Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. Isaiah 1:16-18 (The Message)
I was so busy talking about the Malnutrition Center and our work there, I really never got to post much about the country of Guatemala. We stayed in Antigua which is in south central Guatemala. Not near the coast, but in kind of a valley surrounded by mountains, at least one of which was a volcano. Almost all day, the mountain tops have rings of clouds around them. In the mornings, the clouds are particularly lovely in shades of pink and orange.
While the land itself looks like South or North Carolina with mountains, rolling hills and clay colored earth, the plants are very similar to what we have in Florida. I saw Australian Pine, Spanish Bayonet, Sunflowers, Roses, Morning Glory, Queen’s Wreath, Hibiscus, Bougainvillea, Cedars and Jacaranda Trees. Outside of the city, in the countryside, farmers grow cabbage, beans, corn, broccoli, onions and many other vegetables, much of which is shipped to the United States. In the San Juan area where the Malnutrition Center was founded, they grow beautiful flowers under clear plastic sheets covering the hillsides and looking like something from a science fiction movie.
Antigua was once the capital of Spanish colonial Latin America so has many very old buildings, most all of which are in ruins. We walked down the cobble stone streets and saw ancient looking buildings with no windows, doors or roofs. Some were schools, others government buildings, but the saddest to see were the churches. To think that at one time, prayers and worship were offered there and now, the buildings are vacant and disheveled made me wonder what our own precious church buildings may look like some day. It is the Holy Spirit that carries the church forward and we should not assume that it is our works or ministries that make the church alive and vibrant. At any time, God can withdraw his power and our buildings will be relics as well.
I wish I could have gotten better pictures, but I was trying to be so cautious and not a “tourist” that the times that I did allow myself to get out my camera, the images I captured were furtive and hurried. There were so many beautiful things to see, but I did not feel I had the time to be creative. I was often too busy trying to keep up with the rest of our group or dodging street vendors, many of them children.
Children in Guatemala are expected to earn their keep. Even the ones who get to go to school, only go half day and then, have work to do. On Sunday, when we are at the market, children were singing and entertaining alongside their parents hoping to catch the tossed coins of the turistas or selling merchandise at bargain prices. The little ones were the hardest to resist. “Senora, Senora, you buy this, you need this…” How many times in my life have I told myself I needed something when I really didn’t?
The sky in Guatemala is bright blue or overcast. There were no in betweens and indeed, that is what I found the country to be, one extreme or another. Very modern or very old. Very primitive or very plush. Very urban or very traditional.
At the same intersection, you can see a horse carrying a load of wood, standing beside a brightly painted bus jammed with passengers, a Cushman scooter converted to a taxi and a sleek European motorcycle. A woman with a basket of flowers on her head, a baby on her back in bright multicolored blouse and long skirt passes by a woman in a black suit and heels carrying a briefcase. Men, whose ages you cannot tell due to hard work and the baking of the sun, cross paths with athletes in jogging clothes. Sometimes, you have to shake your head in confusion.
The walls of buildings come right up to the street. Sometimes, a gate or door is ajar and you can see inside to flowered courtyards, restaurant tables, or hotel lobbies. Other times, you catch a glimpse of chickens, concrete wash tubs, laundry on a line and fire pits. Right next to each other! From over the wall of our own hotel with its spa, wifi and swimming pool, we could see metal sided homes with outdoor kitchens and bathing facilities.
Some of the women would not allow us to take pictures of them, but I wish I could have recorded their faces. They were all so different, Mayan, Hispanic, European, and even Oriental. Women in Guatemala are a trophy. The man who has the most mistresses and sires the most children is respected. He is a true man. At least in the world’s eyes.
The thing that fascinated me the most were the communal laundry facilities. Each town had one near its water source. Stone or concrete tubs were fed by a creek, usually a dirty one. Each day, the women gathered to wash their clothes by hand, wring and beat them clean and then, take home baskets of wet belongings to hang on the line at home. I would have loved to hear the gossip and the talk. Particularly about the busload of Americans who passed by each day enroute to the Malnutrition Center.
When I think about Guatemala, I feel as though I was there half my life even though the time went by so quickly. And yet, I wonder, how much have I really changed? How long will the impressions stay with me?
Will I complain when my dryer vent clogs with lint or will I remember the clothes on the line, the communal laundry area?
Will I get angry when the pharmacist tells me it will be a two hour wait for my prescription or will I remember the children who cannot get a vaccine because none are available?
Will I fuss when someone uses all the hot water or will I remember the babies bathing in cold water because the solar panels do not work on cloudy days?
Will I look at a menu and think, “Nothing seems appetizing?” or will I remember a toddler sucking the marrow from a chicken bone?
Will I beep the horn at someone who delays my ten minute commute each morning or remember the woman walking alongside a country road with a load of wood on her head and a baby on her back?
Will I drink water from the tap and wish it were colder or will I think of a man scooping a tin cup in a mud puddle?
Will I worry and fret over my children or will I remember parents who willingly surrendered their child to the Malnutrition Center trusting for healing and nourishment? Can I expect less of God for my own kids?
Will I wad up a scrap of paper because I made a mistake in what I wanted to say or will I think of Carolina and her precious tablet covered in letters and words she is practicing to write?
Will I insist upon the most expensive brand of toilet paper or will I recall a toddler with his bottom scarred by untreated diaper rash?
Will I buy my children expensive gifts that they don’t really need or will I think about the children begging me to buy a trinket in the marketplace?
Will I waste a quart of milk, buy too much meat or throw away a pot of rice or will I see the swollen bellies of malnourished children flash before me?
Will I become complacent in my nice, tidy, American world? Or will my life be forever changed by what I saw and heard in Guatemala? Time will tell. Only time will tell.