There were no ordinary moments. Not flying 50 ft. above the aqua waves lapping the soft sand of the dunes no human habitation in sight, not the backs of the birthing whales covered in rose and ochre barnacles, not the arching noses of the colony of hundreds of sea lions above the surf, not the delight of the young woman with the new red glasses dancing around the spare concrete room with the rusted metal roof with bright sky poking through. None of the moments of this 3-day trip to a volunteer medical clinic deep in the heart of Baja California Sur are ordinary. I am a little shocked at this. Going from my life of comfort and overabundance in Arizona, via a 4-hour flight onto the shores of the great Pacific Ocean, seems like entering another time and life.
This trip with the Flying Samaritans still surprises me as I reflect back on the moments of this trip deep in the Winter of 2023. My partner has been on these trips before, so he knew what to expect on some level and me, a newbie on this one, did not. I’d love to share a few of my favorite moments. The first was climbing out over Sky Harbor International Airport in our former forest service tanker pilot Charlie Brown’s (his real name) Turbo Cessna 210 rocking out to Charlie Brown’s Christmas music on the iPhone. Charlie Brown, our “piloto”, is a study in contrast, at once jovial and poking fun at himself and the plane with “flying at the speed of smell”, the airwaves alternating from Charlie Brown’s Christmas to Enya to the concentration of a natural born pilot dancing with his machine.
Striking moments continue as we soar high over the vast shades of the plants of the Sonoran Desert and bright striking blues of the Sea of Cortez. A quick stop in Loreto for fuel we are off again banking steeply out over the Sea and then fast and high to clear the craggy mountains of Baja California Sur. Leaving my stomach and the Sea of Cortez coast behind. We pass over sweet village oases hugging under palm tree lined cracks in the mountains at San Xavier and San Jose. Wondering how far these people must travel to receive care? Then another moment I will never forget, boom Charlie is skimming the coast just feet off the surf of the vast Pacific as we make our way into Puerto Lopez Mateos and its landing strip of seashells. Really, we landed on hard packed sea shells, towns people walking the runway for exercise scooting over as we roared past.
The first day in Lopez Mateos, a sleepy old Mexican town with one gas station, 2 palapa topped restaurants serving amazing fresh caught ceviche and fish tacos, we did eye exams for over 100 kids and fitted those who needed them with glasses. Scott the Optometrist, no stranger to this hectic dance of kids and volunteers, eye charts, eye glass frames and tattered library books having hosted clinics all over the world, patient and attentive amidst the pressure of so many kids and so little time. I was shocked that the kids actually stand in line and wait quietly for their turn. The barren school, its courtyard decorated by the kids’ garden populated by recycled soda bottles cut open and planted with cactus, asked for us to bring a hose next visit so they don’t have to carry the water in buckets. Simple things.
Early on Saturday morning, the day of the monthly clinic, sleepy people are rolling up sleeping bags and tents, used overnight to keep their place in line for the slots available to see Doctors, Dentists, Optometrist, Pharmacy, Chiropractors, etc. All for a one-day event. Four planes now sit on the hard packed runway. Twenty+ people in scrubs alongside interpreters triage the healthcare needs of the local people. From the first chaos arrives an orderly dance of patients now hugging a personal chart in a folder with colored numbers to see each of the specialties. Then the adults, like their children the day before, wait patiently for their turn to be helped.
And helped they are. It was astounding to me the vital medical care that was shared from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm with 200 people. (The planes have to leave on time as there is no flying in Mexico after dark.) What really stood out for me were the moments of connection I witnessed between the grateful local people and the generous caregivers. We shared medical care, concern and listening deeply to people and they shared in return smiles, tears of relief, hugs, even lobster tails and tortillas, homemade cheese and fish tacos offered in exchange for the moments.
The precious moments and lessons of this trip will stay blazed into my memory. I learned that I have too much unnecessary stuff in my life and in my suitcase. The moments that people are the gift always. We are all the giver, the receiver and the gift. So excited to go back next month for more “No ordinary moments”.
You can reach Jodi Johnson, LMT at email@example.com. For more info please check out the good work and flying adventures of the Arizona Flying Samaritans at flyingsamaritans.com.
Caption for the picture:
Laguna San Ignacio BCS Clinic with left to right: Jack Lipton, DDS, Jodi Johnson, LMT, Charlie Brown, Pilot and Scott Farrell, Optometrist.