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A Lovely Place, A Big-Hearted Lady and Little Girl in Need
March 31, 2008

This week's commentary will be another quickie. The New York Times did a feature on the Lake Atitlan home of bay area writer Joyce Maynard. This is where I traveled in February when I joined forty or so other gypsies for a writers retreat run by Joyce, with the tutorial assistance of Robert Bausch (fiction) and Jane Hirshfield (poetry). The article gives a very good feel for the place, and reminded me of the pleasure I had rising at 6:00 AM to join Joyce and a handful of others for dawn saunas, followed by icy plunges and a bracing swim in Lake Atitlan.

Joyce recently reached out to some of us in the group on behalf of a little girl named Divina Flor, the younger daughter of one of Joyce's longtime workers, Cristobal. Cristobal is thirty four, father of two daughters, Jenny and Divina Flor (literally, divine flower). Flor is almost five years old, a very beautiful child, but one who has had one illness after another since she was a baby. First it was years of diarrhea that had her parents running to doctors constantly. Now a very strange and troubling rash has appeared that only goes away for a few days, when she takes antibiotics. Of course, nobody should live on antibiotics. She is a bright and beautiful little girl but very, very tiny (even by Guatemalan standards). She currently weighs around 30 pounds.

Joyce wrote to the husband of one of her workshop attendees—Tim Berger, head of dermatology at UCSF and head of the residency program there as well. She sent him a detailed description of Flor's case, and he wrote back with grave concern and said the only place she can be treated properly is the university hospital in Guatemala City, where she needs a series of blood tests. He suspects a particular brand of immune deficiency that occurs in this area, and definitely terms her as a "failure to thrive" child.

For this family, the idea of going to Guatemala City is pretty overwhelming. Cristobal has only travelled there once in his life, as a child. His wife, Juana, never. They know nobody in the city, and have no money for such a trip. But Joyce arranged through Sister Kris Schrader, a Catholic nun who works in Guatemala and is a longtime friend of Joyce's, for a place for the family to stay, and Joyce has asked a number of us if we could pitch in a little to help defray the costs. I'll ask you to look at these pictures of Flor and her family (and, in one shot, Joyce) and let you guess what my answer was.

Contact David if you would like to help support Flor at david AT davidcorbett DOT com.

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