Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pat Strong, final blog Guatemala Trip July 2014

Reflections: This is my final blog from the mission trip to Guatemala.

After a day in Antigua, Guatemala and seeing the sites we all had a wonderful chance after dinner to reflect a bit on this amazing trip. We completely were in agreement that Transformational Journeys and our leader, Candace run the best cultural mission trips that we have ever come across. We unanimously were appreciative of the patience and teaching skills as well as the friendliness we received from our masons/teachers.

We unanimously spoke of the love of the people and willingness for them to share and open their lives to us.  In the U.S., a child can't just go up to a stranger and get a hug, take an impromptu art lesson, have strangers read a book to them while edging closer and closer to the stranger and then even sitting on that stranger's lap. We are taught that strangers may hurt you, a/k/a "Stranger Danger".  In the little town of San Jose, Guatemala, kids openness with us was a daily occurrence.  Neighbor kids would peek their heads through windows watching us work and then be offered to join in and help. Their excitement was wonderful. We mixed mortar with the kids, let them take a few shots with our cameras and smile as they saw themselves, we taught them how to "measure twice, cut once" when cutting a cement block. In our reflections we spoke of the wonderful food we were given and how hard it is to get something to the dinner table be it the process of making the corn into masa for tortillas or raising the chicken we would eat. I will never go into a local grocery store again without appreciating how much is involved to get that food to the market and then to us. We were impressed by the "real people" of Guatemala and their desire to still make the world a better place. We met leaders such as Jessica who, though she is one of the younger adults, has gained the respect of the elders as she teaches them about health. She leads them to understand the benefits of the new cook stoves not only for their health but also for saving fuel which is better for the environment as well as reducing the cost to buy the wood. I think back about Mario, one of eleven children, who has huge open holes in his jeans and not to be in fashion. 

I also note he has no shoes and then I come back to my community where people complain they aren't getting their way while they forget what they already have.  In my community the issue is not no shoes or even one pair, but 15 pair or more.  People honk at me to get going even though the light is still red.  I throw my clothes in a washing machine, yes, that's right!

I don't have to stand in the river at 6:30AM after already making my tortillas for the day. As I hear my bell ring that the dryer is done and I can just pull the clothes out, I am appreciative. Yes, we all take for granted what we have. All of us.  I would like to be more mindful with every decision I make and how it may affect another and that will be my task moving forwards. I can't change every sad situation I see. I can try to make a difference one step at a time, one hour at a time, one day at a time, one situation at a time, one person at a time.  As I get back from trips I start to go into my "what do I need to get done" mode. I will try to not take my own life so seriously as so much of the little day to day aggravations are really nothing compared to what so many people in the world go through. Yes, the daily aggravations to me are still valid.  I hope to look at them with different eyes so that I can pay attention to what really matters.  It's food, shelter, clothing and love.

Have  a great & green day!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Saturday post by Pat Strong

Today was our last day in Guatemala before catching our flights back to the U.S. and experiencing re-entry. We drove from our base in the lakeside town of San Lucas Toliman through scenic vistas of volcanoes, coffee trees and small villages as we headed to Antigua which is about 45 minutes from Guatemala City. This Spanish colonial town, the former capital of Guatemala, had a catastrophic earthquake in 1773. Many ruins and old cathedrals remain today and are seen throughout the city. Antigua has varieties of people including many indigenous people wearing their customary weaved clothing and headdress to very cosmopolitan shoppers in heels and short skirts which we would never have seen in the small villages of San Lucas or San Jose where we were building the cook stoves. The city offers artisan markets, crowded local markets with everything from chickens for sale to beef hanging, cowboy boot shaped pasta to salsas, local made chocolates to Nivea skin cream. There were many stalls with colorful weavings from around the country and a special artisan market with examples of the many combinations of traditional clothing weaved in the chosen colors and patterns of each indigenous community.  
From special chocolate shops to art galleries there was so much to see.  We were able to photograph El Arco, watch the constant traffic in the local main square and go into La Merced Cathedral and atop it to view ruins from the earthquake. From high we could view the volcanic mountains and the city. One of the favorite places was the hotel Casa Santo Domingo which had extremely  scenic grounds.  The runs here show the preservation of the old blended with the comforts of the new. We had dinner together and a poem was read for our fantastic and fearless leader of Transformational Journeys. Tomorrow morning we head back home and are sad to be leaving this gorgeous country with its welcoming peoples. As we think about how much there is to do for others we are a bit overwhelmed. One of our group gave great advice as he quoted, " Think globally, change locally". That is excellent advice. Here is to hoping we can all take this experience forward to continue to make a difference in the world and we can do it locally and globally.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday blog by Pat Strong

Our last day in San Lucas Toliman and in our work community of San Jose where we were building the cook stoves was another amazing day. A few of us left the hotel around 6:15am to try to witness the butcher carrying  a side of beef up market street to the local carnecerias (meat shops). The butcher was running late so we did not experience viewing this but we did enjoy the hustle and bustle of the activity as the locals set up their market stalls. Often they would tie strings criss-crossing over other vendors lines in order to hold up plastic sheeting to cover their stalls protecting them from rain or too much sun. I watched as the local "coffee shop"  consisting of a woman who set up tables and a few chairs in the middle of the street served cafe, atole and bread goods to the locals. There were many villages represented in this market demonstrated by the variety of traditional clothing.  We bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers to give to our hotel staff and the cost was under $2 for what would be at least $20 in the U.S.  The elderly man carries a huge basket full of heavy cabbages on his back to his market stall, a young boy sleeps atop a sack of goods at this early hour, women set up their flowers or vegetables, carts are pulled with a variety of goods and the action is palpable. After breakfast we again head to work riding in the back of the pick up truck and enjoy the rolling and winding roads through the Guatemalan countryside. We even know to look for the painted rock that looks like "Snoopy", which is a nice change from the painted rocks and road signs for political parties that we also see. The fields are green with coffee trees, terracing and volcano vistas. We arrive to excited children as we go to our respective kitchens where our group is finishing our cook stove projects. The day flew by as we mixed mortar, set concrete blocks and built the stoves. We all had great fun as many of us had family members helping and the kids wanted photos so they could then see their image when we would display it on our cameras. We finished 11.5 stoves and our masons will complete them to make 12 when they work tomorrow. We then went back to our meeting house and were startled and greeted by firecrackers which even made the neighbors pig come out for a look. All the women were throwing us a party with balloons, streamers, cupcakes and juice to thank us. As each of them spoke to us our hearts were touched as they would thank us, thank God and tell us that even though they would never see us again that we had changed their lives. It was then our turn to speak and we realized that it was not our gift to them, but their gift of unconditional love and acceptance into their households, sharing their family and children with us and allowing us to be part of their communities that was a gift to us! There were very few dry eyes around. It was a wonderful cultural exchange where we accepted each other and opened our gifts to each other. We waved goodbye as our truck pulled away. Our final dinner at our hotel included chicken that was sold to one of our group from the local chicken lady. We were then given a surprise thank you as our innkeeper, Marbila, wore traditional beaded clothing and sang to us. She beautifully shared her love with her music. Tomorrow we leave San Lucas Toliman to go to Antigua. Our mission trip is over but the lives of all involved are changed forever. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday, Guatemala trip post by Pat Strong

En route to our job site this morning we could clearly see one of the distant volcanoes throwing plumes of smoke into the air. Many times during the day while we were building the cook stoves we were serenaded by the thunderous sounds of the volcano. A member of our group has been encouraging the local kids to do art. They would often color volcano pictures with some so detailed they showed the valleys up the hills and the fish in the nearby lake. Every day after lunch, they run to meet him and enjoy their daily "art class". Other kids would play clapping games and read books. Many of the kids and other family members got involved in assisting us while we worked today. Even a 2 year old started stirring cement in her little purple baby bowl which then encouraged her big brother, age 4, to not want to be left out. It seemed that all of us were visited by curious kids and many chipped in to help mix and sift sand. It was hard to call it work as it was so much fun. We mixed mortar, chopped cement blocks, mortared the stove base and got our chimney stacks in or ready to be placed tomorrow. I can't believe it will be our last day with these beautiful people as we will finish our project by the end of the day.  After a refreshing ice cream stop we then headed back to our hotel and quickly got ready to go to a home where many men get together to make hand made wooden spoons, bowls and other items. These are true artisans with amazing skills. They displayed the process of how they create these pieces which are so smooth to the touch you just want to hold them. They use many local woods such as coffee trees, ebony they find from floods that may wash the wood near, and other hard woods. After the carving and smoothing the carvings are finished with beeswax. Some of the profits from the sales of these go to elderly people who are no longer able to get jobs or to do jobs. Go to  www.cuchareros.com to check out some of their works. Transformational Journeys certainly knows how to show us the true Guatemalan culture with such personal experiences being offered to us. I thought I was just coming to do a mission project that I believed in and have been treated to the unexpected experiences that have been arranged for us to make this so personal. The extra care to show how people can give back to society in so many ways has been amazing. We've learned about perma-culture farming, politics, Mayan cilture past and present, volunteerism, artisans, different local cultures and, of course, much about the scenic country of Guatemala and it's peoples. More tomorrow as we complete our projects and prepare to go to Antigua, Guatemala. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday, Guatemala Post

Today we took a break from our work building the cook stoves. Our Transformational Journeys leader arranged for us to go by lancha (small boat) to 3 villages in the caldera of Lake Atitlan. Each village was very unique & showed us the different dress of both the men & the women in each community. The 1st was Santiago Atitlan where women wore embroidered yoked shirts and traditional skirts and women also wrapped belt-like fabric around their heads which was an art-form in itself. They often then drape another woven cloth over the top of their head. The men wore white embroidered and woven pants to their knees. We were also fortunate to arrive right as their was great celebration and parade to celebrate the day of their St.Santiago (James), we saw many youthful bands, great costumes and much celebration. We then took Tuk Tuks on what seemed like a wild video game ride to the church. This is where many people sought safety during the 36 year war which just ended in 1996. We saw worshipping locals bring offerings to the St. and the local altar guild of women preparing beautiful flowers for the altar. After quick shopping for local art and fabrics we then continued on the lancha to  Panajachel.  In Panajachel we felt like we had arrived in Gringoland as there were many signs in English where many shops and restaurants catered to tourists and expats. Here there was much shopping for local finds and the women had headdresses representing their own communities. Last we arrived at San Antonio Palopo where the women wore the same dark blue skirt & blue woven shirts with blue headdresses. We visited a church up the hillside village through narrow walkways and many steps. The view was terrific. There we were welcomed by a local woman who guided down to a pottery shop where we saw them making and hand painting the lovely pottery they are know for. After seeing pottery being thrown and painted we then went to a 40 woman co-op where they were weaving amazing fabrics of cotton and silk. Late afternoon we arrived back to our home of San Lucas Toliman where the women's local weaving pattern of red and white and a specific change of width of each row was combined with little pictures of multiple color dogs. I enjoy the colorful displays as they will wear one pattern on their top and something completely different on their skirts. 

We got back on time to have a dessert cooking lesson to make rellonito of plantains with sweet black beans inside. Later we will hear from Felipe about how he dry-dries and roasts coffee, and also about direct trade coffee. 

After our day of rest we are excited to getting back to making our cook stoves again tomorrow in San Jose, Guatemala where we will continue to learn about the beautiful locals. 

Guatemala, Tuesday blog by Pat

Great progress was made as we all completed our 1st cook stoves for our families. We have worked hard and have some sore muscles but large smiles as a result. We were all very interested to learn the process for finishing the stoves with mixes of 50/50 sand to cement and then eventually a top coat with just cement for a smooth finish. Our masons are artists and many of them started learning their trade in their teens. We tried our hands at the mudding of the cement on the brick fire boxes and in the end they looked great! The families were very appreciative. They now need to wait 15 days for the stoves to cure and can then use them. We find it interesting as we meet the families and start to know them as people, can joke with them and with our masons. Some of our worksites have roosters, chicks and dogs moving through them. Other homes have rabbits and one has a pig. We will get a break to see some Guatemalan sights tomorrow and back to build 5-7 more cook stoves starting Thursday.

We were treated to another Perma Cultura farm at a friend of Gregorio's farm which used to be on a plantation, (Finca). When the boss could not afford the workers wages, he paid them in land. This Perma Cultura farm is from this occurrence. Again, farming in a manner that allows multiple plants to help each other and the rest of the environment in small spaces is a great way to farm and permits them to not use chemicals to grow. As Gregorio says, "Think for 5 hours, work 1 hour". This is what Perma Cultura farming allows. Coming back to our hotel our truck, (at 1 point we had 20 people in Or standing on the back of the truck), got a flat.  the guys fixed it faster than AAA could have done. Tomorrow more learning and adventures to come.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Additional Monday post from Pat

Last evening we had the pleasure of meeting Andres who was born into slavery 58 years ago as his family were Mayan slaves living on a Finca (plantation). He made the tough choice to escape this position when he was helped by priest Gregory Shaeffer from Minnesota who ended up in Guatemala and was gifted in working with people of many cultures and offered Andres his freedom. Andres was only able to visit his family who was still in slavery in the night time. Schaeffer offered housing and land and Andres learned work that would eventually change his life to become a community organizer and amazing gift in his area of San Lucas Toliman in Guatemala. When expecting his first child his parents told him that he needed to be present at the actual birth of his child. When the birth occurred and his daughter was born, the witnessing of the birth gave him a respect for women that made him feel in awe. From that day forward he said "no" to the machismo culture that surrounded him and believed totally in the strength of women. He hopes one day for a Mayan woman to lead his country, though he wouldn't mind being the next president of Guatemala. He told us this while laughing though he told us the first things he would do as president would be to #1 Give land to many of the Mayans and #2 Educate and give more power into the hands of the women. Though 70% of the country is indigenous (Mayan), the power is in the rich 18 families that control Guatemala and still try to control the Mayans. As one who loves people and their culture, Andres still works extremely hard daily to help others. Right now he is working on a very involved project to bring water to a community. His wall is covered with certificates acknowledging his service. We were truly honored to meet this leader who obviously lives to serve all!