Saturday, September 29, 2007

Update on Saving Lives

Well, I felt duty-bound to report on the woman, Firmora, that we saved from drowning in the ocean last weekend.

We did confirm that she, unfortunately, has been using drugs (specifically cocaine) for over 10 years along with being an alcoholic. Lately, however, she has been in a drug rehab program trying to kick her daily habit and, from all reports, was adhering to the teachings.

She must have fallen off the wagon, so to speak, as she evidentially was on a high when we picked her up. After leaving the dock (as there was nothing more we could do), we were advised that she "came to" after 5 minutes or more, got up, looked around and jumped back into the ocean! People in boats nearby tried to rescue her but she thwarted their efforts. Finally, someone on the dock got the police and told them to go out, rescue her and put her in jail for her own protection. I have heard no further reports as to whether or not they were successful.

I feel sorry for this woman who must have serious problems and seems to have a death wish.

I know of a young island man who had a cocaine habit and was discovered by his employer. His friends and family had long talks with him and he finally decided to take the step and go into the drug rehab program currently being provided for on the island by a small group of Americans. This bright, intelligent, talented, wonderful individual is now in the program and when I ran into him yesterday he was full of hope. I had a few talks with him in the past trying to convince him to get off drugs and get help. To see this individual finally aware that it was drugs that was pulling him down was wonderful. He realizes now that there is more to life and he has far more to contribute to the world by being drug free. He has hope and goals for his future and, so far, is sincere in his quest of them. He has friends/family and his God to guide him and is full of hope. I reminded him that he had a long road ahead, temptations would come his way but that I had full faith in his abilities to conquer all. I told him a lot of people wanted him to be better and that we were all there for him. He said he now realizes that his life has more meaning and he wants to do something more important than just feeling "high" for a short time.

It is simply a shame that there are so many more people out there that can't seem to break away and feel that their life is hopeless. I am extremely thankful for the small group of people who are presently on the island trying to make a difference and offering a program to the young people to help them avoid the perils of drugs and/or help them get off of them.

I wish him and all those wanting to get their lives back, the best of luck.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Saving Lives!

In the ten years we have lived on Guanaja we have had two occasions to save an individual's life and two occasions to help someone in dire medical need!

I bring this subject up because just the other day (Sept. 22nd) my husband and I happened upon a situation that eventually saved a woman's life.
We were driving to Manati, a lovely restaurant where we enjoy German cooking, when my husband noted something in the water about 200 yards from the Cay of Bonacca and 250 yards from the main body of the island. In this photo, the individual would have been about 1/4th in from the right-hand side of the photo and between the Cay and the Island.At first he thought it was floating garbage but then he saw an arm come up. We turned the boat around and headed to check it out as there were no other small boats around. Generally, when the boys/men go out snorkeling for conch, they drag a small dory around by a rope tied to their ankle. This provides something for everyone to see so they won't get run over and transportation for them from one place to another.

As we approached the individual we noticed that she was taking about 4 crawl strokes, would then bring up her head, groan for about 20 seconds, put her head down and continue the cycle. Not knowing if she was danger or needed help I called out to her in Spanish asking if she needed assistance. I mean, who knows, maybe she was out for a swim. She never responded but continued swimming and groaning. We pulled up close to her and grabbed her arms and hauled her into the boat. She was a limp rag doll barely weighing 100 lbs. She continued to groan as she lay in the boat and was totally unresponsive. I noticed a yellow substance on her tongue and because her eyes were so out of focus and she did not seem to know where she was, we thought she might have been using drugs.

We headed for the Municipal Dock to find someone who might know her. The dock has a building on the end for water taxi's and it being a Sunday there were very few people there. The photo shows the dock when it is unloading supplies on a Friday and I use it to show the building at the end. There are a couple of steps at the front of the building and when we pulled up some people walked over. A woman recognized her (evidently Firmora was her name) and said she would go and call Firmora's mother who lived on the Cay. Another person and I lifted her out of the boat and placed her on the steps. We then moved her into the shelter as she could have easily rolled off the step. She was out of the sun and still totally unresponsive. The woman on the dock who had called Firmora's mother said she was on the way. We left as there was nothing more we could do.

We don't honestly know how this tiny woman (who we later learned was a drug addict) swam as far as she did and believe she was simply on auto-pilot. We are sure that in a few more minutes she would have been totally exhausted and drowned.

About a year after we moved into our home, my worker's daughter, who suffered terribly from asthma, had an attack. I was out in the yard when I observed her laying on the ground. She could not breathe and was frantic. Again, I gathered my keys and took off in the boat for town to see the doctor. She was so weak when we got there that I had to pick her up and carry her to the clinic. She was given a breathing treatment and an inhaler (which she had never had up to that time) and recovered. She still lives on the island, still suffers terribly from asthma but is doing OK.

Years after that, a young woman appeared at my dock screaming and yelling. I went down to the dock and found she was carrying a small child (about 10 months old) who was soaked. Evidently the little girl had fallen into the sea at her home which was about a quarter mile from our home. She found the baby in the water, face down, and said she gave it artificial respiration. The child was limp and unresponsive. I took the baby and you could hear the water sloshing around in its belly, which was very extended. I had the woman sit on the ground and hold the baby on its belly with its head down to try and get the water out. I ran up to the house and got some blankets and a pillow, my boat keys and flew back down the path. We wrapped the child and got in my boat and I took her to town to the clinic. The child eventually came to and recovered but went through a bout of pneumonia. I never did hear anymore about her and if she ever suffered any further medical problems.

Just about a year ago, while I was on the coast, my husband was sitting on the front porch when a man came stumbling up the path yelling in Spanish. My husband ran down the path to see what was wrong and found the man with a huge gash in the center of his forehead, bleeding profusely. Evidently the young man had been "chopping" with a machete about 1/2 mile from our house when the machete hit a barbed wire fence and came back and hit him in the forehead. He walked the distance to our house for help with blood pouring from his wound. My husband ran for his keys, gave the young man a compress to hold over his wound and indicated to him that he should press hard and keep pressure on the wound. He drove him to town, took him to the clinic and left some money for the doctor and any treatment he required. My husband never saw the man again, but heard that he was stitched up and was doing fine.

Thankfully all of these incidents had a good ending and no one died. It is rather frightening living in a secluded area as medical help is a distance away and there is only my husband and myself. So far we have been lucky and I hope that we never injure ourselves badly as we would be hard pressed to get adequate help quickly. So, we step carefully, enter boats with caution and do our best to remain accident free!
But for now, we are on our way to obtain much needed medicine from the other side of the island to bring back to our friend whose dog is a victim of brown tick disease and is doing very poorly. It's always something!

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Driving Experience

Now that I am at home on the island, I can reflect back on my travels while in the states and those that, ultimately, brought me back to the island.

The one thing I really like about the island is that there are no roads here! Yes, it does make life a little more difficult, but then the advantages are worth it at times. Little pollution, no honking horns, no police/ambulance/fire truck sirens, no roads to ruin the beautiful view, no garbage piled up beside the highway consisting of discarded tires, empty containers, broken down vehicles, etc. Having to get about by boat does have its drawbacks, the worst being (as far as I am concerned) is the lack of protection from the elements.

Of course transporting items by boat does have its comical side. We recently attended a birthday party for the daughter of a good friend of ours and since my husband is part of a band here, we offered their services for the entertainment. Of course that means somehow we must get the instruments from Point A to Point B. I've seen a lot of things carted around in boats, but this was the first time I had ever witnessed and was a part of transporting drums, a bass, guitar, a piano keyboard, and various other equipment to accomplish the job of entertaining the folks.

While in the states it was back to the hustle, bustle of traffic jams and long waits at the stop light. I made two trips from Tampa to Orlando down I-4, a road that is constantly under construction. I generally try to chose a time when I can leave Tampa and beat the traffic leaving the city and arrive in Orlando before the afternoon rush traffic begins. This has always been a real juggling of time on my part and, this time, for the most part, I missed most of the traffic delays. Usually, however, one always runs into a lot of traffic around the Disney World area as the photo to the left shows. This particular trip, the traffic was lighter, but just as boring as always. Miles and miles of black asphalt, peppered with advertising signs and lots and lots of cars.

Now, traveling on the roads of the mainland of Honduras are far more interesting as traffic is almost non-existent, the scenery is unspoiled (for the most part) and you have a more leisurely and interesting ride. If one did not see a horse-drawn cart driving down the same highway as cars and trucks, why, it would not be Honduras.

On one hand, traveling in Honduras (on the highway) is more relaxed and safer..... that is, if you are not being transported by a cab driver hell bent on getting you from here to there in the fastest time possible! There is a lot to see on a drive from San Pedro to LaCeiba, but you have to factor in the "hold your breath as we pass on a curve with oncoming traffic meeting us head on" which can be a little distracting to say the least. There are far fewer cars on the roads in Honduras but at least in the states we have traffic laws which are, in general, obeyed. We are taught in the states that in order to obtain a license to drive a machine that has the ability to destroy and/or kill, one must take a written exam and a behind-the-wheel test to pass in order to get your license. Also the cars must past an inspection and everyone must have insurance.

If you disobey the law most of the time you will be pulled over and issued a very expensive ticket along with a small sermon. Yes, sometimes, we get away with speeding or going through a yellow to red light and doing things that we are not suppose to do. But, for the most part, traveling on the roads in the states is far more organized and safe.

Another good thing about traveling in the states is that all the roads are posted with signs telling you what highway you are on or what street you are presently traveling down. Maps can direct you with little difficulty to your destination and when in doubt you can pull into a gas station or convenience store and ask directions. You will, generally, receive directions telling you to go down a certain named street or highway, turning onto another named street or highway and any other pertinent information that will get you to your destination.

Per capita, I don't know if there are the same number of accidents on Honduran streets as the U.S. but I do know that it is far easier to get around in the U.S. than in Honduras. When I go to my veterinarian in San Pedro it is a real hassle trying to direct the taxi driver to their office. None of the streets in the neighborhood have names and one street does not intersect with another. Many times it is like being in a maze and trying to find your way out once you get in!

I spent most of my time in the U.S. this last trip driving daily from one place to another. Temperatures were abnormally high (in the 100's) and my son's truck's air conditioner was not working. While moving it was OK. But, when one came to a stop at a rather long traffic light, the wait was more than a person could bear, especially if you had someone next to you that felt the whole world should be listening to their rap music!

As I mentioned, I took two trips to Orlando from Tampa. I rented a car (just could not think of making the 90 mile trip with no A/C) and was offered a Chrylser product, a Dodge Caliber. This was a nice little car with good pickup on the highway. Comfortable inside and with room to haul items in the rear end when one folded down the back seat. All in all, a good experience. Plus the gas mileage was great. Only 1/4th tank of gas to go over 100 miles thus using less than 5 gallons of gas.

However, when one has not driven a car in over a year, getting behind the wheel of a new vehicle that you are unfamiliar with has its moments. I had to readjust to the fact that the gear shift was not to the right of the steering wheel but on the floor. Too many times, when engaging the car from park to drive, I turned the windshield wipers one! When I went to turn off the car, the key would not come out of the ignition. I tried and tried and was about ready to conclude that I would have to remain with the car for the rest of my natural life because I could not leave a key in an unlocked vehicle when, after much jiggling, I found that when one turned the key as if turning the engine off, pushed in and turned just a little more, an amazing thing happened ..... the key could be easily pulled out of the ignition!

Next, it was a real surprise that when I turned the ignition off, the radio kept playing. Nothing I could do would turn the darn thing off. Finally, in frustration, I opened the door to exit the vehicle thinking the radio would just have to continue to play and to my surprise the radio went off. Guess it is a new function to keep one entertained until the very last moment. Of course there is always the question of where the gas tank cover is - on the driver's side or the passenger's side of the car! And I won't go into the confusion as to the headlight thing! But I was able to overcome all these obstacles thrown at me and the drive was pleasant in the end.

So, even though jumping into a car is a lot easier than getting into a boat for a ride, I prefer my mode of transportation on the island. I may have to untie a lot of ropes, bail the boat out before I go, gauge my leap into the boat so that I will not miss and either end up on my back in the bottom of the boat or in the sea. I must also brave the constant spray of sea mist on my face, arms, legs and torso and when we get to our destination, I must again gauge my leap out of the boat onto a dock and hope that I land safely.

There are no real traffic jams on the sea and one can almost drive where one wants, at any speed (depending upon the size of the engine) and do U-turns wherever one wants. However, the fact that the "road" is not marked and we must be aware of reefs, floating objects, people in the water and the dreaded "running out of gas while a distance from land", there is more of a freedom in boats.

Do not let this fool you into thinking I like travel by boat. I hate boats! But since I have not mastered the "walking on water" thing, I am forced to continue my travels (at least while on Guanaja) in this manner.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Home Again!

Well, I'm home again. Yup! Back on the island and what a trip.

My original return date was scheduled for August 12th to give me ample time to complete all that I had set out to do.

My son was established in a new apartment with sufficient household items to start him again in his new life after a harrowing experience with a former girlfriend. Needless to say, the relationship has been broken off and my son is now safe. He has a job that he loves and wants to make the most of his life from this point onward. It may be an uphill battle for him but I am sure he can conquer his problems and move on, make new friends and gain his confidence.

I was in Orlando visiting my husband's daughters and our grandchildren with my son when my husband sent word that he really needed me back home to prepare for Hurricane Felix. The key word in his phrasing was "damn the expense, get home as fast as you can." Now, my husband is not exactly a tightwad, but he does watch his money carefully and very little is purchased for our home, our life, our existence always with alot of thought. At that phrase I knew I was needed!

My children/stepchildren and friends tried to dissuade me from returning at the chosen moment as this was a Sunday and Hurricane Felix was slated to hit the island on Wed. I felt if I could get on a plane Monday I stood a chance of beating the storm. While everyone was fleeing the island I was trying to get to it.

So, I called American Airlines, explained that I had to get back to the island promptly and since I mentioned the Hurricane, they said they could get me out and would not charge me a penalty! Hooray for them and me.

We left Orlando promptly on Monday morning and I left the Tampa airport around 1:30 in the afternoon to fly to Miami to change plans to head on to San Pedro then LaCeiba and then Guanaja.

Our plane was delayed leaving Tampa because of a lightning storm and could not take off until there was at least 5 minutes without a lightning strike after the last strike. We were delayed about 1/2 hour and finally got off. The flight went well and no problems were encountered.
We landed in Miami and then I began the long walk from one terminal to another to leave for Honduras. I was carrying a rather heavy carry-on (as usual) and this particular walk is not a favorite one of mine. I reached the terminal and joined the throng awaiting boarding.

It was not to be! The plane going to Honduras had not arrived from Columbia yet and when it did arrive, we were told, they would have to clean the plane and run a security check on it. Our flight would be delayed about 1 hour.

Time went by and the plane finally came in and we were boarded. Alas, again, we were not to take off on time. It seems the "little black box" was not functioning and they had to get a crew in to repair it. Another hour went by on the tarmac and finally it was announced we would be leaving the gate. Our flight would arrive in San Pedro at 7:30 p.m. not 5:30 p.m. as previously scheduled.

I had arranged to take a taxi from San Pedro to LaCeiba to be at the LaCeiba airport bright and early so I could leave on the first flight. As it was, my taxi driver (photo of Mario at the left)suggested that I spend the night in San Pedro as it was not a good idea to be driving to LaCeiba at night. I agreed with him and he agreed to pick me up at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning for the drive to LaCeiba.

Our drive, which normally takes 2 1/2 hours, went by quickly as the driver felt it was necessary to drive as fast as he could to get me there promptly. We made it in 2 hours and there were several occasions where I had to hold my breath when he was passing on a curve and would see another car/truck approaching. Of course, this ride will be detailed in another blog.

I was at the airport at 7:30 a.m. and checked in at the counter. They had no idea if they were flying to the island as word was that the hurricane would make landfall that afternoon. The skies were partly cloudy in LaCeiba and the sun was out and they could have made it to the island and back with no problem. However, I understood their hesitation and waited. It was announced at 9:30 a.m. that all flights had been cancelled and you never saw people pack up their work-related equipment so fast! Everyone was anxious to get out of there. I retrieved my checked luggage and found there were no taxi cabs available. Some kind man offered to haul one of my two suitcases to the main road which I could flag down a cab. Half way there a cab came up behind us and I engaged him to take me to the hotel.

I was lucky enough to get a room at the hotel and after leaving my luggage in the room, I returned to the front desk to send my husband an e-mail as I was not getting a response to my telephone calls. While there I learned that the government or the U.S. (I'm not sure who) had evacuated the tourists from Roatan and some of them were in the hotel I was staying in. A woman, who evidently was the leader of the dive group evacuated, was badgering the hotel receptionist to call the airlines and see if there were any flights returning to Roatan as word was out that the hurricane had changed course and was headed in-land and we were not in harms way. The poor receptionist kept telling her all flights had been cancelled but the woman wanted her to call the airport. I stepped in and announced that I had just come from the airport and it was closed and there would be no flights out for that day.

The woman looked at me like I had fluff in my head for brains and continued on in her quest. She finally gave up but 20 minutes later returned saying someone had called her on her cell phone and told her the airport had been reopened. Now, anyone living in Honduras knows that once these people take off and the airport is closed they cannot be reached until the next day and with a hurricane approaching who could blame them. She wanted the receptionist to call the airport and I decided to keep quiet as I would not be believed anyway. The long and short of it was that, indeed, no flights were leaving that night.

Now all of this would have not had been too bad but the hotel was filled with divers who wanted to dive and if they couldn't, they wanted to drink. WRONG. The government, or so it was reported, outlawed the sale of alcohol during the hurricane. So, no liquor or beer for sale in the hotel. Now, one could go to the local grocery store and purchase beer and liquor and some people did that. Needless to say this group was not happy.

I met some friends at the hotel and we planned to go to Pizza Hut for supper, about 4:30 p.m. Pizza Hut had been opened all day so we figured since it was down the street from the hotel, we would go there. WRONG. Place was closed when we approached it. Nothing to do but eat in the place where I had promised myself I would never eat again. The last time (a few years back) the food was terrible. Well, I wasn't disappointed. It was just as bad, if not worse and I, who usually clean my plate, left over half my food. Never again I promised myself once more.

There were a few thunderstorms that night but no more rain than we usually get during the winter months. The next morning I was at the airport and told that there were no morning flights to Guanaja as all of the planes were busy taking the tourists back to Roatan. So, I sat all day at the airport waiting for my 4:00 p.m. flight.

The flight was fine, a little choppy with gusts of wind on landing, but, we made it and I was home.

How wonderful to see my husband and our home. Well, the house was boarded up because of the pending storm and things were in disarray. But, I was home. My dogs, cats, birds and husband and property were all fine just waiting for me to pick up where I left off with cleaning, laundry, shopping, cooking, gardening, etc.

As the movie statement went: There's no place like home.