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Survival at Sierra Madre 3

Jack and his wife Peg are Rotarians and have been bringing free eyeglass and other medical care to the high altitude community of Guachochi, Mexico, for the last ten years. Among those inspired by the Emerys is Dr. Friedman whom brings dental services, and toothbrushes to those needing them in Guachochi. Sharon Saquilon also earned a spot on the Rotary team and is now working to get the town’s first library initiated. Each person inspired by the Emery’s mission seems to find a way to make his or her individual contribution. In addition, the Emery’s have raised funds through the Arvada Rotary Club to bring Guachochi a badly needed fire and trash truck.

Jack had raised funds to bring a trash truck to Guachochi.

To be successful, each trip requires a lot of work throughout the year. They fly in 9 to 16 people to Guachochi twice a year. Pilots need to be found, glasses collected and prepared, and the trip meticulously planned. Each volunteer pays their own expenses for the privilege of working two long days, but the agenda is balanced by partying with the locals at night. Because the days are so hectic with work, future plans are discussed between songs and toasts. That typically leaves a short night, but the team keeps going from an unexplained source of energy.

Upon reaching the large, white community center, everyone starts his or her predetermined tasks. The large building was built with two foot stone walls and isn’t heated. Even after the sun rises, the temperatures are cool inside. The team keeps moving in order to stay warm. Luckily, I had my down parka. While the Rotarian team gained momentum, I taped the events with my camcorder.

The doorman managed the patients entering the clinic.

Our walks through town constantly flagged the lack of progress in this region. An old dilapidated flatbed-truck was on the street and jacked up for future repair with automobile battery. Block after block inside the town displayed a series of homes and buildings adjacent to each other with completely different architectural styles, sizes and a variety of rough exteriors. Structures were crudely made of adobe or masonry. Noisy pickups raised through the streets ignoring stop signs, but slowed for speed bumps and perpetual highway construction. An eight-year-old girl was out sweeping the concrete streets to reduce the dust. Wild donkeys run through the streets without fanfare. Before our return to Denver, we even had to wait for a herd of wild horses to clear our path before taking off from the town’s unpaved-runway.

There were children, proud men, and colorful women mingling inside natural stone building. They offered images that most journalists would die for. Barefoot Indians sitting at the test instruments and rugged hombres with their families presented an unusual opportunity to depict this Mexican culture. There was no pushing, crowding or complaining. What stood out was their patience and respect for one another. The lines were long and the exams slow. I empathized with the crowds that slowly crept forward. I had concerns about how many could be seen. Several of the local Rotarians had come to help with the eye charts and other exams, but there was only one optometrist. I asked Dr Hock if there was a way to speed the process. Dr. Hock looked at me and set me straight: “This is the only eye exam that most of these people have ever had and might be the only one they will ever get!” That’s when I understood why Dr Hock was here. I faded back into the shadows, turned on my cloaking device, and documented the event. The Rotary team examined a hundred seventy people. It was close to 7:30 PM I dragged back to the hotel and past 8:00 PM after my shower.

Every night a party or celebration was planned. That night, dinner had been planned for 6:oclock. I thought the evening’s plans would have been cancelled due to the late hour. But as Alfredo would say, “In Mexico, time is flexible. A dinner planned for 6:00 PM could just as well start at 9:00 PM; that’s Mexican time.”

There are a constant series of parties and celebrations while we’re there. The Mexicans constantly show their gratitude and strengthen their bonds during these get-togethers. Each party or barbecue that we are invited to is in a different home. It’s always a welcome surprise as we cross through the rough exterior façade and enter a warm home environment. The entire atmosphere changes and we get to see their lives and taste their food and drink. The locals bring homemade dishes and there are toasts between the Arvada and Guachochi Rotary Clubs. Awards are presented to members of the Rotary team. Sharon or Alfredo interpret the speeches and toasts. What is significant, is the bonding between the two groups. It continues regardless of communication because their actions. This is when Dr. Friedman and Dr. Hock let their hair down and become “Rod” and “Mitch.” They lead the Tequila toasts into the night. In the summer, songs are sung around a bonfire and laughter goes into the night.


  • Copyright 2014 by Kent Gunnufson