The inconvenient truth…..
**This one is long folks… sorry but Im not getting to the internet as often as I thought… sorry… = ) **
I’ve tried to write this blog 3 times over the past few days. Everything I write seems to be inadequate to express what I am thinking and feeling. It’s Tuesday and 4 days have passed since I last blogged. I have to admit Im a little bit concerned about writing this then typing it out on the computer. It loses data at the most random times and I have had to re-type things more than once. How inconvenient!! Thinking on it, living communally inconvenient. You can’t always have a shower at the exact moment you want. You may not get seconds of your favorite dish because everyone seems to like the same thing. Personalities clash and to be frank certain people drive you nutty. People may be loud and you may not get the exact amount of rest you need. But you know what else is inconvenient? Having to walk several kilometres through the mountains to carry dirty, parasite infested water that will most likely kill a few members of your family (specifically your children) on your head. Its inconvenient to run out of food and feed your dirty, naked children a bowl of leftover sugar (you know the kind that is stuck like cement to a bowl after it has gotten damp and sat for days). It’s inconvenient to sleep on the dirt floor of a cornstalk hut when the temperatures dip to single digits in the mountains at night. You see where I’m going with this? Inconvenience moves beyond slow internet connections… beyond flight delays & lousy movie choices on a plane… beyond re-runs of tv shows… beyond long lines at the store… beyond traffic jams that make us late… beyond just about every scenario our North American pampered brains can comprehend.
I’ve watched and participated in so many things these past days alongside the co op students. We visited an insanely crowded and chaotic market in Jalapa for R & R (yeah, ok…). We went to Church Sunday morning at 8am passing tons of people who had to begin their walk at 4am to arrive on time. Standing room only when we got there and by the time the service began there were hundreds outside unable to hear but still worshipping with a smile. We visited Nico & Yolanda’s home that was built last year by the Southridge groups (shout out here to members of my life group… I miss you guys!) Nico and Yolanda have 12 kids, the youngest of which Baby Daryl was named by Ted. Sad situation there that made pretty much everyone cry that night… Emotions ran high. Kids everywhere, dirty and naked with nothing much to eat but that crusty sugar I talked about earlier. It showed everyone that these people need so much more than just a house built. They need to be taught how to become self sufficient and earn a living etc. High’s & Low’s (we do a High & Low part of your day discussion at dinner time) consisted almost totally of Nico’s house visit being the group low that night. We are spending the next few days brainstorming with the students ways to help them get it together. That day we also visited one of several cemetaries on the mountain. 75% of the graves were about 2ft long… basically an entire cemetary filled with children… looking around at the surrounding mountains made us all realize that the scope of this extends way beyond just this mountain.
All the above was just the weekend… let me tell you there were tears shed all around. We spend a lot of the time here crying, holding each other and talking it all out. Sometimes its hard to see God here but it seems just when you are at your ultimate low He shows up.
This group is getting so close. Bonds are being formed. Unshakable, unbreakable, lifelong ones. Its impossible to not bond. You cannot go through this experience alone. It would break your spirit if you couldn’t share this in community, in relationship. Its a beautiful thing and it changes you in your core… who you are… you will never be the same you just know that. I honestly do not know how I am going to go home… how I am going to leave the people, the students, the community here. I wish so much my life group girls were here to share this with me. (Shout out to you guys… I miss you and love you very much!)
Yesterday, (Monday) we began work on a home that Wells of Hope began last year but managed to get no further than the foundation because the rains came. Not much can be done here in the rainy season. Agriculture is about it, the ground becomes too saturated for any type of building to be done. We had visited Martin the mud brick mason on Saturday and ordered the 500+ bricks we would need for the home. Just so happened that Martin had enough mud bricks already made so Monday we began the monumental task of moving them. We had to load them onto the truck one by one (each mud brick weights approx. 40lbs and are about 4 times the size of normal bricks. Those of you that have been here know exactly what I am talking about when I say these bricks are awkward, heavy and fragile! Somehow we found the strength to do several trips and by lunch we had moved just over 300. While the trips were going back and forth some of us remained behind to pulverize the broken bricks (and we unfortunately broke quite a few) to mix with the water (which we had to walk and fetch bucket after bucket) to make mortar. Pulverizing with makeshift hoe’s was hard work… Fetching water was hard… Everything here is so labour intensive… everything is hard… absolutely everything! Well, actually if I am honest I did get to spend a short time taking the mortar (mud) and help build a row of the house. That was not that hard… that was downright fun! All of it was quite fulfilling. Once its all done we can all say that we literally built Antionetta and her children a home with our bare hands, our blood, our sweat and our tears!
We were all exhausted, sore, cut up, bruised, sunburnt (despite the 30-50spf lotion), and hot but a wonderful thing happened…. Antionetta brought us lunch. A chow mein filled with noodles, native Guatemalan veggies and chicken, tortilla’s and some sort of milky white rice sort of drink (Thanks Ted for drinking this for us so we wouldn’t have to risk getting sick). It was delicious (well except for the beak that was in mine and Zack’s), and such an honour to be fed knowing the cost it was to her. Truly these people are so giving! As I was sitting in the shade under a tree eating I watched everyone. I noticed the happy chatter and the laughter in our group. Spirits were so incredibly high despite all the physical aches and pains.. It felt really good to work hard and it truly is better to give than recieve.
Today (Tuesday) we all began the day a bit sore but eager and quite pumped. You see today we were to help a village of about 15 families get water. This particular village has no access to water and asked Ted to run a pipeline from an existing well approx. 2km down the mountain to provide them running water. Ted wants the Students to help with the decision of whether or not to build this pipeline so he wanted us all to experience fetching water by bucket traditionally by carrying it on our head. So off we trekked to the water source (dirty infested surface water) carrying our buckets. Downhill… VERY steeply downhill we trekked through the jungle about 10 minutes dreading the trek back uphill. Only a few of us were able to fill our buckets here because the source was drying up (within a month it will be totally dry). Only a few of us (Ted & Miraim’s son, and my 2 sons Luke age 9 and Gabe age 8)were able to get water here because the source was drying up (within a month it will be totally dry). So those 3 began the climb back while the rest of us trekked to another source much farther away. The walk was brutal… the sun was intense… the heat was severe and at an elevation of approx. 8000ft the air was thin. This was brutal with EMPTY buckets!!! Once our buckets were full we perched them on top of our heads and the realization set in immediately that getting them back was going to be a task like one we have never undertaken before. Have you ever heard the saying “Uphill.. both ways”? Well in Guatemala that is very true. The rocky mountainous terrain is full of ups and downs in every direction. I myself began to pray immediately after I took one step with that bucket on my head. “God help me with this… Im not going to be able to do this on my own… help me to not fail… give me strength”… The pain in my neck and arms was so intense I cannot describe it. You have to experience it. Try it! Fill a 5 gallon pail with water… perch it on your head… hold onto it with arms fully outstretched upward for balance and then go up and down a flight of stairs about 400 times. Go, do it… I’ll wait….. I mean it… Go! Sound silly? Well the women of Guatemala do this several times a day….
Think about how much water you use in a day… bathing… laundry… cooking… drinking… etc. How many buckets would you need in a day for your family? You see now why I was praying? I refused to give up… I made it just over 1/2way back with the bucket on my head. Some students made it less… some made it more… some hung back to encourage the others and this 40something mother of 3 and in the end some helped me and each other. We all eventually made it to the village… less water in our buckets than when we began but we did it. I was exhausted, sore, semi-defeated yet semi-elated that my asthma stricken body managed to make it back at all and I kept up with some of the others very well. (*Note: People with Asthma here do not have the luxury of inhalers, they merely go slower).
It truly was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, no question… it was also the most humbling thing Ive ever done. It provided clarity of what these women endure several times a day to get water that we totally take for granted. It was also one of the most beautiful experiences of my life watching all of us and the co-op students encourage & help each other. Faster ones came back down when they were finished to help those that were struggling… etc… We truly do share everything here, including each others burdens.
When we returned to the village I immediately looked for my youngest boys that had returned ahead of us & I was informed that Gabe had wandered off the path and was still on the mountain by himself, lost. We had been gone 1 1/2hrs and the fear and panic that struck me at that moment was indescribable. Zack, my 15yr old took off like a bullet and was down that mountain before most of us hit the gate. Seeing my boys fight like brothers do… the harsh words they exchange all the time and yet when Zack heard his baby brother was lost on that mountain he was gone faster than Geoff and I. I ran down as fast as I could calling out his name. I turned and saw all the students running behind me spread out in a search pattern. Before any of us even got to the bottom I heard Zack yell he had found him. Relief washed over me then I saw them coming out of the jungle. Zack was half carrying a sobbing, shaking Gabe. I ran to him and he clung to me. It seems he had searched the path up and down but then he had fallen down and was too upset, hurt & tired to go on. Miraculously he had fallen on the path where we could find him easily. Its blurry now in my mind but I can tell you that coming around that gate and seeing the miles of jungle on that mountain I prayed like I have never prayed before. My prayers were answered. It breaks my heart to think of Gabe lying on that path scared, crying and alone but he is safe. My boys learned a valuable lesson in listening to your parents instructions… All that I know is God was with us on that mountain.
I’ve saved the best for last… Today we took some time from our work day to do something awesome. Luke and Gabe did a sort of fundraiser at their school (St. Mark, Beamsville). They challenged the students to bring in 1 small toy, a hot wheels car, a small doll etc. The students rose to the challenge and we paid for 3 extra large suitcases jam packed to fly here with us. Today was the day we had the privilege to visit a village school and hand out toys. We toured the school and the conditions are deplorable. One of the classroom for 25 students is smaller than the JK/SK coat rooms I’ve seen. The roof is slats so when it rains the kids get soaked. It would take very little to build proper classrooms but there is simply no money. Luke and Gabe were shocked and have decided that their new project will be to fundraise money and build a new classroom. They felt awful seeing the kids in those conditions.
We set up the suitcases in the yard and the principal led the classes out one by one. The children lined up and were so excited to see the white people handing out toys. They were peeking around the corner as they waited grinning ear to ear. It didnt matter what they got, they were so incredibly happy. Everyone was laughing and having a great time. I cried from the sheer enormity of it all… the joy and happiness was tangible. A few of the students had stayed with our family to share in this experience. It was beautiful.
I cannot help but reflect on the events of the past few days. To be amazed at what God is doing here in all of us… how we are changing… I admit I was afraid of the change. Now I seem to be welcoming it, anticipating how life will be different for myself, Geoff and our boys once we get home. I look at things differently already and I know that sometimes things wear off after a while, but I truly dont believe this experience will ever leave me. Ive shed way too many tears in the past weeks to ever let it change back. I think that now that my eyes have seen.. my ears have heard… and my body has felt some of what they do I have a responsiblility to be the change… even just one tiny speck of it. I have a very funny feeling that my life is going to get a lot more inconvenient but for different reasons than before!