Monday, June 30, 2014

Post by Liz Oxandale for Friday, June 27, 2014

I am behind once again due to the nature of this trip!  It is go, go, go and then sleep.  There are so many remarkable events that happen during these days that it would be impossible to write fast without putting thought into these events.  I am going to first details the events that occurred yesterday and then write about our final day today.  We are now in Antigua and tonight is all about our travel day tomorrow and tomorrow is all about travel.  The events that have transpired over the past two days are the real reason to even write a Blog and therefore I’ll end with the inauguration.

Yesterday (Friday) was interesting in that a few of our group members were under the weather and a few others were wondering whether the psychological effects of others being sick were getting to them or if something was actually originating within themselves also.  So, down two people, we made our way up to the worksite a little later than usually.  We were fortunate to be able to get in a couple of hours of work – primarily on rebar painting and window cleaning – before the torrential rains and strong storms began.  It is an extraordinary occurrence to be in the midst of jungle vegetation, high on a mountain, surrounded by volcanoes when a storm such as this hits.  It is beautiful.  The lightning appeared to be almost right upon us and the thunder therefore was short of deafening.  We were safe inside the sturdy school so danger was not upon us but, again, it was incredible.  I think my word for most things on this trip can only be “Wow.”

Once the rains started to let up we made our way down to the salon, the community building, where we organized ourselves to pass out the gift bags of donations we had put together from our church.  Due to the heaviness of the rain we were confident that work on the pozo and the school would not continue for some time.  Many of the women and children were waiting until the rains had ceased before emerging from their homes but little by little they trickled in to meet us.  They did not know that we would be handing out gifts but thought they were coming to begin decorating for the big inauguration for Saturday.  We started with the few women whom had arrived and slowly more and more began to come until finally they all seemed to be there (kids included of course)! We told them that each bag contained a gift from our church, something for the women and their families, letters from children from the United States to read and much more.  I (Liz) explained this all in Spanish and then they went down the line of our church members and gave hugs.  It was very fun to be able to provide this small gift for them and their families.

After we completed the gift giving, we began decorating for the big inauguration.  Candace also gave us a tour of the stoves that had been installed in some San Gregorio homes.  This was another wonderful Transformational Journeys and Rolling Hills cooperative project.  The open wood burning stoves that are typical in the homes in Guatemala are extremely harmful to the health of those having to constantly breathe in the smoke.  These women graciously invited us into their homes and showed us the stoves.  You can see from what looks like soot on the wall how important these stoves are.  The first kitchen we visited had black soot stained on the wall from the original stove while the third home, where a kitchen was built specifically to house the stove, was completely empty of the residue.  All of the women were constantly thanking Candace for bringing these to them.

During one of our visits we asked about a little boy who had his arm in a homemade sling.  Most of us had noticed this on our first visit at the beginning of the week and Candace asked about it when she saw him yesterday.  His mother explained that he had a fall and had dislocated his arm.  They were caring for it by keeping it elevated in the sling but it was very swollen and needed attention.  She was told by a visiting medical clinic to take him to the department’s health center but she knew that even though Guatemala claims that healthcare is free, anything more than a check of the arm would not be.  She said she had heard that an X-Ray would cost about 150 Quetzales.  This is about 20 U.S. Dollars.  Ted immediately said “Done” and Candace explained that if we were going to invest in helping this child it would also require paying the expenses of getting him and his mother to and from the hospital, the X-Ray and whatever was beyond.  She estimated roughly 500 Quetzals to start.  I told them that my mom was given a donation from a friend before leaving for Guatemala and would be more than happy to use the remaining 300 Quetzals toward this cause.  Later at the hotel through collections among ourselves we had in less than 20 minutes raised 900 Quetzals to help him with his arm.  This may seem small but as his mother shared with us, if his arm was not taken care of, he would likely be unable to use it for working with a machete, carrying things, etc. which could ultimately mean being unable to earn a living.  It had been 8 days since he had fallen and through our donation he will be taken to a hospital on Monday.  Hopefully with prayers and good doctor care, his arm will be mended.  He was a cute little guy and never seemed to flinch from pain.

After we loaded the truck and headed home, we cleaned up for a special dinner with the masons that were hired to work on the school project from start to finish.  We ate at a nice restaurant in San Lucas Tolíman and we all had a chance to speak before eating.  Some of us expressed our gratitude for working so hard and expressed the notion that this project could not have happened without them.  Some of us were of course emotional when expressing our sentiments because of the relationships that were formed during our trips. It is a hard, hard thing to leave people after only a week of knowing them.  These men, while living in a different country and under different circumstances are not so different at heart.  Ted gave a beautiful speech before eating that said that our language is not different; we all speak the language of God.  This makes us in some ways the same.  He also quoted John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave…..”.  The masons certainly gave of their time, hard work and spirits. Some of the masons spoke as well and expressed their own appreciation for the consistent work and the gesture of treating them to a meal at a restaurant – for some of them this type of restaurant was a first.  I also should note that they each first gave thanks to God.  I am sorry that I did not know these men better for I did not have a chance to work alongside them as much as other Rolling Hill’s groups.  I can say that I respect them so much and am proud of what they have accomplished.  The one that I personally knew the best, Aroldo, also shared his personal of history of coming to work on the project of the school, and gave thanks to his own crew for being so reliable and hard-working.  He is one cool dude and we wish him and his family forever the best.  We then ate, drank and were of course very merry.  Finally, as we had done earlier in the day with the women of the San Gregorio community, we lined up to provide the masons with gifts from our church and say some additional kind words.  It was a special time for us and them and I feel privileged to have broken bread with the best masons in Guatemala!

We ended with a meeting about packing and such because after we left today for the inauguration we would not be back to San Lucas Tolíman.  It was the last night at our fabulous hotel, La posada de los volcanes, with our wonderful hosts, Marbila and Felipe, and staff, Mary.  We were so lucky to have this hotel be our home this week!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Post for Thursday, June 26, 2014

One thing that we have failed to mention is that each morning begins with a daily prayer and reflection called Lectio Divina (“praying the scripture”)  This provides us with time to reflect on our experiences here in Guatemala and how these experiences relate to scripture verses in a personal way.  It is a great way to begin the day.  The passage today way from Luke 8: 22-25, Jesus Calms a Storm.  This was such an appropriate scripture reading for this morning after being out on the boat yesterday.

Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, black beans, yucca pancakes, cookies and juice.  Just kidding from the previous post.  We didn’t return to the school work site today but took the opportunity to tour a coffee co-op in the village of Tzampetey - San Antonio, Palopo.  The co-op means that several families from this specific region join together and bring their beans to this central location to be processed.   Our guide was very informative.  The co-op began informally in 1983 with 18 families participating.  It began as a formal co-op in 1993 with 38 families.  Currently there are 124 families who participate.  Individually, the families wouldn’t be able to sell their own beans, so they all cooperate together.  They must be members in order to use the co-op and they share all expenses.  Their mission is “to grow and market high quality coffee respecting the environment and contributing to achieve sustainability, social and economic development of its member communities. “Café Tzampetey handout”

Four varieties of coffee plants are grown here at an altitude of 1830 meters above sea level and are shade grown.  That means that the beans must be grown with 60% shade and 40% sunshine.    The taste of coffee is determined by the properties of the region. and the properties that are brought out from the beans in this region include lemon, cashew, cantaloupe, and bitter chocolate.  A little tidbit I picked up is that really good coffee should feel great across your tongue.   (Who knew?) The coffee plants take 3 years for the beans to mature.  Processing the coffee beans involves 71 activities from the planting to the drying and roasting.  There are 85 workers involved in all these steps.  Just one of the things that they are very proud of is the tile floors that are used for the drying of the beans rather than concrete.  Because of the tile, the drying time takes about 6 days rather than 8.

This co-op is involved in “direct trade” rather than “fair trade”.  Fair trade has too many rules and regulations and profits are taken away from the families, which is their livelihood and income.  Just one of the regulations is that the children must be of a certain age to work.  However, it is the culture of this region for the families to work together so that would prohibit from this happening.

We are very fortunate and excited that Rolling Hills Church is going to begin a partnership with the co-op in this region and we will be serving it at our church and also have it available for sale possibly by the end of July.  On our return trip from the co-op, we stopped at one of the most beautiful views I have even seen.  We were overlooking Lake Atitlan with a view of the mountains and volcanoes, a village, and just more of God’s grandeur than can be described.

We returned to a delicious rice soup with potatoes, carrots, and corn. Marbila also cooked our two chickens that were presented to us Tuesday evening at the church service.  She said they took 4 hours to get tender. Not only did we have the basic chicken parts, she also cooked the feet and head.  She asked for takers and Linda and Will actually tried to eat them.  Several people expressed that they felt guilty eating the chicken that we had killed, but Geraldo said that to feel guilty is to have bad “ju ju”, so we quickly forgot that!

We spent the afternoon sorting our donations that were brought with us to give to the families at the dedication on Saturday.  Wow.  That was quite a process!  Our evening activity was going to the home of a family that makes beautiful wooden spoons.  They use 4 different kinds of wood to produce these.  They demonstrated how they make their spoons and even let us try it.  It really was fascinating and of course we had to bring some home.  When we got back to the hotel, Marbila had prepared us a delicious spaghetti dinner with garlic bread, and then is was off to bed!