Only one life

It’s funny how most days start exactly the same. But so much can happen in just one day. Your life can completely change in one day. In one hour. In 10 minutes. It can. And mine did. It was just supposed to be a boat ride home. Yeah, it was going to take 5 hours, but after those hours I would be able to sleep in my bed. We would be back at home at the base. I would get to see my chicos again. I would get to cook in our cockroach infested kitchen. I would get to take a shower. After 4 days of traveling on the river with only one “bath” there was nothing I wanted to do more than take off my dirty, stinky clothes and take a shower. Stephanie, Rachel, and I were in the front of the boat. Rachel was sleeping at the stern, and Stephanie and I were on the first bench. We talked for a little bit, read for a while, and then I decided to take a nap. As I was falling asleep to the hum of the boat,  I heard a bang on the opposite side of the boat. I whipped my head around and there was a double-barreled shotgun pointing at me. There were 3 or 4 men with masks and paint on their faces. Shouting in Spanish. “Por la playa! Por la playa!” the leader ordered our boat driver. As we pulled up and stopped at the beach, the guns still pointed at us, they began to go through all of our stuff. One by one, I saw my things being taken out of my bag. I saw him take my camera with all of the pictures from our river clinics. I saw him take my wallet. Time didn’t feel like it was moving. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. Then he came for our pockets. He went through each of our pockets. He looked right at me and asked me where my cell phone was. “No tengo nada! No tengo nada!” It was all I could spit out. I don’t think I have ever had so many thoughts flying through my head at the same time. It felt like they were all bouncing off of each other, going a million miles an hour. I was thinking about my family. I was thinking about each of my friends that I love. I was thinking about my future. What would happen to me if he pulled the trigger? The funny thing was that even though all of these things were going through my head, I felt strangely at peace with it all. If my life were to have ended, I had faith that my life was in God’s hands.
But back to the story. The robbers kept going through our stuff. They threw stuff out of bags – searching for anything of value. I guess they ran out of time or something because they didn’t search Rachel’s, Stephanie’s, and my bags. They just threw the whole thing on their little boat. The whole thing lasted probably only 10 minutes. There are a lot more details I could add, there are a lot more things I could say, but I don’t really see the point. My point is not to tell a sob story to make people feel bad for me. My point is not to tell you an adventure story. I guess you could call it an adventure, but it was terrible. And I would never wish the same thing on anyone that I know. My point is to inform you of the value of your own life. Look around you. Look at the people who you surround yourself with. Look at the kind of life you are living. Right before the assault happened, I had just started a book called Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. Even though I only read the first few chapters of the book, I really liked it. In his book he quotes a small poem.
Only on life,
‘Twill soon be past;
Only what’s done
For Christ will last.
That little sentence hit me hard. Especially right after the assault happened. At the end of this journey that we’re all on, all we have to show is what we’ve done for the cause of Christ. Everything else is in vain, really.
My parents called me right when we got back to the base late that night. As I was talking to them, crying just at the sound of their voices, just wishing that I could be home just for a moment, just to give them a hug, my dad told me something. He told me that he wasn’t worried. He told me that he prays for me every morning and every night. And he knows that God is going to take care of me. He told me, “Hanna, if anything, this experience is going to build your character.” Fathers always give the best advice. My earthly father and my Heavenly one, too.
Cherish your life. Life it to the fullest. You only get one, so be immensely thankful for it with every ounce of LIFE that God has given you. 

The river

And I thought last week was crazy. I pretty much think that I’m a bad luck traveler. I always bring the wrong thing. Always lose or forget some important document. Always miss flights. Something. Something always happens. But that’s just me. I guess it makes my life more exciting. Every trip is always an adventure. Always. Moving on. This trip down the river was unlike any other trip that I have taken in my entire life. For one, I’ve never taken a trip on a boat. Well actually I take that back. I’ve been on a cruise once. But I don’t think that really counts. Cruises are like big resorts floating in the middle of the ocean with lots of food. Yeah, this was different. We got a late start per usual. I think the Doctor told us that we were going to leave at 7 in the morning. Around 10, we headed out. The whole medical and dental teams, all of our equipment, lots of food, and all of our bags. I have to admit, I was quite proud of my packing job. For 4 days down the river I only brought 2 scrub pants for clinics, 2 other pairs of pants, and 3 shirts. Along with my hammock, sleeping bag, mat, and some water bottles. We loaded up on the boats and headed off. I was really tired so I started nodding off. When I opened my eyes about 40 minutes later, I felt like I was going through that one ride at Disneyland. You know the where you go through the river on a boat with all of the fake hippos squirting water out of their mouths and wiggling their ears. It was unreal. So beautiful. Exotic birds were calling out, the sun was shining, there were huge trees everywhere. We were in the jungle. Around 2 in the afternoon we arrived at our first village. We climbed up a big hill. I went pee and then we got started on our clinic. There were only 20 families in this little village so we got finished relatively fast. The Doctor wanted to move right on to the next village that same night so we packed up the boat and were on the river once again a couple hours later. I fell asleep again, the motor and swaying of the boat was lulling me. When I woke up we at the next village. It was a little fishing town that reminded me of Mexico. Jenessa and I set up our hammocks between some poles in the sand and we fell asleep to the sounds of locals playing cards and drinking beer at the corner store. The next day we had a big clinic. As we walked through the village, a loud speaker announced our arrival. “Algunas personas de los Estados Unidos estan aqui por una clinica medical. Aqui vienen! Ellos son 200 metros de la communal local!” It was all very grand and we all felt more important and more competent than we actually knew we were. We’re just a bunch of college students from the States. We don’t know anything about medicine. We’re not really dentists. But I guess to these people we are. We’re experts. And they don’t hesitate to ask us all of their questions. They call us Doctoras and Doctors. It’s really quite flattering. Anyways, after a long day at that clinic the boys bought a monkey (whom I do not like), and we made some pasta with the river water. Entonces, after eating those yummy parasites we went to the next and final village. This place was definitely my favorite. It was filled with indigenous people. We arrived at bath time. The kids were all running around naked playing in the water. The adults were watching themselves. Mostly everyone was naked. Rachel, Stephanie, and I met the chief of the village and his wife and helped them carry their market bags back into the village. We asked them if there was a place where we could sleep for the night and so he offered us the little school. I have to say, when we first started walking back to the village in the middle of nowhere, I thought it was going to be broken down and dirty but it was the complete opposite. It was clean; the houses were very small but very well built. There was a little community center, a well, lots of fruit, cute abuelitas, and more. We were woken up at 5:30 in the morning by a person on a loudspeaker saying, “Hola. Hola Hola. Hola Hola.” The clinic went very well. I listened to about 150 people telling me about their dolor en todo sus cuerpos. Seriously. Everyone in Peru has the same symptoms. “Ah, me duele mucho mi cabeza,” they say.
“Y que mas, amigo?” I say.
“Oh, y todo mi cuerpo le duele,” they tell me.
“Y necesita usted medicina para bichos?” I ask them.
“Oh, si. Tambien. Claro. Medicina para los bichos,” they all say.
It’s so entertaining to listen to the really old people tell me their symptoms. They’re my absolute favorites. The abueltitos and abuelitas with only 3 or 5 teeth, horrible breath, wrinkly skin, and just the sweetest hearts in the world. The indigenous people were super cool too. With their language and pretty skirts. This community, called Nuevo Saposoa was like a little paradise nestled in the river. After a long hot day, us girls all ventured down to the river to take a bath like the locals. In the piranha waters. After I went out in the water and got bit by a fish, I decided it would probably be best to just sit on the little dock and dump the warm water over me. You have no idea how good it felt to bathe. I don’t think I have ever smelled so bad in my life. Unfortunately, our bath was cut short when the boys decided to come down to the water to go fishing without telling us first. Our next day was just spent packing up and loading up the boats to head home.
To be continued.


I can do all things

I hate fire. I know it does many important things – provide warmth, cook food, yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. Fire is cool when it is where it belongs, like on the stove. Or in a campfire. But when it’s raging in the rainforest right behind our house, or burning up our cow pastures, or threatening our little church at Yerbas Buenas, I hate it. This week was our first week of clinicals and as such, after a long day of doing triage, taking blood pressures and temps, and pretty much everything else – I was exhausted to say the least. It was Wednesday afternoon. Halfway through the week. We were all tired, but still going strong. And then we got the call. Pack everything up right now and come home. There’s a fire and the chicho’s need our help. We rushed home, threw on jeans and long sleeved shirts, grabbed bandanas for our faces, got wet in the showers, and then loaded up in the truck and drove out to the jungle. As we started driving I could already see and smell the smoke. These fires were huge. When we got there, the chicho’s were hard at work throwing water on everything and hacking down the brush with machetes to contain the fire. Stephanie and I grabbed machetes and followed the boys deep into the jungle. I felt like I was an Amazon woman. We got those two fires put out just after dark and then we headed back home, exhausted but accomplished. The thing that we didn’t know was that this same thing would happen every single night this week. The next fire was by the road in front of the house. I had just taken a shower and gone to bed. Fuego! Fuego! So I put on my nasty fire clothes from the night before that were still on the line and we went out there and put it out. The next night it was in the jungle right behind the house. We had gone out there earlier in the evening to put out a fire and then the dreaded words. Fuego. Another one. At 11 o’clock on Friday night. I had just taken a shower. So we put on our dirty clothes. Again. And then there was yesterday. The fire started around 2 o’clock that afternoon in the cow pasture. And then another one was burning in the jungle behind Hector’s house. And then there was another one out by the Yerbas Buenas church. And yet another one across the road near our neighbor’s house.
Let me tell you something about firefighting in Peru. It’s not like you just see the fire, call the fire department and wait for it to be put out. No. If there’s a fire, you fight it yourself. You and whoever else shows up to help. So here’s the drill. 1) Someone yells FUEGO! 2) Grab your smokey clothes off the line. 3) Gather all of the buckets in the house. 4) Fill up the huge tank on the tractor with water. 5) Go.
Fighting fires is a very slow process. We have to haul our lemonade buckets through the jungle to the boys at the front lines. Sometimes we have to chop up a tree if it has too many dry leaves. There are always embers everywhere. It’s smoky and dark. I got lost in the jungle once. The smoke was burning my eyes and lungs, it was hot, dark, and I couldn’t see where anyone else was.
The amazing thing about the fires this week – yes, I think there was actually something positive that came out of it – was the attitude of cooperation and togetherness that our team had. The Doctor is one of the most amazing people I know. There he is in the middle of a forest fire still cracking jokes, still laughing. We were all still laughing. One night in particular, I think it was Friday, we had just finished fighting the fire and so we were heading back to the house. The Doctor was leading his weary troops. Leading them in circles around the jungle. He started laughing so hard when we realized what he had done. Que chistoso. I love that though. Amidst a tough time, there is still laughter here.
I remember sitting in SM class and being told to be prepared for anything and to be flexible. Boy, I never would’ve guessed that that would have included fighting rain forest fires. Philippians 4:13 has an all new meaning. Yes. I can do all things – give shots, pull teeth, be a triage nurse, put out fires, preach in Spanish, and more – but only through Christ who gives me the strength.

Just a teaser: We’re leaving tomorrow for a 4-day clinic up the Amazon river. We’re going to be going to different little villages and passing out meds, performing surgeries, and pulling teeth. It’s going to be a real adventure. I’ve heard stories about mosquitoes the size of hippos. Oh yes, a real adventure. We’re going to be eating rice, beans, fish, and fruit. I’ll probably get diarrhea. 


Pienso que yo hablo como una niƱa chiquita. Sometimes I think that the locals just look at me and decide to rattle something off in Spanish just to laugh at my blank face. I’ve been smiling a lot. And nodding. I like talking with kids because they actually help me. There are these two little boys in particular – Gian Pier and Alex. They live here at the base in a little house with their dad, Hector. Their mom died a year or two ago. Gian Pier is 10 and Alex is 8. They are the most precious boys ever. One morning the first week I was here, while I was supposed to be doing something else, I went on a fruit scavenger hunt with those little boys. They taught me all the names of the local fruits and we just spent the morning laughing, climbing trees, and eating to our hearts’ content. One morning Gian Pier surprised me with a big tropical orange flower. He walked up all shyly, went around behind me and just threw the flower in my hair. During church Alex usually lies down on the wooden pew and sleeps on my lap. He also always asks if he can have a drink from my water bottle. And then he drinks all of it with a little grin. Whenever I sit down, he wiggles his way and his dirty little feet onto my lap. He stole my jugo de durzana after I had only had one sip. The point is: I’m never going to be able to leave these boys.

Oh, Peru.

You and your people have stolen my heart.