The sea state here off of Nicaragua is the worst it has been yet. When you run on the treadmill it becomes an intense alternating hill workout as you run downhill when the ship rolls one way for ten seconds and then run desperately uphill as it dips the other way for 10 seconds. Last night I lay in bed rocking from side to side, and even when I braced myself against the railing I could feel my internal organs moving back and forth. I could not fall asleep. And when I finally did, I would constantly get startled awake during a severe roll of the ship as I slammed into the rail of my bunk.
But alas, morning came and I was awoken this time at 0430 by Gunnery Seargeant Robert’s voice shouting “Serial Callaway, Serial Callaway, Muster Team such and such in the Casualty Receiving Area with Combat Cargo (that’s his call sign). Every night before bed Gunny posts the manifest for the different groups going out the following day. It is commonplace to check and see what boat or helicopter you are assigned to and what time your “Serial Call Away” is. I looked last night and next to my name it said, helicopter, 0730, PAO! What the heck? PAO is public affairs officer. I found out that my first day ashore in Nicaragua I would spend doing interviews with a radio station and a TV station talking about the mission. “You know how to talk to the media Doc!” That’s what they told me. True, but I haven’t done any interviews in Spanish before. This should be interesting….
In an earlier blog entry I mentioned the phenomenon in the military called “Hurry Up and Wait.” Well this morning it was ringing true. We were supposed to go by helicopter, they fell behind schedule, then we were ordered to go down to take a boat, then after waiting another 45 minutes, were ordered to take the helicopter again, then the swells got really bad, the deck was pitching back and forth, the helicopter couldn’t land, so in the end we ended up in the RHIB boat going ashore (3 hours after we were supposed to leave). I’m glad that Julie Moreno (Surgeon General’s assistant) brought me the latest Economist for something to read during this dwell time. Thanks again, Julie!
The RHIB ride turned out to be the best mode of transportation anyhow.
By this point in the day, the sun was shining brightly, and it felt great to get sprayed a bit as we were skimming quickly across the water towards shore. LCDR Morris (Navy Surface Warfare Officer) was with me for the day and she was grinning from ear to ear. She said,“THIS is why I joined the Navy!” I nodded and replied, “You’ve got that right, ma’am! So many people don’t know what they’re missing!”
We rounded a beautiful jetty of rocks with a white lighthouse and a statue of an important Nicaraguan leader (couldn’t quite see the features or inscription from this distance to tell you who exactly). But what I did see were the waves behind the jetty and the incredible right to left surf break that was occurring. Note to self and others- great waves in Central America.
Once we reached shore, we spotted our escorts- Air Force CPT Rebecca Garcia (Public Affairs Officer Extraordinaire), U.S. Navy Petty Officer Second Class Lenin Sanchez (originally from Nicaragua) and the driver Luis from Managua. No bus. Today it was a ride by SUV. We made our way to the town of Chinandega- population approx. 100,000, Nicaragua’s fourth biggest city. The country of Nicaragua lies between Honduras and Costa Rica in Central America, has a population of about 6 million people, 80% of whom earn less than 2 dollars per day. Over the past three decades they have experienced a lot of turnover in government, insurrection and war, including the Contra-Sandinista conflict in the early 1980s (Contras backed by the U.S.) But all is stable now in Nicaragua (for the most part), and the purpose of Continuing Promise is to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to working together towards peace, mutual education and health. With this in mind, I would make sure to emphasize this in the interviews. But over the next few hour I simply wanted to get a feel for this country and its people. I stared out the window of the SUV and just took it in- lots of children on bicycles, even more “cataneros” (bicycle taxis with covered rear cab), a very bumpy road with potholes, people here carrying things on their heads as well, cows on the streets, and sign after sign for Coca-Cola. Now we know who advertises the most in Central America and is perpetuating this “diabetes” thing. Hey, at least they were being active. More than the U.S. can say. The houses bore the same beautiful pastel colors and Mayan influenced décor as many of the houses did in El Salvador, but with a unique Nicaraguan style that I can only describe as “edgy”.
Because of our morning delay, by the time we reached Chinandega (30 minute drive from the Boat Landing Zone) we had missed our TV time slot, and would have to be content with the radio interview. Fine by me. Go with the flow. Semper Gumby. I had brought an extra change of clothes this time just in case we happened to get stuck out here overnight. The weather guy announced last night that a Tropical Storm was moving in today, but weather guy is always wrong, so it would most definitely be sunny. And it was!
We arrived at the radio station about noon- Radio Mas Stereo 98.9FM- “Noventa Ocho PUNTO Nueve!!” That’s how I was instructed to say it. They have a website. www.radiomasstereo.com A very friendly gentleman and nice lady (both in early thirties I’d say) greeted us and brought us into the control room.
We shot the stuff for awhile in Spanish, the nice lady asked me about the shoulder pain she was having (no doubt from her heavy shoulder bag) and then after about 20 minutes the station owner showed up carrying ice cold bottles of guess……Coca-Cola! He expressed his gratitude for the help that COMFORT was providing the people of Chinandega and Nicaragua as a whole. We began the broadcast and I did my best rendition of “Noventa Ocho PUNTO Nueve” I could. They seemed to like it. Then I launched into an introduction, gave some facts about our Mission - where people could be seen, how long we were going to be here, and then I got tongue tied. This was hard to speak at a fast pace in Spanish on the radio. So I just said it again- “Noventa Ocho PUNTO Nueve!” and they smiled and nodded in approval. Luckily the phone rang at that point and a caller had a question. I beckoned Petty Officer Sanchez to help with the translation, and through him I was able to explain some treatment modalities for the caller’s Kidney Stones and Urinary Tract Infections. Bottom line- drink more water and not Coca-Cola! We also talked at length about the enormous problem of Gastritis (Irritated Stomach) in Latin America and how it can be due to parasitic worms, spicy food, not enough water, too much alcohol, and stress. Towards the end of the interview the manager came in and offered some spicy rice and beans along with some more Coca-Cola and all I could do was chuckle- Noventa Ocho PUNTO Nueve! J
The interview must have had an impact because as we were leaving a few people came DIRECTLY to the station for a medical evaluation. Our driver Luis had been listening to the interview from the SUV and he said that most people here in Nicaragua typically listen to the radio for news vice the television. So hopefully the radio spot will help get the word out about the opportunity for medical care and the civic and humanitarian projects that the USNS COMFORT team is providing in partnership with the host nation of Nicaragua. I’ll let you know the turnout we get in a few days…..
We had not had lunch yet, so after the radio interview we found a relatively modern restaurant called “Tip Top” which I can best relate to a Kentucky Fried Chicken/Chic-Fil-A in the United States.
Looking for a non-fried option the gentleman behind the counter offered grilled chicken and I agreed. When he plopped an entire small chicken down in front of me I was stunned. Good thing I was hungry. It hit the spot after shipboard food and MREs. After lunch we ventured across the street to the Town Center where there was a playground area for kids. LCDR Morris chatted with some of the kids nearby and they ran over to CPT Garcia and I and started yelling “Gringo!, Gringo! Gringo!” and motioning to the swing set.
I replied “No soy Gringo”, but I don’t think it had much of an effect. They believed Garcia. Next thing I know I was swinging on a swing trying to get as much altitude as possible, with the little boy next to me trying to get even higher. It was some good community relations for the day. They were adorable.
The ride back to the ship was by RHIB again and by this point in the afternoon the skies were threatening rain. The seas were picking up big time, and we all prepared ourselves for a wet and wild ride back.
For someone who loves adventure and adrenaline, riding a RHIB is a lot of fun.
Safely back onboard the ship, I shouted one more time “Noventa Ocho PUNTO Nueve!” Viva Nicaragua! Viva Los Estados Unidos! Estamos unidos! (We are united!).