Greetings from beautiful sunny (and rainy) Guatemala! We are here, we are settled. Honestly I did not think everything was going to ever settle. The last weeks for us in Canada were beyond insane and we were looking forward to getting “home” to Guatemala. The goodbyes in Canada were brutal and our emotions were stretched to the limit. Once we arrived here both Geoff and I got quite ill. I think our bodies just were so overtired they literally shut down. It made the transition here quite a bit more difficult. Combine that with the fact that our home here had leaked and most things were covered in a nice layer of mold. Oh this whole rainy season thing is going to take some getting used to. Its hard to describe… most days its a mix of sun and cloud and then the rain arrives mid afternoon. Now, its not like North American typical rain… oh no… its instantly drenching downpours with epic thunder and lightening that last for hours upon hours. Everything floods, everything gets soaked and nothing ever dries due to the humidity. It can be quite miserable.
Often when it rains I feel myself becoming mildly depressed. For the first week here, I have to be honest, I did not think I was going to make it. Several times I was tempted to book flights back to Canada and forget this whole insane “move to Guatemala” thing ever existed. I shed many tears those first few days as I recovered from illness, acclimated to the altitude (which makes you very nauseous), cleaned mould from walls, laundered everything that got mouldy and cried even more when every time I put laundry out to dry it began to rain, and cried more than I ever thought I could mourning the loss of my easy life back in Canada. I was near hysterics if I thought too much of the family and friends I left behind. Seriously, looking back that first week I wonder how I ever snapped myself out of it.
In all honesty, what snapped me out of it was the thoughts and sights of why we are here… when it rained I thought of the people in the mountains who have no access to the medicine I easily picked up from the ‘farmacia’ to rid myself of my illness… when I was nauseous I thought of the people who climb up and down those steep mountains in the mud to fetch meager amounts of water…. when I cleaned mould I thought of those who have no walls to clean, no clothes to launder and simply no shelter from the wet and cold…. As I sat down to eat every meal I was overcome by the guilt of my “first world problems” … I had food, shelter, family… amazing friends all over the world who love and care for me… and enough money to book a plane ticket back to visit them when I am so inclined.
The biggest slap in the face for me came as I worked my way through 2 books about the history of Guatemala and the civil war that lasted for decades. The one not many North Americans know much about… ya, that one. We hear tales of genocide and such things from all over the world and yet this one … not much is ever spoken nor written about. It was important to me to read these books… to learn about the history of the country I now call home and the Mayan people I serve.
What I read was so incredibly shocking to me that I have had nightmares about it ever since. Nothing has ever affected me quite like this. Perhaps it is because I am here… living amongst the people that were so detrimentally effected. I look people in the eye, notice something inherently broken in them and wonder why. Now I know. Families ripped apart, torture of proportions that are on par with the Holocaust, food supplies that have taken generations to ensure high quality seeds, destroyed, women, children, men, families, babies all gone. More than 200,000 people just gone. Poof… just like that. Mostly over land. Powerful people wanted that land for the big fruit companies and the Mayans were simply in the way. Ok, so I am really oversimplifying things here, but suffice it to say, that there was no valid reasoning behind attempted massacre of an entire race of people. Other countries sanctioned the acts. Large powerful North American and European countries that had the power to help. We all stood by, watched and did nothing. Shame on us! So many things for us in North America happen in the abstract. We read something in the newspaper or see it on the news and barely feel anything. Sure we say, “Wow, thats terrible” and we turn the page or the channel and its back to life as usual. Things sometimes are just too far away to affect us. Its not our fault… we don’t know any better. We are bombarded by news and in most cases us, as individuals are powerless to stop it.
Being here and seeing the aftermath… The lack of food, the health issues, the psychological damage, the drinking, the hopelessness…. I get it. I want to speak to some who lived through it. There are no words. The wounds are still too fresh. The war ended in 1996. Not even 2 decades ago. Its still too soon. I don’t know if some will ever be really ready to talk. Those that spent 2 years hiding in the mountains with no food, no shelter and no idea where their families were, may never be ready. I don’t blame them. After reading what I read, my faith was renewed. My faith in the fact that my family is EXACTLY where we are supposed to be… my faith in the fact that I am EXACTLY where I need to be.
Our mission has begun. The mould is gone, the rains are still here. My mental state is back, refreshed and renewed. The Hospital Infantil is full to the capacity that our meager budget allows. 18 children are being rehabilitated there through love and solid nutrition. All but two of the familiar faces we left in May have returned home to their loving families. 16 new children are there… In total, 18 precious lives are being saved by those loving nuns there. Maybe someday, our work can help lessen the need for the Hospitalito (the little hospital is what it is affectionately called here by locals) altogether. Maybe someday, the many drops in our large bucket will eventually fill it to overflowing!
We have begun to work on our Village Empowerment project in the village of El Salitrillo. We will begin there by running water lines from the source so these people do not have to walk anymore for life giving water. We will be planting crops, bringing health care and working with the people to see what their skills are so they can help themselves. Everyone contributes and everyone brings something to the table! Reading about the war has put this so much more into perspective for me and helped me to understand how to work with the Mayan people. How years of being told they were sub-human has affected all the generations. God has brought us here to help us bring hope back to these lost communities. To tell them they are not worthless… that they all have gifts and talents from God and together we can help them rebuild so the future can be something to not be feared anymore.
We toured many villages this past week. We are working on partnering with Miracles in Action to build a school for a village in desperate need. We toured 5 villages… 5 of the worst in Jutiapa province. Again I was floored by the need all around me. It is so humbling for me to see how these people are forced to live and yet I whine and cry about missing my clothes dryer? Not anymore! While visiting one village in particular we were asked to help buy medicine for a woman who was very ill. We took the time to walk to her home and visit her. What greeted us was a woman on death’s door. In the final stages of kidney failure. A 63 year old, wife, mother and grandmother. We had to sit and talk with her husband and son and tell her that there was nothing that could be done for her. They had her at the hospital the day before but they sent her home. There was no more the medical professionals could do. I don’t discount their belief (nor mine) that miracles can happen, we told them that medically we could not help but nothing is impossible with God so we would continue to pray. Sometimes I get so frustrated at the fact that these things simply do not happen much in Canada… sure people die… but treatable conditions get treated early. The family through their grief and tears thanked us and told us they would pray for us, always. Oh, again humbled to my knees at the grace and beauty of these people.
No longer am I whining… I am solid in my belief that I am here, blessed to be together with my family, doing what God has put us on this path to do. The road ahead will not be easy…. It will be very difficult at times I am sure. But it will be oh so worth it. And I have so many blessings in my life… family, friends, Church, Pastors and of course God to help me through and that is the reality of it all.
(FYI: If you are so inclined, have a read of the books on the Guatemalan Civil War. “Buried Secrets – Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala” by Victoria Sanford and “Guatemala – Never Again” – The official report by The Archdiocese of Guatemala. Be warned these books are not for the faint of heart as they include brutal eyewitness testimonies from survivors)
Posted on October 27, 2013, in Guatemala Missionary and tagged celebrate life, friends, grief, Guatemala, Hope, Malnutrition, mission, Missionary, nutrition, Volunteers, World Impact, Youth. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.