointments and often accompanies her. Elizabeth arranges to have her come to the house to give us pedicures.
The poorest families live on the edge of the hillside. We have to take a narrow slippery trail carrying the heavy baskets to find them. In one home, we find a young pregnant mother with a year old baby, taking care of her aunt’s two children. I entertain one of the toddlers as he stands up in a homemade playpen. The young mother leaves them with her grandmother to follow us back to the truck for shoes and clothing for the children.
It’s past noon, so we drive down to the river for a picnic. There we find three small children playing in the mud. A little boy of three and two girls five and seven years old are left alone to fend for themselves while their mother works. She bought their two year old brother with her walking some four miles into town. We share our lunch with the children, filling their plates with fruit, veggies, and cheese. They devour the simple meal, enjoying the steamed carrots and beets like candy.
We then outfit the three with new clothes and shoes. The children are shy, not sure what to make of these strange women with a truck full of presents. The food basket is too heavy for them so we carry it to their house about 100 feet from the river bank. The little boy dressed in his new clothes stops by a fallen log. A tiny parrot hops onto his outstretched finger.
A hut made of poles houses the four children and four adults including their alcoholic father. The girls do not go to school as the family cannot afford to send them. After shooing the dog out of the hut to keep the food safe, we go back to the truck. The children follow us. Elizabeth tries to warn the girls to scream if anyone tries to hurt them. But who would hear them?
We cross the river and head back to down the mountain. Here we give out more baskets and shoes. A group of children ride up on bicycles. This is school break. From November to February, the children are off during harvest. Here it’s coffee picking season.
One of the girls has a huge abscess on her face. I examine her and determine she needs treatment. I’ve brought a course of antibiotics just in case I got sick from the food or water. Since I have an iron stomach, I’m fine but this child needs it. She tells us, no, she is not taking any medicine. I ask her to take us to her mother. We follow her a quarter of a mile down the road to a large concrete house. Her mother greets us and reassures us that they just came down from the mountain to take her daughter to the hospital and yes, she just started antibiotics. We give the family a basket of food and look for others to help.
The next house reveals why I brought medicine. We find an elderly woman sick with cellulitis – a raging infection on her leg. She was taken to the hospital and treated but they only had a steroid cream for the itch to give her. They did the have the needed antibiotics so they gave her a prescription but she didn’t have the money to fill it at the pharmacy. That was last week and now the infection is up to her knee.
I clean and dress her leg, explain how to use treat it, leave supplies and the antibiotics. She is so grateful, blessing me and my family. I’ve received a lot of blessings this trip.
Before we head home, Elizabeth’s sister takes us to the sandora. The local healer lives in a house as poor as the rest, but tidy, well swept and ventilated. She is a medicine woman who provides hands on therapy through massage as well as botanical therapies. We have a long discussion about her treatment. She focuses on cleansing parasites which is a huge issue among the poor. She also does energy healing. I ask if I can join her in treating Elizabeth’s sister.
Marlen agrees and lies down on the sandora’s bed. She is five and half months pregnant and the doctor is concerned that she has not put on much weight. Her uterine size is appropriate for her gestation. As soon as we lay hands on her, the baby moves.
The women of this community believe in the gifts of the sandora. She charges nothing but the community supports her efforts and offers what they can. Integrative medicine is a necessity here where people cannot access or afford conventional care.
Our last stop is the home of a diabetic woman. She lives alone, is an amputee and wheelchair-bound. She tells us, it’s a good week since she didn’t have to be taken to the hospital. She doesn’t always have enough insulin. Elizabeth’s family tries to help with food and medicine. We leave our last basket and receive hugs in return.
Thank you for your kind donations!