The Non-Matrixed Wife
For a couple of months, the pairing worked well. Paul enjoyed the open friendliness of the hospital administration, who applauded his plan to design a fire and emergency safety program a handy thing for a hospital that sat at the end of the towns sole, and alarmingly short, airport runway.
Then one day, Manuel disappeared, and the head engineer locked Paul out of the office. Discreet inquiries made to his cousins buddys cleaning ladys daughter yielded distressing news: Manuel was suspected of fencing stolen hospital equipment.
There was absolutely nothing in the Peace Corps manual that covered this, and it came at a difficult time, when we were searching for a new apartment because our landlord had evicted us.
Housing in Merida was tight and expensive because the town had to absorb so many university professors and students. When we first arrived, the only affordable place we could find was a converted garage in our landlords house. Converted meant, essentially, that he had removed the car. It was a bay with oil stains on the floor, a genuine garage door and a tiny bathroom. Our landlord lived with his wife, children and mother in the attached house, a two-story building that fronted a small, scruffy plaza. The Morellis were Merideñans born and bred. The wife was shy, the children polite. The mother was a warm, dear soul who stopped by now and then for tea; when all three of us suffered amoebic dysentery, she made us herbal belly-soothers and green-banana soup.
Señor Morelli was a wire of a man, thin and tightly-wound. He avoided direct eye contact and spoke very loudly to us so we could better understand his Spanish. He promised that we would move into the house, into the apartment above his, as soon as the present renters bad, noisy people who stayed up until obscene hours moved out. No, he couldnt show us the apartment, but it was very nice.
The garage was not nice. It was cramped and cold and rattled every time a car passed, but we were living among the people, as the Peace Corps manual had recommended, and we told ourselves it was rather quaint.
A couple of months later, the bad, noisy people upstairs moved out. And we moved up to find the place filthy and in poor condition. Morelli promised he would paint it and make repairs. Soon; very soon.
We stayed up late our first night scrubbing the place down. Two days later, Morelli called us into his office. We were, he informed us loudly, bad, noisy people who stayed up until obscene hours. I had such hopes for you, he shouted.
We were cleaning your apartment, we said.
He waved his hand dismissively. Furthermore, he had seen us talking with a neighbor who was a bad person, most likely a thief and possibly a murderer, because She is not like us, not from Merida, which is the City of Gentlemen; her people are from Caracas. We were not to be friends with her, he shouted.
Two weeks later, we tiptoed downstairs to ask him about the paint and the repairs.
Morelli told us that Kym had, that fatal very first night, run over the hard floors with her shoes on, and he was a nervous man and couldnt take it. Forget the paint and repairs; we were to leave, because we were bad, noisy people.
Leave? I was flabbergasted. I apologized for Kyms shoes and told him we needed time to find an apartment during which, I vowed, we would be as quiet as the cockroaches that swarmed the bathroom. I handed him his rent money for the month.
He threw it on the floor. I dont want your dirty money. I just want you out.
So while Paul tried to rectify his working experience, I dragged Kym around the town looking for apartments that fit the Peace Corps stipend. We spent as little time as possible at Morellis. His wife avoided us; his dear mother hung her head and sighed when we passed.
Eventually, we found an impersonal flat in an inconveniently-located four-story building. It wasnt exactly living among the people, but it was clean and spacious. We later ran into a Canadian professor who told us that he and his family would be renting the apartment we had left. We havent seen the place, he said, but Señor Morelli has told us its very nice.
About that time, the professor who tutored us in Spanish came to me with a young mother of five who desperately needed work. The Peace Corps allotted us a small child-care stipend, if needed, so I hired Irma to watch Kym so I could find a job of my own.
I couldnt work officially as an RN; Venezuela didnt recognize my registration. Still, I was eager to be of service; I thought that perhaps I could give the operating room in the hospital the benefit of my Army training and experience free, as a volunteer.
The head of the OR received me cordially and gave me a proud tour of the surgical area, and I determined I could help by writing a manual of Standard Operating Procedures for them. This is a notebook that details such necessities as the special tools each surgeon likes to have in his sterile instrument set-ups. Every OR in which Id worked relied heavily on its SOP manual; a busy nurse need only glance at it to know what to bring into the room for each particular case.
So I watched surgeries and took notes for the book, and people seemed proud of their work and happy to see me appreciating it.
Then I made the mistake of reacting when a nurse dumped an instrument straight from a cardboard product box onto a sterile instrument table.
It took me by surprise. In nearly every way, this operating room seemed like any OR back home. Staff scrubbed, gowned, masked and gloved. They assiduously avoided contaminating sterile things. But here was this nurse, carefully holding her body away from the table, with its glittering sterile instruments, opening an un-sterilizable cardboard box and dumping a contaminated instrument on top.