When Mayans met Acupuncturists – April 2012
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The Barbara Ford Center for Peace sits on a hilltop overlooking Santa Cruz del Quiche. It has been open just long enough for plantings and edgings to take root and for the rose gardens to proudly preside over a blooming landscape. Like so many of the other “coincidental perfections” of this venture the entire campus seemed destined to mix cultures. This was home base to the fifteen volunteer acupuncturists. Before they went on the road, the team would spend three thirteen hour days working in the Center’s Pavilion.
The set-up for that began Sunday afternoon previewed the fine harmony they would create. All of the practitioners had been on medical missions before. But, Julie Ing Stern and the Wunderlichs (brother, Dan and sister, Terese) had traveled to Asia together where they had experience handling large crowds. Certainly, there would not be enough people to require armed guards … but this kind of seasoned input added to an enlightened discussion around handling volume. These veterans recalled using “protocols” to help them move their patients along. But, even if everyone was willing to try out different room layouts and enthusiastically stock unfamiliar “caddies” with supplies, most of practitioners balked at the idea of being bound by predetermined conventions.
It looks like there is not only poetry in Traditional Chinese Medicine but a lot of style goes into the delivery. “Protocols,” even very few of them were seen as impediments to artful practice. Over the next few days, the rotunda plan would be tweaked, transformed and streamlined into conscious treatment space. And, the practitioners proceeded apace – in their own ways – handling more than 600 patients in the calm that they generated.
Sister Ginny made no small plans for this teaching and training mission’s first visit. The Center’s director organized two field trips to share her wealth of healers in even more under served areas. These sorties would amplify the careful briefings on human rights violations and terror that she and Helen Mack had given the group.
On Thursday, the team rolled out before dawn bound for a Franciscan convent in Zacualpa. They traveled Mayan style – squeezing translators and healers to vans and going an hour plus south. People unfolded and entered the convent through a nondescript door. Once inside the two story compound, they would see the rainbow line of waiting patients and a garden with the memorial: Chapel of the Well. The Capilla del Pozo was constructed in honor of the forty-six victims that were massacred at this convent. We had been told that during the Civil War many of Quiche’s religious orders had been warned by the bishop to evacuate as the army began taking over their enclaves. The tiny adobe chapel displayed clippings showing the exhumation and a two foot brick circle marking the well used as a mass grave.
NOTE: The post war response of the Sisters of Charity necessarily included forensics along with spiritual and mental support. They would identify and properly bury hundreds of people who were murdered at the time.
The acupuncturists would see the aftermath of war; in patient’s bullet wounds, amputations and residual grief.
On Friday, everyone was packed off to San Filipe “the heart of poverty and violence” near Nebaj. The poorest populations live up there and Sister Ginny would ruminate about these patients because, unlike those who are part of a parish, these people have no back-up. Where patients who needed additional help could be cared for in the capital city, Santa Cruz del Quiche or by the Franciscans, the poorest patients might have to wait for the next Jornada for follow up.
The coffee and chicken farmers of this village laid out the Mayan “red carpet” (pine needles) to welcome the guests into the temporary clinic. They were silently gathered under a shade tarp to be registered before the treatment tables arrived. Far from dangerous they were shy and utterly grateful. The practitioners absorbed boundless smiles and returned warm hugs all week. Thus rewarded, after seeing more than one thousand patients, they would pronounce the experience “Utz.” (That’s the Quiche word for “good.”) For my part, I snapped pictures of the professionals and drank deeply of their kindly vibes and absolutely enjoyed the Sisters of Charity, their associates, patients and mostly appreciated the wonderful staff who made Sister Ginny’s therapeutic Love-in possible. Thanks, Gracias’ and Mati-och (Quiche for “thanks”) to everyone for the privilege of documenting this grand Jornada.