Tuesday, June 6th, 10 PM Central Standard Time - San Cristobal:

We finished our second "regular" day here, and it went somewhat smoother than yesterday. I did over-sleep this morning, but fortunately, Dave woke me up with fifteen minutes to spare before breakfast. I was able to get a quick shower, dress, and make it to the dining hall only a few minutes late. For breakfast this morning we had a hot porridge-like substance made from corn and served presweetened. The coffee is heavenly; they grow it on-campus here. It is somewhat thick, almost like an Arabian coffee that you would get at Ali Baba's, but it lacks any bitterness and it tastes oh so good in the morning with just a teaspoon of sugar.

Following breakfast, I returned to the room to get my medical gear and discovered that I had locked myself and my compatriots out of the room. After waiting up at the front office for about 20 minutes without sight anyone who had access to the spare keys, I then jimmied the window and sommersault up over the sill and into the room. Attempting to clear some duffel bags that were by the window, I vaulted into the room and was congratulating myself for landing on my feet, when they slipped out from under me and I landed hard on my rear. No permanent injury was done to anything except perhaps my pride. The window latch was quickly repaired, and I headed down for the dining hall with my stethoscope in hand. I was working again with Margarita, who translated for me from Spanish into Poqomchi'. The second little girl I saw had a fairly substantial lice infestation but was otherwise relatively healthy. A large number of the kids today had worms, and several had severe dental problems causing pain. These we were able to refer to a local dentist for either extraction or root canal as necessary. All in all, the process went much smoother than it had on Monday.

The rest of the group was again presenting puppet shows, skits, and songs, with the children's teachers translating from Spanish into Poqomchi'.

We had another delicious lunch with the spices, chicken, rice, and tortillas. Today they gave us spoons in addition to tortillas for eating; I guess they found our attempts yesterday amusing and took pity on us. Unfortunately, even using a spoon, I still spilled some of the curry-like sauce on my pants, but this was scarcely noticable compared to the mudstains and other grime.

Erin and Bonnie tried to engage some of the kids by showing them how to whistle with a blade of grass, but they seemed a bit wary of the whole thing.

Following lunch we saw another 20 or so kids, seeing about 75 children total between us . Disturbingly, one child appeared to have suffered physical abuse; Jewel Anita will be working with the local staff to try to help resolve that situation. After the children left we split up, some of us boarded a bus and rode with the kids back to Pamuk. Jewel Anita, David, and I rode in the minivan and talked on the way out. We met up with the schoolbus as the kids and the rest of our group were getting off.

Once we got there, we walked down a fairly rugged path to a schoolhouse that was built in the late '80s. We passed another one of the corn driers with the rat guards.

Several of the kids started to follow us down the trail, but soon lost interest and headed back to their homes. Notice the young boy in the right side of the image carrying his bookbag with his head. While most of the women here carry loads by balancing them on their heads; men have "backpack"-like slings which they support solely with their foreheads. Loads of 50-100 pounds are often supported by the forehead alone.

Pete doing his "Karate Kid" impression on the edge of the slope.

The schoolhouse in the distance...

...and a little bit closer.

Three missionaries "out standing in their field" at the soccer field just below the schoolhouse, following the climb up the far side of the valley..

Fidel showed us how they make a local rope called "Magay". It is similar to but not quite the same as hemp, being derived from a locally cultivated cactus. It is used to build hammocks as well as for weaving bags and baskets. The plants are first grown over several years, then the leaves/fronds are cut off and burned, not completely to ash, then left to rot for about month. After this they're then scraped and the stringy resilient fiber is then washed in the river and dried in the sun, then spun into cord which can either be further spun into rope for used for making hammocks. The whole process takes about six weeks start to finish. Working full-time on this a person could expect to earn between 80 to 120 Quetzals for their efforts (between 10 to 13 dollars). Interestingly, there is some division of labor. Some folks will simply grow and sell the fronds alone, allowing others to burn/rot/scrape/wash/dry and spin the Magay. Other folks will sell it at different stages of completion, so within the community there can be some degree of specialization. This is one of the agricultural products other than corn (and beans in some communities) which can be sold for cash. Fidel here is posing beside the Magay plant, with Jewel Anita translating for us.

Eventually we reached the school building. It was of cinder block construction, and all of the blocks had to be hand-carried down that one hill and up the other side. There is a cistern catching rainwater, and outdoor latrines. Cooking is done by wood. No electricity. (Because this is a composite, and people were moving, some look a bit odd in this picture...)

While it was sunny and clear for the walk over, as we got there the clouds poured down over and across the mountain, filling the valley with cloud. There was an occasional flash of lightning, loud thunder, and we were hiking back through the heart of a thundershower. After a short while the deluge became more pronounced, and in fact I briefly thought about the possibility of drowning while standing on land.

Our guide stopped at a house along the side of the path we passed away in. The owner kindly took us in and offered refuge from the storm. The house was small, but had a clean concrete floor, and one of the FHI-designed fuel-efficient stoves in an adjoining structure which further removed the smoke from the house. It is interesting to note that while the family was Catholic and had a small shrine to Mary built within the house, they took us in because Fidel worked for Food for the Hungry, despite the fact he was also evangelical preacher.

Apparently there is some mingling here between Mayan idolatry and local Catholic practice, and the local Evangelicals do not consider the local Catholics to actually be Christian. There is a fair amount of discord between them. Despite this, the family took us in and gave us refuge from the pounding rain. Shortly thereafter the rain began to let up, and we resumed our trek, thoroughly soaked, back to the minivan. The ride back to San Cristobal was somewhat longer, because of the extremely dense fog that persisted after the rain, but we made it back uneventfully.

Dinner was a chicken with a white gravy, mildly spiced sauce, and potatoes, with rice and a puffed pastry with meat filling for dessert. Once again they had that wonderful coffee. We then had a time of time of prayer and sharing that evening. The strain of having to go through multiple levels of translation is most frustrating for the team members involved with the entertainment. The difficulty is that a some of the attempts at humor or subtleties and nuances get lost in the stages of translation.

Tomorrow's plans: Jim volunteered to cover morning devotions for me, giving me a bit more time to rest tonight. Also tomorrow Dave, Lori and I will head off with either Jewel Anita or Nathan to one of the villages up in the mountains with kids that we did not get to finish seeing on Monday, so that we can try to complete the yearly checkup for the kids in that group. Right now, all of us have wet clothes hanging on every available surface in the vain attempt of drying out somewhat overnight. Meanwhile, the nighttime rain continues to fall, humidity hovering around 100 percent. Mosquitoes are particularly aggressive tonight. More annoying is a tiny, nearly invisible biting insect which produces tiny red welts on all exposed flesh, and they seem to be more amused than repelled by my bug spray.

Still, all in all it was a good day. I really felt today that God wants me to be here. Six months ago I wouldn't have imagined doing this. I really feel happy to be part of a group of people who really are commited to trying to do God's work and while it is awkward at times, I really do think that God led us here. That realization, the fact that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing in the place I am supposed to be, fills me with a centain sense of calm joy...despite the bugs and the awkwardness of trying to work across multiple language barriers.

Monday - Back to index page - Wednesday