The Difference a Week Makes

Lori Valdez

I’m hoping that all of my Facebook family will find a bit of joy and inspiration in a personal story I’d like to share with you all this evening.

What a difference a week makes. One week ago today I boarded a plane in Albuquerque, met 15 strangers in Houston, and tagged along as we flew off to Central America for what was about to become one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime. Before sundown, we all ended up in a small village in the Cayo District of central Belize, just outside the main capital of Belmopan however, our trip was not a typical tropical get-away.

The initial purpose of this trip was focused on key projects: provide dental care and vision screening services to elementary students in the region, make critical mechanical repairs on mobile medical and dental units used for treatment services, complete construction of additional storage space facilities, and install critical network/communication upgrades at our home-away-from-home in Camalote Village, Camp Camalote.

As I’d shared in an earlier post written for the group’s web page, all of the above was ‘Plan A’. Plan A is our conceptualization of a perfectly fulfilling day on this service mission trip however, we’ve come to understand that predictability and perfection, our best-laid plans for Plan A, are not always HIS Plan A. It’s still a Plan A, just not ours. This is where the miracles and the magic happened on this adventure, somewhere between plans F and Z! And, as I told Dr. Todd, F stands for FUN, not Failure!

As my first day back home ends today, I’ve reminisced about how these hours were spent throughout this past week. I have so much that I want to share, that I need to share, about this incredible experience but will begin by simply answering a question posed by my new friend Mr. Dick Chapin on our first evening in Camalote. Dick, by the way, is an 81-year-old youngster who ran circles around all of us...every day.

Dick challenged everyone on the team to ask ourselves why we came here - why we came to Camalote. I didn’t have a clear answer one week ago this evening nor did I completely understand why I felt so drawn to be here but have shared with many of you that I just knew this was something that I was supposed to do - something I felt I needed to do for some reason. Those reasons became evidently clearer with each passing moment of every day and I can answer that question now with a few words and a few pictures. As I think back and gather my thoughts, memories, mementos, and photos to share, I think you’ll understand why I came here too.

I came here simply because I wanted to do good things with good people for good reasons. I wanted to do something that had deep meaning and required deep emotional strength and investment. I wanted to do something that had a lasting impact on myself and on others and made me feel ‘alive’. I wanted to help serve and connect with others with nothing more than what I had in my suitcase, my mind, and my heart. And just maybe, I wanted a temporary ‘out’ of the comfort, familiarity, predictability and occasional boredom with everyday life as we know it.

Before leaving I shared my plans with a few close friends, work colleagues, and family and I’m sure a few in that mix probably thought I was just a little (or maybe a lot) straight-up crazy, but it’s just my kind of crazy! I loved every moment of it and am appreciative of the encouraging thoughts, words, support and prayers that made unbelievable things happen this past week. I still find it hard to believe but, as some of my new Belizian friends would say, “You betta Belize dat maan”! And if you think it might be your kind of crazy too, I know a guy, who knows a guy, who knows a guy...(lol), but I really, do (Dick, Todd, Craig, Joey)!

I returned home late last night and woke up early this morning to the sounds of more familiar birds singing outside my bedroom window but am remembering the exotic and beautifully unusual sounds and morning melodies from this past week.

This morning, the sun rose over our Sandia Mountains of Albuquerque, but am remembering the same sun rising through the wind-swept palms and coconut trees of Belize just a day ago. And my ‘good morning’ today came from one very familiar and much-missed person this past week, my husband Mario, but I also miss my ‘girls’... all 7 of them - all ages, backgrounds, and talents who shared one cozy little corner of Camalote Camp, our bunk beds filling a space smaller than the size of the room I woke up in at home today.

I miss the awakening ‘thunk’ of huge ripe mangos falling on our rooftop, outdoor open-air showers at dawn, and our daily morning breakfast and coffee with the ‘guys’ - 8 others of all ages, backgrounds, and talents galore to share with this little community - dentists, carpenters, mechanics, preachers, military veterans,retirees, educators of all sorts and more - a strange but perfect mix of humanity.

As today winds down it’s a little quieter now but I’ll be remembering the sounds and sights of evenings from this past week - beautiful people, laughing children, happy voices, and exhausted bodies swinging in hammocks under the thatched cabanas of Camalote.

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