Heat, Heart, Teeth and Tears - My Family Travels

The day was hot. So hot in fact, that it redefined my definition of the word. Wiping away a bead of sweat that was threatening to fall from the tip of my nose, I tried to force the latex gloves over my fingers. With my hair pulled back into a tight bun and no makeup in sight, I wished for the hundredth time we were allowed to wear shorts. The bright green scrubs I was wearing had earned me the affectionate nickname of “frog” with children and adults alike. If having blonde hair and blue eyes wasn’t enough, wearing lime green clothing made me more noticeable than I would have liked.

Honorable Mention 2009 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

Placing a syringe, several cotton pads, and a mirror on the small blue tray, I waited for the translator to bring the next patient in before handing it to the doctor. A delicate girl of about ten years old slid into the overstuffed dentist’s chair, trembling slightly.  Giving her a reassuring smile, I tried not to cringe when she began crying.

As if on cue, the air around us became abuzz with voices of children fighting to gain a coveted window view into the clinic. Our small wooden shack was already stuffy and cramped without children hanging in and watching our every move. One small fan broke heat that hung over us like a shroud, and I blinked to try and keep sweat from running into my eyes.

Tiene dolor?”  The doctor asked in broken Spanish. The petite girl stared at him fearfully, while her mother began explaining in rapid Spanish.  After beckoning the translator, I picked up the suction nozzle and prepared for an extraction. The entire shack seemed to hum with excitement at the entertainment that was about to begin — us. The woman’s explanation was taking longer than I thought it would.  My shoulders sagged, and I felt my thoughts drifting back to our bus ride earlier in the morning.

It had rained — hard — the night before in the tropical region of Morales, Guatemala, leaving streets of mud in its wake. Every stretch of country road was a battle between bus and mud, and often the mud was almost the winner.  Lush greenery and tropical flowers lined the surrounding hills, but the beauty still couldn’t mask the bags under my eyes or the sweat that clung to me everywhere I went.

I was tired. Extremely tired, sweaty, and hungry. I didn’t really like Guatemalan food, the showers at the motel were sub-par, and I missed my usual comforts. But as I looked around our makeshift clinic, a sense of wonder washed over me. These people, who owned nothing by American standards, were completely happy. Joyful, even. They found happiness in the smallest things, like watching a group of gringos pull teeth.

I felt ashamed. I had been complaining loudly all day about the heat, the drive to the village, and my general discomfort. I knew a life many of these people could never imagine, and I was complaining about a few days of discomfort. Suddenly something the translator said caught my attention.

“She said she walked five miles today because she heard you were coming,” he said, smiling at the shocked look on my face.

Five miles? Through the mud? I thought. Surely not. But one look at the woman and I knew it was true.

Setting the suction tube aside, I placed a hand on the girl’s cheek. I looked into her dark, soft eyes, and smiling said,

Esta bien, esta bien.”

All is well.

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2 Replies to “Heat, Heart, Teeth and Tears”

  • JillianRyan

    I am an editor with Family Travel Forum. One of the SATW judges wanted to share this comment with you: From Kate Pocock, Freelance Travel Writer: Melissa, you gave us a real picture of Guatemala that we do not see in typical travel brochures. Good work. I liked your overall scene of the clinic including the cramped quarters and the visual image of you in the lime green scrubs earning the nickname of ‘frog.’ I was truly there with you. Your mix of contrasting words and images was good too: gringos pulling teeth, a fan hanging over you like a shroud, and then the use of the Spanish “Esta bien.”

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