I have spent almost 2 years away from Pina Palmera. Back to Pina Palmera
Throughout my flight to Mexico I could not stop wondering: what it would feel like to be there again? Will they recognize me? Are the people I knew still working there? The narrow streets of Zipolite with dust, chickens and cars that come too close for safety look unchanged…but what about the place I knew so well?
It felt like meeting an old friend – welcoming and accepting, with lots of hugs and many questions “how are you? Where have you been all this time?” Despite all the long hours of travel and getting up at 4 am in a frozen Canadian winter morning, despite being baked by the relentless scorching sun for the 90 minutes of travel from the airport, I am happy to be here. The people I know are continuing with their work despite all changes in the world around them. It has been a tough year for Pina, they are struggling financially since the donations have been almost nonexistent this year and no help has been offered by the government. Salaries have not been available for everybody; the team meets weekly and decides how to share the funds available, taking care of the most vulnerable first. It does not look better for the upcoming months either – -everyone is concerned about financial changes in the world and the way Mexico is being perceived. However, the work must continue as so many people have come to depend on Pina for support, whether it is about human rights or simply about health issues.
It is December, getting closer to Christmas but still some people come to Pina for consultations. Additionally, the staff continues with the visits to the communities and to the homes. They know that for the majority of people it is close to impossible to travel on a regular basis to Zipolite: distance, cost, heat, impracticable roads, lack of family support for the children that remain home, all make it very difficult for a parent to bring the child that needs attention to those who can provide it.
Tuesdays are the days that the staff members meet and decide next week’s schedule. The meeting I am attending deals mostly with possible solutions for fundraising: selling tortillas, a clothes bazaar, a pizza-for sale-day? Those who know how to make tortillas offer to do so, those who can’t joke about eating them: scenarios for selling and making a profit are passed back and forth. A lot of work for at least 2 weeks to come up with the equivalent of 60 CDN in profit, if all goes well.
I decide to go on a home visit with Sofia (physiotherapist). With us come Mariano (teacher for the blind and blind himself), who speaks Zapoteco – the language spoken by the indigenous people we are going to visit) and a volunteer (Frederica). Pina functions as one whole organism – all members are involved in all activities, some have more specific functions some not but ultimately everyone is a part of the whole. Today we are looking for a little girl who is slow to develop. She visited Pina a few months ago, but never returned and the team needs to follow up, so off we go looking for a community 3 hours away, armed with nothing but the names of the child and parents.
There are no streets and no numbers, there is not much of a road either. Our truck is groaning and moaning as Sofia struggles to avoid the bigger stones and holes while changing gears and making room for the odd oncoming truck. The passengers hang on for dear life and hope that the tires will hold. Teeth clatter, bodies bounce, Mariano jokes about “at least we get to look at the scenery” while clutching the edge of his seat.
Eventually we find the village but (as usual) finding the right path to the house requires another 30 min of asking around. Thanks to Mariano, the shy people of these parts open up and they point to yet another steep hill covered in dust and gravel. Our vehicle will never make it up the slope so we decide to proceed on foot: Sofia leads the way, Mariano with one hand on her shoulder and another on his guiding stick.
How does he manage, I have no idea! I am struggling through the dust and slippery stones, scratching away all sorts of ants that have decided my “gringo” legs are the latest delicacy. Another 30 min of winding roads narrowing gradually to a stony path and eventually we find our destination.
I suspect our exhausted and sweaty faces need no explanations – our hosts quickly bring out plastic chairs and water and we collapse gratefully, surrounded by dogs, chickens, little children and a few goats.
After discussing out little client’s condition and giving advice about how to encourage her growth and progress her walking, we move on to the adults. The mother has been sick and the time and money required to find help for her have swallowed all the resources they have. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to travel up and down the roads we came, just to get to the nearby city (1 hour away by car) and hope that the physician is there and that he or she actually has some solution for the problem.
After a while we start our return trip: first down the hill to the car… and then I have to close my eyes as Sofia turns the truck around on the narrow strip of road, with pointy stones waiting to puncture anything standing in their path. Rattling down the hill, we are bathed in dust and sweat but happy to have accomplished what we came for. I am thinking about what can possibly motivate someone to do this kind of work, day after day for wages that are not only irregularly paid but barely enough to survive on. All the places that no one knows about – yet the Pina team never fails to find them and help those in need. Never have the words “job satisfaction” sounded so inadequate. Whatever mixture of love and compassion is at the basis of it all, I do not know and, as they all have told me again and again: “It is just what must be done”. I am humbled every time. Is it something in the diet of Zipolite, as the signs of the local restaurants are trying to convince me? Is it the ocean breeze or the incredible heat? All I know is that the work done here for over 20 years now, has changed the communities around and is an exemplar to me and probably others, to be remembered whenever we quibble about all the obstacles in our path or the many reasons we cannot accomplish something.