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《Kia Dental Mission to Guatemaya_3》__ Vincent Lee (65)

[Error correction - minor]

In my earlier reports, we had a dentist teaching staff from the U. Of Manitoba added on at the last minute, bringing the final number of dentists to 7, and number of team members to 21.

(Preceding my first entry:  We had a full day "on the road" February 11/12: Edmonton to Houston, waited 7.5 hrs to fly to Guatemala City arriving there late at night.  We were bused to a nearby hotel to get about 3 hrs of rest, then took an early flight from Guatemala City to Flores; followed by a four- hour bus ride into the mountains/forests, arriving Chisec in the late afternoon/early evening.  

Chisec is a hilly town of about 200,000.  The town's shape is nearly square, with narrow mud roads cris-crossing in a neat fashion - most certainly not original Mayan design. The houses had been burned down twice and rebuilt, due to civil wars.  The Mayor came to our hotel to meet us.  I was introduced to him as a teacher from our dental school, here to show the ropes to the students to do mission work in the field.  He thanked us profusely for our presence. My guess is that that was the time some informant had told him about my up coming birthday.
 
Of all the 7 missions I've been on, this is the only time my luggage had been x-rayed AND hand-searched, not once, but twice!  I carried two pieces of extra bin and box with me (large Rubbermaid plastic storage boxes filled to the limit of 50 lbs).  One was full of dental disposable supplies, paper products, gloves, masks, patient bibs, sterilization chemicals and you name it. The other heavy box I purchased and packed myself was jammed full of medications requested by Dr. Brian Smith our host for his clinic: antibiotics, children and adult vitamins - oral and injectable, vials of eye medicine, steroid injectables, anaesthetics, antispasmodics, anti-ulcer meds etc, plus a bunch of more specific drugs that we dentists almost never use (e.g. synthetic hormones).  I was assigned to carry this box because I am a "doctor" but more so because of my nursing background. I know how the more specialized drugs are used (injectable steroids, urinery track meds and meds for prostate problemse, etc. ).  I listed every single drug in detail in a print-out.  The stone faced US custom guy pointed to it and said "I need to see these."  "Fine" I said, after telling him where I was going. He picked up 3 of the meds and asked me "What is this for?"  I said it was for control of child birth (it was an oxytocin drug).  The stone face gave me a frown and asked how a dentist would use this medication?  (You put it in your whisky, you idiot!  I felt like telling him.). Oh my God, I thought to myself lucky I was carrying this box.  A less experienced young dental assistant might faint under such pressure.  After I "cleared" the three meds to his satisfaction, he finally gave me a more friendly grin telling me, "You are doing good work, Sir."  At that point, I could not resist, so I asked, "I'm only transiting the US.  I won't see this box again until I get to the Guatemala airport to clear their customs.  And this is in the opposite direction of the narcotic trade, am just curious about why the detail search." Then he opened up, first a big sigh, then a chuckle; it turns out he was not looking for illicit drugs or narcotics.  He was looking for hidden away cash. Money laundering carriers would hide their stacks of cash in the middle or bottom of such boxes.  I then told him I wished I had a thick stack of cash so that I would just buy more drugs for my mission!  The guy was human after all, burst out a loud chuckle, as if telling me to "move on, get out of here before I change my mind."  I did.

And then, at. Guatemala customs, they wanted to open the same box AGAIN!  The custom inspector was a pretty good looking lady in her mid-30s. She spoke good English.  I pointed my finger to the "Inspected and Cleared" tape put on by the US border agency. "Do I have to open this again?"  The lady had a dry sense of humour, "No you don't", she said, "I will open it."

She didn't care what the drugs were for.  When I asked, she told she was looking for two things: "undeclared narcotics" for obvious reasons, and "expired medications".  So I asked "If I'm carrying morphine, codeine or Demerol drugs, I can get through as long as I declare them?"  I got a surprise reply "Yes, for limited amounts, and I would ask to see your doctor's or dentist's licence; if you don't produce one, I will arrest you!"
 
The good looks were extremely misleading; this lady did not mince with words.  Then she told me people would import expired drugs into Central America for resale in the black market.  That was why she picked up a handful of meds at random looking at their expiry dates.  She even repacked and retaped the box for me, and said "Thank you for coming to my country to do your volunteer work!" before sending me on my way with a sweet smile, to meet my team waiting outside the customs area.
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A word about the Am. Peace Corp.

Prior to this trip, I knew practically nothing about them.
Previously I somehow thought that it might have something to do with the military.  Was I ever wrong!  It is an organization for volunteers, from all walks of life, and all corners of America.  You sign up for 2 years at a time; you pick a country (3rd world) you want to serve.  They would give you basic training to prepare you for that country and most importantly language training.
 
Dr Smith's team members come every year for more than 2 weeks to coincide or overlap with our KIA dental teams.  These are nice energetic young men and women who go out of their ways to facilitate our work, helping with putting tables and chairs together, ushering our patients, hauling supply boxes, and key of all, translating.  The only thing they do not do is dentistry.  I was informed that the Peace Corp has their own dental teams. One of their engagements interests me very much; to work on board so called "mercy" medical/dental ships serving the coast lines of Africa.  I got a couple of contacts to look into.  All in all, I am very happy to have made new friends with this group of young volunteers, from New York, Los Angeles, New Hampshire, Texas, Alaska, just to name a few places they came from what I can remember.  With the young man from Alaska, we shared something in common - exchanging snow stories!
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Mayan Ruins at Tikal:

The Tikal ruins is in the same league as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or the Machu Picchu ruins in Peru, huge areas of Mayan archeology and history.  If you go, make sure you join a small group with an English speaking guide.  Bring water and a thick face cloth for wiping off sweat, and bug repellent.  To see just what the guide wanted you to see and understand will take four and a half hour under the hot sun.  Lots of shade (tropical forest) but NO wind!  Often the area has unexpected heavy rain episodes for short bursts that can get you thoroughly soaked!

Lots to see, to learn, and to climb, but may not be for everyone because of the suffocating forest heat and the extraordinary amount of climbing up and down the hilly terrain, let alone climbing the steep and tall step of the Mayan pyramids, so many of them!
 
In comparison, Angkor Wat has cool breezes once you climb up and into the stone structures and Machu Picchu is cool in its high altitude.  Tikal is hot! And full of wild life: 4 deadly kinds of snakes for the snake lovers, plus other less poisonous kinds; huge jumping spiders, scorpions, centipedes, termites, giant and small ants, many species of birds. Then there are leopards and pumas (Jaguars),just like an open zoo!  We literally ran into two species of monkeys, several families of wild turkeys, a lot of pretty birds, and large spiders!  The deadly large animals do not come out during the day, we were reassured.
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