Many chapters already written and yet just the beginning….
Well here we are again…. Guatemala for the fourth time in 14 months. I am beginning to get the feeling that we like it here haha… This trip is not for work and for that I am thankful. We have spent so much time in this country and have seen very little of it and have not had the opportunity to be immersed in the culture at all. Last time we were here we spent most of our time in the town of El Progreso working at the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro and we had the fortunate blessing of meeting Fernando. Fernando speaks english and welcomed us to his family home to meet his parents Senor Chico and Senora Vilma.
This time we checked into a hotel in El Progreso and went straight to Fernando’s family home. They welcomed us with open arms and hearts and this was the beginning of one of the best weeks of my life. Fernando took the entire week off work in order to be our escort and help us with the language barrier and to show us Guatemala and its culture. The purpose of this trip for us was multi-faceted…. Firstly we wanted to meet with Hermana Mercedes at the Hospital and get information on the hospital, how it runs and what urgent needs they have so we can begin our fundraising effort back home for our visit next year. Secondly we wanted to look at property so we can build a home here. The camp in Jalapa is simply too far away to suit our needs now since we feel called to serve here in El Progreso & Jutiapa. Thirdly we simply wanted to see some of Guatemala and as I said the culture here. Staying at camp in Jalapa still retains a “Canadian” feel to it and we really wanted to live as Guatemalteco’s (Guatemalan’s) for a while.
Throughout these 8 days we managed to realize all 3 of our goals and so much more!
Upon arriving at Fernando’s home we were treated to a traditional meal that was delicious! Senora Vilma made so many efforts to keep us safe in regards to food and her cooking. Her efforts paid off, and for that we are extremely grateful! In the entire week, no one got sick! And believe me, based on some of the ‘traditional’ things we ate this is nothing short of a miracle! Some of what we ate I can honestly say, I cannot believe we ate it hahahaha… some of which we liked, some of which made us almost gag but we tried our best to muddle through the tough times and eat it. Overall it was fantastic food and we felt so honoured that they welcomed us to share meals with them. We spent a great deal of time at Senor Chico’s home and ate many, many meals there. In Guatemalateco culture it is quite rare to be invited to someones home, especially for meals and it is an honour to be invited at all. Words cannot express the gratitude my family felt for being so included in this community. And they truly live as a community. If someone has a good day fishing, everyone partakes… if someone kills a cow, everyone partakes… Everyone helps, and everyone eats. If someone is ill, everyone prays and helps…. if someone’s roof leaks, everyone cleans the mess and helps fix the roof…. Get the picture? We have so much to learn from this culture… we need to return back to basic’s like this and take care of each other 1/2 as well as they do!!!
Our first day, Fernando told us that in the morning he was going to butcher a cow and a chicken so we could eat and then his family would sell the meat at very low prices to help feed his village. We had no idea what was in store for us in the morning.
We arrived at Fernando’s and off we went to pick up the cow in a nearby village. We had to walk the many mountainous acres looking for the grazing cow. A local ‘cowboy’ came with us because he is an expert in roping a cow. It took nearly no time at all and we were on our way back with the cow in the back of the man’s truck. After arriving back at Fernando’s there was a crowd of people there… within minutes they had the cow tied and the town butcher had the cow dead, right there on the front lawn…. To say we were shocked by this whole process would be quite the understatement. Next thing we knew they were skinning… cutting… etc etc etc… The women were wrapping the meat that was to be for sale. They waste nothing… and I mean nothing… even the stomach contents are emptied and taken away for fertilizer… hooves are put on the fire to burn away the outside and then boiled for soup…. Its truly the grossest (if thats even a word) and yet so incredible thing I’ve ever seen. The entire process took under 3 hours and the cow was simply gone… every single piece of it! They cut off the horns and put some kind of curing salt/calcium on the fleshy top and put it on the roof to dry… it is a gift meant for us and will be ready for us to take home next time we come. It was an honour to witness this and be included… and the gift of the horns is a sign of their love and respect for us.
Our kids were then invited to kill a chicken for us to eat for lunch…. Thus ensued the most crazy thing I have ever seen… I watched my 10 year old son kill a chicken with Senora Vilma’s help (no one else was willing to try haha). To actually understand how much these animals mean to this family… being their only source of food… its quite humbling…. As I said, Fernando’s family uses everything they have to help the poor in their village… they sell things for what people can afford to pay and if they cannot afford to pay then they are given what they need and someday they know those people will repay them at times they themselves are in need.
Throughout the week we tried to help Senoa Vilma cook, clean etc, as much as we could but she basically would not let us lift a finger. She served us as though we were royalty. This simply is the Guatemalteco way. To help her is insulting to her in this culture. The only time she ever let me do anything was to help her make the day’s tortilla’s that are eaten at every meal. Zack, Luke and Gabe helped her too. We stood in the kitchen and laughed until we cried because what would take her 3 seconds took us a minute and she still had to fix them and make them right. It was so much fun and I have to tell you, Senora Vilma loves to laugh. She laughs all the time and her joy is so contagious… I love her and it has made my desire to learn Spanish better all the stronger so I can communicate with her without Fernando always having to translate. In that matter I do have to say that I have learned more Spanish in my 8 days here than I have in my past 6 months of school. Fernando is so patient, as is everyone and they are teaching me the most useful Spanish I would learn no where else but here!
Later in the week Fernando and Senora Vilma took us to Esquipulas. It is a beautiful city about a 2 hour drive through some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever witnessed in my many travels around the world. There is a 400+ year old Basillica of the black Christ. The statue of the black Christ was carved from a type of black wood and brought here from Spain over 400 years ago. People come from all over Latin America and the world to light a candle and say a prayer at the foot of the statue. When you have finished your prayer you walk backwards away from the statue as a sign of respect that Christ never turns His back on man so man should never turn his back on Christ. Its such a beautiful tradition and we all felt the solemn honour to have participated in this with the countless others that were there to pay respect. On the walkway leading to the statue there are these huge beautiful pieces of art, almost like mosaic’s made with tiny gold charms… each charm represents something that someone has received as a miracle after visiting the Basillica. There are hundreds of thousands of these charms… feet, hands, bodies, people’s loved ones coming to Christ etc etc etc.. the list goes on. We were all fascinated by these mosaics… humbled by the sheer multitude of miracles that these people have received. Perhaps in order to receive a miracle, one must simply have the faith that Christ can do anything…. Perhaps that is something that we sometimes tend to miss in our culture…. Are we too busy to see the miracles that happen every day? hmmmmmm……
Fernando also took us to look at property back in his village later in the week and after an exhausting day I will tell you that we do have one in mind now. It is about a 10 minute drive from Fernando’s house through a narrow road that is cobblestone in places and just a mess in others hahaha. Four wheel drive would be a bonus in most places here. The property itself sits up on a hillside/cliff of sorts and is quite beautiful with palm trees and a huge mango tree just down the cliff. On one side is a breathtaking view of the main mountain in El Progreso. This mountain is huge and it is widely believed here that by looking at it you can predict the weather. If the mountain has a cloud on top that does not move, it hovers, then the winds will come. Trust me when I tell you, we’ve spent enough time here to tell you that is 100% accurate! Our family has spent much time staring at this mountain and we all think it is one of the most beautiful things we have ever seen…. On the other side of the property there is a view of the valley and mountains on the horizon. The view is breathtaking and we could certainly see us enjoying living there while we serve. We have taken many pictures of this property and will take them home and think and pray. If God wants it to be, then it will be. We will begin saving money and if it is still available once we have enough saved then I believe it will happen… We shall see….
It’s strange, I feel that our story of Guatemala already has so many chapters and yet in so many ways it is just beginning…..So much more has happened on this trip… the most important being our meeting with Hermana Mercedes and the other sisters at the Hospital and our visit to the mountain villages of Jutiapa with them, but I am out of time and space so I shall say…..To be continued very soon, there is much more to tell….. stay tuned!