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.

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