Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My first trip to Puerto Rico

My trip to Puerto Rico was AWESOME! The only flaw was that it was too short. The HPS Network Puerto Rico did a fantastic job organizing outreach and the conference. It was a wonderful day and I was so grateful for the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people.

I think Donna and Ashley must have been laughing at me as our plane descended from the clouds. Perhaps I just happened to be in Puerto Rico during a time with a lot of thunderstorms, but the entire trip there were the most amazing clouds in the sky. They were amazing even as the plane dropped down out of the sky. Below I could see a rainbow between the puffy clouds that looked like suspended cotton balls. It seemed like a great way to start any trip.

Although I lived near the ocean when we lived in Germany, the ocean around Puerto Rico is nothing like the North Sea. From the plane I could look out and see the white caps on the waves and water that was such a deep blue – not a chilly gray like the North Sea.

As the island came into view, I felt sort of giddy. For me, this trip wasn’t just about Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome – it was about establishing some sort of connection with family history. Even though I didn’t get to meet any relatives, we did pass through towns where I know some of my relatives lived. There’s something even in just looking at the hills that you know your ancestors looked at every morning – or feeling the nature of the place they once lived.

I was worried about how I’d handle the heat, but actually Puerto Rico turned out to be cooler than Kansas. Even though it was hot and humid there was usually a breeze that made it tolerable, and unlike Kansas, the breeze didn’t feel like a blast furnace.

Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is having trouble with the Dengue Virus – a virus that is transmitted by mystiques and a real problem in tropical areas. Dengue can cause high fever, severe headache, severe pain behind the eyes, joint pain, muscle and bone pain, rash, and mild bleeding (e.g., nose or gums bleed, easy bruising). Those of us with an existing bleeding disorder just don’t need any help in the bleeding department. As a result, we practically bathed in bug spray. Between the bug spray and the sun screen, I felt like I had this goop on me all the time. Donna, however, our ever vigilant nurse and mother figure, wouldn’t let us skimp on the bug spray. She carried bug spray wipes with us and if she didn’t think we were doing a good enough job, she jumped in to help. I have some funny pics of her taking over for Mervin – evil grin!

This was not a sightseeing trip at all. Usually when I take photos I like to take a care about them. I like to frame them a certain way etc. This trip I just pointed the lens out the car window, set the camera on high speed, and clicked away. If I got a good shot, it was probably more from luck than talent or having a good eye. Someday I want to go back when I can take my time.

This trip, however, was for HPS outreach. We traveled around the island with several local HPS’ers, Richie and Ivette (President and VP of HPS Network Puerto Rico) and Yeidyly, organizer extraordinaire! Hilda had been in Puerto Rico for some time ahead of us and laid much of the ground work. She also did a lot of the driving.

I hope none of my Puerto Rican friends are offended by this, but people drive like nuts down there! It’s as if the traffic laws are mere suggestions only to be taken seriously if you happen to be in the mood. We were all quite happy to have Hilda, Richie or Ivette driving.

We did a radio interview, made an appearance on a TV show, spoke at a hospital several times, and visited a new member who happened to be in the hospital with GI problems.

Then the big day arrived – the day of the conference. Yeidyly did a lot of the logistical preparations for the event. I know our attendance was down a bit – but sometimes pure numbers aren’t what are important. I’d rather have half as many people there who are engaged and getting something out of the day than twice as many who are mere present bodies.

I couldn’t understand the presentations, although I know many of the speakers so I’m sure they were all quite good. Instead, I spent much of the day watching the kids. That was fun! Kids are the same in any language, and you don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to play with a little one. All they care about is the play – all the chit chat doesn’t really matter to them.

We wrapped up the week by going to a wonderful restaurant on the seashore. I stood on the beach (even though I knew Donna was probably having a fit and gripping the bug spray) with Hilda and Richie and watched a beautiful sunset. Sometimes you just have to live dangerously. I think I took about 50 pics of the sunset alone. I’ll curse everyone with those at a later date – you know how I am.

Congrads to the entire Puerto Rico team for doing such a wonderful job!!!!!!

And as for Puerto Rico – someday, I’ll be back.

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