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waiting4rain (profile) wrote,
on 9-6-2007 at 12:51am
Current mood: mellow
Music: Jars of Clay
Subject: Hope for Guatemala [the pictures are copyrighted. Don't copy 'em.]
Let me pick up where I left off on my last email:
"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." -Audre Lorde

As I have trusted, He has guided...

Friday, July 6th, in the darkness of 2:30a.m., my first flight out of the country began. I had the jitters, antsy with the anticipation of Guatemala. But aside from fighting off sleep, I also fought any fear trying to invade my mind.

We flew into the city, with a view of a volcano towering above layers of houses squeezed together in the hills, and cars disrespecting all of the road rules. On the end of that night, Melissa, the photographer, and I went up to the roof of our apartment to stare at that volcano. To our right was the sun beaming onto the mountains through the clouds. God's light was going ahead of us :).

The first Saturday on the job, Melissa and I visited a music school in the city organized by MCC worker Beth. Students young and old pay a small fee to spend one day a week learning music theory, voice and keyboard or guitar. The purpose is to give youth an alternative rather than getting involved in violent activity such as gangs, which are a too common thing in Guatemala City.

Day 2: On Sunday we took a 6 hour bus ride with our tour guide/MCC worker Nate into the mountains. Elevation = 9,000 feet. We slept at a hotel called K-Fear. Ironic, I know.

Day 3: Our first day out into a village, we brought along Osemar and Juan Pablo, two men working on the projects with MCC.

When we arrived, we walked through some cornfields, and emerged, like in a fairytale, in front of a hut-like house surrounded with bright pink and orange flowers. And there we met my first interviewee of the trip, a 102 year old man and his 75 year old wife! Their son's house was wiped down the mountain by a mudslide…MCC has helped them by providing cisterns which catch the rain and filter it so they could use it as cleaning/drinking water. That's one of the things I reported on.

We got to eat lunch with them – a feeling that I can't really describe. It seemed like almost a holy time, because we had come to serve them by writing their story, and yet they were serving us in return. I had a smile in my heart the entire time.

Day 3 (Tuesday). My favorite village, La Vega del Volcan. If your vision of paradise includes green fields and surrounding mountains flowing with fresh running streams, then I have seen it! Hehe. Of course this place isn't heaven – the people have suffered and struggle daily to supply food for their families', because there's such a small amount of land for each of them – yet the community is gorgeous and peaceful. MCC is trying to work with them to create ways for them to generate income and reap more food. For instance, they've helped to build fish tanks – big cement tanks filled with the fresh water from nearby streams – and filled them with trout. The families will grow the trout and have them to eat and/or sell. You'll see more of this story in the magazine article.
Here's Floriselda, the woman I interviewed, with her cuties. The rocks there behind her used to be cornfields, but were destroyed by the tropical storm.

Day 4 (Wednesday). The village of San Andres Cheoj. One other particularly moving experience for me was being welcomed by all of the community leaders. They all gathered together in their church, sitting on benches in a circle. The "mayor" stood up and welcomed us. We, in turn, stood up one by one and addressed them. Yes, I stood up and spoke in my English, saying something about how I was there to listen to their stories and write about them so that the people in the United States could pray for them and hear about the great hard work they are doing to help their community. Ironic – I am keeping my promise right now as you read this :).

Day 5 (Thursday) – Travel back to Guatemala City. Back to the apartment with running water to take a shower! During those three days in the villages, we slept over at Juan Pablo's house. A “rougher” experience (I know, though not compared to Africa..) because of things like going outside to go to the bathroom and sleeping in layers of blankets (it was REALLY cold up there!).

But I tell ya what, I prefer this way of traveling to simple tourism because you get to spend time in the people's houses and really see what life is like. The scenery is the added bonus. My breath was taken away every time I looked up at the stars. I wish we had as clear a view of the stars as they do…


On one of the nights while at that house, I was sad because everyone was talking and joking around, but I, the writer who needs to know things, couldn't understand what they were saying! It was exasperating, and most nights I collapsed in exhaustion – trying to understand another language is hard brainwork. You also feel very lonely. God spoke to me on both points. (And thanks, Oswald Chambers devotionals.) First, in the matter of having to work so hard to do a good job, He said, "Keep paying the price. Let God see that you are willing to live up to the vision." I responded by thinking, “The vision that God has given me is to give people hope through my writing. I'm here now with the right circumstances to live this vision out. Here I am, Father and LORD. Thy Will be done in me and through me.” In response to the loneliness – which was caused by the fact that everyone I knew was not around and I had no way to contact them – God asked me: “Will you become ill and disheartened, or will you see the LORD?” I chose to see Him :)

Day 7 - Time has gone by sooo slow. One week has felt like two. But time went faster as I entered into the second phase of my trip. Thursday ushered out my time in Western San Marcos and brought me in to a new place – Alta Verapaz, Northern Guatemala. This region wasn't as mountainous, and not nearly as cold as San Marcos – though it did rain more often at night and had a lot more bugs :p. In fact I got sick one day (see below).

Day 8 (Saturday). We stayed with a family - American MCC workers who've lived in Guatemala for 5 years – and have 4 kids. On this day we visited a school and I talked to students – all of them were older than 15 years old, and attending Middle School. MCC pays a portion of the students' tuition – the reason they are all older is that there was never a school in their community, or they were too poor to afford it. We also spent time with girls (who only spoke K'ekchi, an indigenous language) as they were learning how to weave.

Day 9 (Sunday) - Melissa and I had been working hard, every single day, from morning to night. (Journalism is pretty much a 24/7 job). We deserved, and had time for, one day of rest. This day was Sunday. And I was sick: I had gotten an amoeba in my stomach :(. I'll spare you the details. Heheh. Nevertheless, I was determined to join along in the day planned for adventure. We squeezed into our jeep, (6 kids piled into the back) and headed off for Semuc Champey, an excluded area of natural blue-green springs. Natural fresh pools were on different levels of land, separated by waterfalls. We spent hours there swimming, cliff jumping, and walking. What a joy-filled day! Exactly what I needed, exceeding my expectations!

On Monday, I visited and interviewed 19-year-old Ismael. We met his family – and what a welcome we had! Their faces were literally radiating with joy as they talked to us and served us a meal, and they were so excited that we, us North Americans from far away, would come to their home and talk to their son. I've heard about love like this, but wow, it was contagious and I didn't want to leave.

Day 11 – We didn't have much planned for this day. We visited the market and talked to two young ladies, but were thinking of laying low for the rest of the day. But God had something else in mind. We ran into one of Tara's (the MCC worker's) friends while we were there. He invited us out to his village to meet his son. So we decided to make the drive over the rocky roads out there. It turns out that he knew the entire history of the school and literacy program that MCC is working in, and talking to him completed and became the crucial part to my story. Praise God for divine appointments!

Later that day we went to another school where we again spent time with the girls learning to weave. We also got to join in their worship service and listen to them play the marimba. Then they asked us to stand up and say something, so, once again I and the photographer got up in front of this crowd of students to say hi and what a joy it's been to meet them, and a message of encouragement. By this point I was used to this and enjoyed doing it :). (Where was the fear now? :) ).

Another project MCC does is fund the literacy school which teaches reading and writing to anyone who hasn't had any schooling in various communities, mostly mothers and fathers. This is different from the Middle School because it focuses on adults who can't even read one letter of Spanish. Most people speak indigenous languages, and so often when they go to market and everything is in Spanish, they get cheated out of their money and in many other ways. It was neat to see so many adults eagerly learning how to pick up a pen, and hearing how they want to be able to read the Bible to their children.

Our last day in Alta Verapaz. Thanks for sticking with me. Though I was used to the rhythm of the day and life in Guatemala, I still, for some reason, had a very serious attitude toward my work. On Tuesday night though, God reminded me to be thankful. And my eyes opened to the wonderfulness and rarity of my circumstances – and I slept in peaceful bliss that night! And I woke up with a huge smile in my heart that has lasted even until this very moment!

What a difference thankfulness makes in your life. My whole attitude and outlook changed, and I was doing my work with a new fervor of spirit. Be thankful even for the small things.

When Melissa and I returned to Guatemala City and met up with Nate again on Thursday, Nate noticed the difference in my attitude compared to the first week. He said he could tell that I had gotten accustomed to being there.

My new attitude, combined with the new setting of Santiago Atitlan made the last two days my favorite! On Thursday, Melissa, Nate, and I were reunited and talked about the projects going on there over a meal. Afterwards, we met two other men working with MCC. They gave us a tour of the area.

In sum, hundreds of families' homes were destroyed by mudslides that came down from the surrounding volcanoes during Tropical Storm Stan. We saw fields of mud where houses used to be.
Check out how high this mud was.

MCC built new houses for 70 families. The government, who promised new and bigger houses for the people displaced, has yet to build those houses, and it has been two years since the storm hit. What does that mean? It means that people are living in temporary housing that was meant to last them for 10 months. Everyone shares bathrooms, showers, and kitchens, and sadly, it looks like a refugee camp. The government will be building the homes – but it'll probably be another two years before they're finished, :(.
But, thankfully, the families MCC helped have their own living spaces and commodities.

Well after those sobering sights, we had good fellowship time with a family over a meal of corn on the cob with salt and lime. I completed my final interview, which was actually quite humorous, because the woman didn't speak Spanish, which meant that I asked my question in English, Nate asked it in Spanish, and our friend Juan asked the question in Tzutuhil. She would answer in that indigenous language, Juan would say it in Spanish, and Nate would translate it into English. It was fun! -- Even moreso because sometimes Nate didn't get the translation into Spanish right, so another friend of ours had to re-explain the question to Juan. It was a good group effort :). Picture the group of us – English speaking, Spanish speaking, and Tzutuhil speaking men and women sitting on stools and laughing together in a small room lit by one light bulb. Hehe :).

I need to attribute some of my improvement to the amazing people on the trip. Melissa helped me to loosen up and be myself by being goofy herself. Nate and Tara were information machines. I really thank them.

Something great I realized about what I was doing – because the MCC workers were there as I asked the Guatemalans about the positive effects of the MCC projects, the workers themselves learned and I could see on their faces that they were encouraged by hearing the people's thankfulness and how their projects have helped them.

After my last interview that night, the group of us decided to go to a fair taking place in the nearby town. We took a taxi – meaning that we hopped into the back of a pickup truck and stood up while holding onto a metal rig in the center of the bed. It was great because we had the wind blowing in our hair as well as a good view of the stars and the lake.

At the fair Melissa and I jumped on a trampoline – getting many stares from the Guatemalan teenagers staring at the silly “gringas”. And then me, Nate, Melissa, and another girl risked our lives on a Ferris wheel which was rusty, rickety, and in some places, held together by ropes!

On Friday, we went to a meeting to speak to women who make beaded jewelry and sell it together. Because the lake is a pretty touristy area, they've been able to make a decent amount of money for their families :).

After that last journalism duty, Nate, Noé, Melissa and I took a boat across the lake. Did I mention that there are volcanoes on either side of it? That's why it attracts a pretty big amount of tourists. Because we were the last ones on the boat, Nate and I got front “seats” on the bow. Then Melissa and I went shopping through the market to buy some nice hammocks – I wanted to get my hair braided but unfortunately could not find anywhere to get it done. Oh well. It was a great short trip to Lake Atitlan.

Do you want to hear more stories? When we got back to Guatemala City on Friday night, Nate, Melissa and I went out to eat at a restaurant owned by a man from Palestine. He reminded me of the stereotypical Italian with his black, slicked back hair and unbuttoned collar, and his mannerisms too. But he sat down and talked with us and offered us some Arabic coffee. Of course we accepted. The result? Melissa and I went up onto the rooftop of the apartment when we got back and were singing and dancing to exert our energy.

In the morning, Shannon, Nate, Melissa, and I had a relaxing Saturday breakfast of pancakes and baked apples. Then Melissa and I headed to the MCC office to take pictures and check email; then Antony, the MCC Guatemala representative, took us to the historic place of Antigua (where Spanish colonists established themselves) to do some more shopping! And we ate at an Italian restaurant after beans and tortillas all week. Haha. A very touristy place. Arabic coffee and Italian food in Guatemala. Good times.

Anyway, Melissa and I had some practice with our bargaining – I made the silly mistake of mispronouncing “dolAres” and instead I said “dolOres”. So instead of saying “I don't have dollars” I said “I don't have pain.” To that the seller responded with, “Si, tengo dolores” (Yes, I have pain) because I was bargaining too low. Haha :). Both the seller and Melissa were laughing at me. It does make for a good laugh.

After our fun time shopping, we went back to Guatemala City for the last time. Melissa and I showed off our purchases including two colorful wrap around skirts to Shannon, and I decided to froe out my hair, and later Nate came over to hang out for a bit. And as our final goodbye/hoorah, we had fun taking pictures. So here are Shannon and Nate, two of our hosts for the 2 weeks.

For lots more pictures, see me :).


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09-06-07 7:46pm

Wow! Sounds like such an amazing trip! I'm glad that it was so spiritual for you and I'm glad that you had such an amazing time. The pictures are awesome.

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09-06-07 7:47pm

P.S. It's been far too long since you've posted. :D

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