Lazy Saturday

I loved getting to show my parents around the island for the past week—it was like each place reinvented itself for me, like I was experiencing them as wide-eyed newcomer. It was so fun! We also sampled some of the island’s offerings that I otherwise would not have tried…aka the fancier side of things. But the best part, by far, was getting to spend quality time with my wonderful padres. Everyone who met them adored them. I hope they get a chance to return to the island as clinic volunteers! Here’s a photo of Dad and me in West End:

Dad and I at the West End turnaround.

Last night, all of the volunteers and a few members of the clinic staff went out to dinner to celebrate the work of Tami, Cathy, Ben, and James, who have to leave this weekend. We went to Bites on the Beach, a restaurant in West Bay that is an expansive deck connected to various platforms and docks over the water. What a lovely spot! Even the power outage that lasted for the entire evening couldn’t spoil the fun. Here are some photos of the occasion, including the first group photo I’ve managed to snap yet:

Jiz, Michelle, and I in our island-fancy outfits.

The entire group–volunteers, staff, and related family members.

While I was sad to see my parents leave yesterday, I have really enjoyed the change of pace today. This morning, I slept in, made banana and walnut pancakes for Michelle’s and my breakfast, then finally got to skype with Cam. It was so great to finally see my wonderful boyfriend’s face! I’m nearly trembling with excitement for his visit in 12 days.

Two hours ago, I headed over to the clinic to help Carla, the incredible woman who first brought patients to Miss Peggy and has worked to make the clinic a reality for a decade. She teaches a prenatal class every Saturday. Today, we reviewed female pelvic anatomy and the basics of pregnancy before talking about the behavioral changes women need to make while pregnant. I learned a bunch of useful phrases for use in the clinic, like “la panza” (belly) and “el cuello del útero” (another phrase for cervix). Carla asked me to help teach the next class!

Tami stopped by a few hours ago after a rather shocking swim. She saw what she thinks was an 8 foot long barracuda!!! The water visibility (the “viz,” as the hardcore divers say) was pretty poor in the shallows, so she only caught glimpses of the gnarly, protruding jaw, a beady eye, and the long, thin silhouette. She immediately headed back in to shore and won’t even think about going back out off our dock. Somehow, Jiz and Alexis managed to talk me into going out an hour ago…we saw lots of cool things and no barracudas, gracias al cielo!


Parental Attention

My parents arrived on Friday and have been living it up ever since! I met up with them late Friday afternoon—after they had some lunch in West End and snorkeled off the dock by their place and I had taken a much-needed post-clinic nap—and chatted the night away. Showing them this wonderful place is such a joy!

Yesterday was a whirlwind of fun. Early Saturday morning, the electric crack of lightening and booms of thunder woke us all up. The rain was torrential! My dear mother had a bad migraine, which kept her out of commission for the morning and early afternoon. We still managed to grab their first baleadas—avocado, egg, beans, and a sprinkle of Honduran cheese in a homemade, naan-like flour tortilla—before Dad and I went on our two dives.

The clarity was fantastic! Over the course of the hour and a half that we spent submerged, we saw countless amazing things. My dad described it well: he said that in the middle of each dive he felt he needed to close his eyes for a moment to give his brain a chance to catch up. We saw two midnight parrot fish, with navy blue scales with blotches of baby blue on its head. We saw four dark beauties, the yellow and black fish wearing the black lipstick. A hawksbill turtle swam between Dad and me on the second dive, coming so close that we could have felt its teal and white shell if we had stretched out our hands. At the beginning of this dive, we swam over a spiny puffer fish that was mustard-yellow with white spots rimmed in black. Its eyes looked like large, gold sequins stuck to the sides of their heads, covered in transparent bubbles that bulged off its head. In the middle of the second dive, we found ourselves surrounded by a school of cuddle fish. Their backs shimmered in pastel pinks, purples, and blues, while their bellies where transparent. The skirt around their bodies rippled to move them forward and back around us. I was mesmerized!

Dad and I had a wonderful time. He is working on convincing me to dive in the kelp forest of Point Lobos in California. Back home, you have to suit up in a complete dry suit and can only go on one dive per day because you need many hours to warm up your bones afterwards. Sounds ghastly compared to the wondrous ease and simplicity of diving here…

Last night we went to The Lighthouse, a quaint restaurant on a mini-peninsula in the middle of West End. Mom and I split the grilled garlic lobster and similarly prepared shrimp, which were fantastic! Yesterday, we headed over to French Key for a day of snorkeling, lounging, and eating. It was the perfect day! Here are some photos:

Michelle and Robert jumping from the palapa.

View of the mainland from French Key.

My lovely mother under a Sea Grape tree.

Sorry about the infrequent posting…the internet at my place has been down for the past five days! I will try to post some more family photos soon. ¡Cheque!

One Month

Exactly one month and an five hours ago, I stepped off the puddle jumper into the all-encompassing humidity of the Caribbean. Since then, I have gotten to know so much about this place and yet continually discover incredible gems of island life. On Sunday, the volunteers hopped in two pick-ups and an SUV and drove the approximately 20 miles to Camp Bay. This trek took an hour due to the windiness of the road that snakes along the northern coast towards the east end of the island. The ride made for some gorgeous views! The island gets so thin on the east side that we would see the ocean on one side, make a turn, and see it on the other side too.

We visited a wonderful clinic supporter who lives in a lovely, open beach house in Camp Bay. All of the walls of the house are painted canary colors–sunflower yellow, aqua, magenta, and avocado green. We enjoyed a tasty spread of potluck food, lounged in the many hammocks strung around the patio, and swam. Here are some views of the spectacular scenery there:

This week, I have been working with Robert, our wonderful PA, and Dr. James, an incredible resident. Truly, the providers here are so inspiring and knowledgeable. I hope I pick up some of their wisdom by osmosis! Already I feel like I’ve learned so much. I have gotten to translate and assist James on many prenatal visits in the last three days. Yesterday I got to do an ultrasound! James and I were having trouble finding the fetal heart sounds using a Doppler, a little detector that amplifies sound. We decided to do a quick ultrasound to check the baby. Turns out the little tike’s head is positioned on the right side of the mother’s abdomen, and it’s back is against her pelvis. It was tricky to detect the heart rate via Doppler because the best parts of the body for detection, the head and back, were hidden by the kiddo’s limbs. I got to visualize the four heart chambers and the rest of the little belly! I also got to measure the cranial diameter to estimate the gestational age. It was breathtaking.

Last night, we had to say goodbye to lovely Jenna, who flew back to Michigan today after spending a month on the island. We miss you already! Here’s a shot of us enjoying a celebratory round of Monkey La Las:

Michelle, Jenna, and I with our last Monkey La Las together 😦

I can’t wait for my parents to arrive in a day and a half! To sign off like an islander, “¡cheque!”

Live and Let Dive

To borrow a phrase a woman greeted me with on my walk home today, ¡Buenas tardes, preciositos! I just arrived home from a full day in the ocean. I completed my Confined Water Skills and my first two Open Water Dives! It was fabulous.

On the first dive, Kiwi (my dive instructor from New Zealand), two other student divers, two Dive Masters in Training, and I explored a spot called Overheat. We saw tons of parrot fish, angel fish, and spiny lobster. The highlight for me was a two foot long flounder I spied resting on a sand patch. Flounder are so awkward looking, with their bulgy eyes that point off in different directions and their  funny, frantic movement. This one had dark blue and pale pink camouflage on its edges.

The second dive was at a section of the reef called Hole in the Wall, named after a vertical tunnel in the corral right next to the drop off (at least I think so…). On this dive, I felt really comfortable using my breathing to make minor adjustments in my buoyancy. We saw two turtles: a large green that flew by us using long fin strokes and a smaller hawksbill that pecked at the coral like its namesake. We also saw a spotted cowfish (so funny looking, like a pufferfish that has been stretch so that it’s eyes pop out even more and it’s tail gets long) and another humungous parrot fish.

I am so excited to get back in the water, next with Mom and Dad, who arrive on Friday, and then with Cam! I will break out the underwater camera once I feel a bit more comfortable with all the rest of my gear. For now, here’s one of the best sunset views so far…

Sunset from our porch.

This week has been a busy, at times bumpy ride. I would like to take a moment to remember the Burch family’s dear puppy Pippa who had to be put to sleep two days ago. I would also like to celebrate the life of my dear grandmother, Pat, who passed away a year ago.

Sunday was another fun day. At Infinity Bay, we played rounds and rounds of beach volleyball and tried to soak up the sun that barely filtered through the thick grey clouds overhead. Though we did not have the best beach weather, we still had a wonderful time snorkeling, romping in the sand, and reading.

On our snorkel, I saw the largest parrotfish ever. Seriously, from the side view, it was as large as a standard boogie board. It was also at least a foot thick. Its body was chocolate brown, while its lips and tail were splashed with sage green. I hovered in place for at least 5 minutes, watching this magnificent specimen nibble on the top of a mound of coral.

We also got to see another eagle ray, this time on the edge of the drop off. I got a great view of its back, which looked like a piece of diamond-shaped slate that had been doodled all over with little circles and squiggles. It flapped far below me before sinking into the deep.

So far, my clinic shifts have been long, but rewarding, this week. I have been translating and observing Robert, a PA doing a rotation at the clinic. He is a fabulous teacher—very patient and genuinely interest in making my service here informative and fun. I have been learning so much! I really admire the way Robert talks to patients. He builds trust through compassion and patience and meets them where they are. He uses the words patients use to describe their symptoms, which helps to ensure that they feel comfortable in the often overwhelming, unfathomable medical environment. For example, Robert used a patient’s own term, “nerves,” when asking her to repeat her description of a psychological symptom she was experiencing. He also uses the term “suga” when he asks patients about their diabetes and asks them if they “drink their meds,” phrases that are common in Island English. Translating for Robert and James, a volunteer resident, has been a wonderful, rewarding experience; my Spanish is flowing freely and easily!

More to come soon. I’m planning on posting a few patient case studies next! For now, here’s a photo of the volunteer team at Infinity Bay:

Jumping for joy at Infinity Bay.

A Full Saturday

What a week! My day in clinic yesterday was a bit rough. I returned to the pharmacy as the only official volunteer dispersing meds because another volunteer was sick. In the next few weeks, the clinic is expecting a massive shipment of meds from the mainland (four entire cargo carriers have been stuck in the bureaucratic quagmire of Tegucigalpa for the last few months). The clinic administration thinks that the pharmacy does not currently operate well enough to be able to handle the huge arrival. As the only volunteer pharmacist present, I was given firm feedback yesterday that differed significantly from the instructions I had been given when I arrived and in the last few weeks. It was a frustrating situation, and I felt like a lot of blame was thrown around. I took a moment to compose myself outside and then finished the rest of my shift, trying not to internalize the situation too much.

The rest of the afternoon refreshed me after my tough morning. Michelle and I made a delicious lunch, chatted for a while, and then headed out into the big blue. It was the best snorkeling yet! On the swim out, I noticed a flash of white in the corner of my eye. It was a gorgeous eagle ray undulating through the water above the reeds. Its back was slate grey with quarter-sized white spots that blended in with the designs of sunlight playing on the ocean floor. The rippling of its wings revealed the bright white of its underbelly. Michelle and I chased after this magnificent creature until it outpaced us and faded into the depths.

We also got to see two octopi, one of which actively snacked on the innards of a conch shell right in front of us. Both would be about the size of a soccer ball if their tentacles were wrapped around their bodies. They both remained partially in their burrows while we watched them, surrounded by old conch shells.

I got to see another mid-afternoon meal: a little moray eel jabbed its head into a sandy crevice, gobbling down some little creature. The eel was beige with little white spots and a pure white crest down its back. I hovered over it, watching sand poor from its gills as it attacked and swallowed. In the coral mound next door, we spied a shy puffer fish about the size of a watermelon with big, dark eyes and little fins that whirred about like propellers. It was so innocent and cute!

Michelle, Tammy, and I each separately saw the same thing: a fish that was long and shiny and swam right under the surface like a barracuda, but had a thin, pointy snout. We wondered how this large needlefish (the identity we hypothesized for it) different in size and shape from its look-alike. We decided to head back towards shore and, just as we rounded another mound of coral, we saw both—a needlefish and a barracuda—within five feet of each other! They were similarly long, but the needlefish was slightly paler, thinner, and, obviously, much sharper in the snout. The barracuda had a darker sheen to its scales and that typically gnarly looking mouth. What a perfectly timed demonstration of their differences!

After a low-key dinner, Megan, Maia, Tammy, Robert, and Jenna joined Michelle and me for Movie Night. We enjoyed piña coladas, freshly baked cookies, and kettle corn while we watched Casino Royale. The lovely conclusion to the day helped me recover from the morning’s stress.

Today, I knocked out a major chunk of my SCUBA certification—finished the academics, took the final exam, and almost all of the closed water dives. The skills I learned in the last part were definitely unfamiliar—just breathing underwater through the mouthpiece was weird! It felt so good to approach these challenges boldly, trust myself that I didn’t need to freak out, and succeed on the first try for almost all of them. And I cleared my ears without even really thinking about it!

When I got home, rain was poring down and the power was out. There’s nothing like sitting on the couch with a cup of iced coffee in hand, watching the rain fall into the ocean and listening to its patter.



Happy 4th!

To honor the most American holiday of the year (besides the Superbowl and Thanksgiving), the clinic is closed today! I completed the first half of the academics for my SCUBA certification this morning. Now the volunteers and I are off to French Key for the day and French Harbor for dinner and karaoke. Should be a blast! I will be posting lots of photos from the July 4th adventure soon. For now, here’s a pic of Maia and me sharing a plain-looking, but magnificent-tasting, Monkey La La (the official drink of the island!):

Monkey La La: kalua, coconut cream, baileys, vodka, rum, sometimes ice cream…so dangerously delicious!

Cool Rain

Yesterday was a pleasantly peculiar day–the sky was overcast all day, and a fresh ocean breeze continuously rustled the palm fronds. I emerged from a long, busy Monday shift at the clinic to find the air cool and refreshing. After some much-needed relaxation, Jenna, Maia, Dee, and I went on a kayak adventure. We paddled west along the coast, passing through the narrow channels separating Roatán from two small islands. Anthony’s Key, a spectacular resort up the road from the clinic, sits on the beach property in this area and has about twenty guest cabins on stilts in the shallows of these islands. The resort also has a series of large enclosures in the second channel where they keep dolphins. I could hear their trills when I stuck me head under water! The pod performs shows here and swims with guests.

The sun was just about setting when we headed out. By the time we traversed the first channel, a nearly-full moon shimmered on the water and illuminated the scenery surrounding us. It was the most picturesque twilight scene I’ve ever experienced. I felt a complete sense of contentment, even after Dee playfully capsized Jenna’s and my kayak twice! With the busy schedule, challenging roles in the clinic, adjustment to living in a new place, sweltering humidity, and missing my wonderful boyfriend, family, and friends, my past two weeks have been a bit taxing. I finally feel settled and secure here, and can’t wait to show this amazing place to my parents in late July and Cam in August!

After dinner last night, the cool weather fulfilled its promise of rain: it poured down for hours last night! It was magnificent. This was the first tropical drench I’ve witnessed here. The freshness it brought made for some very comfortable snoozing!

My role in the clinic has shifted: I now shadow and interpret for providers. These past two days I worked with Ginger, a very sweet nurse practitioner from the states, who speaks very little Spanish. Back in the US, she specializes in OBGYN care, so we got to do lots of prenatal visits and routine reproductive care. I used a Doppler instrument for the first time to magnify the fetal heartbeat, which was very exciting! Two of the patients I saw satisfy the requirements for giving birth at the clinic–the birth must be at least the mother’s second delivery and must not show any signs of a complication–and both plan to deliver here. I hope so much that I get to witness a birth during my time here!

I have loved getting to use my Spanish, both medical and coloquial, every day here. I feel so comfortable! And so appreciated by my patients. The people here are so friendly and welcoming, always exchanging an “Hola” or “Buenos días” with me when we pass in the street. I hope to come out of this experience with some new Honduran expressions…hopefully a local “pura vida” equivalent!

A Full Weekend

The tail end of this past weekend was quite eventful. Sunday began with some long-awaited internet time–finally the connection was fast! Next, the group headed to Rudy’s, a cafe on the outskirts of West End, that is famous for its fruit smoothies and banana pancakes. Of course, Michelle and I had to try both, so we split an order of cakes and a mango-coconut smoothie. It was incredible! Being the serial food-mixer that I am, I drenched my pancake with the melty part of the smoothie. It was like the most vibrant fruit syrup ever, except cold and fresh! I got some strange looks, but thoroughly enjoyed the combo.

Next, we took a water taxi to West Bay. What a ride! Here are some photos of the lovely scenary and beautiful company:

Model Michelle sporting my ridiculous pink hat!

Clara, Trevor, Megan, and Michelle (from left to right).

View from the water taxi.

Hitting the beach.

I spent the rest of the day in the best possible ways: cheering on the Spanish National Team to victory in the Euro Cup Finals, chatting online with Cam, snorkeling, and playing beach volleyball. Although the internet connection was bad, and the Clínica Esperanza Lightening got trounced many times, I had a lovely day! To top it off, we all headed to Smugglers, a fabulous restaurant on the Western point of the island. After a nearly-eternal wait (“island time”), we gobbled down the restaurant’s famous Lobster Nachos. They came in deep casserole dishes piled high with cheese, veggies, chips, and succulent crustacean, each of which we split between four people.

What a day! I hope to repeat all of these activities with my visiters, my parents this month and Cam in August!