Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Final Trip Reflections

Note:  The following is some additional trip reflections from another of our travelers, Louis Potts. 

Guatemala has one of the highest birth rates and lowest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere. It is therefore profoundly revolutionary that the young community of San Gregorio has come together behind an effort to build a primary school. For centuries the Mayans have endured hardship and now seek liberation.  During our visit we talked with Andres Chajil. As a youth he and his family served as peonage labor on a nearby plantation and suffered severe social discrimination. He escaped this horrific situation, gained an education and is now an engineer in charge of crucial water projects in the region. A water tank he built serves San Gregorio and sits adjacent to the school site. He emphasized the need for universal service exemplified by our church’s “across the sea”missions. Our projects have empowered these people in manifold cooperative ways. Wives now share in family decisions, families each have contributed one square meter of rocks to the school foundation, children from three different hamlets exclaimed that we were laying the foundation to THEIR school, the regional government has pledged they will contribute teachers. One of the very appropriate devotional readings our team discussed was: “If you plan for a year, plant a seed. If for ten years, plant a tree. If for a hundred years, teach a child....When you teach a child, you reap a hundred harvests.” 

-Louis Potts

Monday, November 11, 2013

San Gregorio, Guatemala --November 2013

I have seen their faces and I know many of their names. There is Sueli the woman who organized our first mission to build stoves and who is now actively organizing the community to help build the school. She met us at the gate Friday evening and accompanied us up the hill where we received a warm welcome. There is her husband Antonio who worked along side us carrying rock and sand. There are her son and two daughters one of them named Melinda, the name of my own daughter. There is Valentino and his small friend who helped shovel sand along side of us. They are anxious and excited to have a school of their own. And there are the boys we watched carrying large rocks along with the men up the steep slope to the site of the new school. There is the entire community of San Gregorio who want a better life for their sons and daughters.

I remember my first day of school in 1948. All I had to do was show up. Someone else had built and paid for the school. It was expanded the next year to accommodate the post war baby boomers. Someone cared for me and provided a school for my education. I never knew them, but I do know these families and their children and I will give back something to our extended community, San Gregorio.

Mic Morris

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday November 9th On the road to Antigua.

After our morning devotion we have bordered a van for Antigua. We made a change in plan and took a different route stopping on the way at a Mayan ruin. The grounds of the ruin were larger than I had anticipated although the pyramid type structures were small, around thirty feet in height. It was quite pleasant to walk around the grounds. The domestic or palace structures were foundations only. Apparently the walls and upper structure had been adobe with fresco paintings on the interior and did not survive. There was a museum adjacent the site but eve3rything was in Spanish. On of the displays was that of human skulls and the surgical instruments they used to perform brain surgery.

Mic Morris

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday November 8

This was another great day but before I describe it I would like to print a retraction to a previous writing. I told you that the aquatic/perma culture was owned by 65 families who would be moving in. I asked Candace where their children would go to school and she told me that only one other family would be moving in and that was the cottage we visited. The rest live in the city and come out to work the land. They hope to set it up as a park where people can come and enjoy similar to an arboretum.

Today our scripture was taken from Mathew 5: 1-12. It was the sermon on the mount but it was almost unrecognizable in the translation that Ted has been using. It is very contemporary and some of you might find it troubling. But he speaks about when you find your self at the end of your rope you are blessed. With less of you there is more of God. You are blessed when you feel you have lost what is most dear to you. These phrases are more penetrating that the poor in spirit or the meek or those who morn. The don't have the comfort of familiarity but familiarity often brings lack of thought or insight. I had a friend who lives part of the year in England. His wife was asked to read the scripture in their local Methodist church. Afterward, a number of people asked her what translation of the bible she was using because they had never understood the scripture before in those words and they had been given new insight. They were taken back when she dad it was the same pew bible they had always read from.

The day was long and the work was hard. Fortunately we had cloud cover most of the day but no rain. We transported buckets of sand and rock to mix concrete and sand to mix mortar. At other times we were carrying rock to lay the foundation. We were always cautioned to drink plenty of water and not to over exert ourselves. As I look back I am amazed at how much we accomplished in five days of work. When I found myself overwhelmed with the work I would look at the neatly piled stacks of rocks that the people of San Gregorio were providing ans watched the men and boys carrying those rocks great distances and then negotiating the steep hillside. They are contributing much in the way of sweat and materials to their future school. Candace said that the entire foundation should be completed in another two weeks.
Merebellla brought our final field lunch out to us. It was grilled chicken with a wonderful flavor. We also had salsa, rice cooked with carrots and some cauliflower and other vegetables.

Afrer work we adjourned to the salon for the celebration. There were banners and music from a rented PA system. The community presented each of us with a shoulder bag made in Guatemala. We exchanged thank yous for our work and their hospitality. We gave each of the masons a poncho (we had seen them too often being soaked in those early rain storms). We gave the two rock cutters protective glasses (they had been cutting stones with mallets and chisels without eye protection) Afterword we were served a soft drink and a donuts. We then bid them adios (go with God) mounted the truck-bed and headed home to the hotel. The sun was setting behind us with a beautiful sunset framed between the mountains and volcanoes. I saw in it a sign that God was with us in our adios.

Thursday November 7th, San Lucas, Guatemala

More for our blogger, Mic Morris and our travelers in San Lucas! 
Our Daily devotion today was Matthew 6 The judgment of nations. This is the scripture where the Son of Man comes in his glory and divides the people according to: Those on his right hand who when I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was in prison and you visited me....and those on his left hand who; when I was hunger your fed me not, when I was thirsty you gave me no drink, when I was in prison you did not visit me. It was an interesting discussion over what this passage met to each of us and what it was calling us to do today and when we return home. To live even for a week with a people in an entirely different in culture and environment and to see the smiles and anticipation on their faces knowing that they will have a school in their community is a humbling experience. In addition to the gift of fruit the community gave us on our arrival, several of the workers from the community have given us wrist bands and oranges. These simple acts of gratitude were completely unexpected.

Breakfast today was eggs and a link sausage which had a slight mint taste. We also always have some melon or fruit and tortillas.

Today we continued setting the minor columns and then laying the rock for the foundation. We mixed mortar, basically sand, lime and cement for setting the stones. We spent most of the afternoon carrying rock for the masons to lay the foundation. It was exhausting work but rewarding. The new members of our group took a tour of 5 of the homes where we set the stove the previous year.. I went to the first home and took some pictures. I am having trouble with downloads so I will not attempt at this time to attach the pictures but I will include them in my expanded journal when I get home.

At 3:00 Candace arranged for us to visit an aquatic and perma culture experimental community which is taking place in a valley aside the San Gregorio community. For those of you who are coming on future trips don't miss it. It is fascinating and and you will be overwhelmed with its natural beauty. It is the site of a former plantation which produced water cress. Water cress is still their major crop. There are 65 families who formerly lived in servitude on the plantation. The Catholic Church in San Lucas where father Greg, benefactor of San Gregorio was the priest, helped the people buy the land which has been parceled out to each family. They form a community which ascribes to the perma couture idea described earlier in my journal and are working to initiate it in this valley. The lower level is basically aquatic with water loving plants besides the water cress like mango and bananas. There are many small pools of fish filled with tilapia. As you move up the sides of the valley they are growing corn and beans and other staples. A the higher elevations, coffee. The families have not moved in yet but they are building small cottages one of which we entered and briefly met. Afterword we were picked up on the road at the bottom of the by Heraldo, the foreman for the masons in his truck. Ted had left the group to go back up to the work site to gather our gear was with him.

This evening we met briefly before dinner to discuss how we would distribute the many articles we brought with us and the gifts we are providing the masons. We had a delicious dinner with a traditional Guatemalan soup which appeared to be have a tomato base but filled with peppers and other local vegetables. We also had a side of sweet potatoes and regular potatoes.

After dinner we took a couple of tooc tooc (local taxis) to a lecture by a close friend of Candace's. He is an indigenous Mayan who grew up on one of the plantation. He told us of his early life and the humiliating experience of being marginalized by the wealthy land owners. He met father Greg who invited him to move to San Lucas where he became involved with and working on domestic water projects. He worked alongside an Engineer from the States, a Cornell graduate, and be eventually became an engineer himself. He has children and grandchildren but his wife died seven years ago . He told us how he was trying to preserve much of the Mayan culture but his primary objective was to work for peace. I really enjoyed meeting this man and hearing his story.

Tomorrow will be our last day of work and we will have a celebration after our work day. We will head for Antigua on Saturday and return on Sunday.
-Mic Morris

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wednesday November 6th San Lucas, Guatemala

You may have wondered why I started sharing our daily menu. Barb Fay said she was interested and suggested my sharing them. With today journal I am going to attach a picture of this mornings breakfast plate. It you will see two Guatemala enchiladas; composed of a small tortilla covered with a mixture of cabbage and beets, some meat and then topped with two slices of boiled eggs. Quite colorful and delicious. We had lunch on the lake trip at one of our stops which I will tell you about later.

We started with the day with our morning devotion Luke 14, the Parable of the Great Dinner. We had a lively discussion but agreed that all are welcome but many of the so called friends and more proper invited guest had other obligations and sent their regrets. Think it over a bit if you have the time.

We left for our boat trip around 9:00 am it was sunny and a bit breezy so I wore an over shirt at least for the first of the voyage. We had packed our rain gear just in case. Fortunately it was not needed. The first stop was a more of a tourist destination. It is very apparent that San Lucas is more impoverished that many of the other communities around the lake. I asked Candace about it and she said that it San Lucas was more off the main roads and harder to get to. That seemed strange in that the other communities, at least from the lake view, appear to be more dependent on water transpiration but I guess that not the case. Lou and I discussed this in relation to Colorado where the counties which have lots of tourist are quite wealthy while those without are more destitute.

Our second stop was most enlightening. Candace took us to two cooperatives, one for coffee and one for textile weaving. I had been to a coffee plantation in Costa Rica but this was far more interesting. A group of coffee farmers join and sell their coffee to the cooperative where it is processed and then sold to importers. The farmer is guaranteed a fair and consistent price for his harvest, even more so than what you find in the fair trade coffee program. The processing is quite complex and when done right it makes a world of difference in the quality of the coffee. This coffee is organically grown and puts the cooperative at some disadvantage when it comes to quantity over quality. We tried their coffee. I had a cappuccino which was very favorable. They also served us lunch, fried chicken, rice and of course tortillas.

Our second Cooperative was even move interesting. It is run by a group of women who raise their own cotton, spin it into thread by hand, dye it with local substances which gives it a more natural look as opposed to the more colorful weaving of the other communities. The lady who spoke was quite attractive and spoke very good English. While spinning the cotton into thread Betty asked her how long it took her to learn the process. She said about three years and she started when she was eight. She is now twenty one but claims that the older women who have been doing it much longer produce a higher quality of thread. I have some pictures of her spinning and I will try to attach a copy.

Our third stop was the community where the more resent civil war started. In 1980 a group of farmers were shot by the military while they were working in the fields. Others sought sanctuary in the church under the protection of the priest who incidentally was from Oklahoma City. The military did not respect the sanctuary and he too was assassinated. There is a memorial at the church commemorating his martyrdom We took a took took to the top of the hill to visit the church then walked back down the hill through the market to the boat.

We arrived back at the hotel without encountering a drop of rain. At 5:00 we had a cooking class with Marbila. I have just returned from the class. She was preparing plantains which had been cut up and mashed with some cinnamon and vanilla. She added some sugar-water and mixed it together. In addition to the plantains, Marbila had cut up some black beans in the blender and cooked them into a pasty mixture. We formed the plantains into balls then made an indention in the center and added the bean mixture. The plantain pastry was closed around the beans then light rolled in flour. They each ball will then be fried and served to us tonight. I made two of them before returning to finish this journal.

Tomorrow we will work again at the San Gregorio site and finish setting the reinforcing columns and start on the rock foundation. It should go pretty quickly because we have been making good time.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tuesday November 5th --San Lucas Guatemala

Note: More great experiences from our group in San Lucas and our guest blogger, Mic Morris!

Our morning devotion was on the Scripture Mark 10: 17-27. This is a difficult passage for many of us to grasp. Jesus is approached by a rich young man who wants to achieve eternal life. He tells Jesus that he has dutifully obeyed all of the law and Jesus tells him he lacks one thing. Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor and come and follow me. If you take Jesus at his word this means that all of our material possessions are meaningless and our attachment to them is the major stumbling block. Major in the seance that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than enter the kingdom of God. I think we all try to rationalize this passage but when you are living in Guatemala among these people who have so little you realize that you and I are among the most wealthy in the world. We are the rich and the passage bears a heavy burden on us. Just as the rich young man, whom Jesus loved walked away with a heavy heart I will return to the United States with a heavy heart. Yes I believe my being here has made a difference and will help these people but how much has it really done for me spiritually? I am sympathetic to their plight. I really can do little to change it but what can I do for myself. How, much will it really change my life? I don't know the answer?

We had a great breakfast; scrambled eggs, some sort of yucca cake, and a slice of a special white cheese. We always have Guatemala tortillas which are smaller and thicker than the Mexican verity. Lunch was again brought out to us in the field. It was a pasta dish with chicken and some mild chillies and other bits of local vegetable. We also had a special white milk like drink that is popular in Mexico called orchaka. It's slightly sweet and I liked it. For dinner this evening we had Guatemala style chile rellenos a yellow colored rice dish and a persimmon juice drink

Today was another day of intensive labor. This is probably more typical of the foundation work than the work others will be doing in later trips. We told them that those attending the following trips will be younger and that they had designated that all of the early hard work be done by us seniors. We finished erecting and placing the footings for all 15 columns. After lunch began erecting the smaller columns which will support the windows and door jambs. We did not encounter rain until we started home at which time we covered ourselves with our ponchos or rain gear and eventually pulled a tarpaulin over the top to cover us. When we reached the San Lucas the rain suddenly stopped and we noticed the streets were dry. It must have been a very localized rain shower.

Tomorrow we will take our lake trip and visiting three of the communities surrounding the lake. We are hoping that it does not rain but it appears there is at least a thirty percent chance. That is the same prediction we have been hearing all week. I think it really means that it will only rain thirty percent of the day.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Monday November 4 San Lucas

More from Mic Morris and our group from Rolling Hills...

We started the day with our morning devotion which was found in verse 10 thru 14 of 1st Corinthians. The passage uses the analogy of a builder to describe what we do with the life we have been given and the blessing of God's grace. The Apostle Paul explains that we have been given a foundation and what we build on it is our choice. We may build with things of great spiritual value or we may build with meaningless trivia. The choice is ours to make but we will end up accountable for what we build and how we live our lives. Are we over obsessed with obtaining and possessing material items or with knowing and building meaningful relationships with people of different backgrounds. That is our objective and has been frequently expressed by both Woody and Ted. We are expanding our community to engage with people across the street, across town, across the country and across the ocean. Many in our group are working at building relationships with the people we are assisting and the children who come to watch. Pete Romaine in particular has been working on acquiring Spanish as one of his second languages. He frequently ask questions and carries on simple conversations with the people he encounters whether it be the innkeeper, a shop owner, the masons or the children.

Breakfast this morning was especially good, Merabela prepared some small meat pies with some light salsa and fresh fruit. I'm one who generally likes my salsa hot and spicy. Guatemala salsa is milder but very tasty. I think almost anyone would find it delightful. She also brought lunch out to us at the work site serving us a light stew with chicken, potatoes, carrots and peppers along with some bow tie pasta dish. As usual it was very good. This evening we had steak with salsa and a rice dish. We are eating well.

Today we again climbed in the truck for our second day of work in San Gregorio. It was a hard day of work. Candace was impressed that we exceeded her expectations for the day despite the loss of a hour to or more to the rainstorm which hit mid afternoon. Fortunately it let up and we were not only able to complete the task we had started but others as well. The work consisted of finishing the tying of the reinforcing bars into columns for the structure then hauling them up the hill to the site of the school. We were able to erect the steel and pour the concrete footings for 7 of the columns.

For those of you who are planning trips in the near future there is a lot of work to be done. It will probably not be as labor intensive as the work we have been doing on this first trip but it will be meaningful and rewarding. But most of all, as Candace said this morning in our devotion, its just a building, but what we are really building is a relationship with a community which has great hopes that their children will be given the educational skills allowing them to prosper and lead productive lives in a country freed from a past in which its people have suffered greatly under wars, corruption and exploitation.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sunday November 3

Note: the following post is from one of our travelers, Mic Morris, who is currently in San Lucas with a group of TJ travelers from Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church.  
Sunday is our day of rest. We observe the Sabbath by not working, relaxing and learning more about this beautiful country. We started the day with our devotion taken from John 5:2-16. Jesus heals the crippled man by the pool called Bethesda. We read the scripture three times the first time finding a word which jumps out at you. The second time looking for a specific message which speaks to you in this time and place. The third time finding what this message is calling us to do or bring forth. I found it ironic that Jesus healed the man on the sabbath and tells him to pick up his bedroll and start walking, which was breaking the law in the current custom of the day, then later when he meets the same man in the temple he tells him not to return to his sinning ways. This, after having told him to break the law by picking up his bedroll and carrying it home. The message to me, appears to be that our customs and our culture and even our laws that we often consider to be prohibiting sin are not necessary a true indication of right and wrong action. Rosa Parks was breaking the law when she refused to give up her seat on the bus. Archbishop Romero of El Salvador was not sinning when he broke the church and his government in giving hope to the disenfranchised. He was killed by those who empowered his government to ignored his plea for social justice. We had an interesting discussion and were almost late for a great breakfast of pancakes, with honey, fresh melons, pineapple, mango and papayas.

After breakfast we made a short trip to the market to look for work boots. Pete got the only pair in size twelve and one half and I found nothing that would fit. Betty was having trouble finding a size to fit and we left. Half way up the street the shop owner caught up with us and he had found her a pair in another style which she had originally favored. She returned and purchased them.

Around 10:00 we left for our sightseeing and informational gathering tour of the area. We climbed in the back of the pickup and drove up to a one of the mountains to stopping at a spot overlooking the lake and the city of San Lucas. It was a fascinating sight. A blue lake surrounded by mountains and volcanoes on every side. Our Guide, one of Candace’s local acquaintance, told us the lake was found to be the reminisce of an ancient volcano. He also told us about the history and the legends concerning the earliest settlement, where the people came from, how the settlement was named, what it had been and what it has become. Since WWII most of the local sustainable agriculture has been replaced by coffee plantations. It has had some unfortunate consequences as it makes the people dependent on a small group of brokers who buy the coffee at very low prices and sell it to large corporations. The system is designed to keep the people dependent and impoverished. It makes you conscious that when you pay $3 to $5 for a cup of Starbucks how little of that is passed back to the men who work all day in the sun harvesting those small coffee beans. Shouldn’t there be a better way to distribute the wealth of our modern world? I know some of you would call it socialism, I think it is really social justice. As stated in the book of Micah: “What more does the Lord require of you than to show mercy love justice and walk humbly with your God.”

From there we traveled up the road to a parcel of land in which our guide was engaged in a form of agriculture called perma culture. Although we were looking at the growth and production of food crops he said that it applied to every activity we engage in. What is the best use of our resources to provide for the greatest number of people. We had a long dissertation on the farming method known as the three sisters. The same method we experimented with in our own Rolling Hills garden. He explained how each of the sisters helped and assisted on another. The corn grew tall and allowed the beans to cling to and wrap around its structure. The beans in turn are legumes returning nitration to the soil which allows the corn to grow and develop. The squash covers the earth and provides shade keeping the weeds in check and reducing the damage of falling rain to the soil. It was a method developed by the Mayan people and and the Iroquois of North America and used for years in the corn production of Guatemala providing a sustainable agriculture for the people. An interesting point is that the three sisters provide a complete diet corn and beans supplement each other providing all of the necessary protein that a meat diet would provide. The squash is often a fruit or a dessert which provides variety to the diet. One only has to look today at the children of coffee workers begging for food and receiving junk food in return. Their teeth are often rotting from the soft drink and cola so easily provided by their dependence on foreign food shipped in to replace the food stuffs no longer grown. Coffee is a mixed blessing. It provides a quick monetary return for the labor and then a long period of dependence waiting for the next harvest. The prices are easily controlled by a select few. A more diverse form of farming would bring about a healthy change for Guatemala. People would be feeding their family first then their community through the local markets and then trading the excess along side a reduced dependence on the coffee, presently their primary export on the wold market.

We also talked about how climate change was effecting their lives. No better lesson could be found than the powerful rain storm which interrupted our session in the field. The rainy season has officially ended but the forces of nature are no longer under the control of conventional weather. Much like the unruly child high on a sugar diet they are unpredictable and can rain havoc on our best laid pans as they were doing today. We were prepared, however, and dawned our rain gear and ponchos to finish listing to and participating in today,s lesson. We finally had to call and end to it and terminate the walk through the fields viewing his crops and his provisioning of a diverse variety of crops besides the three sisters. The pickup truck arrived with a sheet plastic cover over the bed. We huddled as best we could for shelter as we returned to the hotel. We had a delicious lunch of potatoes mixed with salsa giving it the appearance of a sweet potato. Within mashed potatoes was a piece of chicken and it was all wrapped in a banana leaf.. Merabela is one of the most creative chefs you can find. She buys the food at the local market and finds ways to blend the produce into some of the most delightful and well presented dishes you can imagine in this rather humble Establishment.

This evening we had a meal of a Guatemala style spaghetti we had a hobinero chilli sauce which Pete, Gordon and I tried. I found it mildly spicy and delightful.

Tomorrow will be our second day of work. I only hope we will get a beak in the weather because we are planning to start placing the stones for the foundation after we finish our work tying the reinforcing bar columns.

Mic Morris

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Saturday November 2nd

We arose early ready for the new day and the work laid out for us. We had our morning devotion which was most appropriate as we discussed the passage in the gospel of Luke verse 6 about the two men who built their houses, one on a firm foundation and one without. Today we were starting work on a foundation for a school. But the school itself would form another foundation for the community to educate and provide a better life for their children. I find it refreshing to start each day in these small group devotionals. Everybody has an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe and meaningful way. After a great breakfast we again boarded the back of the pickup along with the masons and other local work force and headed for San Gregorio. It's not supposed to be the rainy season here in Guatemala but things being what they are its been raining and so we took along our ponchos.

When we arrived at San Gregorio we disembarked from the pickup and headed again for the salon building. After a short introduction between ourselves and the masons we broke up into teams of two and pared up with a mason. We spent the rest of the day in the Salon tyeing together re-bars (reinforcing steel bars for the concrete columns) with steel wire. We accomplished quite a large share and will finish up tomorrow before we start laying rock in the foundation. In late afternoon we had a good downpour but fortunately we were inside and the rain stopped before our trip back to San Lucas.. It was hard work but it was rewarding to see what we had accomplished in one day.

The kites were still flying as we returned to San Lucas Candace had an activity panned for us. She invited a friend to take us to the cemetery and explain how the people of this community celebrate All Saints Day. The streets and the market place were full of people. Mostly street side venders cooking and serving food which looked very tempting. As we approached the cemetery the crowds grew larger and the kites more abundant. According to our guide the people believe that there are within the Catholic religion three churches. There is the earthly church, the heavenly church of those departed and the purgatory church of those who departed but are not ready for the heavenly church. They go to the cemetery often taking food to eat and to be in communion with their deceased loved ones. The kites are a way of helping bring the spirits down from the heavenly realm to be with them. Most of the people appear to be buried in above ground crypts most of which have re-bars protruding from the top so that further additions for future family can be accommodated.. It began to rain again but fortunately most of us had ponchos. The kites were all drawn down and we headed back to the hotel. As we were leaving the cemetery we passed a large gathering of people with a PA system; Candace explained that it was a lottery, We returned to the hotel and were served our evening meal. We had a short meeting and retired to our rooms.

-Mic Morris