Should I stay or should I go now….
Something has stuck with me…. something I heard … It has been in the back of my mind since I arrived here. My lifegroup leader Laurie told a story more than once of her experience here in Guatemala. She said that there were times that she didn’t think she could go on… she just didnt have the strength to lift that pick axe one more time… but one look into the eyes of a little Guatemalan girl that was watching her and she somehow found another swing.. then another… then another…. I totally understand now what she was talking about…. Today I knew that kind of determination.
Today we left the camp at 8am as usual. We were off to Antionette’s home. Martin (the mason) needed more mud bricks so we were there to supply him with more. Trip after trip we carried brick after brick. I’ve already told you how labour intensive that is… totally draining. In the end we carried 500 mud bricks to Martin. We made the best of it… We taught Martin some english phrases like “Goodbye” and “Excuse me”… we had some fun listening to him say our names. It took him a long time to understand mine because when I was trying to tell him I had forgotten to roll my R…. Rrrrrrrrita… Once I rolled my tongue he got it right away. We were all totally fed up with the whole brick thing so to make it more interesting we made it a competition to see if during each trip to the brick making yard and back we could beat our previous time. Normally as you get more tired you slow down but this gave us the determination to push ourselves harder and harder and beat our last time. We took it from 30min… to 28min… to 20min… to our final best of 15min right on the nose!!! After our last trip Antionette made us lunch again. Rice and beans this time. Geoff, Dave H and myself took a pass on lunch this time… as appreciative as we were we were unable to handle it today… our tummies have been a tad fragile lately so we took a quick walk to the tienda (store) and got some cookies instead.
After lunch we were off to visit Pavlo and Cantidad… They are an elderly couple that have been requesting help from Wells of Hope for the past year. They live in a cornstalk home and its honestly no place for an animal to live let alone an elderly couple. On the way we made a stop for … you guessed it… more mud bricks because as a group we had discussed and decided to build them a new home! All the students wanted to give these people a home quite badly. When we had visited earlier in the week they all said that we have a moral responsibility to take care of our elders so we must help them get better living accomodations. So here we were now making this families dream a reality.
The look on their faces when we arrived carrying bricks and tools was priceless. The realization that they no longer had to suffer cold at night with bugs and spiders climbing and biting… One realization struck me… if someone were to show up at your home and say “We have a tent for you to stay in while we build you a home, how quickly can you move out?”, how long would it take you to pack up everything you own and move out? One day? Three days? One week? How many trucks would you need? One pickup truck? One large size U-haul? Two? Let me tell you, it took them less than 15 minutes to gather everything they own and move it up the mountain to a flat spot out of the way where Greg and some others were setting up a tent like carport for them to live in temporarily. Fifteen minutes! They have viturally nothing… and there are others living with them a niece and a couple of children. Yet they have almost no personal posessions. One lonely tooth brush hung from a string by a small cosmetic mirror hung on the inside wall of the cornstalk sleeping area. In the one corner was a small open fire. The entire room was filled with smoke. There was virutally nothing else in the room but a few tattered blankets and some clothing. In the kitchen was a stove area that expels smoke into the room. A few old pots and several machete’s. Imagine living life in 2 rooms. No real beds, virtually living outside with very little to block the rain and wind… No tv, no diswasher, virtually no dishes… no washer, no dryer… no knick knacks, no radio, no computer, no cd’s, hardly any clothes, no toothbrush… and NO washroom… no toilet, no tub, no shower, no toothbrush… bathing is done in the nearest puddle of dirty infested water and washroom business is done in the jungle. Life is labour intensive and tougher than you could imagine…. but it is simple…. people are happy… they are people just like you and I… but there is a sparkle in their eyes that we lack. I am learning that in some ways despite the intense poverty they experience, despite the hard, intense labour they must endure every minute, despite being thirsty and hungry and having very little shelter, I find myself being just a bit envious of them and their happiness… their simplicity… their faith, their hope, their spirit.
We began demolition of their house within a few minutes of getting there. We ripped down the walls, tore off the roofs and pulled up all the support poles and within an hour it was all gone. The roof inside was covered with a thick layer of creosote so thick it was like stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. It was from the cooking and the fires that are done inside the house. I cannot even imagine what these poor people’s lungs are like. Breathing that in day after day, year after year… with children being raised in these rooms. Tarantula’s crawled out of the cornstalk walls as we moved them. They were huge, black and hairy… not poisonous but they were still ugly and scary none the less. I was helping Geoff take down a beam and one of these beasts flew at me and hit me in the face. That was an experience I’d prefer to never have happen again to be honest. They were everywhere and they bit. We couldn’t help but think of the fact that these creatures would be crawling over these people and biting as they slept. When Ted asked us if we were willing to stay the whole day and work instead of returning to camp (this meant the students would have a double lesson tomorrow) everyone agreed. We were all incredibly tired and worn out but looking into the eyes of these people and thinking of them being cold at night and being bitten by these spiders gave us all the determination to go on… to get this house built as quickly as possible.
So off Ted went to get Martin and pull him off of the building of Antionette’s home so he could come and mark out the location of the new home so we could begin digging the foundation. It took Martin about an hour so we got almost too much of a break. It was enough to let stiffness and fatigue settle into us. By the time he was done and the foundation was marked no one wanted to move. Especially me… I admit I felt near to dropping. All those bricks, all that demolition, not much lunch and just plain fatigue had all played a part in making me feel like I could not go on. Ted took me for a walk up the mountain to see the temporary home of the Pavlo and Cantidad. They were sitting around a fire with family members and the children.. Cantidad approached Ted and even though I could not understand what she was saying I understood enough to know she was thanking him. After that I found some determination to continue. So down we went, picked up the tools and got to work. We all dug and dug and dug… pickaxes, shovels, hoes and sheer determination getting it done. I am telling you to trust me when I say that work down here is brutal. The ground is not soft… the weather is hot… the bugs bite and even petting a dog here can get you a nasty bite. But the work is more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done before. Pretty much every muscle I have hurts, even some I didn’t know I had. I’m tired because the animals make so much noise its hard to sleep. I’m tired because I’m working harding physically than I ever have before in my life….And yet, I go on… I work hard… everywhere I can see the eyes of these people looking at me full of hope.. full of life… and I keep going…
Geoff and I have been walking the property here several times a day… talking and trying to process the things we have seen here. A visit to Nico’s house yesterday put us all in a mood. Those children have no laughter in them. I can’t image the horror of their lives. Nico is not doing well and seems to have been shirking his responsibilities as a father. He has been drinking. Its frustrating to see those kids cry in fear of us as we are handing them gifts… There is no joy, no hope, in their eyes… as a matter of fact there is nothing in their eyes but fear and a certain deadness. Its heartbreaking to watch knowing all that Ted and Wells of Hope has tried to do to help this family. We as a group are still brainstorming what to do about this. Trying to find a way to help them become more self sufficient. Trying to find a solution to Nico and his drinking. A trip to Nico’s house equals a definate tearfest for those that visit. Alley has a special place for Nico and his family in her heart. She was very upset after we left there. So upon returning to camp that afternoon Geoff, Dave and I convinced her to join us in Jalapa for an hour. We needed to get out of here and clear our heads. So off we went and it was a great time. We hung out in the cafe, had a snack and just laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. It was much needed and very therapeutic. It felt good to be silly and laugh for a while.
Its Saturday now…. This morning Geoff and I walked the property again… we have been struggling with going home. Walking the property singing… “Should I stay or should I go now…. “…. Back and forth, back and forth… We are changing our ticket… we are not changing our ticket…. We have had some long talks with Ted and I have to say, I admire the van der Zalm family very much. What they have done here is amazing. I understand now why Ted says it isn’t about coming down here to appease our personal guilt. To do a semi-tourism sort of thing and help out so that we feel better once. Coming down here and truly seeing with open eyes and an open heart makes you need to come back again and again. The desire to help here and commit to continue to help is what is needed. Its more than “short term mission” or whatever phrasing you prefer. Need has a name… need has eyes, noses, mouths and heartbeats… need has feelings… need laughs, cries just like us… Those who need are people just like us… its simple… we have need too… we NEED to help! Its about commitment. Its about knowing whats out here and having a moral responsibility to keep coming and helping. And that goes for anywhere in the world where there is need… and that is worldwide… here, Africa, India, New Orleans …. and yes even St Catharines. Even people who do not have the ability to travel can be called to help… financially, through fundraising, through helping families or individuals who can travel however they need. You get my point? The bottom line is everyone has a place in this world and a way to help, everyone just needs to figure out how they can help. You know, BE THE CHANGE you want to see in the world….
The draw to stay here is very strong. Its so hard to think of leaving… to leave these people and their need… to leave projects unfinished….to leave the simple beauty of this place…. to leave these students who we have grown so close to. We have so many reasons to stay. Yet the draw to go home is strong too… I miss my home… I miss my family and friends… I miss my lifegroup girls…. so many reasons to go home. We are so torn… I think we have decided to not change our ticket home… I am not sure though… That decision seems to change almost hourly…. I am sure… absolutely positive that we will be returning in April. We have to… its that simple…