Bob Marcotte, Marcotte Photography, Fresno Photographer, Fresno Photography,
28 Oct 2008 When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

GoingHome When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Regardless of our methods and techniques, we’re all striving to create a soul in our images.  So it would seem to be an easy task to shoot a town filled with souls.  It would seem…

California is filled with millions of souls and personalities.  Most of the world only hears about the fruits, flakes and nuts that make up the Granola State.  I would like all of you to know that there are heroes who live here, too. They don’t get headlines. In fact, I couldn’t get these pictures or this story published by the one major newspaper or the two local magazines in Fresno. Anti-heroes get press, the story of these volunteers wasn’t considered news.

The souls I refer to are the pilots, doctors, nurses, translators and volunteers of an organization called the Flying Doctors of Mercy. I was fortunate to fly with the Fresno chapter. The short version of their story is that the first weekend of almost every month, private pilots fly their own planes filled with volunteers and supplies to impoverished towns in Mexico.  Planes fly from San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno and other cities to adopted towns deep inside Mexico … far from prosperity and medical expertise.

A2 When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

We departed on a Friday morning before dawn.  It took most of the day to fly to Guasave.  After numerous stops for fuel and after passing through Customs, we landed at a remote airstrip outside of town guarded by the Mexican army. It was important that we landed before sunset because, as we were reminded numerous times, anything flying after sunset would be shot down as a suspected drug runner.

Welcome to Mexico.

Members of the Guasave Rotary greeted us and drove us to the hotel. There we paid for our own rooms, learned more about each other over dinner and rested up for tomorrow.

Guasave When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Guasave At Night

Just like the day before, we were up before dawn so we could be on the vans and head into the mountains to our adopted town, Ocoroni.  The route took us through long stretches of empty fields and small towns. These towns were often guarded by young men with ominous faces. I was told that we were passing through areas that were not controlled by the Mexican government but by drug lords.  I was also told we were only allowed to pass unchallenged because we were doctors.  I used my camera discretely during this portion of the trip.

There were at least two hundred people waiting for us when we arrived. Men, women and children were lined up outside the clinic fence topped with barbed wire. The clinic was the labor of love of Gordon Knott, a member of the North Fresno Rotary with help from the club.  Residents of the area knew the schedule. Many had been walking for hours, if not days, to be seen or have their children seen by the American doctors.

The people When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)


StillComing When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Walking to the Clinic

Waiting2 When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Waiting in the sun

The planes carried precious cargo to Mexico beside the volunteers. There were boxes filled with Tylenol, Claritin and other drugs considered as ‘over the counter’ by most Americans.  These donated drugs make a profound difference to bodies that are not accustomed to ‘over the counter’ anything. Drugs were dispensed as per doctor’s orders in Ziploc bags after being counted out by volunteers.

Ziplock When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Also on board was a prosthetic leg sculpted for a local man named Castro who was having significant pain with his old prosthetic leg. The new leg was donated by yet another unnamed, unsung hero back in Fresno. It fit like a glove and Mr. Castro walked out of the clinic with his old prosthesis in a blue plastic trash bag. This was only twenty minutes into our visit, and, as I was to find out much later, with 224 patients to go.

WalkingHome When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Later in the morning I was told about the local water.  The river that provided the drinking water is used by the local cattle as a restroom. It’s also used as a  dump.  To no one’s surprise, bacteria and birth defects are abnormally high in the local population.

I noticed one little girl and her mother waiting for a doctor. She had been born with water on the brain and especially brittle bones. She was almost two years old. I asked her mother if I could take their picture. She was shy but reluctantly agreed.

Family0 When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Family1 When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

As soon as I snapped the pic I felt a very emphatic tap on my shoulder. I don’t speak Spanish but I could understand that the young man behind me was insisting that I include him in the picture. He was the father, the very proud father and this was HIS family.

Family2 When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

I took the shot and showed him the results on the back of my camera.  It was obvious that here was the source of pride in this man’s life.  I don’t know if I’ve ever respected a man more than I did him at that moment, regardless of our language barrier. Look in this man’s eyes and tell me that images can’t have soul.

I was surprised at the level of activity that morning.  Doctors, nurses, translators and volunteers were working at a controlled, but feverish, pace. I was told that there was a compelling and sometimes heartbreaking question that drove the doctors and volunteers throughout the day. Since the planes have to be airborne and land at our next destination before sunset or risk being shot down, could we get everyone in for medical attention, or would people have to be turned away?

WaitingRoom When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Waiting3 When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Leanings When Your Best Is Not Good Enough (Part 1)

Part II of this short series will discuss a surprising commodity that Ocoroni has in spades – joy.

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4 Responses

  1. 1

    Amazing photographs and a moving story. You really captured something there.
    Why oh why am I not surprised that you couldn’t get this story published? Call me cynical but the media nowadays is too in love with celebs and sensationalism and not enough with the stories that really matter.

  2. Your pictures certainly do drip with soul. I especially love the photograph of the husband and father with his wife and child. Wonderfully photographed.

    Thank you so much for sharing your words, photography, and experiences.

  3. 3
    Unbearable Lightness 

    Incredible story and images. I am truly touched by it.

  4. 4

    I work with the Southern California chapter of Liga, at either their clinics in San Blas or El Fuerte. I’ve been down with them numerous times, and it never ceases to amaze me what these folks are doing to help the less forunate. If only we had people doing this in the U.S., but I was told that malpractice and lawsuits would make this prohibitively expensive to do on a regular basis, so only once or twice a year is usually all people can muster.

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