Thursday, January 12, 2017

Time Keeps on Slipping

Wrapped like the eggs and beans in a tortilla I woke up in my blanket, to beams of light cutting through curtains and the sound of people walking by the windows of my room.  Looking at my watch it was eight o'clock.  "Cool" I thought, "it's exactly time for Lectio and breakfast".

Happy that I woke up exactly when everything was supposed to start, I laid in my bed for a few more minutes and talked to my cousin Billy and brother Carter.  

"Did you know you snore like a freight train?" drawled Billy 

"No one in my sleeper complains about it at school" shot back Carter

I listened to the banter and threw the occasional comment in and was met with, "you shouldn't be talking" from both of true.

One by one, not in any particular rush we took our turns brushing our teeth.  Depending on the day we would grab our work pants and slide them on like wet paper turned dry along with the rest of our garb.

There was not a mention of, "ugh were late" or any worry of the sort.  We were on Guatemala time. The kind of time that's more of a guideline than a rule.  Not only was every morning like this, everything was like this.  Yes, things take longer.  Yes, it took adjusting.  Yes, everything got done and that's what matters.  

Departure Day

The departure would take place in three stages.  The first being a ride from San Lucas Toliman to Antigua on Saturday the day before we fly to Houston.  Signs of a stressed team begin to show, and there is literal talk of Guatemala time being lost.  At this point, I hang on to every thread of Guatemala time and refuse to look at my watch.  Why did I even wear it?

We come upon Antigua, the second stage.  The purpose of our visit to Antigua makes sense, although to me it all seems overwhelming already.  We must begin to re-enter.  Re-enter into a faster paced consumer society and transition from quite the opposite that we've grown used to in the San Lucas area.

There are major signs of Antigua being a tourist town.  A prominent one being vendors who barter- which is a method of sale held traditional in certain circumstances in Guatemala-looking shocked and even bitter when we go back and forth bargaining for a better price.  This is a sign that these vendors have realized many tourists just don't know about bartering and many times have the ability to name their price.  This may seem like no big deal.  However, two reasons to respect and observe the culture in terms of the bartering system are that it will be lost if people stop doing it, and to barter for the proper price is to recognize the true quality of the item compared to others.  So it's really a system of checks and balances.  This seemed to be on a decline in Antigua.

Sunday morning at the crack of dawn, 2:00am (Guatemala time, so who really knows) we woke up and made our way to the vans that would take us to the airport and then from Guatemala City to Houston and then Houston to Chicago.  The Guatemalan airport staff lives on Guatemalan time so of course that took a while, but when we landed in Houston, oh did we have a problem.

"This dude's ridiculous, it's not that hard," eyes slanted towards the man facing the wrong way at security I vented to Billy about my impatience.  I was stressed, what can I say?

"Put your hands above your head and turn sideways it's not that hard" I continued.

"Belt off, shoes off, laptop, no change in your pocket..." I couldn't stop myself.  We were cutting it close.  The plane was schedule to leave at 11:30 and we were well passed boarding.  Finally, Billy, Regan, Luke a number of others and myself made it through security.

"Let's go, why are you walking so slow?" I rumbled at Billy

"We gotta wait for the rest of the group."  You can always count on Billy to stand up for what he thinks is the right thing.  Something I'll always admire about him.

"This is a we get everyone on the plane that we can situation," I said.  "Those who fall behind, catch the next flight. Let's go."  We went back and forth.  Billy stuck to his ways and I wasn't about to leave my cousin so I settled to a medium pace.

"They called last call!  Taylor they called last call!"  Regan must've gotten a call from someone already at the gate.

The sprint was on.  Chacos clapping on the plastic floor past Luke, "last call."


"Last call!"

Luke's face dropped and we all went "special ops" mode and navigated towards the gate.  I wish I could say no man left behind, but we left four...

On the plane I reflected on the literal change of pace and the exact time that they cut some of us off.  Some metaphors just write themselves.

Back Home

We're home now.  I'm home now.  I wish I could say I feel recharged from the my experience in Guatemala.  I wish I could say I feel fresh.  I can't.  I can only say the moment I was able to see the first family I ever worked with in Guatemala.  The first connection, the first relationship I formed in Guatemala.  The moment I saw them at the end of the trip in Por Venir and everything came full circle.  I remembered them, they remembered me.  The connection was still there!  Fernando and his brother Jov and their new baby sister with their Mom Dina.  The fact that I had an extra soccer ball in my bag that I was able to give to them, it was all meant to be.  I can say that in that moment, that was the most fulfilling moment of my life and that I will not let it be my last.

It showed me I was not just some "Gringo" coming into their home and giving them a stove.  Yes, the stove is important.  Yes, it improves their quality of life.  However, I think the most important function of the stove is bringing people together.  It is a tool for the fostering of relationships.  The stove is the platform upon which relationships between people from different parts of the world simmer and stew and cook to produce understanding and transformation.  Yes my friends, the transformation is one of thyself.  Something intangible, not something tangible and material such as a stove, but something that a stove can help create.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Today is Epiphany, "three kings day," the twelfth day of Christmas.

For Christians, today symbolizes the spread of God's love to the whole world.

It's appropriate that we completed our work on the last of the 16 stoves we built this week, joined by a youth who "hitched on" with us after hearing about our work.

Many of us also feel that we received more than we gave, and that we would like to give much more.

Although our trip ends tomorrow,  the journey is going to stay with us far longer.

-Don Baraglia

Scratching The Surface

 I quickly looked up fearing danger from above but only saw the door frame and the sign of the ceramics shop we were visiting.  Puzzled I turned to my brother Carter next to me, "what did he say? something about above."

Neither one of us are fluent in spanish, but hey, two heads are better than one right?  We looked at the man who we were doing our best to understand.  He then pointed to a set of stairs in the shop, they led up...ariba.  With a sweeping motion he invited us up.  My brother decided to stay behind and I found myself along with Anton another member of our team, and Billy my cousin on the second level of the shop.  

The second floor was filled with shelves holding all different shapes of fired ceramics.  The shelves lined the edges of the bouncy floor.  The bounciness ended up being a problem because in the center of the floor were five men painting very detailed ceramic bowls.  At the head of the table sat a younger looking fellow who greeted us, "buenas tardes"

"Buenas tardes" I responded

"Dondé vive?"  Where do you live? he asked

We went back and forth exchanging bits of information such as what our names were and where we were staying.  He must have noticed we were taking an interest in the artistry of the painting because he came to say, "vamanos" let's go.  

He led us up to another stair case.  This one hidden behind more shelves of ceramics, mostly pots, some with handles.  My vision seemed to focus in on the stairs as the figure of the person we were talking to before scurried up and vanished.  Everything around me seemed to be a blur of grey and adobe pastels as the stairs were in grainy focus and I took them one, slow, step, at a time. Above me was a rectangular opening about the length of a Kayuka and width of one and a half full grown men.  My hat poked out the top, then my forehead, then my eye brow's and quickly after that, my eyes.  I couldn't believe what I saw.

"El es el Maestro"  He is the teacher is the is the direct translation.

Although in that moment it seemed more like he was the master.  His hands worked the clay up and down, up and down.  Then he would slide his thumbs in and the clay would listen and expand to a an elongated tube.  After that he touched his pinky to his thumb and would widen the creation from the inside, focusing on the bottom.  Smoothing the outside edges and finally releasing his masterpiece from the wheel, his tool of choice, he would add one finishing touch.  A dip in one part of the lip, using the gentlest flip of a finger.  It was easy to imagine water flowing from this pristine piece of art, into a glass, and soothing the soul.  

I stood there speechless for a few moments not sure if I should speak at all for fear of disrupting his work.  I don't even remember who spoke first.  When he did speak, from lips plump at the bottom and thin at the top.  With a nose above more flat than pointy as well as wide, indicative of Mayan decent.  Eyes on either side focused on creating his work furrowing his brows and even his forehead as tan as the clay itself, with black hair surrounding it with patches of gray, he half whispered half spoke, "buenas tardes".

The first few sentences I was gathering my composure from the awe that I was experiencing.  On my left was Anton to my right was Regan, behind me was the man from the second level seemingly in the shadows, and in front of me was el maestro.  We struck up a relaxed conversation among each other.  His name was Santos, he was seventy years old.  When I asked how long he had been working in his profession he said, "cuando yo era niño" since I was a kid.  Seventy years to attain mastery.

Val too found her way up.  This was great because Val IS fluent unlike the rest of us.  With Val's help the master, who was eager to share his craft with us explained that, "ceramics is a science taught through theory and practice".  He demonstrated a progression or theory of ceramics for us.  Explaining that you cannot move on to the next theory until you master the previous one.  

To me this is an example of a surface level relationship.  Relationships take work and practice, but the benefits are immense.  From them we gain an understanding of each other.  I continue to be inspired by all the relationships I start each day in Guatemala.  It amazes me that these are just the start of relationships.  Can you imagine if these were taken deeper?  If you or I got to really know people outside of our bubble?  What could we learn?  I have a feeling that would be a relationship that both people would benefit from.  It goes both ways.  

The stoves we build here are important, yes.  But as Jesus taught us and from our lectio reading that we studied this morning on One Corinthians Three, relationships are the foundation.  "Now if anyone builds a foundation with gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay, straw...the fire will test what sort of work each has done."  The same can be said of relationships.  However one is more susceptible to flame than the other.  

-Taylor Baretz

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

From sunrise to sunset today, we were either on Lake Atitlan, or in villages on the lake's shore.

We visited three villages, including a co-op that produces clothing, blankets and decorative throws.

While on the water, we realize why the lake is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world.

While in the villages, we realize how much everyone depends on the lake, whether for fishing, transportation, or tourism.

In the evening, we visited the master mason, Aroldo's home. We saw that each family here makes it's own tortillas from scratch daily, including going to the mill. It is a tremendous amount of work, and must be done every day to help feed families.

We also saw how important our new eco friendly stoves are in this process. We made our own tortillas, and realized all the heat goes directly into heating the stovetop,  and that no fumes came back into the kitchen. The mason had explained to us earlier in the week that the stove uses about half the wood that previous stoves used.

Tomorrow we return to work on the next eight stoves. We know that our effort is making a difference in the lives of families who will receive one.

-Don Baraglia

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

 As You Are
Water.  Yes.  Or as we say in Guatemala, Agua Sí.  Aqua es mí favorito.  I was born a water baby and have never grown out of it, nor have I ever made a secret of it.  So when I found myself standing on the coarse lightly speckled with glass shore of el Lago Atitian I found myself not only very very emocionado (excited), but also feeling very at home.  

The rest of the group who managed to muster up enough motivation to wake up and leave at 6:00am and myself stood in a half circle. Before us were three fisherman who were there to share their work with us.  It seemed as if we were a hungry pack of dogs surrounding the men.  Which is really ironic because we were really hungry not having any food yet, and there were many stray dogs around us.  The reason we seemed so eager is because these men were very humble and spoke quietly.  Even though Candace interpreted, it is still great to hear them for ourselves and listen to such a beautiful language roll off their tongues such as low tide in the ocean.

The waves on the lake however were non existent as the lake took on the resemblance of glass and one could hardly fathom disturbing its peace.  The fisherman spoke of where they came from, as well as what kind of fish they sought.  They also talked about the kinds of boats they used that we would soon have the opportunity to experience ourselves.  The kayukas were hallowed out logs about 6 to 8 feet long depending on the kayuka and only a few feet wide.

Ruth was among the brave and the first to venture out and rocked it.  Although I must say that we all spun out quite a few times.  After watching a few people go and studying the way the boat reacted to different pushes and pulls of the oar, I was up.  

Inhale, my chest expanded as my lungs filled with sharp morning air.  
Exhale, I could feel the warmth of the condensation on my lips as my breath escaped.

I stepped onto the kayuka.  Relatively steady, I'd like to think I have sea legs.  Although, when there's an audience and expectations and I can't keep my mouth shut about being a lifeguard the nerves get to you, ya know?  I stuck to the plan, shallow short strokes.  Don't go too deep or you'll risk capsizing, or spinning out repeatedly and embarrassing yourself. 
Sweet!  The plans working.  Lets go faster...bad idea. Doughnut time.  You get the idea.  Repeat cycle until frustration in middle of lake.  Wow.  This is embassing.  I've spun myself to the center, half way there and now I have to go back.  I was looking down at my feet that were starting to get dirty, the coke bottle for bailing out water that might come in, and the water that was slowly coming in but wasn't a problem.  Then I looked up.  That was the best thing I could have done.

I looked up and was met with the silhouette three sixty view of the surrounding mountains and volcanoes cast by the light of the sun.  At the same time the sun was dancing through the clouds and onto the lake making it glow and sway with every ripple from the passing canoes.  Sitting there for the moment.  The only moment that mattered, the present moment I was at peace.  It also occurred to me, as it has before but never so strongly as it has in that moment that, I wouldn't change a thing about this place.  About Guatemala.

As Candace, our great leader (although she doesn't like titles I feel that is a very appropriate one) would say, "now let's unpack that a little bit".  Something I've come to realize after hearing it and seeing examples of it over and over again is, it's simply not my place.  It's not my place to come into another country and say, this is what you need.  I believe that to be a generally true statement when it comes to work done in places that isn't your own.  How would you like it if someone walked into your house and said, "nah, that bathroom's not up to par.  Looks like we're gonna have to bring it up to 'modernity.'"? 
Then the question is, do we help at all.  I think the answer is yes.  Not in the traditional, you need this so here it is way.  Instead in the way of, "what did you say you need? Okay, now let's work together on that".  That way not only are you and the people working together towards the goals of the actual requested need, you are also building relations.  After much discussion and observation I believe this building of relations is what I think is the key to transformation.

If you're still with me I hope you tune in to explore more parts of this immense and ever expanding conversation later.  If you wanna drop a comment I'll do my best to respond.  In the meantime take care of yourselves and I hope you have some food for thought.

Feliz noche,


Monday, January 2, 2017

Today was our first day working in San Juan. We have eight work crews, most with three volunteers and a local mason. Each crew is nearly finished with a stove. We hope to build 16 by the end of this week.

Each mason taught us the skills that we need.  Each crew worked under a mason that taught us how to mix mortar, level the stove, and stack the cinder blocks.  They were very patient with us.  Most of us are pretty much beginners.

We are eager to help the families we’re working with, and they are glad we are here. The children are especially glad to see us, and our young adults already have made friends for the week.

-Don Baraglia

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Gift of Now
Sitting on the couch after eating a breakfast of eggs, beans, plantains, and of course tortillas, I look down at my feet-they’re clean.  A sign and a promise of a new, exciting day ahead.  Especially if you’ve been wearing sandals as others and myself have.  

Shifting my gaze to the left I spot a man who is not part of our group standing next to the table.  For some reason he looks slightly familiar although there’s no way I know him and he’s probably one of Candace’s Friends. 
            Remembering what Candace has taught us so far about Guatemalan culture and etiquette, I approach the man, “buenos dias” (good morning) I say.
            He returns the gesture and we ask each other how we’re doing, then leading to, “commo te lamma?” what is your name? 
He told me his name was Gregorio, instantly I remembered him, I did know him!  Promise fulfilled. He gave a tour of the mountains the last trip here and educated us on something called Permaculture.  Permaculture relates to agriculture and has to do with the ability of an area to self sustain itself. 

(Pictured above: Gregorio)
            Both trips, this one included, we talked specifically about how people can work with the land for this self-sustaining system.  In the end both people and the land benefit from it.  The best example of the permaculture in action is something called a chicken tractor.  Just imagine a group of chicken in a designated space living the life.  All they have to do is what chicken do: eat, drink, sleep, and of course go to the bathroom.  That last part is very important because as they do that they’re fertilizing the soil.  In essence these chickens live large and in return they give the farmers great soil, call it a deal.  Not to mention they live on some grade A eye candy.

            Prior to our experience around what all of us considered paradise (I think that’s a safe bet that we all did), Gregorio gave us the opportunity of a meditation like practice. We stood in a circle hands held, eyes closed gently, and listened to Gregorio and Val, one of our other great leaders as she interpreted for us.
 “Water.  Imagine yourself as this element.  Imagine everything that has to do with this element.”  Translated Val.
As I imagined the essence of water I was encapsulated by the actual river behind us.    Sounding like white water falling from high rocks plunging into the depths below and then galloping along the pebbles of the bottom of the stream and through the plants that grew there.
“Air, Imagine yourself as this element now”
With that I was evaporated and floating into the sky higher and higher.
“Ground or Earth”
Finally I had completed the cycle to the end.  Falling as rain from a cloud then becoming a worm burrowing itself deeper and deeper into the cool earth. 

            Slowly everyone opened their eyes.  The wind blew through us as if we were trees standing in the wind.  For that moment it seemed I felt very present, very mindful of only what was what was going on at the moment.  For me I am going to do my best to maintain that attitude of mindfulness the rest of the trip and into my everyday life.  It is something that lets things happen naturally in their own way without being forced.

            As a group we’ve also been talking about this topic of observing and learning instead of problem solving.  Counterintuitive right?  Especially on a mission trip.  However, I fully buy into it.  I want to talk more about this and shine some light on it later this trip.  I hope you stay tuned for more.  Tomorrow we start our experience with the community of San Juan.  We will be building stoves.  Spoiler alert: it’s about more than that.

Happy New Year!

-Taylor Baretz

We arrived in Guatemala City about noon yesterday, and drove to San Lucas Tolimán, where we will be working, We arrived about 6 p.m. Since we met at O’Hare Airport at 3 a.m. that morning, the total travelling time was 15 hours.

Today was our first full day in Guatemala.

It’s extraordinarily beautiful here in “the land of eternal spring.“ The mountain landscape with volcanoes is breathtaking.

We visited a coffee collective on Lake Atitlan today, then we visited the village where we will build stoves.

We received a warm welcome at San Juan El Mirador, both from the women who organize within the town, and the men who represent the town to the local government.

We were instantly charmed by the children in San Juan. They will be our inspiration all week.

We were treated to Gatorade on our departure at just the right moment!

Feliz Año Nuevo! Our next blog will be in 2017!

-       -Don Baraglia