February 1990 – Belize (Central America)
Last October, Dr. Pete, Judy, and I decided to sign up for a two-week medical mission trip to the tiny English-speaking country of Belize, formerly British Honduras. Located on the Caribbean Sea south of Mexico bordered by Guatemala where tropical jungles abound. Since February is not the rainy season there, we’re hoping our bus doesn’t get stuck in the mud like it did in Honduras. And we hope to communicate with the patients in English in the clinics without a translator.
Because of the delay of our Eastern Airlines plane, we arrived a day late in Belize City after an eight-hour flight from Ohio through Miami. The 90-degree heat felt great compared to the snow and ice we left behind. The mission leader, Larry, who also led the Honduras mission in 1989, met us at the airport. The customs officials took two hours to clear Dr. Pete’s surgical equipment. The airline lost my checked luggage again, like when I went to Honduras, but this time I fully stocked my carry-on bag with necessities. I brought enough dried food for two weeks, three pairs of scrubs, toiletries, a swimsuit, a blood pressure cuff, a stethoscope, and gospels of John to hand out.
Larry drove us to the capital city of Belmopan where we had a delicious dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Chinese restaurants abound all over the world, even in British Belize. Judy and I said goodbye to Dr. Pete since he will be doing surgery for the entire two weeks in the city hospital of Belmopan while we work with the medical and dental teams in the villages.
We piled into the small Datsun pickup truck and drove on dark paved and dirt roads, passing some citrus processing plants. We came upon a stranded high school bus with 57 teens sleeping in the middle of the road for the night while they waited for a clutch to be brought to them from Dangriga. We took one of the chaperones with us and arrived in Dangriga at midnight. As I bid her goodbye, I gave her a gospel tract to read.
Judy and I tiptoed into a two-story house by flashlight, trying not to awaken the sleeping women on the mission team. We found two empty mattresses on the floor, tried to clean up a little in the barely working bathroom, and thanked God as we stretched out.
The next morning, I awoke as the sun streamed into our room through dusty windows. I noticed some dark blobs on the ceiling. I put on my glasses and gasped as the blobs came into focus–tarantulas on the ceiling as big as the palm of my hand. I nudged Judy and pointed, and she almost screamed. I silently prayed and thanked the Lord that I didn’t know I was sleeping under tarantulas all night. I got up and went to the bathroom, more visible in the light now. The water trickled out of the faucet, barely enough to wash my face. I brushed my teeth with my bottled water. Then I looked at the bathtub and saw worms crawling out of the drain. I gagged and left the bathroom. No shower for me today. A sponge bath will do. I asked the Lord to help me be flexible and adjust to all these tropical creatures in Belize.
After putting on my scrubs, Judy and I walked with the other women a few blocks to breakfast where we met the men on the medical and dental teams. Judy and I and two other women spoke privately with Larry about the tarantulas and barely working bathroom. While we work in the clinic today, Larry said he would try to find other accommodations. This house has been vacant for a while and no one had time to clean it before we came.
We enjoyed our 7 a.m. breakfast at Pastor Chester’s home under a big tent. Because the small church cannot pay him an adequate salary to support him and his family, he works several jobs. His wife made us fabulous fresh bread in her restaurant. I ate instant oatmeal that I brought with me. I’m praying I can tolerate the food better than I did in Honduras. Because I needed antibiotics for a month for an intestinal infection after I returned from Honduras, I’m being especially cautious.
Judy and I introduced ourselves to the rest of the team. I was assigned to Team 1 and Judy will be on Team 2. A separate bus will take us to a different village daily so we can give more people medical care and the gospel. There are a large number of retired people on the teams, about half are from Canada. There are some young people from the Mennonite Church who will share the gospel with the patients. I will be the triage nurse again which I enjoyed doing in Honduras.
We boarded the bus and bumped along until we arrived at Silk Grass Village. For some reason, they didn’t know we were coming, so the residents helped us set up the clinic in the community building. The friendly people spoke British English, so I had a little trouble understanding their accents. To my delight, I found two children who would like to be pen pals with my Bible Club children back home. A kind lady made stew for us which we ate in her kitchen. Their homes are built on stilts and have shuttered windows without screens. The plentiful mosquitoes feasted on us. We saw about 50 patients in the clinic today, quiet compared to the clinics in Honduras. Not bad, considering they didn’t know we were coming.
Dinner back in Dangriga under the tent was excellent with chicken and rice, and broccoli cheese soup. Larry found another place for us ladies to stay at a small hotel in town above a bar and restaurant with a co-ed bathroom down the hall from our room. Judy and I fell into bed at 10 p.m. What a long day.
Next post, I will continue to tell you about our other clinic days. Between the delayed plane, lost luggage, and infested sleeping quarters, my flexibility was tested to the limit. The one constant in my ever-changing life is the Lord Jesus Christ.
These verses have comforted and encouraged me so many times:
Let your manner of life be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have; for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me…. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Hebrews 13:5-6, 8 KJV
From what I have read, the infrastructure has improved in Belize since my 1990 trip. As the only English-speaking nation in Central America, it has emerged as a popular retirement place for foreigners because of its warm seaside location.