Renaissance of the village of Ajoya and its revered ‘putting the last first’ clinic
Readers who have been following our newsletters over several years will be aware that the villager-run health program in Mexico’s Sierra Madre, which for decades was based in the picturesque riverside village of Ajoya, has—to put it mildly—had its ups and downs. Because of a wave of crime and violence that intensified in the mountains of Sinaloa after the turn of the century, most of the region’s inhabitants fled to the coastal cities. For over a decade Ajoya became virtually a ghost town, everything falling into ruins. But incredibly, this distressing situation has now reversed. The deserted village is being repopulated, the collapsing houses rebuilt, and the famed Clínica de Ajoya handsomely restored. The dying village has now been resurrected as a “model community” where the needs and rights of everyone are caringly attended.
But how did all this happen? The remarkable story of this backwoods metamorphosis, told below, will be the main theme of this newsletter. To relate it, I annex below the “epilogue” I recently was asked to write for the forthcoming publication of the Spanish edition of my most recent book, Reports from the Sierra Madre: stories behind the health handbook, Donde No Hay Doctor. But first, let me tell you how these fortunate new arrangements for publishing the Reports in Spanish came about.
Progress toward a Spanish edition of Reports from the Sierra Madre
Putting out a Spanish edition of Reports from the Sierra Madre has proved to be a much bigger task than we anticipated. The original English edition, published by HealthWrights, has now been available through Amazon for over two years. It is, in essence, a copiously-illustrated collection of eye-opening stories, which I wrote back in 1966 during my first year as a novice health worker in a remote region of the Sierra Madre, quite literally where there was no doctor. During that year, often late at night by oil lamp, I scribbled the series of four lengthy reports. With the help of volunteers back in California, the reports were typed, mimeographed, and sent out to the many friends and acquaintances who had subscribed in advance. In this way I raised a bit of money to help cover the (very modest) expenses of the budding village health program. (I also raised funds by selling some of my paintings.) From recipients of these reports we got enthusiastic feedback. Jotted down on a day by day (or better said, night by night) basis, the writings recorded the joy and challenges of the people and the adventures of the village health program as they unfolded. Readers said these impressions had a freshness and veracity that quite moved them.
Decades later, on rereading these early Reports, I and some of my pals had the bright idea of publishing them together as a book. However, these original reports had a shortcoming. Having been produced as mimeographed copies, they were almost devoid of illustrations. This seemed a shame, given that the Sierra Madre and its people are so beautiful. Hence the opus in English is replete with illustrations, many delightful, some disturbing. There are over 240 photographs, drawings and paintings, most of them my own … most in full color.
The problem with color
Reports from the Sierra Madre, the original English edition, is currently available through Amazon for $34. In the United States, this price is sufficiently high that its sales have been fairly limited. But now that we want to get the Spanish edition widely available in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, for many potential readers such a high price would be prohibitive. What pushes the price up is printing in full color. In looking for a publishing house in Mexico, we found that Editorial Terracota—which now publishes the updated version of Where There is no Doctor—is eager to publish the book. But in order to keep the price down low enough to encourage good sales, ET wanted to eliminate use of color and print it in black and white. This seemed a great pity, since the plenitude of colorful illustrations adds life and beauty to the opus. For lack of agreement on this issue, no contract was signed with Editorial Terracota.
Then came an exciting breakthrough! Through the connections of a leader in the renovation of the Ajoya clinic, I was invited to give a keynote presentation on my health-related books at the prestigious, annual Feria Del Libro (Book Fair) organized by the press of the Autonomous University of Sinaloa (UAS). My presentation, with PowerPoint images, was attended by the president of the university and also the director of the university press, who introduced themselves to me after my talk. I showed them the English edition of Reports from the Sierra Madre.
To make a long story short, the university press is committed to publish the Spanish translation of Reports from the Sierra Madre—in full color! The director explained that they could print it in color yet keep the price relatively low because the UAS Press, as a non-profit publishing house, doesn’t have to make much of a profit. (As a rule, commercial publishers set the retail prices of their books at six times the cost of production!)
Currently, UAS Press is progressing full speed ahead, in hopes of having the first printing available for the Feria del Libro this coming April (2023). Fortunately, less preparatory work was required than usual, insofar as the book had already been translated by an international team of volunteers, and then fine-tuned to the dialect of the Sierra Madre by native speakers. At the time of my writing this newsletter, the formatting of the text is virtually complete, and the pictures are being inserted. The main task remaining is to append the epilogue, mentioned above.
Consider this newsletter a pre-publication trailer, featuring a translated, somewhat shortened, draft of this newly written epilogue, telling the fascinating story up till today of the incredible renaissance of Ajoya and its revitalized clinic.