The MAGA Redeemed
category: Emilys Guatemala

Today’s story is a little shorter than yesterday, but here goes.

The last time I talked about the MAGA (the Ministry of Agriculture), I was pretty frustrated. They were a complete pain to work with, even though their representative, Nelson, was quite nice when he finally showed up here to vaccinate chickens. He told me at the end of his day here that if I ever wanted more vaccinations, now that we knew how to do it, all we had to do was call him and he could meet up with us in Huehue, the state capital, to give us more.

When my parents came to visit, we were in Huehue for thier first morning visiting the ruins, and Jaime asked me if I’d called Nelson and see if he could get us some vaccinations. Now, by this time, the suggestion of having to call the MAGA was enough to put knots in my stomach. Talking to them in order to get something felt like pulling teeth. I hated it. But I tried, because we’d promised to bring back more vaccines. It turned out that he and I called called one another back forth about 5 times that morning, until the time came to meet up in the park, at which point he stopped answering my calls for some reason. I was annoyed. I wanted to focus on my parent’s visit, but I felt obligated to try and bring back more vaccines. As we passed through Chiantla, where the MAGA offices are located, I gave up.

So all month, every once in a while, Fletch would say, “You should call Nelson and see about getting more vaccines.” I had to go to Antigua for a meeting regarding the GLOW project, which meant I had to pass through Huehue on the way there and back. Fletch said, “You should call Nelson.” I hated it, every time. I wished HE would call Nelson. But Fletch still hates talking on the phone in Spanish and generally makes me handle the calls. And then I had to try and hurry home for the Mayan blessing of the school grounds (which I missed because of a two hour waylay due to protests that closed the highway) and he excused me from having to call Nelson. YAY!

Last week we had to pass through Huehue again. We got to town absolutely beat, and ran our errands, took food to our favorite little dive hotel, and didn’t leave the room again. In the morning, just before we started eating a pleasant little breakfast, Fletch said, “You should call Nelson and see if we can get some vaccines.” I cringed. I felt sick. I didn’t want to do it. I know, I sound so immature, but seriously people I hated the thought of having to talk to the MAGA again.

During the course of our breakfast at my new favorite little coffee shop, the owner strolled in and began talking to us about what exactly it is we do here, and how he’d like to have an in-depth conversation with us before we leave. I will write a post about this conversation later, but there are some funny connections between the coffee shop owner and us. Suffice it to say, my mood was greatly improved by the chit chat, so when we walked out on the street to catch a bus home (conveniently they pass a block from the coffee shop) and Jaime said, “You should call Nelson about the vaccines,” I did it.

And he picked up! And he said he was working in a small community close to the office so I should let him know when I catch a bus and call him back. We hung up, a bus came around the corner, we hopped on. I called Nelson, “We’re on the Angel Terrestre bus leaving the center of Huehue now.” He said he’d try and look for the bus on the highway. He’d be on a motorcycle, and he’d flag us down.

This plan, at least to me, sounded ludicrous. We moved on from the center of town and sat for a few minutes at the last stop leaving the city. I asked the bus drivers if they could look for a MAGA guy on a moto as he was going to give me a cooler of chicken vaccines. They responded positively. Apparently the plan did not sound ludicrous to them. I called Nelson to check his progress, and it was so loud, I could barely hear what he was saying. He told me the name of some stop, and made me repeat it to him.

Spanish is great because it’s entirely phonetic. Usually when someone says an unfamiliar word I can guess pretty much to a T how it’s spelled. I had no idea what he was saying. The word wouldn’t form in my head. I felt I was just miming sounds to the bus driver and his assistant. Again, they seemed to think I’d made a completely reasonable request, and I was encouraged by this.

So I guess the good thing about Guatemalans being so last minute about many things means that sometimes you can get things done in a flash at the last minute. We proceeded a few minutes into the town just north of Huehue, and the bus pulled over. The driver hollered at me. I looked up. We were at a gas station, and Nelson was just jumping off his moto! Wonder of wonders. He handed me a cooler with 4000 chicken vaccinations on ice and two handfuls of syringes. “Please just write down the names of the communities where you vaccinate and how many birds you got. Oh, and don’t lose the cooler or they’ll charge me for it,” his smile went from jovial to serious. “I promise I’ll return the cooler. Thanks!” We shook hands, I jumped back on the bus, and we were off for home. It was amazing. It wasn’t even 10am and I’d had a great chat with the coffee shop owner about Peace Corps and what we do, and I was leaving the city with 4000 vaccines–a task I’d previously deemed impossible.

Ironically, when I jumped off the bus in our village, a community leader from up the road was standing right in front of me and demanded to know when we were coming to vaccinate the chickens. Whoa. I wasn’t ready for that. But we quickly decided a date over the weekend. On Friday night we got a call from Yulais, our other regular community, and they asked when we were going to bring the vaccines because some sort of plague ravaged the chicken population in the last few days of the week.

That’s how we ended up spending all afternoon today giving a talk on chicken vaccinations and administering them to a few hundred birds in Yulais. I don’t know whether to say we were a little late, or right on time. I fear we were a little late, but at least there were still a few hundred left to vaccinate, right? Anyway, it’s all in day’s work.

Posted by: emily