(last snapshot)

It's a chilly, sunny Monday morning. The student nurses and Doña Lilia are away on spring vacation and the workers haven't arrived yet. At dawn, except for a squawking grackle down in the garden, all is quiet. Yerba Buena looks empty and lonely. This morning Nela is heading downslope to visit her family in Ixhuatán, so I hitch a ride with her. Taking a last look, I shake my head, seeing what a crazy world it is when you can leave a place like this when it's asleep, simply by getting into a car and driving away.

During my visit here I've hardly scratched Yerba Buena's surface. This becomes especially apparent as I chat with Nela. Though I've only occasionally mentioned Nela in this book, probably no one on earth has so much of his or her life invested here as she. When the Comstocks came here, Nela came as an inexperienced girl, and though now she's a middle-aged lady with gray streaks in her hair, she's been here ever since, except for the years from 1978 to 1980 when she served as mayor in her native Ixhuatán.

Nela married Burton, the Comstock's only son, but Burton died in a car accident in 1968. Presently Nela is Yerba Buena's administrator. I've mentioned her so seldom because she comes to Yerba Buena from her home in Tuxtla only on weekends, and then she's too busy for much socializing.

What other stories have I missed, simply because the timing hasn't been right... ?

Nela mentions the need to find someone else who can stay at Yerba Buena full-time, but we agree that that will be hard. Why should capable people like the Comstocks, Dr. Sánchez, Pastor Bercián and Doña Lilia, who certainly could find interesting and financially rewarding lives in "the real world" come to such an isolated, backward place as Yerba Buena?

The Comstocks, Dr. Sánchez, Pastor Bercián and Doña Lilia have come here because their minds and hearts are focused on a spiritual ideal -- the living of life according to the tenets of Adventism. Here they do not feel isolated at all because they see their daily living routines and good works as direct channels of love between them and God. Who thinks like that anymore?

Of course, Yerba Buena will survive, even if more government clinics open up nearby, and money from the North dries up. Government-paid nurses simply cannot compete with Yerba Buena's Doña Metahabel, whose warmth, sympathy and generous nature express themselves to patients in her eyes, and the clinic has a long tradition of getting by on very little money. The central messages of proper nutrition, cleanliness and avoidance of bad habits are, after all, free. Nonetheless, in San Lorenzo I should have liked to give enough money to the man with TB to hire a horse to carry him to the road, and to buy a bus ticket to get him here, where at least Doña Metahabel's loving care could make his last days more dignified...

Descending the slope toward Villahermosa for one last time, air gushing through the car's open windows becomes warm and moist. By the time Nela drops me off in Ixhuatán I'm sweating and already Yerba Buena's crisp coolness seems to exist on another planet. Now I'm back in the world of banana peels rotting along sidewalks, open sewers and dirty children hawking chiclets. Up in the highlands Yerba Buena stays behind like a shimmering island of spirituality, sanity and hope.

And with such thoughts, now I turn toward the North to bring to you, my reader, the news from Yerba Buena...

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