Transfixus Sed Non Mortuus

Here I Stand, Pierced and Transfixed

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Unsung Hero

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Dear Future Mom

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Today is National Down Syndrome Day! Check out this beautiful video about it:

Anything for Love

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“Get a Bell”

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The day before yesterday, there was a lot of down-pouring rain on my bicycle ride in to work. The storms seemed to be short and the amount of rain seemed to vary from some fine soakin’ spells to points where it was hard to see. Part of my route takes me on a paved trail through a very nice park. The pavement itself is in a bit of disrepair, but it saves me from driving through some very busy intersections.

As I was overtaking a man in a blue rain jacket, I slowed down to a pace slightly faster than his. I tried to ring the bell I have on my bike to warn pedestrians that I am coming. Only a slight “clink” was heard. I hit it again and the same thing happened. The rain that had fallen on the bell had not only dampened the bell with water, it was also dampening the crisp clear sound that I was accustomed to hearing.

I came within about ten feet of the man, who was walking on the right hand side of the path. “Excuse me,” I said. “Coming up on your right.” He didn’t move or do anything, so I repeated it as I got even closer. “Excuse me. Coming up on your right…” At this, he turned sharply to look at me, and I smiled at him. He himself had a surprised look which turned into a scowl.

“Get a bell,” he hissed at me as I rode slowly by.

“I tried,” I said as I “clinked” the sound-deadened bell to show him that it didn’t work.

He responded with a bit of a superior tone saying, “Mine is $7 and works great.”

I said, “Mine got wet.”

By this time I was a few feet in front of him, and I just continued on my journey. However, the more I thought about the man, the more angry I got at him. I thought, “What was that guy’s problem? I acted rightly by warning him of my approach. I tried be a nice and friendly biker. I even slowed down so that I didn’t just shoot right beside him and startle him.”

All those things are facts. All those things are true. But the real fact is that I was so focused on what I was doing right that I didn’t REALLY consider the other man’s point of view. I startled him. He did have a surprised look on his face. Sometimes, when someone startles me, I can get upset when that happens. The same thing might have happened to him. The adrenaline might have kicked in and that might have kicked on his anger pathways in his brain.

In my opinion, I think that he acted poorly after I explained that I had tried to warn him, but that doesn’t mean that I deserve to be self-righteously angry at him. The truth for me is that I judged him to be a jerk simply because of his tone. That was a foolish thing to do on my part.

I need to continue practicing seeing every single person as my brother on this journey of life, no matter how they act or what they do. I can and should work towards goodness and justice, but I mustn’t forget that I have a duty to be respectful and love everyone, even if I don’t like what they do or did. That can be a hard pill to swallow, but I really believe that to be the case.

(from my journal, July 25)

Breakfast was at 5:30am this morning because the foreman at our worksite wanted us there at 7:00am. We were to help construct the roof of a new school for the Paso o Paso program (which I mentioned yesterday).

We had a very good breakfast, and for how early it was, the young adults all seemed in fine spirits and were ready to get down to business. They seemed excited to be able to work for all the people that they had met yesterday who showed them so much love without even knowing them. It seemed that Megan was really energizing the whole group with her own positivity and excitement. I must admit that I was definitely right there with them. I really wanted to do some good work for the youth at the Paso o Paso school, and in so doing, I would be helping the larger community.

Juan Carlos showed up a little after 6:00am, and we headed for the garbage dump community. Traffic was fairly bad, even though we were leaving an hour or two earlier than normal. Juan Carlos took us along some back roads and I was quite quickly directionally-challenged as to where we were. Juan Carlos was stellar as always. He remembered me from last time, and through Andres, we were able to have a laugh about how since I’ve visited him twice, he should come to see me in the States. While it might have been a joke, I would be very happy to see him stateside!

We arrived and entered the construction site. There was a large conical pile of sand about fifteen feet wide and about four or five foot high. There were three workers mixing cement into the sand. The foreman came around and started assigning duties.

Ryan and John began helping the three men mix the sand. The Guatemalans had an interesting technique for mixing the sand and concrete that was slightly reminiscent of my last time in Guatemala. To build the cone, they put a thin (maybe three inch) layer of sand followed by a layer of concrete, followed by a layer of sand, and so on until they had “enough.” What they did next was rather confusing for our group. They separated the larger pile of sand/concrete into four or five smaller cones. I helped a little bit with this separation, but I hadn’t remembered doing that last time I was working with Guatemalan concrete. However, I soon saw that this helped mix the concrete and sand together quite well. After they had the four or five smaller cones around the perimeter of where the large pile used to be, they then threw the sand/concrete mixture into one big flat cylindrical pile about eighteen foot wide and a foot and a half tall. I was called away to work on the forms, but the next stage is “the rocks.”

We had a little bit of a lost-in-translation moment at this point. Andres was not here, so we did not have anyone who was perfectly fluent in Spanish to help us figure out what everyone wanted. Monica was our best bet because she has a much greater grasp of the language than anyone else. The foreman told Monica that he needed “cuarenta” as he pointed at a stone. He meant that he needed forty LOADS of stone, but Monica took him literally and they started gathering forty stones total. Once they got that situation sorted, I think it was a good ice breaker/stress reliever for the young adults and the Guatemalans to laugh about us silly gringos.

Meanwhile, Annie, Jen, Megan, Nick, and I were working on the form for the roof. The hard work had already been done in terms of getting all the rebar up and tacked together. However, there were a lot of large and wide cracks that needed to be filled. Otherwise, the concrete would drip through as it was poured and it would be wasted. So, we wetted down the paper bags that the concrete came in, and tore off little strips of the paper. We would then stuff these into the cracks in the form to make a smooth transition from one board to another.

Nick filling the concrete form

Nick filling the cracks in the concrete form

It was a very slow process at first, but Annie and Megan both came up with better ways of doing it than when they first started. Annie asked for a stick to press the paper into the cracks easier and Megan learned to twist the paper into a long roll to make it easier to insert into the cracks. Soon, they were professional concrete-form-crack-fillers, and I was happy to see them work so hard.

Below me on the ground, I could see that all the young adults were working hard on the mixing and the rock-moving portions of the job.

The ladder we used for this project

The ladder broke once and they used a board to tack it back together

It was great to see them working side by side with the Guatemalan crew. I saw that Ryan and John were both looking really tired of mixing the rocks and dirt. They had been doing a lion’s share of that, so I got down and relieved them for a little while so they could catch their breath.

We got the concrete, sand, and rocks mixed with water, and then the REAL work began. Using buckets that hold about a gallon, the young adults formed a chain of people from the pile of concrete up the ladder and onto the roof. They would hand the buckets from one to another and up the ladder, where it would get poured in one of two wheelbarrows. The buckets would then be tossed down to someone waiting below to be refilled with the concrete mix. This was continued until the wheelbarrow was full, and then it would be dumped wherever the foreman requested (while the other wheelbarrow was being filled). The foreman would take his long trowels and smooth the dumped concrete into the form. That foreman was truly a master of his trade. He had a strong and steady hand.

At first, I was helping fill the buckets of concrete at the beginning of the chain, but Andres had returned to the site by this time, and he told me that the foreman wanted me up on the roof running one of the wheelbarrows. So, I clambored up there where Nick and I ran the wheelbarrows.

There was a lot of confusion at first, but the kinks got worked out pretty quickly. Nici was the catcher of the buckets that were gently tossed down. She did great, but sometimes, the buckets fell or were tossed wrong and that created a challenge. On the ladder, Sarah, Annie, and Ryan had some issues as well. Sarah is a good bit smaller than the rest of the group in stature, but she seems to have a big heart. She had to work doubly hard to lift those heavy buckets of cement. Sarah switched from tossing the buckets to handing them up the ladder, but she did just as much work as anyone else out there. Abbey was the last person to hold the full buckets of cement. She and I had a very good system down where we each held a corner of the bucket for the pouring into the wheelbarrow, and then I would give the empty bucket to the “tosser” on my left. Once the wheelbarrow was full, we would yell “switch” and Nick would be the one to receive the bucket to put in his wheelbarrow.

Because I was only working when my wheelbarrow was being filled, I did have a few moments to watch the young adults at their best. There was Annie, who did not want to leave her position on the ladder. Her peers would be willing to relieve her to allow her to take a break, but she would have none of it. Jen, Ana, and Monica were helping fill buckets and passing them at the beginning of the chain as quickly as they could. I saw John and Lauren working incredibly hard at passing the buckets of cement up the row, sometimes on the ladder and sometimes on the ground. Megan was up with me sometimes, and other times she was on the ladder. She was a hard worker as well. It really was a breathtaking sight to see all these people working so well to accomplish some real manual labor.

Towards mid-morning, everyone began to tire, and sometimes, some of the young adults would start zoning off. Then, the assembly line of buckets would slow. Thankfully, it didn’t take much prodding to get them back “in the game” though. They were really amazing. For four hours, we all worked, sometimes switching positions and giving other people breaks as needed, but I could tell that everyone was tired.

Soon enough, it was noon and we breaked for lunch. The foreman and the three workers decided to keep going because there was only about forty more buckets of cement left in that batch, which covered about one quarter of the roof.

We trudged back to the Coll school to eat our lunch. We rinsed the cement as best as we could from our gloves, boots, and arms. My hands were stained orange by my work gloves, but I was very grateful that I had worn them. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have had some blisters. A couple of the young adults and I had a good laugh about my “spray-on tan.” The orange stain wouldn’t come off with any amount of rubbing, so I resigned myself to my orange hands. We then went to lunch.

Some of the young adults had gotten some injuries during the workday. Quite a few had blisters on their hands, most notably were Abbey and Annie. They had gotten the same type of gloves, so I think that the canvas gloves they got were not very good at protecting them from blisters. Additionally, Annie had scraped some skin off her leg. My guess is that while she was on the ladder, the constant rubbing against the coarse rungs of the ladder did at least some of the damage. Poor Megan also had some cuts or blisters on her hands. Nici had some scrapes on her arms as well (probably from catching the buckets tossed down to her). Nick sat down in the corner of the biblioteca with a first aid kit and I offered up the use of my first aid kit (along with a few others), and we had enough supplies to get everyone at least protected from the elements again.

The translator who we had met yesterday from the Paso o Paso school and the policeman who were our security detail had lunch with us as well. John and I played a card game with the translator and got to know a little about her story. Her Anthropology professor at UCLA (where she studies) had taken her class to Guatemala to study some of the Guatemalan massacre and domestic violence, and she had come another time and found out about the Paso o Paso program. She decided to help them by working there all summer. She was very fluent in English and seemed like a very genuine and nice person.

She made fun of me for checking my watch during lunch. She and Andres talked about “sobre la mesa” and how I should learn to “relax and enjoy life.” I learned that in Guatemala, lunch is meant to be a much more relaxing time with lots of rest between lunch and the afternoon of work. I told her that those things were very hard for me to do when there’s concrete to be poured and work to be done! Both her and Andres laughed at that. I guess it’s cultural!

Lunch did eventually end and we returned to the job site. The time was about 2:00pm. The other chaperones, Andres, the foreman, and I stood around for a few minutes discussing whether we could finish the same amount of concrete that we had done in the morning in three hours (instead of the four it took us in the morning). We could not work later because of the police escort and a couple other reasons. I thought about all the wounds of the young adults and wondered if they would be able to handle it. They had really worked hard in the morning, but to work even harder might be asking too much. Nick went and asked the young adults what they thought. They also debated for a few moments, and then decided that they could accomplish that monumental task if they really put their minds to it. They put their hands together in a circle and yelled, “FOR THE CHILDREN!” Then, they got to work.

The process was the same as the morning. I helped with the mixing process from beginning to end and that was a challenge. I stepped on top of the pile at one point after the rocks and water had been added, and found out from the multitude of hand motions and words I didn’t understand that it was a bad idea to do that during this stage of the process. My guess is that it makes the cement compress to much. I made a few other mistakes, but none quite as major as that one (at least judging by the reactions of my Guatemalan coworkers). Pretty soon, I got the hang of things, but I still had a few moments where I thought I was doing the “right” thing to help, but my amigos signaled me to stop. I was confused a good part of the day, but I also felt like I helped them out a lot as well.

I kept an eye on the young adults as well as I could while I was working. I saw so many of them working harder than they may have ever before. I could see that Lauren was quite tired, but she was a trooper and kept at it no matter what. I could tell that little Sarah was exhausted, too. But she kept hauling buckets up, and she would yell how heavy those buckets were. I watched Ryan feel really tired and he seemed kind of out of it for a minute, but he shook that off and got back to work. Abbey, Annie, Megan, and Nici were all like little machines of work, and I was so impressed with how they handled themselves despite the injuries to their hands and legs. Ana was right next to me for a good part of the day, and even though she struggled, she barely let out a sigh of exhaustion. Those were just a few moments that I noticed, but all the young adults worked extremely well! There were people from the community who came to help us as well. There were little kids, older people, and what looked like a girlfriend or a wife of one of the workers. They all pitched in and did their part. I did feel bad for the girlfriend/wife at one point because I was backing up while filling up buckets of cement and stepped right on her sandalled foot with my big cement-heavy boots. I felt horrible and apologized profusely. Clumsy John strikes again!

Overall, those young adults really showed a loving spirit for the community of Guatemala. They fought through their exhaustion like champions. By the end of the day, their bodies were breaking, but I could tell that their spirits were soaring. They were shouting to each other how heavy each bucket was, and I watched in awe as they were able to overcome their pain and exhaustion in each second. Though I knew only a few of them a couple of days ago, I was able to feel a real sense of pride for them and their efforts. By about 4:00pm, we were actually a little behind schedule to finish by 5:00pm! As hard as they had been working, the young adults and chaperones really cranked it up another notch, and the Guatemalan workers did as well. Buckets of cement were flying up the ladder, and it was a sight to see!

By about 5:00pm, there was only about ten more buckets before we would run out of cement. We pushed through and finished those last ten very quickly. The young adults all cheered as the last bucket was poured into its resting place. Then, everyone scurried up to the roof to view their handiwork.

There was about a two foot by two foot piece that was remaining from finishing half of the roof! All the sweat and blood that went into that piece of roof was not lost on me emotionally. “These are some great people,” I said to myself. I gathered everyone together and took their picture with the roof in the background.

We had to go, but the Guatemalan workers looked very impressed with what we had accomplished. I spoke with a couple of them and found out that they were going to mix the last wheelbarrow load (to cover that two foot spot remaining) and then go home. They were very excited for their beds, and so I sang them a song, “Mi cama es bonita” (my bed is beautiful), and they laughed and sang a song about sleeping.

We then left the job site and headed for home. Considering how hard they had worked, I had thought the young adults would have been asleep immediately on the van ride home. Instead, they surprised me by being very active, and it seemed that they were very excited by what they had accomplished. I certainly didn’t blame them for that. I was truly amazed and grateful to each of them for their work.

We got back to the retreat center and peeled off our cement-laden clothes and I took a shower. It felt so wonderful to wash off the cement and to clear it away from some of my own scrapes and scratches. I went into the main area to find the group huddled around Annie. The poor young lady’s wounds had gotten even worse since lunch time. They ran from her knee all the way up to her hip on her right leg. I grabbed some wipes, and we tried to clean up the wounds and treat it for infection as best as we could. Andres had some very good antibacterial ointment, which Nick used with great care. Annie was a trooper the whole time, and didn’t let out a peep when we poured some of that antibacterial ointment all over her leg. I could tell it was stinging intensely, but she handled it all like a champ.

We then had dinner, and to my undying surprise, the young adults were still in high spirits. So much so that they asked at least a hundred questions about Andres and his love life. Andres was very good-natured about it all and answered all their questions. After dinner, we had a very nice reflection on the day and everyone went to bed. While they were still excited, it didn’t take long for all of them to fall asleep (or at least stop moving around). So, I soon dozed off as well.

Here’s the link to Part IV

(from my journal, July 24)

I woke up at 6am and got ready for the day. I spent some time getting myself ready mentally because we were going to take a tour of the garbage dump community. Last time, it really touched me emotionally, and I tried my best to prepare for those overwhelming feelings. I gathered my supplies for the day and we gathered in the chapel to pray. Andres led a very good opening prayer, and then we went and had a lovely breakfast. The high schoolers seemed tired and conversation was minimal, but as the meal continued, there seemed to be some excitement building in the youth, and I also soon felt very excited to be here.

After breakfast, we filed out to the parking lot, where we met Juan Carlos. Juan Carlos is a very cool guy. He always seems to wear very nice cowboy boots all the time. When he smiles, his face just beams up and around the corners of his entire face, and I can’t help but smile with him. Additionally, I feel like he can drive that van into any situation and take it out without a scratch.

Juan Carlos

Juan Carlos: an amazing driver and a cool person

I was amazed by Juan Carlos’ driving ability during the last trip, but I think I had forgotten HOW good he is. Traffic was as thick as a swarm of bees, with engines revving all around us and little beeps up and down the roadway. I could hear it long before we had pulled away from the parking lot. However, Juan Carlos was as serene as a swan as we pulled out into the madness of the city.

We encountered a traffic jam that apparently occurs daily. I watched as a number of people walked or stood by the road or on medians selling newspapers, flowers, gum, and other little things all along the motorway.

A Peddler of Flowers

A Peddler of Flowers

We rambled slowly along in the van like a great white turtle as the yards slowly turned to miles. In spite of being in the large Guatemala City, the mountains and volcanoes in the distance really lent a sense of awe-inspiring beauty to the whole place.

A View from the Van

A View of the mountains from the Van while we were in the traffic jam

I watched people in the cars around us, and they all seemed to be very busy with life. There were pretty ladies on cell phones making dinner plans, working class men probably making big deals, and there were tons of cars with tinted windows all around where you couldn’t see inside. There were also a few motorcyclists who went speeding in between the two lanes of traffic, which both John and I found very strange. Andres informed us that it was not illegal to do that in Guatemala like it is in the U.S. The only real requirement is for them to have a “license plate” number on the back of their helmets.

Motorcyclists with License Plates

Motorcyclists with license plates on the back of their helmets

We stopped by the Municipal Police Station, and picked up two policeman who would be escorting us and (hopefully) protecting us should the need arise. They wore large white hats with silver tips and bright neon green jackets. The white hats reminded me of safari hats because they came so low and were so wide. The policemen were named Eric and Carlos, and they seemed to be pretty good guys.

Carlos, one of the Policemen

Carlos, one of the policemen who helped keep us safe

We then headed to another zone of the city where the Francisco Coll School and the Santa Clara Nursery are to be found. Even though I knew what I was getting into, it was still a heavy shock to switch between the municipal building and lovely bright square surrounding it to this “red zone” of the city. Poverty stood out in stark relief everywhere, from the backdrop of dilapidated buildings and dirty streets to the tired and half beaten people we saw walking past on the roadside. The van turned down a narrow lane that I remembered well. On my right was the dusty soccer field where no grass grew, and on my left, people were sorting recycling while dogs and small children fought and played nearby. It was just as I had remembered it in my memories and dreams.

Dogs

Dogs Getting Some Bones

Little Lady by the Gate

A Little Lady by the Gate

Just past that, Juan Carlos turned the van down another narrow road where there was the long wall with beautiful murals and paintings on one side, and graffiti-filled blocks on the other. I saw the wall Francisco and I built last time, and the cement doorway we made as well. I felt a deep stirring of pride because it was still standing.

Juan Carlos parked the van and we filed up to the Francisco Coll school.

Centro Educativo Francisco Coll

Centro Educativo Francisco Coll


Andres banged on the door, and we were led inside. We saw childrens’ faces peering at us from the classrooms as we walked by. I looked for any children that I recognized, but I could see none. However, one smiling face that I did recognize was Sister Esperanza. She had that same wide and beautiful smile that spoke loads about what an amazing person she is. Her hair was still dark and long pulled into a braid that ran down her back, and she wore the familiar blue Guatemalan skirt with tiny thread-width splashes of bright oranges, yellows, and reds.
Sister Esperanza

Sister Esperanza


Then, I spied Alto Gracia and my heart skipped a beat. She has one of the most loving and accepting faces that I have ever seen, and it was wonderful to see her again. She has deep dark brown eyes and a quiet yet penetrating smile that washes over you with gentleness. I said a few words to her in Spanish, and she replied with a lot of words that I didn’t understand. I told her that I didn’t know what she just said, and she just smiled that radiating smile that I remembered from last time, and even though I didn’t understand, I knew that it was all right.

We all sat down on a wooden bench on one side of the courtyard that is in the center of the school. The children then all came out of the classrooms and they did a presentation for us. They welcomed us to Francisco Coll School and then they did a play for us which used some humor to portray how hard life can be in the garbage dump community.

A Play by the children of Coll School

A Play by the children of Coll School


It was sad to watch in some ways because I had seen a small bit of that life. However, they played up the silliness of not having anywhere to redress claims to. The little boy who played a policeman played his part well. He would look up from a newspaper and tell the people who were just robbed to leave him alone. I wondered what Eric and Carlos (our actual policemen) thought of the play, and I saw that at least one of them was smirking. The children were all laughing. I made eye contact with a little girl during one of the funnier moments, and she was laughing fully and freely. I couldn’t help but laugh along, even though my heart was opening up in sadness and compassion to these children at the same time.
One of the ninas from Coll School

One of the ninas from Coll School


Then, some other grades or “clases” gave different presentations. Some did dances and others hula hooped.
Some did dances and others hula hooped

Some did dances and others hula hooped

A few of the boys were doing forward flips, walking on their hands, and cartwheels over the cemented courtyard.

One boy doing a back flip

One boy doing a back flip


Boys doing handstands and cartwheels

Boys doing handstands and cartwheels


Spinning!

Spinning!


I had more than a little fear for their safety, but they seemed to know what they were doing. A couple of children played traditional Guatemalan instruments, and a couple played “Ode to Joy” on the recorder. All of it was wonderful. Then, the children gave us a little keepsake to remember them by. I think it was a very sweet moment for the high school youth. I watched some of them during the presentation, and they seemed quite impressed with the skill of the children, and it also seemed like they were still a little unsure of the situation they were in. I spoke a little with Ryan, and he seemed to be in the right space spiritually, and that made me feel pretty good about the situation thus far.

After the presentation, the children went out for a recess. However a few stayed with us because they were going to take us on a tour of the garbage dump community. We took off our watches, jewelry, cameras, and emptied our pockets into the biblioteca (library), which locked. We did not want to have anything of value on our persons during this phase of our tour.

The children led us out of the school and down a narrow lane. There was dog fices and mangy dogs all over the place in that first block and the place smelled of garbage because of the people sorting out the recycling so near to us. After my nose got used to the overpowering smells, I then began to smell the “real” smells of the garbage dump community. I smelled food cooking as we passed a woman frying potatoes, and we walked by a small window where a lady was selling some vegetables. The lady looked out from the shop’s shadows with a leathery weather-beaten face. “Buenos Dias,” I said with a smile, and she replied, “Buenos.”

We journeyed a bit further into the community and came to the rows of houses that International Samaritan had built. They were block and cement houses, and each house was about twenty feet long by twenty feet wide with electricity and running water. We stopped in one of these because one of the girls from the fifth grade lived there. Her mother and father were home, and the mother spoke to us through Andres. The mother thanked God for the house and blessed us. Then, she spoke a little bit about their lives. They had been living quite a few years before they were able to get a roof over their heads. But now, her husband was currently out of work and they were praying for work soon. I looked at the husband/father. He looked like an able and intelligent man, and I was saddened that he couldn’t find anything to do. I then looked back at the mother while she talked about how they are now working the dump sorting through the trash. She spoke of some of the dangers and how hard the work is, and my heart went out to her and the family while she described her circumstances. We took our leave of her home, and journeyed a little further into the dump.

The second house we came to belonged to a boy named Pablo, and was one of the shacks that was made out of found materials in the dump. His mother was currently out scavenging in the dump, so she couldn’t be there to welcome us. The roof was short and I had to duck to get through the doorway. There were clothes hanging on a line that crisscrossed the room, and there were two small twin beds on opposite sides of the room. That appeared to be the entire house. It had dirt floors and was dark and unlit. Pablo informed us that he and his two younger sisters slept in one of the beds, and his mother and older sister slept in the other. There was very little space besides that in the single-room home, but Pablo seemed rather happy with his lot in life. As he was talking about his life, a cat came in and he picked it up. It’s name was “Mish.” Pablo was very proud of his cat, so we asked him quite a few questions about it as well as his life. He was a friendly little boy. After we did that, we all filed outside. I saw a smaller blue jacket on the dirt floor right in the doorway, and I wondered if it was supposed to be there or not. I thought about picking it up and asking, but some people had already walked on it. So, I stepped over it and left the home.

From Pablo’s house we went to a little larger self-built home, where it was occupied by a single “lonely mother of six children.” She informed us that she was happy with life right now because she didn’t have to scrounge around in the dump. She was working down the street at a small shop (similar to the one I had seen earlier) for Q40 (40 Quetzales ~ $5.00) per day. She and her father had built this home that they were living in, and it was pretty well-made (compared to others I had seen). Like Pablo and his pride about his cat, she was very proud of her achievements in life and was very sweet about how she spoke of them.

We then began walking back to the school. Along the way, Andres, Nick, and I got into a conversation about how much buying power is in forty quetzales. Andres informed Nick and I that food prices are not much different from America, so to think about feeding seven people for about five dollars each day was quite a trip. I couldn’t fathom how she is able to do it, and also that that five dollars she was getting now is BETTER than what she was getting before. It was a very eye-opening idea for me to ponder while we walked. I tried to watch some of the youth for their reactions and feelings, and it seemed that Ana was quite quiet about it all, and the other youth were talking about something back in the States. It seemed that they might have been overwhelmed by the people and were processing it or perhaps they had seen similar situations in the past. I wasn’t sure.

After gathering up our belongs from the biblioteca, we loaded up the van and headed for the Santa Clara nursery. I grew quite excited to see my friend Lili and hopefully recognize some of the children who had touched my heart so deeply on my first trip to Guatemala.

We arrived at the nursery and were ushered inside the thick walls that surround the nursery and tiny playground. I thought about how those walls have sheltered a piece of my heart for the past three years.

The Nursery

The Nursery walls have sheltered a piece of my heart for the past three years

We were then ushered inside the nursery itself where we met Sonia La Roche. She was exactly has I had remembered her, with thin curly hair and a loving but powerful face.

Sonia and I at the Nursery

Sonia and I at the Nursery

She took us on a tour of the nursery, and along the way, I got see Seno Vero, who worked in Lili’s class while I was there last time. She remembered me and we exchanged a few words and a hug. It was a very surreal and happy experience for me to see her.

Seno Vero

Seno Vero

Sonia showed us that the much of the building had been renovated since I had last come. They had made lots of changes for the better. There seemed to be a lot more sunlight shining through the space, and the play equipment was much improved with the addition of a jungle gym and more space for the children. There were glass doors leading to each classroom, and the room design was much more spacious.

After the tour, Sonia told the story of the nursery. She expressed her gratitude to us, to the parents who paid for the trip, to International Samaritan, and to God. She spoke about what life was like for the people before the nursery, and how she had heard stories of a “gringo” who just gave money away. That man ended up being none other than Fr. Don Vettesse, who started International Samaritan. Sonia and he got together, and they now have a nursery that can house over three hundred children with ease. I had a very strange sensation for the first time on this trip where I felt like I could understand the meaning behind her words, though much of the words themselves was lost to me. I felt like I was listening at a much deeper level, and it was a very soul stirring experience for me. I was definitely ready to help in any way that I could.

Sonia finished her story, and we prepared to leave. I asked Sonia where Lili was, and Sonia informed me that she was at a doctor’s appointment (Apparently, Lili had sent me a message saying that she wouldn’t be there, but I didn’t see it till after I returned from Guatemala). Sonia could probably see the disappointment on my face, so she said that Lili’s bebes were here in the nursery, though. So, she quickly took me to see them. Lili’s eldest son was a beautiful boy with bright brown eyes with cute short and curly hair. He looked very quick-witted and intelligent, but since the class was going on, I didn’t speak with him, and just waved. Then, Sonia took me to see Lili’s youngest child. He was sleeping gracefully in a little stroller and my heart was moved just looking at him. He is a beautiful child.

I felt like my heart was buoyed and weighed by all the wonderful and sad things I had seen, but it wasn’t even lunch time yet. Before lunch, we drove to the cemetery nearby that overlooked the actual garbage dump and the people working in it.

A Panoramic View of the Dump

A Panoramic View of the Dump (click to enlarge)


People scavenging through the trash

People scavenging through the trash

I had been there before, but I was still moved with a sense or a feeling that I really wanted to improve these peoples’ lives for the better in any way that I could. I came into the trip with the knowledge that that was what I wanted to do, but at that moment in particular, I really felt it deeply.

We then went to another part of the city and had lunch in the park. There was a famous juggler there, but I have forgotten his name.

A Famous Juggler Practicing

A Famous Juggler Practicing His Craft


A Juggler Practicing His Craft

A Juggler Practicing His Craft

He and another gentleman were practicing in the park. I think the youth really enjoyed being able to go off to their own area of the park and relax after the morning’s excitement. I know that I very much enjoyed the brief respite and the repast myself.

After lunch, we went to some of the more glamorous places in the city. We stopped at the central plaza that the presidential palace overlooked and went inside a glorious cathedral on another side of the plaza. Just as a person enters the courtyard, there is a couple of large columns with the names of some of the people who were victims during the thirty year civil war. It was powerful and horrible to see all the names listed there.

The cathedral was amazingly beautiful with separate wings for different devotions to different saints, angels, and Christ. The gold and beautiful paintings really showed a deep disparity from the morning tours we took.

Cathedral's Facade

Cathedral's Facade


Heavy and Beautiful Cathedral Doors

Heavy and Beautiful Cathedral Doors


San Francisco de Sales

San Francisco de Sales

We then headed back to a place near the Francisco Coll school. I hadn’t remembered that building being there before, but it was very well made with lots of classrooms.

Instituto Santa Maria

Instituto Santa Maria, where the Paso o Paso program rents space


Apparently, the Paso o Paso group is renting space there, and we got to meet a lot of the students from that group. They were of similar ages to the high school youth, and I actually recognized a few from playing football/soccer with them last time I had come to Guatemala. It was good for me to see them looking so grown up. With the help of a translator who was from Chile, the principal of the Paso o Paso group gave a short presentation on some of the challenges these youth face and what they have to do in order to stay in the Paso o Paso program.
A Presentation on the Paso o Paso Challenges

The principal gave a presentation on the challenges these youth face


We heard a story from one of the girls that included poverty, rape, incest, and lots of really hard-to-hear things. But, she was still in the program, and she was hoping to study to be a nurse, I believe. It was amazing to think that without this program, she would not be able to get out of that cycle of hurt. Then, the principal told us a few statistics and the problems with accuracy of those stats in this tight-lipped community. It was really sad to hear what some of the estimates of violence and other brutal things were. Then, we had a question-and-answer session where the youth from the Paso o Paso group asked questions of our youth, and vice versa. I think it was very good for both groups to see that they were not much different than their own.

We then headed back to the retreat center. Andres got off the bus early to go to the bank and said that he would be back by dinner. However, by dinner time, he still had not appeared. We played a game while we waited the better part of half an hour for him to arrive. Since the food was getting cold, we decided to go ahead and eat. As soon as we had finished dinner, Andres arrived. He said that he had gotten hung up in traffic. We then had a good reflection on the day and what each person thought about what they had seen. I was very impressed with the mature thoughts that each of the youth had, and I am very grateful to be a part of this particular group.

Tomorrow, will be our first day of work and I think we are going to be working with concrete, so I’m heading to bed now.

Here’s the link to Part III

This month’s National Geographic has a really touching article on the daily struggles of the Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge.

In Martinez’s case, an uncle had molested her when she was six and again when she was ten. “Afterward he used words—he told me I was useless. I remember feeling such a deep pain that nothing and nobody could reach inside to take it away.” Soon after the second defilement Martinez found herself standing alone in the kitchen of her mother’s house. “Just like today, it was hot outside and building up for rain,” Martinez said. “I remember looking down at the kitchen counter and seeing a knife. And suddenly that knife seemed like the only way to cut out every pain inside me. So I picked it up…

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/08/pine-ridge/fuller-text

http://www.rotary.org/en/MediaAndNews/News/Pages/090729_news_naiyomah.aspx

Naiyomah, an incoming Rotary World Peace Fellow, shared firsthand accounts with the East African tribe, using the oral tradition it has relied upon for years. Deeply moved by his story, Maasai elders felt compelled to do something to help.

That something turned out to be a decision to send a herd of cows to the United States as a display of sympathy and regret.