Thursday, February 21, 2013

Unappreciated Blessings

I returned recently from my second medical mission trip to Waslala, Nicaragua. Once again I struggle with the challenge of reentering life here at home. I find it is the plumbing that poses the biggest problem, both in Nicaragua and now at home. During the two weeks away, I had to remind myself not to stick my toothbrush under the water faucet and not to put toilet paper in the toilet. I also feared letting any water into my mouth while taking a shower. I had an easier time remembering not to drink water from the faucet, perhaps because that is a more intentional act.  On both trips, I have found the plumbing issues more of a challenge than navigating a different culture and speaking Spanish instead of English. What creatures of habit we human beings are. Now back at home less than a week, I have struggled to undo the habits I formed in the two weeks away.

Of the many blessings we enjoy, which are unavailable to our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters, the most important may be those our governments provide that I normally take for granted: clean water, sewer service, paved roads and bridges. Water here at home is generally safe to drink from the tap, and the plumbing works most of the time. Most days I never give it a second thought. But in Nicaragua, safe drinking water is an unknown luxury in the rural areas where we worked. My physician husband noted that clean water would solve many more health problems than all the hard work done by our intrepid group of a half-dozen health care providers, who saw almost 1200 patients in our time there.

Indoor plumbing is also a rarity in the areas we visited. Most homes, and even many public facilities such as schools and clinics, have latrines. On one trip, Marlon, our bus driver, stopped at a home beside the highway and asked if his passengers could use their facilities. The family graciously agreed, and we trooped into their backyard to use the latrine. As I waited my turn, I tried to imagine stumbling across the back yard and up the steps regularly. Not an attractive prospect. As the trip resumed, we talked about the wonder of anyone simply opening their toilet facilities to two dozen strangers.

Other blessings I take for granted here at home include paved roads and bridges, which also impact health care. Many patients seen by our medical team walked hours for care. Roads make it possible for buses and trucks to reach more places and for an ambulance to reach a regional hospital more quickly. For a woman in labor, that can mean the difference between life and death in a crisis.

As I listen here at home to the endless arguments about the cost of government, I wish I could transport the combatants to rural Nicaragua to experience life without the government services we take for granted. Perhaps then we might find it easier to cooperate to pay the cost of public services. Clean water, functioning plumbing, roads and bridges are great and unappreciated blessings. We would do well to remember that and to give thanks.

Grace and Peace,

Donna Sue