by Jon Ashton, Pharmacy Student
From left to right: Shelby Hood (Pharmacy – 4th year), Meghan Chen (Nursing – 2nd year), Jonathan Ashton (Pharmacy – 1st year) in Antigua, Guatemala
Each of us has our own journey, our own path to walk. Some paths are easy, some are hard. Some smooth, some rocky. Some are flat, and some never seem to stop going uphill. Each of us has parts of our journey that are wonderful and some which are not, and some parts that help us find meaning in that journey.
For one week, a group of 22 students and faculty at Belmont University has come together to walk a part of our journey together. We have decided to journey together to Antigua, Guatemala in order to spend that time in service of others.
Our journey got off to a hectic start. We were scheduled to arrive at 4AM Sunday morning at Nashville International Airport in order to be prepared to board our pre-dawn flight to Houston and then on to Guatemala City. We checked in, shuttled through security, and boarded the plane, only to have the captain announce over the intercom that we would be delayed for fog in Houston. We stood up sleepily, trudged off the plane and waited, where but ten minutes later, we were invited back onto the plane after the captain had verified that in fact their equipment was sufficient to land in fog. This time, it was time to go! We taxied out onto the runway and waited for the word that we were cleared to take off. Some 45 minutes later, another passenger not in our party passed out and required medical attention, so we taxied back to the gate, only to find that there was no gate available. By then, the passenger had recovered, more embarrassed than anything else, but by this time, we’d lost enough time that it was impossible for us to make it to Houston in time to catch our connecting flight to Guatemala City. We were asked to deplane again. Strike two. Our faculty leadership sprang into action and spent 20 minutes with the gate attendant trying to find an option to reroute our flight and get us to Guatemala that day. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The next available flight was the following day. Strike three. We were out. Our only option was to return the following morning, once again at 4AM. A rocky start indeed.
Monday morning came, and by 4AM, each of us had returned to the airport ready to go, a little wearier from lack of sleep and a little warier of bad luck. This time, however, our luck was good. The skies were clear enough to fly on schedule, and we had an uneventful pair of flights to Guatemala City. The city itself is nestled in among verdant mountains with colorful buildings dotting the landscape as we approached. It was clear that the city was a modern city, but with a soul that was unique and different from that which we know in Nashville. The colors were vibrant, the people energetic, and there seemed to be a well-organized chaos directing traffic. It took an hour and a half by van to reach Antigua along a highway which might be described as an unhurried rush. No horns sounded angrily. Motorcycles weaved through traffic. People went about their day.
As we reached Antigua, the feel changed. The town was smaller, the architecture took on a less modern and more colonial Spanish aspect. The roads were cobblestone. Amidst the historic charm of the city, there was a rougher edge to be seen. There were bars on windows, heavy steel grates, prominent locks, and walls with broken glass embedded in the tops to prevent burglars from jumping over. It was clear there are parts of the town that are less safe than we are used to. It was also clear that there was a very real need for people like us to come and offer what training, knowledge, and skills that we have.
Having been delayed a full day, our contact, a businessman named Pablo, informed us that a doctor was seeing patients and that many were waiting for us to arrive to help screen her patients. Once again, our leadership sprang into action, directing a few of us to drop off our bags at the residence, and setting up the various stations of the clinic. There were stations for vital signs, for blood glucose screening, an eye exam, and a limited pharmacy set up with the medications we brought from Tennessee. We saw over eighty patients, mostly elderly women, but included a few children and teenagers as well.
One patient in particular, an elderly woman of over eighty years, came to the clinic with leg pain. She told her story of chronic, severely debilitating leg pain that kept her housebound, confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or work. She felt a burden to her adult daughter who cared for her. When we asked what we could do, she asked if we would pray with her. Sydney didn’t hesitate. She asked for a translator to join her and the patient’s daughter for a prayer. The bowed their heads. Sydney prayed. The translator translated. As the prayer was offered, those around the room took notice. Many bowed their heads and joined the prayer. Many others in the crowded, busy room heard the words and their eyes glistened as they asked God for strength, for guidance, and for love. When she was done, she said ‘Amen’ and offered a hug to the woman, who returned it with tears in her eyes.
There are times along our journey when our path intersects the path of another. On this day, the relatively smooth path of 22 young travelers crossed many paths: a young, inquisitive boy in for a check-up, a young girl with a persistent cough, a young mother with a sick infant, an elderly grandmother with leg pain, and countless others. Each day, we have the chance to make a difference, to reach out and offer comfort in a time of need, to help make the journey of a fellow traveler a little easier.