Bolivia is only a six hour flight from Miami, but culturally it is about as far away as you can get. Each day our love for this place deepens, perhaps because it is the country of our patients. The great rock faces of the magnificent Andes Mountains, women in bowler hats, good-natured haggling in the marketplace, brightly woven textiles and pan flute music will always be among our fond memories. The exotic beauty of this country fuses in our hearts with our patients´ hopes, their laughter, and sometimes their tears.
Their names are a symphony of exotic-sounding names, like Teresa Andrea Cortez Quispe. Teresa is a young child with ancient eyes and a disfigured syndactyl hand, fused together like a mitten. When she enters the clinic, she gives me an awkward smile, like it is something that she is practicing, but has not yet mastered. Her quiet demeanor makes the clinic seem noisy. There is something magical about this child, and I become aware that she watches and observes and knows more than she speaks.
When the doctors pronounce Teresa eligible for surgery, her eyes light up, as if these words hold the answer to her most fervent prayers. Her mother tells me that we have brought inexpressible joy and hope to the people of Bolivia. It is the third time that I have heard it today.