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.


Fellow Workers said...
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Fellow Workers said...

Wow, you have really stepped into your element. I can see the TCK coming out in you as you move into this part of the world. You can rejoice in how God as made you. Enjoy!