Saturday, July 26, 2008

Guatemala, Part Colorful

Guatemala, Part Colorful:

Guatemala ignites your eyes with hundreds of different hues and colors. I tried to capture visually the beauty of the people and the country, which impacted me every direction I turned. I compiled a few select photos into the short photo essay linked above.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Guatemala, Part Kids, Volcanoes, and Well-Drilling

I am currently sitting in the Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City enjoying free wireless internet. This morning I was roasting hotdogs on a volcano. Last Sunday I visited the first mega-church I've ever been to with a parking garage 8 stories high and better technology than I've ever seen used at an event. A week ago I was thigh-deep in a slimy mud pit helping drill a well out in rural Guatemala. And a few days before that I was showing children magic tricks while they waited to see a dentist or doctor at the medical brigade in Lanquín.

It's been an eventful two weeks here in Guatemala, for sure. I got to do lots of really exciting things I didn't expect to be doing, and I met some really great friends along the way. Some of them were part of "CREA," which is an NGO Gladys and her friends are putting together. Some of them, surprise surprise, were from northern Idaho.

It's hard to say which part was my favorite, because each things had it's perks. I don't know the first thing about well-drilling, so getting to help unload the rig, fill the mudpits, and start the drilling was very interesting to me. The well is less than a foot wide, and to keep it from collapsing on itself once we got deeper we mixed this slimy solution of bentonite to coat the walls. This is the only time since science class in high school I've seen the word "high viscosity" used. After every 5 feet or so, when we needed to add another segment to the drill, Jeremy took a sample of the clippings so we could see what we were digging through. At this point I was recalling to mind the little illustrations in my science book with different "layers" of earth ribboned each in a pretty color. We hit the first water table at 25', but bored farther to try and reach a purer water source. We had to quit at 37'. Jeremy and Patrick, CI missionaries who've lived here for a while now, will complete the well after we leave.

So, well-drilling was fun.

The volcano was breathtaking. Partly because of its beauty. Partly because of the 7600 ft altitude and steep hike up. Partly because of the baking heat rising from below us as we walked over the lava beds. The volcano we climbed, Pacaya, is an active volcano. Very active. The last time I was here in Guatemala in December it was spewing ash. Right now the peak is steaming and there are flaming-hot heat vents all around. Last week some of our team got close enough to throw sticks into the magma. This week, however, we brought along hot dogs and marshmellows to roast. Made for a good snack.

I should probably explain that there were no guardrails on Pacaya. They told me that if you heard cracking or felt the ground beneath you giving way, you should move quickly because you were standing on a collapsing lava tube. It was rather unnerving to be walking on rock and hear a hollow echoing sound underneath you. The fact that the rock practically disintegrated under your feet was a little odd as well. Touching the cooled lava with your hands was dangerous as well, as it was like fibers of glass in the shape of frost crystals. It was like grabbing glass - it could shred your hands in seconds.

I just boarded the plane. Hmm, what a stroke of luck, I somehow got plopped in First Class! Sweet, plenty of leg room, comfy seats, and yummier snacks. You're kidding me, they even warm your nuts. Which, I guess I should clarify, come in a little white bowl and include cashews and almonds. I guess this makes up having to ditch my sweet leatherman multitool at the security checkpoint. That was a mistake to leave in my bag.

But if I had to pick a part of the trip that was personally the most fulfilling, I'd say it would be the weekend "medical brigade" to Lanquín. Lanquín is a small village with cobblestone roads and brightly-colored buildings. It's a rather remote area with very few resources and not many opportunities for the local kids. Some of the people we met didn't even speak Spanish - we had to have Quekchi (or however you spell it) translators to give them medical advice. Anyway, we were a team of 37 young people who went to partner with local churches and schools to preach, teach, give medical assistance, and do children's activities. Some of the team were young dentists, some doctors, and some helped with the pharmacy. I shot video of all the activities and had a great time "tumbling" and doing magic tricks with some of the kids while they waited for medical attention. It really was an honor to be a part of the team. I got to practice a lot of Spanish, as most of the team were young Guatemalans. They taught me all sorts of chapin slang. I was amazed at the diligence and long hours the medics and dentists worked. We drove ALL Friday night, arrived in Lanquín at 8 AM Saturday, and they worked the whole day until evening. The school bus we drove out there didn't make for comfortable sleeping. Sunday were kids activities, which were GREAT fun with clowns, piñatas, dancing, and singing. It was SO much fun and the faces of the kids laughing and singing is frozen clearly in my mind and I captured it on video.

One of the main reasons I stopped in Guatemala was to see my friend Gladys who I met a few years ago in Kansas City on a Youth in Mission trip. Community development work is something she's passionate about and works hard to get others passionate about, and so the timing of this trip worked perfectly for me to see what she and her friends do and be a part of it. I learned more about the community outreach organization her and her friends are forming, and some of the video and photos we took will be used for their team in future trips. Many of the Guatemalan doctors and dentists on the trip were given a chance to see a part of their country where the need is the greatest, and use their skills to help the locals and give them hope. It was a real honor to be invited to be a part of the Lanquín trip. And for me, it helped clarify my passion as well - helping people like Gladys and her friends who are reaching out to others in their community. The passion and fervor and dedication I saw in the young people on that team fills me with excitement to the point my stomach almost aches. An opportunity for me, a foreigner, to be a participant trip like this can only happen by invitation, and I am very, very grateful.

And so... en route again to San Jose, Costa Rica. I'm really excited about this next year of language school. During my time in Guatemala, I realized more than ever how important it is for me to learn Spanish to a point where I'm conversational. I missed out on so many fun conversations (and jokes about myself) by not understanding clearly what people were talking about.

P.S. In subsequent posts I will put up more photos and video from this trip. The editing and organizing of all the footage and over 4500 photos will be an ongoing process, but I'll keep you posted! I enjoy writing, but photos and video tell it so much better.

P.P.S. Speaking of writing, I was tasked with writing trip reports for both the Lanquín trip and the Zacapa well-drilling trip. I've attached them if you're interested in the details.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Guatemala, Part Day One

"Loose a tree in the forest. Hide a tear in the rain."

I wonder if it was flying all night with fewer than 3 hours of sleep. Maybe it was the pain of leaving family and friends behind, or perhaps it was cultural shock of being plopped in completely new surroundings. It could have been the 3-hour ride in the rain-soaked bed of the pickup. Probably the physical strain of helping load and unload 4000lbs of food had something to do with it. Could it be the paradoxical feeling of normalcy and belonging that I feel when I see armed militia drive by and shotgun toting guards protecting orange juice trucks and flower shops? Perhaps it was even a little bit of wonder and sheer awe that even over so many thousand miles from the life I left behind to here in Guatemala City, there are still so many connections and similarities, to my life in Haiti, to my life in Idaho, to my time in Kansas City... There's such a mess of reasons that might have filled my eyes with warm tears while the rest of my body was shivering from the cold rain soaking us in the back of the truck, that it's nigh impossible to pick out any single one.

The first miracle happened upon arrival at Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. Miraculously, all three pieces of luggage had made it safely through 3 different airports and arrived on the conveyor belt in Guatemala. The second blessing was that Guatemalan customs didn't slash open everything and rummage through my luggage, which is a courtesy I have received from TSA every time I fly into the U.S.

It may come as a surprise that the first thing I did after getting situated in the guest house I'm staying at was take a hot shower and then visit a local wholesale store much like Costco. In fact, it was identical to Costco, requiring a membership to enter the huge warehouse of wholesale items stacked ceiling high on palettes.

I met up with the team I'll be joining to go do missions work this next week. We're staying at the Calvary International base guest house, and right now the core team is composed of a few Calvary International missionaries, some people from northern Idaho as a part of a "Do something worth doing" trip, Gladys (who I met several years ago on a Youth in Mission trip), a few Guatemalans, and myself. We will be joined by a team coming down from the U.S. for a brief weekend missions excursion and then a week of well-digging after that. The weekend trip was set up as a part of an outreach NGO Gladys and her colleagues have set up called "CREA." The well-digging project is done through Calvary International.

The entire afternoon was spent transporting 150 boxes of protein-vegetable mix from USAID from a small storehouse in the middle of "a dangerous place" to Gladys' house. I'd say the safe transport of the 4000 lbs of food on the back of a small Kia pickup without any spills or accidents was a miracle in and of itself. Just during the trip a car in front of us got smashed off the road by someone who wasn't paying attention. The pickup cab only held 3 people, so myself and Andy from Idaho got the royal tour of Guatemala from the truck bed. The seating became much smaller after loading all 150 boxes in the back. The food is apparently part of the Church of the Nazarene's NCM program for pastors in Izabalito. Much of CREA's work has been in Izabalito - in fact I missed their "Christmas trip" out there by a few days when I was in Guatemala last December.

So that was day one in Guatemala. I kind of hope once we get out of the city, things will slow down a little. After about two weeks here I will continue on to Costa Rica, where another surprise awaits me! I have no idea where I'll be staying! The family that was previously planning on hosting me somehow fell through, so other options are being explored.

Even though well-digging, heavy-lifting, and sorting medicines aren't exactly skillsets I put on my application to work with MAF, I think that for this first year especially, while I am tasked primarily with learning Spanish and the culture, any opportunity I'm given to be a part of things like this is a huge blessing.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Nampa, Part Leaving

I sit under my favorite "thinking spot" here at NNU beside the prayer chapel on the Brandt Center Lawn. I never looked at the dedication plaque on the bench, but it's to Douglas Farmer, from his wife Elaine. I'm not sure who they are, but this bench under the drooping willow tree branches has been my favorite spot for several years now. The electronic bells clang the announcement of the noon hour, and the new sound of the fountain spattering on the rocks blends well with the wind hissing through the willow branches.

I leave tomorrow. I returned from Texas with two short weeks to pack up my life here in preparation for at least 4 years in Costa Rica.

The first week I spent planning and preparing, and also getting a shipment tested and sent down to Costa Rica via a church team in Florida.

This past week I spent packing, attempting to think ahead for future years as well as neatly bring closure to my living space here. Packing for just myself was not too difficult. I am leaving a lot of things behind I will probably need, but I opted to take less just so I wouldn't have the burden of worrying about all my "stuff." I understand I will probably be able to buy most anything I need there, it will just be far more expensive. Plus, I see buying things there as a way of injecting more money into their local economy, in a rather pathetic sort of micro-attempt at fuleing localized businesses and economy. At what point that became a moral duty in my head, I'm not sure.

Regardless, packing reminds me of how much excess I have. Even after packing all I'll need, I still have enough clothes and things to live for 2 more people - and that's what I've used for the past two weeks. All my neglected clothes I don't need.

I also have the bittersweet joy of going through all the sentimental cards and gifts that people have given me over the past year. I'm able to carry with me very few - tucked away in books, Bibles, or my journal. I wish I could take them all, but I think that I learned this year that people's kind thoughts and words are a continually-renewing source of encouragement for me - fresh, new, and energizing every time. Part of me wants to hold on tightly to the blessings I've been given. Part of me aches as I let them go. But part of me looks forward eagerly in cool anticipation for what new sources of joy and motivation may come. God always seems to give just enough for the moment, to keep us coming back for more.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, deciding what to take and what to leave. I've capped my packing at three check-throughs, two of them overweight. One weighs in at 49.2, one at 71.2, the last at 70.0 flat. This being because when I get to Guatemala, there is a different price for check-throughs at more than 50lbs and another price for more than 70lbs. For domestic flights there's one break - at 50lbs. Neither airlines allows more than 100 lbs.

The sermon on Sunday by Dr. Gary Waller was appropriate and convicting. It was from Luke 10 when Jesus sends out the 70 disciples, saying something to the effect of - take nothing with you, be a good guest, bring peace to the home of your hosts, and eat and drink what's given you, don't go from house to house looking for a better meal. Appropriate, I felt.

I'm glad I'm not the only person taking advantage of this nice cool spot at the prayer chapel. Three hispanic ladies have gathered to take their lunch break on a neighboring bench. One of them, Angelina, used to be a custodian over in Wiley. She goes to the intercultural church that I attend and she makes the best enchiladas I've ever had. Now she works in the business building. One of the ladies is her sister (she cleans Ford) and the other is her friend.

As my mind starts to board the plane and my body travels the distance
to another world and another culture, a few words of advice ring
persistently in my ears as I go.

I want us to be completely open, and say yes to everything, even if it's shocking and painful.
  • Francis - the Darjeeling Limited
I feel as though a coiled spring is unwinding inside me, sending me spiraling into the heavens, or down into the the abyss, who knows which...
  • Ernesto "Che" Guevara
When you first arrive as a guest to another culture
- just listen.

After you've been there for a while and know how things work
- just listen.

And after the new places becomes even more familiar than the one you've left
- still, just listen.

Just listen.
  • Grampa Bruce Blowers