We followed a group from the mission through the market one day. We were all clad in medical scrubs, a blur of flat greens and blues sidestepping worn tables covered in fresh fruits. Pyramids of apples and mandarin oranges. Giant grapes, like clusters of purple golf balls. And countless, exotic varieties I could not identify.
I passed a mustachioed fishmonger whose smile stopped me. He asked in Spanish if I spoke Spanish. Sorry. No hablo Espanol.
In our short, hand-gesturing, patchwork conversation, I told him I was from the United States. A-la-ba-ma. Because of what I wore, he asked if I was a doctor. Despite the fact that I have no medical training, I decided it would be much easier just to tell him yes.
He nodded his head, and in English said, “Thank you.”
I had the opportunity to share this vignette with the medical team our last night together at a banquet. I told them that almost every one of them had spoken of their amazement at how appreciative their patients and their patients’ families had been. But this man, who did not sit in the hall outside the operating room during the week, who did not pace with his pregnant wife, offered appreciation, not for what they had done for his family, but for his people.
I told them that I didn’t pick up one scalpel this week. Didn’t start one I.V. I didn’t even give away one stuffed animal. But I had watched them and I had listened. My ultimate job was to tell the story of this mission to a great audience, most of whom have only heard of this beautiful country. I was a messenger.
My first message, though, was for the team.
I told them Ecuador said thank you.