THE thunderous roar of the huge United States Army helicopter rolls over the northern Honduran mountainsides, announcing the arrival of the North Americans. Inhabitants of the remote village of Catulaca gather as the machine touches down in a nearby field. Children and adults look on in awe as the blades wind down, until silence prevails. US doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, armed soldiers sent along as guards, and two Honduran translators file out.
The Hondurans come closer. They gather enough courage to touch the foreign machine and meet their visitors. Together the Americans and the villagers unload supplies and carry them to the nearby schoolhouse, which will serve as clinic for the day.
The Americans are on a peaceful mission of humanitarian aid.
About once a week, these US doctors provide medical aid to various villages, which are selected by the Honduran government. Before the Americans arrive, a local official decides who will get to see the US doctors and dentists. Each villager then receives a card, which will admit him or her to the clinic. The Americans spend just one day in each village, so they are unable to see everyone. The four doctors see about 80 patients each.
After unloading the supplies, villagers line up and wait their turn, sometimes for as long as four hours. Women and children are first, men last. Most of them wear their Sunday best.
In one room, villagers are taught rudiments of sanitation, and how to brush their teeth with their new toothbrushes. The dentists hope regular brushing will counteract the effects of eating too much sugar cane.
Pop music from a large cassette recorder fills the air as the villagers wait for dental care. They appear calm and relaxed. The dentists will each see up to 60 patients who sit in chairs arranged on the grass.
Patients needing further medical care are invited to visit the US Army hospital on Palmerola Air Base -- if they can provide their own transportation. Since Honduras is not officially at war -- unlike neighboring Nicaragua and El Salvador, which are engaged in civil war -- the US doctors have the time to care for civilian patients.
Nearby, two veterinarians tackle the huge task of trying to care for all the village animals -- except the bulls, which cannot be held down long enough for treatment. But protesting dogs, horses, burros, and cows are inspected and treated.
After the last patients have been seen, the supplies are packed. Hondurans and Americans together grab hold of opposite ends of the crates and load them onto the helicopter.
Despite controversy in both the US and Honduras over keeping US troops in Honduras, the work these men and women perform goes on, creating bonds of friendship and peace. This time, as the powerful blades of the helicopter wind up with a roar, the villagers stand close by without fear. When the big machine finally lifts off they raise their hands together against the wind to wave goodbye. The Americans wave back.