Saturday, January 3, 2009

Clinica Maxeña

We're back in Antigua after a day's visit to Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace Associate Sheila McShane and the Clinica Maxeña (pronounced Mashenia, more or less and shown on right) which she directs in Santo Tomas la Union. Couldn't tell you in miles or kilometers, but it's a 2 1/2 hour often bumpy drive from Antigua, along a route that goes down from high-altitude Antigua, parallels the Pacific through fields of cane, and goes up again toward the Mayan highlands. Santo Tomas has about 15,000 people (I hope I'm remembering this correctly), going up to 80,000 if you count the people in the surrounding cantones for whom Santo Tomas is the political, mercantile, and health center. The population is about half Mayan, half Ladino (Spanish-identified people of mixed heritage) and Sheila says they all get along well these days, with intermarriage increasing.

The Clinica Maxeña (Maxeña is the K'iché - Mayan - word for Thomas) has been serving the people of Santo Tomas for about 40 years now. It's a mission of the Catholic Diocese of Helena, Montana. It's a big clinic, with about 25 Spanish-K'iché bilingual staffers, including a full-time MD. Sheila, an RN who lived in Guatemala in the 1970s -80s and returned two years ago, is the Clinic Director. They are funded by the Diocese, by grants, by payments from patients, and have had to cut back, like so many non-profits, as funds dried up in the economic crunch.

We had a great tour of the clinic, where we were especially intrigued by the separate clinic that grows, dries and distributes the traditional Mayan healing herbs - including one said to be very effective for diabetics, a big problem here as elsewhere in the world. We enjoyed meals with Sheila and Sisters Mary Waddell and Anna Priester, BVM, met Father Jim Hazelton, who's been living in Santo Tomas for 40 years, visited La Asuncion, a school he started which trains teachers, and stayed overnight in the comfortable visitors casita. Best of all, we enjoyed long conversations with Sheila. And then we came back on the Clinic jeep, bumping down the kilometers back to the comforts of Antigua and the Aurora Hotel. Much more to tell, and photographs to share when I return to San Salvador, but for now, I long to be walking or sleeping, anything but sitting!

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