Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Chicken Soup for the Soul - Guatemalan Style

“Are you sure you want to keep this?”
As we clean the refrigerator I find a half eaten hot dog. Brenda, the second oldest daughter of the Rivera family assures me that her father will eat it later.
-This country could really use a Martha Stewards, or at least a Martha Stewards without stock options- I think to myself,
Honestly, no one in this country knows how to use a refrigerator.
After we “cleaned” the fridge (more of a rearranging than anything). I didn’t think much of the experience.
Work lately has been quite transitional. I’ve finished my stint at association Vida Nueva, and while I absolutely loved it there, I’m glad I’ve got a chance to see a few other parts of what Potter’s House does.
A week out of Vida Nueva, I find myself somewhat in charge of a youth group that has ratio’s taken right out of the loan department. 11 girls and 2 guys with two couples in charge. Monday morning we arrive at Aguilar colony, one of the 16 colonies that Potter’s House is currently doing construction projects in. A steep ravine frames the small hamlet, houses jutting out of the side of the steep edges. The other side looks like it might be a magic eye. But if you stare at it long enough, you won’t see a secret image, you’ll just see a pile of garbage built up over the years. As we walk down stairs built by another group from Potter’s House earlier this year, we are met by the sounds of gun shots, oh wait no, those are just fire crackers. The typical form of celebration and greeting in this country never ceases to make me jump just a little. Aguilar community is happy to meet us, we are introduced to Alejandra, the community leader and begin to play a game to get to know each other.
We also are introduced to our week’s work project, our estrogen endowed construction crew will be hand mixing cement, building a number of sidewalks, stairways, and retaining walls.
By the end of the first day everyone is tired, and this was only a half day. Alejandra informs us that Pedro, an 18 year old we’d met that morning, is quite sick. So the 18 of us literally jam into the one room house and make a crinkly circle around the bed to pray. His aunt is extremely thankful that we’d be willing to do it.
By the third day there is a general consensus that money should be raised for a cement mixer, but already the community looks a bit different, a stairway, a retaining wall and a new walkway have all been finished. As I lug yet another bag of cement, hardly able to hold it up, Lluvia, one of the strongest women I have ever met, walks by with a bag of arena (sand) on her shoulders that weighs nearly double mine. She informs us of how much better it has been since they have the stairs now. She describes carrying all her things up and down the side of a muddy ravine in the middle of rainy season. It sounds miserable. And now, they even occasionally have people come and visit them, something that never happened when their community was so hard to reach. The annual rainy season also takes it’s toll on the houses, every year a number will collapse, hopefully the retaining walls will give the houses a chance.
The second day I find myself working with Carlos, one of the men from the community. I soon learn he’s had the fortune to be a truck driver. Earlier in my stay in Guatemala, Julio, (my boss at Vida Nueva) informed me that if you want to pick up girls in Zone three, the best job to have is garbage truck driver, that’s practically the highest rung on their corporate ladder.
Carlos works incredibly hard, helping mix and throw cement, I learn about his family, all his children. Later I learn he’s younger than me and I want to throw up. But instead I smile and we decide to play futball (soccer) that Friday.
Everyone who has a chance comes to help us with the cement project, the children, the old, even a woman who’s 7 months pregnant picks up a shovel and starts mixing.
The girls from the youth group I’m with do a great job and somehow we manage to finish all the retaining walls by the end of the last day. They’ve also brought a number of suitcases of clothes to donate so that on the last day of work, there is a time for all the kids in the community to line up and get a new shirt or pair of pants.
The goodbye ceremony is surprisingly difficult. After a very cute rendition of David and Goliath put on by the kids of the community for our group translated by Samuel one of our two translators, everyone begins to realize that this is really it. By the end, everyone, even the guys are crying, God pitches in with a bit of rain to finish off the scene. Gifts, hugs and photos are exchanged and no one really wants to leave but the time has come.
For the last time Gethsemane Lutheran Church climbs the stairs, part of it mixed and laid by their own hands. The now familiar sound of firecracker sends us off letting us know that our time here was appreciated. The younger children accompany us up the stair way and as far down the street as they’re allowed. Another round of hugs and good byes to the kids and it’s over. Gethsemane heads back to Potter’s House but their hearts are still in the ravine of 1 room houses, of barefooted boys and wandering chickens. I however have a soccer game to get to. Quickly changing my clothes, Pedro, Lluvia, Carlos and a few more of Aguilar community accompany me to the local futball pitch. While the field is pure dirt it’s also pure soccer. They make fun of each other and me in the way of old friends and I try to defend myself in my broken Spanish. Shortly thereafter another crew from a different community arrives and we play community vs community. Our team wins 3-2 and as we head back Carlos invites me to share a coke with him. While I feel bad about him spending what little money he doesn’t have on me I’m also honored beyond belief. Pedro (who’s still a bit sick) and Carlos insist on escorting me back to Potter’s House and I return after one of the most tiring but best week’s of my life.
Back at Potter’s House, I haven’t been needing to eat my sandwiches that I receive daily from the Rivera’s because I’ve been eating with the volunteer group, but that’s no problem. There are now a host of boys who are willing to help me out with my sandwich hanging around the doors of Potter’s House when I return. The next week when I am working inside, anything the other volunteers or myself don’t eat at lunch, the lunch ladies are happy to take off our hands. And what do you know? I checked the other day and the half eaten hot dog was no longer in our fridge.

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