How I Came To Be Living In Florida

Frit’s and my home, on the night I pulled out of the driveway and shut the garage for the last time.

Last May, when I knew Frit was about to get engaged, I started looking for a new place to live. Once she got married, she’d be moving to Iowa and I didn’t want to live in our house without her. There was also no way I’d be able to cover the mortgage on my own and I had zero desire, at 34, to start again with new roommates. Salt Lake City seemed like the logical place to look. It was closer to work. And it would provide a (sort of) “fresh start” in a (sort of) new city. I looked at dozens of apartments, but I couldn’t find anything that felt right.

Some might say that doesn’t matter–the “feeling right” bit. Just go where you want to go. Be where you want to be. Make a choice and God’ll use you wherever you land. But I firmly (stubbornly) hold to my expectation that Heavenly Father owes me at least that–a place where I can tangibly feel confident that it’s exactly the right place, at the right time, for me. If I’m to live this unexpected life on my own, then yes, He owes me at least that. (“And hardwood floors, a garden plot, and a walk-in closet, would be nice too,” I told Him one night, only half joking.)

But like I said, nothing felt right. Pretty soon Frit had the ring, and I felt the pressure. I began to feel very frustrated and very anxious. I kept searching, but to no avail other than stress. Plus, I was just … heartbroken. I would miss her so desperately. And I didn’t want to leave our house. Our happy, peaceful, welcoming, spirit-filled-garden-in-the-back-neighbors-we-adore house filled with seven years of memories. I just wanted everything to stay how it was.

Eventually, I asked my brother-in-law to give me a priesthood blessing for peace, direction, and clarity. Then I prayed my heart out in search of the answer. And the answer I received, quite clearly, was:

Krista, God is not frenzied. Calm down. I’ve got this. I’ve got you. And I’m taking care of it.

After that, I stopped. I stopped thinking about it. I stopped looking for somewhere to live. I figured that when “my place” opened up, wherever whenever, I would just somehow know. (As a sidenote, can we stop to pause on the awesomeness of that answer to my prayers? Seriously, it’s one of my favorite answers I’ve ever received and I’m so glad I have it written down. I love my Heavenly Father so much and I’m so grateful He talks to me and says it how I need to hear it.)

A few weeks later, my sister called. She didn’t know that Frit was engaged, nor did she know that I was looking for a new place to live. When she called, she was in Florida visiting our Grandmother, and the first thing she said, with incredulity, when I answered the phone was, “Are you moving to Florida!?” “What?” I said back. “No, I’m not moving to Florida. Why would I move to Florida?”

“Well, Erica and Dustin [the young couple who'd been living with and caring for Grandma since our Granddad passed away] just bought a house, so they’re moving out in September and Grandma told Erica that you’re coming to take care of her.”

“No. I’m not moving to Florida. I don’t know why she thinks that, but I can’t move to Florida. My whole life, my job, everything, is here.” And we hung up.

But the question lingered. “Are you moving to Florida?”

Looking back, I’m certain my heart knew it the moment she said it, that it was right. Yeah. I totally knew it. And the timing—uncanny. (In other words, providential.) But still, it seemed so absurd.

A few days passed and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I approached my boss “just to see” if it was even possible. Could I work remotely? Would they support such a move? My job was really the only concrete thing I could see standing in my way. I was already losing everything else–Frit, my home, my church family, my calling, my friends, my neighborhood, my book club, my quilting group, etc. And so I told God that if Florida was right, then He’d have to remove the work obstacle. If He did, I’d take that as a sign that I was supposed to go.

Well, it turned out, my company was (of course) super supportive. My boss and our CEO said they’d be willing to allow a flexible work arrangement if I decided to relocate. At that point, “sign” or no “sign,” I continued to sit on it.

Do I really want to go live with my Grandmother? In Florida? At 35? Single? I might as well get a damn cat too and call it a day. On the flip side Gram needs help. She can’t live alone. And I love her. This would really help her and it would help my family. I’m certainly in unique a position to go–no husband, no children, a flexible job. Is Florida really right?

All along, I knew Florida was the answer. But I wasn’t ready to admit it, so I didn’t. Eventually, the rightness of it bubbled to the surface anyway, as rightness is wont to do, and so I said it out-loud to someone other than Frit, just to try it on for size. Then I cried really hard (for thirty days in a row according to the tally marks I kept on a piece of paper beside my bed) and that was that. The plans were made. I was moving to Florida.

My last month in Utah was a whirlwind. I found myself living each day in a state of frantic nostalgia, racing to see everyone I wished I’d spent more time with when I’d had it and doing everything I’d meant to do over the last 16 years, trying to soak in every molecule of my last (last?) Utah summer. And of course, my last days with my best friend, the way it was–just the two of us.

But despite my best efforts to stretch the moments, I blinked and the summer was over, and there I was, sleeping on an air mattress in a very empty, very echo-ey house. She was married, moved out, and gone. One month later, it was my turn.

I packed my little silver car to its gills with the essentials–more books than clothes, my sewing machine, a box overflowing with watercolors and fabric, two computers, one oscillating fan, my cello, and a box of photos–and put the rest in storage. Dusk was falling with a misty rain as I pulled out of the driveway on that early October night and closed the garage door for the last time. I cried all the way out of Utah and well into Wyoming.

Now, here I am. I live in Florida on the banks of a river, and spend my days caring for my Grandmother and working from home, trying so hard to just be where God wants me to be.

And goodness, there is so much to write about these last eleven months (there’s always much to write, isn’t there?), but there’s the beginning at least.

 

In Defense of Faith

Over the last few years, a handful of my dearly-loved friends have left the LDS (Mormon) Church for a number of reasons including, but not limited to, the recent disciplinary action taken against a couple of our members who have publicly spoken out on (and organized protests in response to) issues they think the Church is handling incorrectly or is just plain wrong about, the Church’s strong stance regarding gay marriage, feeling out of place as an “older” single in a family-centric religion, and frustrations with LDS culture.

A lot has been written from all the sides of all these issues, and while I do have opinions about Kate Kelly’s excommunication, gay marriage, women’s equality, finding one’s place as a “mid-single,” etc., this post is not that post. This post is an essay in defense of faith.

A couple weeks ago, one of my Primary children came up to me after church to “pass off” the 4th Article of the LDS Faith. (Primary is our name for Children’s Sunday School and I give the children treats, i.e. I shamelessly bribe them, when they memorize each of the 13 Articles of Faith.)

He began, “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, second …” and then he got stuck. He tried it again, but couldn’t get any farther on the second try. He gave it one more go, but again, the same thing. I smiled, gave him a high-five, told him that I knew he had this, and to go home and practice it for one more week and then come back and try it again the following Sunday.

But those words stayed with me: “First, faith…” That is the foundation of all other Gospel principles—belief.

Faith noun \ˈfāth\ fidelity to one’s promises : sincerity of intentions : belief, trust in, and loyalty to God : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion : firm belief in something for which there is no proof : complete trust :  something that is believed especially with strong conviction, especially a system of religious beliefs (Merriam-Webster)

…faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true (Alma 32:21)

In the last General Conference of the Church (April 2014), Sister Jean A. Stevens, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, delivered a sermon titled, “Fear Not: I Am with Thee,” in which she said this: “As we develop greater faith and trust in the Lord, we can access His power to bless and deliver us.”

This made me ask (and I continue to ponder the answers to these questions): What does that really mean? How is that possible: have faith –> access God’s power? Why is faith the “access key” to his power? Does greater faith lead to “better” access? Faster access? More acute access? If so, why? What is “greater faith”? How does one develop greater faith? How could my faith be greater? How can I be better at believing in God?

I think sometimes, within the Mormon Church, we’re so proud of all the knowledge we have access to. And certainly, with good reason. We believe the fullness of Christ’s Gospel was restored through Joseph Smith! We know so much about the Plan of Life/Salvation, the Priesthood, the Godhead, our pre-mortal and post-mortal lives, etc. In fact, our testimony meetings* are filled with countless declarations of what people “know.” And obviously knowledge is good.

But I’ve come to think that perhaps we focus too much on the “I knows” and neglect the “I believes,” the “I hopes,” and the “I have faith ins.” I don’t know that knowledge, particularly spiritually discerned knowledge, is what gets you through the hard spells in life (or times when you don’t understand doctrine or policy). Spiritually discerned knowledge is hard to hold on to, especially when the physical world around us pulls and prods and falls apart—when all signs point to the opposite of your knowledge being true.

When the apostle Peter stepped out of the boat, he had a knowledge that Jesus was there on top of the water too. He could see Him with his own two eyes. Walking on water was possible. He could also hear Christ’s voice bidding him, “Come,” with His own two ears. Christ Himself was telling Peter that he could do it, that he should do it. So I’d say Peter’s knowledge was certain. He had tangible, sensory evidence. But when he saw the crashing waves around him, he sank, and Jesus gave the reason: “Oh thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”

Peter’s knowledge didn’t keep Him afloat. And his lack of faith made him sink.

Knowledge isn’t the pre-requisite to salvation, faith is. So many people don’t join our Church because they don’t “know” if it’s true. And so many people leave the Church because there are things they don’t understand, things that can’t be explained, doctrines and policies that don’t fit within the box of knowledge they’ve built for themselves.

But at the end of the day, all there is, is faith. In other words: Can you believe when all signs point to no? Can you hold on only to hope, even when it’s hard to do so? Can you choose faith when it doesn’t make sense? Or rather, will you?

Please, do. Please don’t abandon your faith. Keep your promises. Hold on to the sometimes thin threads of hope. I know it’s hard sometimes. I really do. There are so many things in life, in the Church, that don’t make sense, that hurt, that confuse, that worry. But it’s okay if you don’t “know.” And it’s okay to not understand everything right now. This just may be the “trial of faith” the prophet Moroni was speaking of. But the witness will come! It will. I don’t know when. But it will come. I believe that. I hope that. Believe in God. Just Him. Only Him. And please don’t leave. Here, you are needed. Here, you belong. Here, you are loved.

Further reading that I can’t more highly recommend from my two favorite Apostles:

A sermon by Elder Jeffry R. Holland  (READ | WATCH)

A sermon by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf  (READ | WATCH)

Seriously, if you don’t have time today, please bookmark/pin/share this page and come back to read or watch their addresses.

*Testimony meeting generally occurs on the first Sunday of each month. Around the world, in every Mormon congregation, instead of prepared sermons, the meeting is opened up to the general membership to come the pulpit and share the witness of their faith.

 

 

 

 

Looking for a Polygamist. Or a Pilgrim. Or a virgin. (Or in other words: My adventures in dating.)

I’ve decided to change my dating tactics. This look is called, “How to snag a polygamist. Or a pilgrim.” #eatyourheartoutMarthaWashington #onlythecoolkidsstillwearfrenchbraids

Dating is so far from my mind right now (Who has the time?). But I found these snippets (filed away in my book of special memories) from another one of Frit‘s and my forays in online dating. When will my membership eeeeeennnnnnddddd? And whyyyyyy did I sign up (again) in the first place? Anyway, if you missed the last installment or need a moment of comedy today, click here. There are some doozies.

P.S. Nothing has been changed in these excerpts. All errors–be it grammatical, spelling, punctuation, or personality–belong to the owner.

1. The subject line for this little ditty was: “You are a little mysterious.” (Which is, like, totally what I was going for.)

You did not include very much info in your profile. This has created some bit of mystery about you that has got me curious about what makes you tick. You are either a genius to have figured out how to make guys curious about you or you are just smart enough not to put tons of personal info up for the world to see. I wish I would have thought to do that!
I would tell you all about me but I think I will take a page out of your book and just keep you guessing. Are you feeling the mystery? Are you dying to know more about what makes me tick? If so, and you know you are drop me some lines. I would love to hear from you as much as you now want to hear from me.

He gets me. I am, in fact, dying to know more.

‘Cept not.

2. “Greeting from [name withheld for the protection of this poor guy]“:

I was abandoned as a child on the side of a quiet road in the middle of nowhere, USA. Fortunately for me a kind and caringpack of wolves happened by and took me in. As far as I can remember it was a happy childhood of running and playing, hunting and sleeping. Until that fateful day when I happened upon an old mirror lying on the side of a dry riverbed and for the firsttime in my life I realized that I looked nothing like the rest of my pack.

I confronted them later that day and after hours of growling backand forth I was informed that I was indeed not a wolf but in fact was a “smsmall nosed, big headed, flat butted, rear paw walker!” I know that sounds like something adults should not say to a youth but that is the direct translation for the word “human” in wolf language.

I thought that was the worst of it until a few minutes later I wastold that not only was I a human but that I was also adopted. With this knowledge in hand I packed up my things and left the only home I had known and went out into the world of fellowsmall nosed, big headed, flat butted, rear paw walkers.

I have spent the years since that fateful day going from pack to pack only to find that humans and wolves are not that different from each other, if you look past the sharp teeth, hair, walking on all fours, I think you get the idea.

I will assume that you have realized long before now that this story is complete fiction but the lesson shared in it is not, we do act at times like wolves. We travel in packs or groups as a way of protecting ourselves from the scary things that the world can throw at us. Not realizing that in doing so we also miss theamazing beauty that the world has to offer us.

I broke from my pack as my fictional young self once did when I looked into that mirror and did not like the person that was looking back at me. I will walk this path alone if I have to but I still hold out hope that along the way I may come across another lone wolf who desires more from this wonderful life than they have to this point discovered..

Perhaps I should wear my little red hood on our first date?

3. A “flirt” (the sending/receiving of which makes me want to stick forks in my eyes) was received from a guy with the following profile intro:

one thing in life i have learned is its short so have fun and smile……….mmm OK girls quit putting your pics from when you when in jr high …show your true self and you will probibly get 2nd and third dates just dont start your first one with a lie lol

Noted.

4. And finally, well … I don’t even know what to say about this one. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Hi,
It would be nice to know you?

I think you are going to find I am one of the most generous people you have ever met in your life.

I am young in looking and in energy, heart, health and in everyway, except in years.

My departed companion of 35yrs and 6 children was a virgin when we married, and I am look for another virgin to marry for the next 35yrs. I want to marry only in the Temple for ever.

I love the Our Loving Heavenly Father with all my heart, might, mind, and strength.

Please. Someone. Make it stop. Anyone?

 

LDS Primary Temple Dedication Countdown

There is so much back story needed before posting this. But let’s just stick with the short version. That is: I was called as the Primary President on my second week in Florida. Oh, have I mentioned that I moved to Florida? Yes. I did–six months ago, this weekend.

(For non-Mormon-lingo speakers: The “Primary” is the children’s organization at our church. All children ages 18 months to twelve years old attend Primary during the second and third hours of our Sunday church meetings. As the President, it is my job to help strengthen the faith of the families in our congregation as well as oversee the children’s Sunday gospel instruction. My ward, i.e. congregation, has about 50 children in Primary.)

So yeah. Primary President. On my second week here. :) I. LOVE. IT.

Anyway, the building of the Fort Lauderdale Temple was recently completed. Open house tours are currently underway for the general public until April 19. Tickets are available here, if you’re in the area and would like to see the inside of a Mormon temple. On Sunday, May 4, the temple will be dedicated (consecrated) to the Lord and from then on, only members of the LDS church who have met certain standards of conduct and worthiness are able to enter.

As the Primary President, I’ve been trying to think of a way to help the children get excited about the dedication. To have one of our temples so close (only 2 hours!) is such a blessing and I wanted to help them see the importance of this holy building as well as assist their families in commemorating this special, sacred occasion in their own homes.

Here’s what I created:

Enclosed in this print-at-home activity packet is a template for a countdown chain. Each link has one simple activity children or families can do that day to keep their mind on the temple. The countdown begins Monday, April 7 with a Family Home Evening (FHE) lesson. Three additional FHE lessons are outlined in the packet for each additional Monday leading up to the dedication on May 4. If you’d like to print the packet, click here. And if you have any questions, leave a comment. Feel free to share the packet with anyone in the South Florida area. Enjoy!

P.S. If you’re wondering about Mormon temples, here is a 3-minute video about why they’re so important to us.

Halfway

Today, I turned 35.

And for the first time in my life, I’ve felt a small measure of anxiety over my age. I loved turning 30–like, love loved. In a weird way, I felt like I was catching up to myself–as though I’d always been 30. And in the ensuing five years, I’ve found myself feeling … relaxed … comfortable … happy with myself. There have been hard things, certainly. Sad times, yesofcourse. But in short, my 30s so far have been great.

But 35. Thirty-five is … really close to 40. And it’s half of 70. And because of that, for the last few weeks, the thought keeps rolling, I’ve lived half(ish) of my life.

It’s not so much the getting older. I don’t mind that. Aging has never scared me. And 35 isn’t even that old. It’s more the reality that what I thought my life would be by now … isn’t. And because time is ticking–so very loudly–I can’t help but think … What have I done? What am I doing?

The measuring stick, against which I’ve always compared my progress–the measuring stick by which the vast majority of society compares life’s progress, I would venture–seems to have snapped into splintering bits. At least for me.

I do not have a spouse. I do not have a home. I do not have any children.

And there are currently no prospects for any of those options.

When it didn’t happen at 21, like I always imagined it would when I was a little girl (surely my life will follow the same course parents’ did, I thought), I just assumed it would happen by 25. But when it hadn’t happened at 25, I thought, Oh–well 27, then. And when 27 came and went, It must be waiting at 30, I mused. But 30 breezed by and so I set my sights on 35.

Now, 35 is here. Certainly by 35, it was supposed to be.

But it’s not.

And while the absence of spouse and house are softer pills to swallow, I am keenly aware that the years and possibility of bearing children are slowly–no, quickly–diminishing.

I have about a decade left, give or take. A decade is not very long. In fact, didn’t I just turn 25? Yes, I’m certain of it.

And so again, I ask myself, for the ten-thousandth time, What have I done? What am I doing?

Today, in the shower, as the scalding water streamed, scorching soul and skin, I searched for an answer. I made list upon list.

I have been educated and have continued to seek knowledge. I am a bright, intelligent, inquisitive woman who loves to think and fiercely believes that her brain is her best feature.

I have seen bits and pieces of the world. No, I haven’t seen all I want to see and been everywhere I want to have been, but I have said “yes” to the chances that have come and been enthralled with the introductions they’ve provided to life outside of my own.

I have shared a home with someone I loved. It may not have had my name on the deed, but I was wrapped and sheltered by its walls–walls that formed rooms filled with laughter, happiness, peace, contentment, and the Spirit of the Lord.

I have loved a man so deeply I was changed. He never loved me back, or even knew I loved him in fact, but the years I spent loving him were some of the most illuminating years of my life.

I have massaged a birthing mother’s legs and confidently affirmed that yes, you can do this, physically pushing my certainty in her ability past the contracting space between us and into her body, mind, and spirit, as she labored to bring life. And I stood steps away as life’s first breath was breathed.

I have rocked babies to sleep. No they may not have been mine, but my arms have filled in when their mothers’ were weary or unable.

I have praised God and am saved daily by His Son. I have heard His voice and I have held my faith.

But above all these things, as I look at my life and think, What have I done? What am I doing?, I see a life filled to the brim with people–people to whom I have sat close, holding hands and hearts, sharing stories and shoulders. People, with whom I have cried, laughed, played, and prayed. People who have nudged my rumination and stretched the capacities of my contemplation. And in those moments of blessed connection, I have found born within me such jewels as sincerity, compassion, testimony, adoration and a loyalty stronger than the Rock of Gibraltar.

No, I may not have a house, but I have known home.

And I may not have a spouse, but I have known love.

And I may have never borne a child, but I have given birth.

And while yes, certainly, I want more–I do believe life is for wanting and reaching–this is only intermission.

I still have the whole second half (and hopefully, then some) to go.

Guatemala, Day 6 – Motorcycle Rides, Chicken Buses, and Exploding Diablos … Or in Other Words: The Best Day Ever

A recap of my experience traveling to Guatemala on a philanthropic expedition with CHOICE Humanitarian. Click Here for Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5. The following is my journal entry from Day 6.

This day has been BANANAS! Or should I say PLATANOS! Seriously. Best day I’ve had in … who knows?!

We skipped digging in the pit today and instead went for a “walk”–a friendly way to say “really steep hike”–to one of the neighboring villages, Mercedes.

I wasn’t sure if I could do it; those Guatemala roads are mountainous–so steep and winding. Almost halfway up the hill out of Chimaxyat, I turned around. I didn’t want to hold anyone up and I really didn’t know if I could do it. That one hill alone just about kills me. But Mitch and Allison both convinced me I could do it.

It was hard. And long. (An hour and a half or two, maybe?) And so so hot. And so so humid. Aside from my worry that I physically couldn’t handle the inclines, I had lingering memories of that first day when I was so dehydrated and sick.

So I walked and drank and walked and drank, the whole time, ever-so-slowly. And. It. Was. Amazing. We would round a bend and, like a crazy dream, there were these VIEWS–so vast and so green and so gorgeous–and I would catch myself (and  my breath): I am in Guatemala! I am in Guatemala. And this is real. I am hiking along a dusty, dirt path in Guatemala. Me. In a jungle. In Guatemala. It’s still hard to believe.

About 20 minutes from the village, a man named Santiago came by on his motorcycle and asked if I wanted a ride. ?!?!?! At first, I thought, Heck, yes! I’m so tired and so hot. And then I thought, Heck, no! That’s so dangerous! And then I thought, Krista–do. it. Get on that moto and ride through Guatamala with Santi. Live. Live!

And so I did. And I can’t even write about this without smiling. The wind! The sun! The gorgeous Guatemalan landscape! All those mountains and all that green and all that sky and all that blue. Seriously, it was like a dream. Up and down and around on these gravelly, dirt roads, holding onto this adorable little Guatemalan man who didn’t speak a lick of English–it was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my life.

Santi took me the rest of the way to Mercedes and once we got there, we were greeted by all the children in the village, smiling and cheering as they ran up the hill to meet us. There were dozens–all so happy to see us. Immediately, they were holding on to my hands and arms, any piece of skin they could touch–much less shy than the children of Chimaxyat. Perhaps because this village is a little more developed? I think they see “gringos” more often, whereas I’m told the children of Chimaxyat haven’t seen white people for nearly four years.

I sat with the children at the school until the rest of the group arrives. It was a two-room, wooden building with a small porch and a ramp leading up. Their teacher found me a chair. This seems to always happen–villagers here are always seeking ways to make us feel comfortable and welcome, no matter what community we were in or how long we were there for.

The children in Mercedes didn’t know much Spanish so we weren’t able to communicate verbally, but between holding hands and trading songs–I sang “You Are My Sunshine” in exchange for one they’d recently learned in school–we did just fine and became fast friends.

Once the rest of my group arrived, we all went to see the new brick school CHOICE was helping to build and the children jockeyed for positions next to us. Those who didn’t get “right next” to one of us would take hold of their friend’s hand, as though the connections flowed through each person in the chain. I think we each walked up the hill four to six abroad, two or three children on each side.

Near the school was a big field where the older class was having physical education time. We walked around a bit and looked at the school before heading back down to the wooden school, where we just relaxed and did nothing really–except play catch with the kids and hold as many as would fit in our laps.

Doc and Allison went to the “store” where they picked up eight Cokes and 8 bags of chips for $2. After an hour or so, it was time to go back, but there was no way we’d make it back ourselves. Mercedes is located much lower on the mountain and the last hour into the village was downhill, meaning it was at least an hour uphill to get out. So we hitched a ride on a chicken bus, those crazy work trucks you hear about in Central/South America that haul people and animals–as many people and animals as possible.

We piled in with a bunch of other Guatemalans, standing, i.e. holding on for dear life, and went home. Did I say this was a great day?! A chicken bus! We were all laughing our heads off, smiling as wide as our mouths would stretch. Not more than two hours before, I was on the back of a motorcycle, and now here I was on a chicken bus…speeding again through the jungles and mountains of Guatemala.

On the bus with us was an older couple–much older, like in their 80s or 90s. They were both carrying heavy bags and at one point the abeulo’s bag slid and his corn scattered. Not all of it–maybe just a couple handfuls.

Once we stopped to get off, he and his wife got off too, but not before he bent to gather the spilled corn. We all began to help gather the bigger mounds, but soon realized he wasn’t going to stop until every single kernel of corn had been reclaimed. So we continued, on our knees, picking up little, single bits with our fingers. I think that image and lesson will stay with me for always.

Had it been me, I probably would’ve just left it. But every single kernel was important and had value to him. And his worn, brown, wrinkled hands were going to pick each one up. No waste. Not even one kernel thrown away.

After lunch, a few of us laid down to rest while the women of Chimaxyat set up their handmades for a little “pop-up” market. Jorge had told us beforehand that we needed to haggle with them–that they couldn’t just play the “I’m poor” card with us and that even though we knew them and loved them and could totally pay whatever they asked, it would do them no service. They had to learn how to compete in the real market in Guatemala City where it was cutthroat.

This was incredibly difficult to say the least. I first found a hand-woven towel I loved and asked the price. Q.25–the equivalent of $3.50ish and a more than reasonable price for a handmade item. But I had to talk her down. I started at Q.15 ($2ish). We went back and forth until we landed on Q.19 ($2.80). It was the same for every item I wanted to buy, and I hated it (and I always gave in more than I should have, Jorge said) and I could see the wisdom in what he was asking us to do. However, it was difficult none-the-less. I have so much. They have so little. And it seemed absurd to pay so little for something so dear.

After the market, as if this day couldn’t get any better, it was time for “shadowing.” This was where we split into groups and visited the homes of the villagers and learned about their daily life. My group was going to Benjamin’s home. Benjamin was one of “my” students–and so so sweet. You could see the happiness in his eyes when he learned I was coming to see where he lived. He was so proud to show me.

His older brother led the way and talked with the other members of my group. There were five of us and I was the only girl. The paths were, as usual, quite slippery and deep with mud, but Benjamin stayed back with me (slow poke), almost as if he was watching over me to make sure I got there safely. First, we stopped at the brother’s house–a small structure with bamboo stalk walls, no bigger than 10′x10′.

The fire stove was in one corner, across from which was a wooden slat bench, where his wife slept. A hammock was strung from one wall to the other and that was where he slept. Their baby slept in a blanket tied like a little cocoon hammock which hung from a hook on the wall.

While Mitch, our translator talked and explained their daily routine, Benjamin tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted to see his house. He was so timid, yet so proud, and so excitedly antsy for me to get there. “Por supuesto! Estoy emocionado.”

He led me through the mud path to the house next door. This house was much larger, but not by much. It too had dirt floors, bamboo walls, with a dividing wall between the “entry/living” area and the “bedrooms.” Chickens, roosters, and ducks, came in and out and roamed the house as there were no doors. 

Benjamin was so excited to introduce me to his mother and father and I even took a family picture of them. His sister, Gertrudis, was making tortillas and his other sister was holding her baby. Again, they had hammocks and wood-slat beds, although Benjamin had a separate “room” with a “door.” Everything was made of bamboo shoots and his room was no bigger than the 5′x3′ wood table he slept on. But–so proud.

Gertrudis let me help make a couple tortillas and she got quite a kick out of watching me trying to flatten the tortilla by hand. They, as a community, share the corn crop. It’s all subsistence farming, meaning the village eats everything they grow; there are no leftovers to sell.

After a bit of chit chat, we went outside to where Benjamin’s father showed us how he “mows the lawn”–with a machete. You bend over and just swipe the machete through the grass, just above the dirt, parallel to the ground. We all got to try it and it’s much harder than you think. I just seemed to chop a lot of dirt.

After learning how to cut the grass, it was time to go back for dinner, but on the way we passed their tienda (store). There were a few odds and ends: soda, a few snacks, and of course the boys couldn’t leave without buying machetes–they cleaned the whole store of their stock.

On my way again, I heard, “Kreeesta!” being called through the trees. It was Josephina, another one of my students. She was in front of a house, so I asked, “es tu casa?” “Si!” “Puedo visitar?” (Can I visit?) “Si!”

I trekked over to meet Josephina’s familia and see her home. Theirs seemed to be a bit bigger and less impoverished. Josephina and her immediate family had one structure for sleeping and another for cooking and her grandparents had the same. There were a bunch of aunts and uncles there too, so I’m not sure how many people actually lived in those four “buildings,” but it looked like a fairly large piece of land. Maybe a 1/2 acre for all of them.

After leaving Josephina’s, I headed again towards the sleeping quarters, when I heard, “Kreeesta!” coming from up the hill. This time it was Luki, not one of my students, but one of the little girls I had played with. (Luki was probably about 5 or 6, Josephina and Benjamin were 13 or 14?) Anyway, Luki was waving from her house and then I saw her brother Eric, another one of my students and I again, asked if I could visit.

Their house (compound) was much bigger–they seemed to be one of the more wealthy families in the village. Raul, the new dad we visited earlier in the week and owner of the most expensive house in the village, said they were his cousins. At each of the homes I was sure to tell the parents how smart their kids were–such good students–and you could tell they were all so pleased.

Finally, I was on my way, although I stopped for a quick minute to meet the parents of more students: Julio, Norma, and Karmin.

At dusk, the village and religious leaders walked in a line through the village and around a central fire surrounded by palms. They carried torches and incense, and chanted quietly to a beating drum. Then they gathered everyone around the fire and gave all the expeditioners a  candle, which they lit from the main fire.

They thanked us for coming and then began offering prayers for our safety and protection. All of them were vocally praying different words simultaneously, just like the first day, as we stood, huddled with our lit candles. Then one by one, they asked us to put our candles in the fire. This symbolized us all being of one spirit, they said. We learned that they did this exact ceremony 15 days before we arrived to begin the prayers for our safe journey to their village.

It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been a part of. To think–their planning, their thought, their prayers–for days before we came. I wish we had more traditions and ceremonies and rituals like this. It makes me think a bit more about how I care after the friends and strangers I come in contact with, and the prayers I offer on behalf of others.

After the candles, they put on a fireworks show. Ca-ra-zy! A man put on a wooden structure, kind of like the skeleton of a cow and along the beams were the fireworks. He danced while they went off. It was insane. Then a man in a diablo costume, with wings as tall and wide as the man, began dancing as his pyrotechnics (attached to the wings) went off. It was seriously one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.

Once the cow and the devil stopped dancing (and didn’t die as explosions were going off from their costumes), they lit more fireworks (about 10 feet away from us) that exploded in the sky, over the village. To be gathered all together, under the stars and a full moon (the clouds cleared!), while fireworks went off straight over our heads–well, I just can’t even explain it.

Arnulfo, another student of maybe 14 years?, came to stand by me. He was shy and timid about it, but I put my arm around him and there we stood as the light exploded in the sky. I told him, “No quiero salir manana. Me amo Chimaxyat y yo necesito la gente de esta comunidad en my vida toda dia.” (I don’t want to leave tomorrow. I love Chimaxyat and I need the people of this community in my life every day.)

He looked at me, eye to eye and said, “Te gusta Chimaxyat?” (You like Chimaxyat?) “Si, me amo.” (Yes, I love.)

He simply beamed. And my heart broke a little. It hit me–I would have to leave. I have to leave.

Once the fireworks were over, we all just danced and danced and danced to the marimbas. The ground was a muddy mess and we slipped and slip and laughed and danced.

Eventually they needed to turn off the generator and we needed to pack. And this meant we had to say goodbye. One by one we hugged and I found my students. “No quiero salir. Tu eres en mi corazon siempre.” (I don’t want to leave. You’re in my heart forever.)

Maria was particularly hard to say goodbye to. I’m not sure why, but when we looked at each other, every time during the week, we were … connected. Something different lingered, existed between us. I hugged her and squeezed her hand so tightly.

Delia was another one. She followed me as I hugged each person, yet hung back, soon becoming brave enough to come over and hug me too. I cried through most of it (of course #weeper). I just love these people–their children especially. All I can think about is how to get back here. How do I get back to Chimaxyat? How do I keep these beautiful people in my life?

This week has made me step back and look at what really matters? What do I want? I don’t know that I really have any answers, but an experience like this forces you to ask a lot of questions.

After a million “adios” “muchas gracias” and “Bantiox” (thank you, in Q’eqchi), we began to pack. The villagers lingered and watched and stayed till the lights went out. Although the marimbas continued long into the dark of night.

And now we sleep.

After the best. day. ever.

Guatemala, Day 5 – Rain, A New School, & the Hospital

A recap of my experience traveling to Guatemala on a philanthropic expedition with CHOICE Humanitarian. Click Here for Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4. The following is my journal entry from Day 5.

21 August 2013 – Morning notes

I woke early and left the sleeping quarters to read my scriptures. Now I sit in near silence listening to the rain. I love the rain here. It comes with unrelenting purpose. And the sound as it falls through the leaves of the trees … Allison said it best: “I have an app for that! Something is wrong with that.”

The rain falls harder and the tin roof responds. Puddles ripple on the concrete floor, filled by streams pouring out of the gutters. As I sit watching and listening, two young girls in full, colorful skirts are walking up the path, balancing wooden bowls full of corn on their shoulders. Turkeys gobble and cluck their way across the field and I can’t help but wonder–what is this world I’m in?

It’s a question I ask myself almost every hour here. There is still so much to understand. But all I know, is that despite the minor discomforts I am experiencing, I love it here.

This morning as I read my scriptures, I came to this verse: “And now, as ye are desirous to come … and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.” Isn’t that what I promised at baptism? Yes. It is.

And I wonder–do these people need my comfort? They don’t seem to mourn, despite their lack. In fact, they are such a happy, gracious, giving people. And I can’t help but also wonder if that’s not the cause of so much mourning in the United States–our abundance. (Obviously, I know these people mourn. We all mourn for different reasons. But they also seem to need nothing more than what they have. How would it be to be content with what I’ve been given? What I’ve had taken away? To need nothing more than what I have.)

However, poverty is intolerable–that is true. And there is much to be done here to help this village out of its poverty. I hope I can find more ways to help them. And to stand as a witness of God like I have promised I’d do. For this, I clap my hands and exclaim, “this is the desire of my heart.” Because really, are we not all beggars?

21 August 2013 – Evening notes

After breakfast (eggs, beans, toast, and jam), I went to the school again. I was just planning to observe, but when I got there the teacher asked if I wanted to teach more English. I, of course, was game and the children had already made a list of things they wanted to learn on the board. We dove right in.

First, I quizzed them on what I’d taught them yesterday and they totally remembered everything! It was so exciting to me. They remembered! Today we learned fruits, pronouns, colors, items in a school, and what their names “are” in English (i.e. Gertrudis=Gertrude). Again, it was so fun. I wish that I’d had time to draw up lesson plans and do more than just review words, pero esta bien.

The kids are wild about futbol here, even the girls. And even in their skirts.

After school, we just relaxed and had lunch and enjoyed the company of our expedition group. Then it was time to go to the inauguration of a school in a neighboring community. They had a big production planned that began with the young students acting out the story of the Spanish Inquisition. It rained. And rained. And oh. It rained! I was soaked, but it was so fun to watch the kids (slipping and sliding) as they acted out their parts in the rain and mud. One boy slid down the hill “backstage” and took out a whole grupo de Mayan women. I about peed my pants, I was laughing so hard. So did they, I think.

Once the play was over, we went into what looked like an auditorium. There was a stage at the front with a couple rows of chairs for us, the guests of honor. The village leader welcomed us, then a religious leader prayed (I found out later that this particular community is nearly 100% LDS. Crazy!), and then they brought out this corn milk stuff for each of us. It was a gesture of generosity to their guests of honor–but it was awful. And we had to drink it. All of it. It was served in little coconut shells for “cups” and it tasted like nasty corn chowder without corn kernels, but with sugar. And it was lukewarm. Even now, as I think about it, I dry heave a little. It took a lot of will to swallow it down, but I did it. (Please bless I never have to eat anything like that again.)

After finishing the corn milk, the students had another play for us, which was also about the time Kelly (one of our group members) began to get sick–really sick (but not from the corn milk). He was rushed to the hospital ahead of us and we followed behind. We had already planned to take a quick tour of the hospital after the inauguration, so it kind of worked out well, except for the fact that Kelly was gravely ill and the hospital was severely lacking. It was new and clean (oh blessed toilets!) and quite amazing really–another CHOICE group had helped complete it only three weeks ago–but it is lacking government support (support the government promised) so–no IV or medicine, which is really “all” he needed.

So we waited and waited and then waited some more. Honestly, I began to get a little annoyed. I felt like this hospital visit could’ve been prevented had he listened to his body and not pushed as hard as he did at the worksite, but what are you going to do? It wasn’t like we could go back to the village; it was a 30 minute bus ride over rocky, steep terrain.

Finally, we walked to the top of the hill and hung out with some locals of this particular village until the bus came. We had bike races (rickety bike races), shared candy stashes, and chatted. One man came up to me and Allison and said he’d lived in Mississippi for a little bit. While there, he’d seen on the Discovery channel a show about Nascar (although he didn’t know that’s what it was called. He just described the fast cars and racetrack) and he wanted to know if the show was true or false–did such a thing really exist? Si. Es verdad.

Then he wanted to know about that fishing rednecks do (noodling), where they “put their hand in the mud and the fish will swallow their arm.” Is this true or false? Did people really do this? Si. Es real, por desgracia. (Nascar and noodling. Apparently that’s America? At least in Mississippi, I guess.)

By this time, it was dark and we had no idea how long it would be until the bus came. It gets dark here around 6:30 and the path from the road to our village is incredibly steep and very slippery–especially after the rain. I was feeling a little nervous about how this would all work.

The bus finally came around 7:00. We had been waiting for three or four hours at this point, with no food or chairs, etc. (Yes, I realize the ridiculousness in pointing this out. The poor Americans had to go four hours without food or chairs. Waa.). But hallelujah we made it back (gosh dang, they zip those buses around the mountain curves so fast) and the men in the village had come up to the top of the hill to walk us down–each of us. They had extra light and walking sticks, which was so kind and helpful as we only had two lights amongst all our packs. No one had anticipated being out past dark.

Dinner was waiting (noodles, BBQ-ish? pork, beans, tortillas of course, and an apple cake que era muy delicioso). It was a heaven-sent meal. Oh and speaking of tortillas, I helped in the kitchen today for a brief moment. I’d seen where the villagers grind their corn earlier in the day; they have a community mill that they all bought together. Before the mill was purchased, the ladies had to grind the corn by hand with a mortar and pestle. I wanted to see the whole process though, so I stopped in before lunchtime.

Here’s how it works: They start with an ear of corn which they shuck and then hand-pick the kernels off of. Hand pick! There are tools in the States that could do that in seconds. Once they have a bowl full of kernels (look at the size of that bowl below!), they bring it to the mill to be ground. The mill is operated once at 6 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. Usually it’s the daughters who bring the kernels from home for grinding. In the morning they bring the corn for their breakfast tortillas. Then, in the afternoon, the women go through the whole shucking/kernel picking process again and the daughters bring it to the mill for their evening tortillas.

Once ground, you add a little water to the corn, then knead it into a dough. Then the ladies take a small lump of dough and work it in their hands like pottery. They’re so fast and theirs obviously looked perfectly round and perfectly flat. Mine were shoddy in comparison, lumpy and lopsided, but it was still fun. It’s amazing the conveniences we have in the States that we don’t even think twice about.

So back to dinner–we ate, hung out quietly as a group, retreated to our sleeping quarters, and then had our nightly group meeting where the floor was opened up for discussion points. John raised his hand and pointed to all the heads peeking through the windows watching us and reminded us of all the heads that also peek over the wall every time we eat.

“I know we’re all tired,” he said, “but tonight we’ve been in our own little world and those people came to see us. Just to get a little glimpse. A little interaction. So maybe we can muster a bit more oomph and really show them how much we love and appreciate them.”

He was so right. We were tired. We were worn out. We were a bit frustrated by the events of the afternoon. But these people had walked through the rain and mud and dark to be near us. We needed to reach their reaching. So as soon as our meeting was over, we all went out to talk and play. And of course the walls and boundaries of culture and language came down even more. The children are getting braver about coming up to talk to us. We’re building this little community between us–sadly, only to leave it so soon. I don’t want to squander the time I do have. And I need to not be self-conscious. My Spanish doesn’t have to be perfect. And yeah, I’m not bouncy and young and crazy fun like some of the younger girls in our group. But I can be me and I can give everything I’ve got while I’m with them.

Speaking of kids, there was a moment of sadness, a pang of shame, for me this morning. I’ve mentioned this before, but when we eat, or really when we do anything around the tables at the school, a large crowd of villagers gathers in a line against the wall, their heads only visible above the brick. And they watch us eat. They watch us play. They watch us have meetings and talk.

Today as I ate my breakfast, tiny Rigoberto popped up on the wall, clinging to it with his arms and trying not to slide back down. After a quick toothless smile and a “Kreeesta!” he continued to watch me as I brought each bite to my mouth. After a couple minutes, our eyes catching every so often, I had to get up and go “hide” in the room so as to compose myself.

Once I was behind the wall, the tears fell. Are they hungry? Did he get enough to eat today? Yesterday? How can I eat with such abundance and enjoy all the things I have, when they have nothing.

It took me a few minutes to compose myself and Allison had to remind me that Dr. Ambrose said the children are healthy–no distended stomachs–they are happy and energetic. So I know they’re okay. I just … I just have so much. And they have so little.

Guatemala, Day 4 – Teaching in the Schoolhouse & A Discothèque

A recap of my experience traveling to Guatemala on a philanthropic expedition with CHOICE Humanitarian. Click Here for Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. The following is my journal entry from Day 4.

20 August 2013 – Morning notes

I’m feeling better! Although I wanted to kill that damn rooster this morning. He started crowing around 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. when it was still dark. Aren’t roosters supposed to wait till the sun comes up? I think we have a defective rooster in this village. And that was only a few hours after I’d finally fallen back to sleep after having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

I wasn’t scared to go by myself, even in the dark jungle, so I grabbed my headlamp, slid on my sandals, and trudged across the field to the latrine (thank the Lord in heaven above that we have a latrine, albeit a smelly one filled with roaches and spiders and other crawly things. While I’m seriously over the outdoor “plumbing” here, I’m really grateful it’s not just a hole in the ground.).

After I finished, I started to make my way back across the field when two eyes caught the light from my headlamp. A dog (oh crap). He started barking like he was going to devour me. I tried to stay calm and walk quietly back to the school, but man, he was wailing. I began to have visions of being torn to pieces by wild dogs. They’d even eat my bones, I was certain of it. No one would find me. No one would even know what had happened to me. This was it. The end.

I flashed my light back his direction to see if he was getting closer and saw another set of eyes. Awesome. Now there were two ravenous dogs barking, ready to pounce and me, alone, in the pitch black. That’s when I started running.

Thankfully, I made it back to the school without being torn limb from limb, but I’d accidentally left the gate open and another dog (a scrawny one) had come in and wouldn’t leave. So here I was, chasing this dog out from under chairs and tables, trying to keep him away from people sleeping in the classrooms (we have no doors on our sleeping quarters), all while under the influence of two Ambien (Yes. Two. What? I wanted a good night’s sleep.). I was running into walls, tripping over my feet, trying not to wake anyone up and get that stupid dog out. It was hilarious sight, I’m sure.

Eventually, I got him cornered and out, shut the gate and walked (wobbly/crookedly) back to my deflated air mattress. This place sure is a world turned upside-down. But I’m excited to see what the day brings.

20 August 2013 – Evening notes

I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime today.

After breakfast (eggs, toast, papaya, y fried bananas) everyone went to the worksite. Though I felt inordinately better, I still had a headache waiting on the edge of consciousness so I stayed behind. I didn’t want to just sit around though, so I went to the school. El maestro invited me in and asked if I would teach some English.

I didn’t even need to think twice. I went straight to the board and dove in with “My name is…” and “How are you?” We also learned the days of the week, months, rooms in a house, and animals.

That’s me being a mono (monkey). haha I’m an idiot.

I wish I could explain how incredible this was. I was speaking in English and Spanish and teaching in both. And in fact, my Spanish is much better than I thought. I felt excited, enthusiastic, alive. And they were on the edge of their seats, writing every word, repeating after me, answering questions–so eager to learn. It felt like I was exactly where I needed to be, doing exactly what I needed to be doing right then. And honestly, I feel like could do that for the rest of my life. Like maybe someday, I’ll just leave everything and travel the world, teaching. Maybe. I just felt so happy, more happy than I’ve felt in a while. I needed that. My heart needed that.

After teaching, we had lunch (fish, boiled potatoes, vegetables, y tortillas) and then it began to rain so we were stuck at the school for a bit. When it finally let up, I went to the clinic, by way of Raul and Maria’s house. Maria had a baby seven days ago. They were so gracious to let us in and see the baby. He was precious. Maria had had him in their home with the help of a midwife after five hours of labor. We learned that she and the baby stay in the house for 40 days after the birth, at which time, they will then bring the baby out and name him.

Raul and Maria have the nicest house in the village. Raul worked for five years in Guatemala City to earn $3,000 to pay for the home. When he was going to school, he would get up at 5:00 a.m. and walk four hours to school, stay at school until 1:00 and then walk the four hours back home. He said it’s different now though–students only have to walk 45 minutes to catch a bus.

After visiting with Raul and Maria, I went up to see the progress on the worksite. The team has really worked so hard. It’s amazing what they can do, especially when using the makeshift tools provided by the village. That’s one criteria for CHOICE projects–it’s the village that comes up with the need, the plan, the tools, etc. We are there only to assist. It’s about creating a culture of self-reliance, not charity. (But my goodness it would be so much easier if we could just get a backhoe in there.)

After a bit, I went to the clinic, where the dentist (who services all the villages in the area) had come to pull a tooth and Dr. Ambrose was visiting with patients. I got to accompany him on one visit. A young mother with three children has had pain, discharge, and occasional blood when urinating for the last three years. Dr. Ambrose examined her and all she had was a yeast infection. For three years! I can’t even imagine having a yeast infection for three years. My heart broke for her. He gave her a box of medicine (a box of medicine we can buy over the counter and with which we can heal ourselves in seven days) and she was on her way. The things we take for granted.

After the clinic, we went back to camp and had dinner (turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, rolls, y peach empanadas). We were all just hanging out, talking. This is usually when the villagers come to watch us. Well tonight, John hooked up some music to the generator and we had a bit of a discothèque in the muddy field. SO. MUCH. FUN!–all of us Americans dancing (looking like idiots really), trying to get the villagers to dance with us.

The kids loved it, though many of them were too shy. They copied everything we did. Allison even got one of the village elders to join her; I’m pretty sure he’s also the oldest man in the village. It was hilarious and everyone in the village cheered wildly as he danced to “I’m Sexy and I Know It.” The leaders of the village even decided to leave the generator running an extra hour because everyone was having so much fun.

At one point, I looked up and, no lie, the clouds parted to show a full moon. I looked around me–all of us dancing Americans and Guatemalans and I really needed to pinch myself. Am I really here? Am I really doing this? It’s amazing.

 

Guatemala, Day 3 – The Worksite

A recap of my experience traveling to Guatemala on a philanthropic expedition with CHOICE Humanitarian. Click Here for Day 1 and here for Day 2. The following is my journal entry from Day 3.

19 August 2013 – Morning notes

I woke to the most fantastic sounds this morning–a dozen different chirping birds, crickets in the trees, a gobbling turkey wandering across the field outside the school where we slept, a rooster doodling outside our “room” (although truth be told, I’d like to simultaneously strangle and kiss that rooster).

My back was killing me, but I got up anyway (that cement floor is HARD! even with a mat!). And again, I was amazed that I am here. I have a feeling I’m going to be saying that every day.

The grass in the field was dewy and lightly lit by the rising sun coming up between the trees and the mountains. I took a few pictures, then sat down to read my scriptures with Emilia. Emilia is Marta’s mother, and Marta is the wife of Jorge, the in-country director for CHOICE. She’s got to be in her 70s or 80s and is an absolute doll. She has the best laugh.

Emilia

By the time we had finished reading, John, Becca, and Jorge Jr. had joined us. It’s kind of fun to be on this expedition coincidentally with so many members of my faith as CHOICE isn’t an LDS-specific organization. But there’s a special bond, an immediate connection, when you meet/find another Latter-day Saint. Your hearts are immediately drawn close by an understanding of, and a love for, our mutual faith.

19 August 2013 – Evening notes

What a day today has been. After breakfast (tortillas, beans, eggs), we went to the worksite. We all had shovels and pics to begin digging the foundation for the water tank. The men in our group really went at it. I was tired before we even started. The hike to the worksite was pretty strenuous–uphill and really muddy/slick–albeit incredibly beautiful through the jungle.

We passed some of the villagers’ homes on the way. They’re humble and clean, despite the dirt floors. They all had open doorways and clothes hanging from lines in the “yard.” A number of homes had incredibly beautiful gardens.

We had worked all morning, 8:00 to noon, digging out the foundation, when the inspector came (who knew they had inspectors out here?). Aaaand, he told us we’d been digging in the wrong spot. The villagers had selected the location and had cleared the brush before we came, but apparently it was too close to the old water tank (which had been contaminated, hence the need for a new one) and needed to be higher up. This was really disheartening, to say the least. We were all exhausted and drenched in sweat.

Jorge felt really bad–nothing like this had ever happened on an expedition before–and the villagers worried we would just adios the whole thing. But we just shrugged our shoulders and went to find a new suitable site. What can you do? Get back to work, that’s what. Once we found a good place, the men pulled out their machetes and began clearing the land as we were now really starting from scratch.

It was at this point, however, that I began to feel really sick. My head was pounding and I was shaky and feeling nauseated. I’d been guzzling water all day, but apparently not enough. I knew I was dehydrated. We went back to the school for lunch (tortillas, vegetables, noodles and meat–I really could’ve gone for a salad), and then everyone went back to the site.

I was getting worse so I stayed behind and rested. I was in and out of sleep, head pounding, super lethargic, and not getting better, despite the glasses and glasses and bottles and bottles of water. Within a few hours I began to cry. I was feeling horrible and could not see myself getting better so I found Mitch (our group leader and another member of my Church), and he and John gave me a blessing of healing, which gave me a lot of peace mentally and spiritually, but physically I was still feeling awful.

Around dinnertime, I got even worse and eventually, I began to vomit. It was awful and violent. There I was, bent over in the dirt behind the aqua school house, trying to keep my spewing away from the dogs and the chickens (and the people), when sweet Emilia ran to me and gathered my head in her hands–one hand on my forehead, one hand on the back of my neck–as I heaved on my knees. The love and healing and tenderness poured out of her hands and into me. She is an angel.

I began to feel a little better after that. Marta made me some root/herb tea. I’d never tasted anything like it before, but it calmed my stomach and I was able to rest. Amy, another expeditioner, had some electrolytes which also helped a ton and by bedtime, I was feeling much better. I’m still a bit woozy in my head, even as I lay here and try to write, but I know the Lord has blessed me. I will be okay.

Things I don’t want to forget about today:

  1. holding hands with the children–Rigoberto y Moises–on the way back to camp
  2. having the kids learn my name and yelling it every time I walked past: “Kreeesta!”
  3. the fireflies in the mountains at night
  4. the sound of the rain on our tin roof as the generator and lights are turned off
  5. little Melvin (age 6) climbing barefoot up the hill with a log on his head, followed by his padre, and then his abuelo. It broke my heart, but that’s how they get the firewood to the top.
  6. French-braiding Karmen and Norma’s hair
  7. tiny little Walter sitting beside me to look at the pictures on my camera, stroking his hand back and forth along my leg. And Norma resting her head on my shoulder. And Karmen wrapping her arms around my neck. As we just sat.

It’s been a really difficult, uncomfortable day. Yet, I still feel so happy. It’s surreal to be experiencing this place, in this extraordinary way.

Please Father, help me heal so I can help more tomorrow. I love these kids and their families and am so grateful to be here. And thank you for the healing hands of Emilia, Mitch, and John. Please bless them.

Guatemala, Day 2 – Arriving in the Village

A recap of my experience traveling to Guatemala on a philanthropic expedition with CHOICE Humanitarian. Click Here for Day 1. The following is my journal entry from Day 2.

18 August 2013

We made it to the village!

We loaded onto the bus at 8:00 a.m. and headed out of Guatemala City. And oh my, what an amazing ride it was. And by amazing, I mean crazy. I knew our driver knew what he was doing, but we just don’t drive like that in the States. He was swerving in and out, passing with traffic coming head-on, racing up and down hills … oddly enough though, I wasn’t scared in the least.

The landscape was incredible–so lush and green, which is totally cliche to say, but I don’t know how else to describe it. It was everything you would imagine a South American jungle to be.

We stopped for a quick lunch at a resort on a lake (our last moments of “1st world”) and then drove on for another 45 minutes, at which point we stopped and changed buses. Meaning, we got off the nice tourist bus and hopped on the un-airconditioned, one-step-above-a-”chicken-bus”-bus. The remaining three-ish hours of our nine-hour trek was mostly dirt road and we needed something that could handle the terrain and the mountain climb.

It. was. great! I had my window open and eyes agog the whole bumpy ride and never once did it feel like a nine-hour drive to me. I loved every second and couldn’t soak it all in fast enough. I could’ve driven for another nine hours. I just wanted to see everything.

Soon after changing buses, we entered the Polochic region and climbed the mountains to the very tip tops. Truly, I’ll say it again, this is such an incredible experience. And so so beautiful. It’s hard to believe it’s real. As we drove, little children would wave by the side of the road, “Gringos!”

Side note: we also, oddly enough, passed two Latter-day Saint (Mormon) churches (!). One was Spanish-speaking and the other was Q’eqchi’ (the indigenous Mayan dialect here). I even saw two missionaries walking the dirt roads between villages. (I can spot those white shirts from a mile away.) Such a testament to the Lord’s admonition to take the gospel to the corners of the world. To every climb. It made me so happy.

As we drove, I couldn’t help but wonder–what are these people going through? What are their hopes, dreams, and desires? What are their questions? What answers and comfort and hope could the (would the) gospel of Christ bring them?

Once we “arrived,” we still had to climb down a steep, slippery hill to get to the village center and schoolhouse. As we reached the end of the path, all the villagers were waiting for us–well the women and children were, at least. The men had climbed up to the top of the hill to carry our bags down for us. Good thing too, because I barely got my body down that hill. There’s no way the bag would’ve made it too, had I been left to my own devices.

It was overwhelming and in a sense, emotional, to see all those beautiful people gathered to welcome us. A few brave children came close to check us out and smiled wide when we took their pictures.

Once all the luggage had been brought and everyone was gathered (Seriously. The whole village came to greet us.), the leaders of the village stepped forward to welcome us officially. Their speeches had to be translated from Q’eqchi’ to Spanish and from Spanish to English, but they basically said that they were so glad to have us, that they were so grateful that we would come to help them with their water system, and that the spiritual leaders of their village had begun praying for us two weeks before our travels began and throughout our journey to their home.

Then one of them asked to pronounce a blessing on us. We don’t know what we said, but he began to pray and it was the most amazing experience as other villagers began to pray too. Soon, all these individual voices were speaking, simultaneously lifting their voices to God (Gods? I think they might believe in more than one.), all saying different things, but collectively praying, pleading, and blessing on our behalf.

I closed my eyes to take it in and I hope I always remember that sound–all those voices. Praying. I wanted so badly to raise my voice too, to join in their prayers, but I just raised my thoughts.

(I did find it interesting that no women joined in??? At least none that I saw.)

After the blessing, we introduced ourselves. At one point, Dr. Ambrose, an OBGYN from California who came on the expedition to offer medical training to the village, said his name was Anton and one of the older villagers jumped up and said his name too, was Anton. Then he said (in Q’eqchi’, of course) in honor of this delightful coincidence, “I am now going to play you a song, and you will dance.” It was hilarious, but Doc went along with it and soon we were all dancing with the villagers while Guatemalan Anton played his marimba.

After dancing, we had dinner (chicken, rice, and beans) and all the villagers watched us eat (felt a little funny). Then we painted nails (boys too!) and learned names.

It took me a little while to jump in. I don’t know why but I hold back, a little shy, in situations like this, but soon, a young girl, Gertrudis, smiled shyly and asked my name, “como te llamas?” And I was able to get in and start talking. My Spanish isn’t great and neither is theirs–the children are learning it as a second language as all of them speak Q’eqchi–but we got along just fine.

Gertrudis is 16 and likes her writing class at school (a girl after my own heart!). Josephina is 15 and likes matimatica and Benjamin is 10 and like Spanish.

I still just can’t believe I’m here and doing this. The generator has been turned off and it’s dark and the crickets (among other things) are chirping outside. I’m laying on a not-very-cushy sleeping pad on the concrete floor of the bright aqua schoolhouse … and I’m happy as can be. Amazed that I’m here experiencing this. Amazed that this is actually my life. Meeting these people–people who matter, to me, to God, to this world–in this tiny, remote, humble village in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle.

Father in Heaven, thank you, thank you for these people. Thank you for this opportunity. Please fill my heart with your love. Help me show that to them. Help me to know how to communicate. And help me be big enough to take it all in. I love you. And I love them. Already. I do.

Guatemala, Day 1 – A Prayer

Last year, in the midst of all the crazy, I went to Guatemala.

My company is a corporate partner of CHOICE Humanitarian and each year, our CEO selects a handful of employees to go on one of their expeditions. All our expenses are paid and we don’t even have to use any PTO (seriously, I work for the most amazing company). I was lucky enough to be included on the 2013 team. We traveled to a tiny village in the Polochic region of Guatemala, called Chimaxyat, to help them build a new water system for their village. This is a recap, albeit late, of my experience.

On the first night, rather than a journal entry, I wrote my prayer:

17 August 2013

Heavenly Father,

First, before I dive in to today, I need to say thank you again for your help last night as I spoke at that Girls Camp. You totally covered me. I felt like I had nothing left to give to anyone. Granted, that’s how I’ve felt for weeks, but once again, you filled me up.

I’m also so grateful to be here in Guatemala. I was blow away by the beauty I saw below me as we flew in. It’s so cool to see the world from that perspective. Your perspective. You really made us something beautiful here–this Earth. Thank you.

Thank you, too, for the safety we enjoyed today as we explored Guatemala City. I wasn’t nearly as scared as I thought I might be, and it was so fun to dust off my Spanish. I’m really excited and happy to be here.

Father, please help me–help me to see and understand–whatever it is that you need me to see and understand. Please help me to be open to thy Spirit, to let it into my heart and to listen to it. Please bless my new friend Allison with whatever situation brought her here on this expedition. Please give her comfort. And please help me be a good friend. Please bless my family back home while I’m away, that they will be watched over and kept safe. Please grant us safety as we travel to the village tomorrow. And please bless my body and spirit. Please help them to do the things they need to do–to keep up. In the name of Jesus Christ …

xo,

Krista

Quote Board – Eleanor Roosevelt

Because I don’t want to lose this quote. Does this mean I’m blogging again? Who knows?

“Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively. After a short time, a very short time, there would be little that one really enjoyed. For what keeps our interest in life and makes us look forward to tomorrow is giving pleasure to other people.

[…]

It is easy to slip into self-absorption and it is equally fatal. When one becomes absorbed in himself, in his health, in his personal problems, or in the small details of daily living, he is, at the same time losing interest in other people; worse, he is losing his ties to life. From that it is an easy step to losing interest in the world and in life itself. That is the beginning of death.

I have always liked Don Quixote’s comment, ‘Until death it is all life.’

Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: ‘A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.’

But there is another basic requirement, and I can’t understand now how I forgot it at the time: that is the feeling that you are, in some way, useful. Usefulness, whatever form it may take, is the price we should pay for the air we breathe and the food we eat and the privilege of being alive. And it is its own reward, as well, for it is the beginning of happiness, just as self-pity and withdrawal from the battle are the beginning of misery.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt, “You Learn By Living”