1st Phase - St Christopher Advance Team

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The flights to Managua were uneventful, which is the best to hope for with today's airline travel. Now the moment of my biggest concern approached - clearing Nicaraguan customs.  All was going fine until Rachelle was pulled aside so that they could inspect her personal suitcase. When I went to make sure that she was faring well, the Customs agent asked if we were a Medical Brigade.  He then spent over 30 minutes telling us that he could not find us on the approved list of Medical Brigades, that he had no paperwork on us, and that ALL of our medical supplies could NOT enter the country. Even when I showed him my copy of the paperwork with the Nicaragua Health Ministry and the Customs approval stamps, he was not satisfied.  He said that we could leave the airport but that we could not take the medical supplies with us. After all the hoops that we jumped through during the past several months to gain the approvals, I was not about to leave any medical supplies at the airport. Finally the agent found our Brigade's name on another list, so he took my copy of the paperwork and cleared us for entry. Apparently incompetence reigns supreme in most government agencies in most countries. However, as an individual, this Customs Agent tried hard to find the missing paperwork and probably bent the rules by letting us enter the country using the copy that I provided. Another hurdle (of the many since starting preparations for this trip) was successfully cleared!

The Best Western is a nice hotel and we are glad to get settled for the night. I had one thought at that point in time: "Life is good".

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Rivas Lions met us at the hotel to take our luggage and medical supplies to Rivas. Ann Marie arrived with Edgard and a minivan to take us to Rivas.  The trip was long, but uneventful.  We dropped our stuff at Ann Marie's house, and then headed to the Shrine in Popoyoapa to prepare the project site. This church is also known as Jesus del Rescate (Jesus the Redeemer), and it is Fr. Alfonso's parish.

Site setup went well and we had plenty of time for dinner at Ann Marie's and a relaxing evening before the real work would begin the next day.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

This was the first real work day for the project. The day started slowly.  We needed time to meet the Rivas Lions (at least 6 were present at all times) and our translators (including 5 Peace Corps volunteers and some local high school students), and to make sure everyone understood the procedures being used. There were a few glitches along the way, but nothing major. Mid-day lunch was prepared by Chapita, Fr. Alfonso's cook and housekeeper. We are fortunate that Chapita will be preparing the lunches during the entire Brigade stay. Her meals are always delicious.

It was a long day with the last patient leaving the site after 5:30 PM, but a rewarding day.  221 people received services today, and we are expecting to do more tomorrow.

Friday, January 25, 2013

With one day under our belt, the team was confident. As expected the day started slow, but quickly picked up speed. Fortunately Rachelle was a whiz on the autorefractor and efficiently handled the flow of patients. The work flow process settled into an efficient pace. Translators and Peace Corps workers were trained in the pre-screening process, which increased the team's ability to service patients.

A meeting with the Hospital Administration was assisted by the Lions Club. The hospital was VERY cooperative and the Director said "the hospital doors are open" for anything that we need. Unfortunately a miscommunication between the Health Ministry (SALAIS) and the hospital did not reserve time in the anesthesiologist's schedule for strabismus surgeries with our doctors. They promised to resolve this situation over the next week.

The translators and Peace Corps workers have been an awesome addition to the team.  And the Lions have jumped through hoops to meet our transportation needs for the medical equipment and the supplies.

Today I worked to coordinate Jaikel's trip to Rivas to be examined by the Brigade's ophthalmologists and to visit Yadder on Ometepe. I am surprised how well everything is falling into place.  Jaikel is a blind boy that we met 2 years ago in Nandaime, and we have been trying to help him regain his sight. Unfortunately we now suspect that his condition is inoperable. Yadder is also blind, and our hope is that Jaikel can learn some independent living skills from Yadder.   Plans were made for Grace to bring Jaikel from Nandaime for the eye exam on Monday.  Then Edgard and I will take Jaikel to the small town of Altagracia on Ometepe Island by car, ferry and then bus.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

This was our last day to work in Popoyoapa. We arrived early and were uncertain what the day would bring since many of our translators were not available. We were pleasantly surprised when enough translators showed up to meet our needs. Fortunately the Lions only planned for a half-day of patients on Saturday. We serviced 150 patients, and then packed up all of the equipment and supplies in preparation for our relocation to Chacalapa. Everyone gathered for a wrap up meeting after the 3 days in Popoyoapa. The Lions expressed their sincere gratitude as we had surpassed their initial goal of 450 patients by serving more than 650 people.

By mid-afternoon we were on our way to Ann Marie's. On the way, we stopped in Buenos Aires to see Roberto, who makes the beautifully carved jicara ornaments. He is a true craftsman. Once we were at Ann Marie's, we had time for a pleasant walk on the beach before dinner.  Sami (from the Peace Corps) was able to join us. After dinner there was time to relax in the living room with some pleasant conversation. The work days are far too busy for much idle talk between us, so this was another good opportunity for people to get to know each other better.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday was a light day, but not a day off. The Shrine was scheduled to be dedicated as the National Shrine of Nicaragua on Tuesday, which caused us to cancel our work scheduled for Tuesday. This dedication was a major event for the area. That meant we had to setup the project site on Sunday, and plan a long work day on Monday.

In the morning, we attended mass at the Shrine, which included Fr. Alfonso calling the team up to the altar and introducing us to the congregation. Father never misses an opportunity to promote our project, or to use us as an example during his sermons.

After mass we met the Lions to transport the equipment to Chacalapa, and to prepare the site for an early start on Monday.  Since we could not get into the Chacalapa Chapel until 4 PM, the team went to the Maxi Palí (like a very mini Walmart) to do some shopping, and then back to Ann Marie's for a mid-afternoon lunch.  We also visited the pedestrian bridge that the Canisius High School boys helped to build in February 2012.  This bridge unites two parts of one community that is divided by a raging river during the rainy season.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Our one day in Chacalapa was a long and busy one. I also had an early meeting at the Health Ministry, so Brian took charge of the project site. Everything went smoothly. By now people knew their jobs and performed them efficiently. At one point the autorefractor stopped working. After being off for a brief period, it started working again. The instrument was probably overheated. The temperature was scorching hot in the little, humble church where we were working. You could break a sweat just standing in the shade!

My meeting with SALAIS was postponed until 1 PM, so Edgard and I spent a good portion of the day traveling between Rivas and Chacalapa. When the meeting finally happened, it went quite well.  The Directors are working cooperatively to make this project a success.

With the help of Sami (Peace Corp) as translator, Loretta had a lunch conversation with Dayarena, one of the Lady Lions. Loretta and Daya worked closely together in Chacalapa last year and developed a friendship even though Loretta speaks no Spanish and Daya speaks no English. Sign language, a smile and photos of the kids and grandkids can go a long way.

Ellen has become our team statistician, and we tallied patient services in the evening. With 250 people serviced during the one day in Chacalapa, a total of 900 patients were seen for the 4 eyeglass distribution days. The team felt good about this accomplishment.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Finally a full day off! This was supposed to be our second day in Chacalapa. After 7 straight days of travel, set-up, active service and packing, we had the opportunity for a much needed break. Our group of 10 went to Playa Gigante with Edgard and 3 young ladies from the Peace Corps. The beach was nicer than San Juan del Sur, less populated and more rustic.  Everyone liked it.

The sun was hot, the sand was soft and the waves were great! We set up at a restaurant overlooking the beach and began to relax and play - walking on the beach, body surfing, volleyball or just sunbathing. It was a beautiful day. After returning to Ann Marie's to change and shower, we had dinner at Pizza Hot. Then it was back to the house to pack for the Advanced Team to return to Buffalo.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 (The daylight hours)

Today the Advance Team from St Christopher left Rivas for the airport. Our first stop was the Rivas Lions Clinic. Wilfredo, the Lions' President, had asked for the team to stop by. While there, the Lions presented each member of the Advance Team with a large carved Jicara and a certificate as remembrances and tokens of their appreciation to the Brigade.  It was a wonderful and unexpected gesture that the team appreciated.

 On the way to the airport, we stopped in Catarina Lagoon to see the breath-taking view that I consider one of the most beautiful in the world. It is also a good place to shop.  Then we hit the New Masaya Market for lunch and more shopping. That got us to the airport in time to relax by the pool before dinner. The Advance Team did a terrific job and helped many people. This little respite was a well-deserved and fitting end to their mission trip.

Drew and Elaine are staying for another 2 weeks of mission work, so they took advantage of an opportunity to continue north with Ann Marie and Fr. Alfonso to the Farm in Camoapa, which is part of the Nicaragua Mission Project, and provides milk cows to poor families. Neither of them have been to the farm, so it should be a real treat and a good experience. It will also give them a much needed rest before the Medical Brigade work begins. 

2nd Phase - Medical Brigade (Doctors and Surgery Teams)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 (The evening)

Loretta, Denise and Ellen walked across the street with me to the airport to meet Group 2 of the Medical Brigade, which arrived around 8:30 PM. An hour later Customs was still giving them the third degree. They opened boxes, resealed them, and later another person reopened the same boxes. Before the trip I predicted that clearing Customs would be the highest risk step in the project. Customs did not prove me wrong, though I wish they would have. It was a stressful scene to watch through glass doors some   60 feet away and not be allowed to assist in anyway.  Eventually all people and goods were cleared for entry into Nicaragua.  YEAH!!!

When I awoke on this Wednesday morning, I was prepared for a relaxing day touring the Advance Team to the airport. I had forgotten that the arrival of Group 2 was the same day until we approached Managua and reality set in.  I should have known not to expect a completely worry-free day for this trip.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Advance Team had an early morning flight, and I woke early to see Loretta and the rest of the St Christopher team off. Everyone met on-time at the lobby and we walked across the street to the airport. Airline check-in went smoothly and we were headed back to the hotel for breakfast when the morning peace was shattered.

One of our team members tripped on a section of uneven sidewalk and crashed face-first into the concrete ground. Broken eyeglasses (which she commented on first as any good optician would), a bleeding nose coloring the concrete red, a bump above her eye, skinned hand and knee - not a very pretty scene. While not life-threatening injuries, there was much concern about her obtaining medical treatment in Nicaragua and her ability to board an airplane with her injuries. Fortunately the airport paramedic arrived with a wheelchair, took control of the situation, and did a wonderful job treating the injuries.  The rest of the team returned to the hotel for breakfast and to collect their carry-on bags, while I stayed at the airport clinic with our injured team member. There were a few tense moments (at least for me), but an hour later she was finally cleared to fly after the paramedic placed a phone call to the airport physician. The rest of the team joined us, and they proceeded through security together and out of sight.  I hoped that the flights would go well. Iwas concerned that the low pressure during flight could cause her nose to start bleeding again.

Group 2 had an easy and enjoyable trip to Rivas.  After a smooth hotel check-in at the Nicarao Inn, we had a nice lunch, and then headed to CANA to setup for the first day of servicing patients tomorrow. CANA exists because of the work by the Mission Nicaragua Project, and it was built with donated goods and funds from Buffalo NY. It is a fitting venue for the Medical Brigade. Setup went well except that the hospital was using the surgery rooms, so we planned to do the hospital setup on Sunday afternoon. We had dinner at Tip Top (Nicaragua's version of KFC) and then ice cream at the Eskimo in San Jorge  - a relaxing end to a day with a very stressful beginning.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday went well - 356 patients. The biggest problem was too many referrals arrived from the Advance Team for the staff to handle. We asked some of them to come back on Monday. We trained Emily to use the autorefractor, and she was as proficient as Rachelle. These young girls have the touch.

At one point, one of the newly arrived team members asked me where Loretta was. She had met Loretta for the first time at the airport the night before, and didn't know that Loretta had gone home with the first group. The team member was disappointed that she was not able to get to know her better, and commented on Loretta's beautiful dark hair and bright brown eyes, and said that I am lucky to have her. I agreed. It's just one more compliment that I have received about Loretta during the trip. They're really adding up.  This only reinforced how much I appreciate EVERYTHING that she has done for me and our family, and EVERYTHING that she has done to make this project successful. It's true that behind every successful man is a wonderful woman.

I was glad to learn that our injured team member arrived safely in Buffalo, went to the doctor, and is OK.

SALAIS (the Health Ministry) brought 4 children for strabismus surgery. We scheduled 2 for Monday, but the other 2 were not great candidates. The 2 girls from Chacalapa were not candidates either, but another boy was. We hope that we can help the 2 children that Father Marcial will be bringing.

Virginia Torres organized her local parishioners to provide snacks and beverages for the Brigade during the afternoon. With her husband Leo's help, she created a refreshing diversion to a busy day.

Saturday the Lions planned to take everyone to San Juan del Sur.  Edgard and I also planned to pick up Group 3 at the airport in the evening. The project would be in full swing by Monday, just in time for me to take Jaikel to Ometepe Island.

That's about it for now. I'm very tired, but I can't sleep, and I have a LONG day ahead of me.

All communications with Buffalo were disrupted Friday evenin . At 5:00 AM on Saturday morning the Internet was still out - it was VERY windy, which could have caused the outage. I hope that my email will be sent when I get to the Nicarao Inn later today.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Saturday turned out alright, though a very long day, which is why I am writing this at 1 AM. The first flight with doctors, assistants and supplies did not arrive until after 8 PM.

 All members of the final group arrived safely, and all of the supplies passed Customs.  However it was NOT a smooth process. The people arrived on 4 separate flights, 2 of which were delayed by more than an hour. The 2 flights with medical gear received significant scrutiny by Customs - boxes were opened and the people were delayed for almost a half hour each.  Between transporting people and retrieving paperwork, I probably walked between the airport and Best Western a dozen times. But it's done now.

It's very late and I'm very tired so I need to keep this short. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Lions pickup truck threw 2 belts and broke the radiator en route to pick up the airport luggage. Edgard did some incredible van packing. All the people and luggage fit into the VERY FULL van.
I learned that Vivian would do more strabismus surgeries if we had more time from the anesthesiologist. So I called a woman in Tola (where Peace Corp worker Amanda lives) to bring 5 more strabismus candidates the next day. I also arranged for people to contact SALAIS and the hospital for more of the anesthesiologist's time.
Sunday evening we had a Super Bowl party with the full 22 person team and a few Lions at the Nicarao Inn. It was a fun time, the people got to know each other, and there were many small discussions that resolved details in work processes for Monday.
It's late again and we have to leave Ann Marie Zon's 
at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow to receive the surgery patients at 7:00 a.m.

Monday, February 4, 2013

This was the longest day yet. We left Ann Marie Zon's at 6:30 AM and returned at 11:10 PM.
Except for a quick and very late dinner, and a team meeting to discuss improving the process, the team was actively engaged in project work this entire time.
 It was a difficult day. Many Peace Corps people were missing and it was the first working mission day for most of the people at CANA. The team really needed more guidance, experience and good translators. Of course I left early to take Jaikel* to Ometepe Island and that left a bigger hole in the experienced staff. There was some confusion and inefficiency which can be expected for the first day, but a lot of
people were still helped. With experience under the team's belt, the next day promises to be better. 
 Things went well with delivering Jaikel to Ometepe. Yadder will host Jaikel for 3 days to help him adapt to being blind, and to become more independent. Yadder is an interesting boy - In spite of his blindness, he walks around fast without a cane. His family and the people at BOSIA are also nice. BOSIA is a non-profit based on Bainbridge Island near Seattle WA that has been helping the people of Ometepe Island since the mid-1980's. They made the connection between Jaikel and Yadder possible.
 The bright spot of the day was being on Ometepe with Edgard. Many people know him and invited us into their homes. I got a glimpse of the real Nicaragua and a closer look at Edgard's real life. Though the island bus was crowded, and the winds made for some choppy waves on the ferry ride, both trips were pleasant enough.
 Our surgeon experienced a problem with the anesthesiologists at the hospital today. The 2 strabismus children surgeries were canceled after they were prepped and ready. If I can't turn this situation around, NO strabismus surgeries will occur, and Fr. Marcial will be arriving at 7 AM tomorrow with 2 strabismus children.
 Once again it's late.  I'm falling asleep as I write this, and my alarm is set to go off in 5 hours.

* Jaikel is a young blind boy that our group met in Nandaime during the first St Christopher Eyeglass Distribution Project

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

 Things went much better today at Cana. We adjusted the work process and the patient flow went smoothly, although a little slower than I anticipated through the Optometrist section. All the optometrists are on their first mission trip and they are still being more thorough with their eye exams than our ability to match the people with eyeglasses.
 The strabismus children are a sad story. There will be NO strabismus operations this week. We had 2 children prepped and ready for surgery. Our surgeon then spent almost 3 hours in discussions with the anesthesiologists until she finally became afraid of the outcome if she utilized the anesthesiologists' services. They were not real interested in doing extra work to work with our team. Our surgeon became very uncomfortable with the anesthesiologists and did not want someone in the operating room if she couldn't trust their work.  Anesthesia is a high risk area of an operation, and she did not want to put the children at risk. She decided to cancel these surgeries - a decision that made me very sad, but that I fully supported. I could see that it was a hard and difficult decision for her to make.
Not to be discouraged, our doctors immediately began discussing the anesthesiologists that they knew back home who may be interested in joining the team next year.
 The Hospital Director is a wonderful woman who was also heart-broken by the result. She personally came with us and took the lead in telling the families the bad news. We talked about alternatives and that the children can be added to a waiting list in Managua. The list is probably long, but the Director will try to get them a priority status. It was an emotionally difficult time for everyone involved.
 I haven't heard anything about Jaikel yet, which I took as a good sign—no news is good news. Jaikel said that he often gets car sick, but he did well on the boat and bus rides. Jaikel's mother came to Rivas during the eye exam, but she didn't go to Ometepe Island.
Once again I'm falling asleep while writing, so I'll quit now and write again tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The last two days were the big hills on the roller coaster ride.
Yesterday we were resolved that no children would receive strabismus surgery. Today, at 10 AM, I received a call from our surgeon that we could perform 5 strabismus surgeries the next day provided that I could find the children that we had sent away, and have the hospital pediatrician examine them today. What a monumental request since we did not have the children's phone numbers and some lived 2 hours away!
Many local people helped. We broadcasted notices on the radio, and we did it.
The children were waiting for our surgeons to operate. Dr. Silva is a young, bright Nicaraguan ophthalmologist at the hospital that Dr. Fasula worked with 2 years ago and he was instrumental in putting this new hospital team together.  The effort was exhausting and emotionally draining but very rewarding at the end of the day. I will add that I could not have done it without Edgard to shuttle me everywhere, show me the ropes, and help me work the system.
It was a LONG day for everyone. The hospital team finally finished surgeries around 11 PM. The rest of the team found a good Mexican restaurant for a late dinner (arriving after 8 PM) and ordered take-out for the hospital team.
I had dinner with the 3 optometrists from the Philly / Delaware area, and they could not stop talking about their project experiences.  They all said that the project has been a "life changing experience", and they were definitely coming back next year. I talked about the work required to make next year happen, and they all volunteered for assignments. One of the spouses at the table is a lawyer and offered to take care of multiple legal items. It felt great to see that this project may spawn a continuing program that this young and enthusiastic group wants to expand. Leslie from the Peace Corps was also in the discussion, and with his marketing background, he started laying out plans for major fund raising efforts. My task will be to keep this enthusiasm alive once they get back to the States.
At this point it was VERY late so I needed to end my writing with expectations of great results at the hospital tomorrow 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

In the Groove

The team saw almost 400 people and performed surgeries today. Everyone knew their roles and they were working like a well-oiled machine.
The only major hitch was the strabismus children. Working through the hospital admittance process was not easy. In the end only one strabismus surgery was performed, and a 17 month old baby had a clogged tear duct opened.
Two children were lucky, and their strabismus was correctable with eyeglasses, including Kendal Javier - the little boy we met last year from Cristo Rey. 5 year old Kendal Javier was the spark that prompted the discussions about strabismus surgeries for the children. WHAT A CUTE AND HAPPY BOY!!!  He always smiled. He took my hand to walk with me without my asking. Everybody loved him!
The girl from Chacalapa was re-diagnosed as a non-strabismus problem. With eyeglasses and becoming older her issues should disappear. The only disappointment was with a young girl from Cardenas, a poor area an hour from Rivas. The child was scheduled, prepped and ready for surgery on Monday morning before the issues arose with the anesthesiologists. The Mom waited all day Monday and Tuesday, made multiple long trips from Cardenas, and was finally in queue Thursday after arriving at the hospital at 5:30 AM. I'm sure that the Mom finally gave up, thinking that the surgery would never happen.  She took the child home probably an hour before they went to get her for surgery. Very disappointing....
A few more bright spots on the day: Ana Cecelia brought 17 people from Nandaime.  These were people we had met during our first eyeglass distribution project two years earlier. One boy was Manuel, Jaikel's younger brother. His mother saw some discharge from his one eye, and thought that was similar to how Jaikel's blindness began. Our Ophthalmologists examined Manuel, and he is fine. Ana Cecelia had significant pterygium growth in one eye, and although the surgery schedule was full, we were fortunate to find a slot for her when a cancellation occurred.
Jaikel returned from Ometepe Island.  He was escorted by our new friend, Yadder, who is also blind. Yadder took him to the Blind Association in Rivas to get an ID card. When we went to pick him up, the President of the association asked if he could bring 10 people to our Brigade. When I agreed he took me into a room full of people to give them the news. At this point Edgard had left to run another errand.  I then had to explain what the Brigade can do for them in Spanish and without an interpreter. Not an easy task with my "Spanglish", but surprisingly it worked well enough. Edgard and I transported 12 people to receive services, and Jaikel received his ID card.
Jaikel learned a lot during his time with Yadder. He also has been walking more in Nandaime with the walking cane that we gave him last October.  Yadder felt that Jaikel was still hesitant to leave the house at night and is still not eating very much. I guess we need to be happy with baby steps as Jaikel is making progress.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Docs' Last Full Day
Today was the last full day for the doctors. The biggest challenges were trying to schedule patients so that the day ended in time for the Lions Thank You fiesta and choosing which patients of the many needy would benefit from the few remaining surgical slots.  All the doctors agreed that we could have done so much more if we had more and/or better equipment. They are already making plans for how we can bring more equipment with us next year.
I calculated that the final patient count after this Monday will be over 3,000 with about 85 surgeries completed. Joyce spent the last 2 days doing nothing but gathering statistics from the mountain of the patients' papers.  It has been a VERY successful trip at every project site.
I saw Ana Cecelia again today when she returned for her post-surgery follow-up for pterygium. We took her to the National Association for the Blind to meet with the president. Unfortunately he was on Ometepe Island, but I left a letter of introduction for the president so that he and Ana Cecelia could talk next week. Ana Cecelia said that there are 300 blind people in the Nandaime area, and her group wants to create an office / therapy area for them there.
The Lions prepared a thank you fiesta for the Brigade, and it was a terrific event.  I wish that the full team, including the Advanced Team who had previously gone home, were  present to participate.  It demonstrated how appreciative that the Lions were for the Brigade's efforts. Every Brigade member received a Jicara and every Brigade member, Peace Corp's volunteer and translator received a certificate. During the buffet dinner they had a couple in costume performing traditional Nicaraguan dances. After dinner there was music, dancing and more Flor de Cana (the loocally made Rum). Sami, from the Peace Corps sang  a wonderful karaoke song. Many of us didn't realize that it wasn't a recording until half way through the song.
Tomorrow will be another long day with post-operation  patients, packing and touring the group on the way to the airport. While the touring part can be fun, I now better understand Ann Marie's stress when coordinating multiple groups to be in-sync. Fortunately everyone has been flexible which has made my job easier.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Finally an easy day for the team - and me. The doctors did post-operation exams at 8 AM.  Fortunately all the patients were fine. Otherwise immediate surgery would have been necessary and the day would be in schedule would be in chaos.
Dr. Fasula had told the Philly-Delaware group many stories about Ann Marie. This group had been waiting to meet Ann Marie and to see the Shrine. Unfortunately Ann Marie did not go to the Lions fiesta, where my speech cited their work with the Nicaragua Project as the reason this Brigade came to Nicaragua, and which is now part of their legacy. So I arranged for Ann Marie and Fr. Alfonso to meet us at the Shrine as the first stop on the tour / trip to the airport. Everyone was impressed with the Shrine, these two amazing people, and the work that they have accomplished.
The plans for traveling to the airport changed during the trip due to timing of meals and people wandering. With two vehicles, all 22 team members, 4 Peace Corps workers who have become good friends, Edgard, and the second vehicle drivers, I had 29 cats to herd. Throw in a flat tire that sounded like a gun shot when it blew, and it became an interesting trip. I was again had an appreciation for  some of the frustration and stress that Ann Marie must feel when touring some of our groups.
All in all the day went wonderfully. The team saw the Shrine, did the Granada Island boat tour, had a nice lunch by the lake, had a quick stop at Granada Square, and did shopping at Catarina Lagoon, which I consider as one of the most breath-taking vistas in the world. A very busy and hectic day, but these first time visitors needed to see the good and fun side of Nicaragua too.
We finished by 5:30 p.m., and it was time for the group to split as half were going towards the airport and the rest were returning to Rivas.  Long and emotional good-byes were said between many individuals. Many of us, even within the team, had never met before this trip. Yet many referred to each other as family. It was a very good day.
I foolishly felt that my daily tasks were completed as we headed for home.  As we were approaching Ann Marie's house we received a call that one of the people at the airport hotel had left her carry-on bag in
the second vehicle. After many phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages, we were relieved to learn that she still had her passport and credit cards. At least she would still be able to fly home the next morning. Before the end of the evening, I believed that we had located her bag and laptop at a secure parking lot at the rental car company. We were hopeful that we could retrieve it and return it to her in Buffalo. There is never a dull moment with this group.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The project was winding down at this point but there was still plenty to do - packing equipment, inventory, transportation, etc.
Today we went to mass at the Shrine. Fr. Alfonso prayed for us 3 times during the mass and of  course we were brought to the alter at the end of mass. At least he didn't make me speak this time.
Ann Marie invited the 10 remaining travelers to her house for lunch. Then we went to Cana to pack the hospital and optometrists' equipment.  Ann Marie also invited everyone for dinner.
After dinner Edgard and I took the group to the hotel. Then we stopped for gas at the UNO station where Wilfredo, the Lion President works. Wilfredo was next door having an after-Dinner drink with his wife. He
invited us to come over for a drink and talk. Two hours and a few drinks later he was finished telling me their plans for expanding their eye clinic, and telling me how they needed help.  These Lions are trying SO HARD with limited resources to help these people. I promised him that I would convey the Lions' needs to the doctors and ask for their help.
That unplanned extended meeting meant that we arrived at Ann Marie's late again, and I am very tired as I finish writing this entry.

 Monday, February 11, 2013

Today was the last day to serve the people. I told Wilfredo that it would be a short day so that we could pack - done by noon at the latest and seeing 100 patients at the most. In reality, we ended by 2 p.m. and helped 150 patients - working late and seeing more patients than anticipated appeared to be the norm.
Fortunately packing went quicker than expected, probably because we spent 3 hours on Sunday getting started.
On the way back to the hotel, Pat and I stopped for Jinotepe Ice Cream with the young translators: an interesting stop. We learned that the five young people ranged in age from 13 to 21. They also said that they wanted to translate for us in Juigalpa next year. When I asked about transportation (4 hours away) and housing, they said "No problem, we have friends".  Then one boy said that he was from Juigalpa, and all of his family is still there except for his father. After a quick discussion amongst themselves, they already had a basic plan laid out for next year. Then they told me that they would invite me to join their new club on Facebook that they recently started - "Friends of the Lions". These kids were really impacted and impressed by the efforts of us and the Lions.
This evening, five Lions treated the remaining 10 Brigade members to dinner at La Concha. It was a laid back and relaxing time where we got to know them even better on a personal level: a fitting end for the project.
At that point in time, I still had a few hours of packing to do at Ann Marie's. There are project materials to take home, and I had concerns that my luggage weight might be an issue.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Today we traveled towards the airport, while doing a little touring and shopping along the way. We stopped for lunch at a Salvadoran restaurant to eat pupusas. One of the Peace Corps people had been telling us about them, and Edgard knew a small restaurant in Managua. They were both tasty and inexpensive - a great combination.

We stopped by Edgard's house and met his lovely stepdaughter. What a pleasant young lady!

The day was relatively relaxing and uneventful.

The mission trip was a huge success and very rewarding.  Much good was accomplished, and many new friends were made. But now I am looking forward to traveling home and seeing my wife and family again. There's no place like home!