We bumped along the dirt road. A golden disc of sunlight backlit layer after layer of purple mountains framed with glowing pink fog.
As we climbed higher into the mountains, I peered out the van’s window at rolling hills covered in spikey blue agave that would soon be made into mezcal. We were headed toward a town called Zapotitlan de Vadillo, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Guadalajara.
If you’ve never heard of Zapo. De V., that’s okay. Most Guadalajarans haven’t either. I certainly didn’t know it existed until I agreed to join Laura Libman and The Tia Foundation medical brigade on this trip to bring health care to underserved communities in rural Mexico.
There were over a dozen of us packed into two rented vans—several doctors, a psychologist, a nutritionist, a nurse, Tia staff, and a few people who just wanted to help, like me.
We bounced around another turn. Impossibly, yet another mountain came into view. We continued along the winding, pot-hole-ridden road past grazing cow, cacti the size of large trees, narrowly missing a stray dog poking its head out of a roadside bush.
As we reached the crest of a mesa, I thought, “We’re literally on top of the world.” Then of course, the fog faded a little to reveal the outline of yet another towering ridge. That’s about how the last several hours had been: one unbelievable view after another, interspersed between dusty roads, hair-pin turns, and plummeting cliffs.
Since we’d arrived in Zapo. De V., we’d started our days with a homemade, locally-cooked breakfast and a drive into the mountains. Today’s trek was long, giving me time to think over the week so far.
We’d treated hundreds of patients. Taught 84 local health workers everything from the Heimlich maneuver to burn treatment to broken leg setting. And we’d put together botiquines (medical kits) that would serve thousands more.
When I thought about it, it blew my mind.
I helped do this. Me.
I have no medical experience, like Doctors Temok and Guillermo; no psychology expertise, like Fabian. And I wasn’t a trained nurse or nutritionist like Linda and Katherine. On top of that, my Spanish is embarrassing. I hadn’t known anyone on this trip until a few days ago.
Somehow, I’d found my little niche as honorary brigade pharmacist because what I could do was keep Tia’s boxes of pharmaceuticals organized and read scribbled doctors’ handwriting to ensure patients got the right dosages.
So when the vans finally pulled to a stop outside the tiny, sparsely furnished centro de salud, I hopped out automatically and started unloading boxes to set up my farmacia in the back room. Then I helped complete consultations with several dozen more patients.
That afternoon, instead of rushing down the mountain after consultations to teach, we hurried down to celebrate. Students would share cauldrons of birria, pots of beans and rice, piles of warm hand-made tortillas, and coolers of horchata and tamarind juice to thank us for our help. We’d take photos with locals like we were celebrities and find each other on Facebook.
Then, we’d fall into hard beds in shared rooms for a few hours of much-needed rest before piling back into vans headed for Guadalajara.
I knew I’d be dog-tired, but I didn’t care. My week with the Tia volunteer brigade was no vacation. But it was an unforgettable trip that changed thousands of lives for the better—including my own.
Won’t you come join us next time?
The author of this and other stories to be featured here is Katherine Casna. After traveling into the field on a Tia project, Kat generously donated these lovely stories to make our work come alive to our friends and donors. Thoughtful and brilliant, Ms. Casna is a freelance writer who can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-casna-freelance-writer/