Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Most Adventurous Day Ever

I have to write a whole seperate blog post about our last big day in Guatemala before traveling back to America. It was honestly the most adventurous and thrilling day I've ever had. After working all week to complete the stove project in Saqib, our team decided to take a day to explore another part of Guatemala about 3 hours north of Coban - Semuc Champey.

Semuc Champey is pretty much an all-natural extreme waterpark. Our day started with a trapeze rope swing that we all encouraged one another to try at least once. It was a great way to get our feet wet (no pun intended) for the day ahead of us. Next, our guide Carlos took us exploring through a cave where we could take nothing but a single wax candle. We walked into the dark cave not know what to expect (which was probably for the best) and here are the obstacles we encountered: climbing wet ladders, swimming with one arm while we held our candle up with the other arm, rappeling up a waterfall (I barely made it), jumping into a dark water hole, sliding down a rock while attempting to still keep our candle lit, then sliding down a shute where we were finally able to walk back out into the sun. It was intense!

And as if that wasn't enough, as we're walking away from the cave (thankful to be alive) Carlos says, "Now we're going tubing and then we'll jump off a bridge!" I guess our confidence was up and our adrenaline was still pumping, because without thinking twice we all yelled, "OK!" And that's exactly what we did. We floated down the Semuc Champey River, climbed out, hike up to a bridge and then jumped off a 30-ft bridge. I think that morning was enough adventure to last me a lifetime (or at least a few weeks).

This tour might not be for everyone, but it was an amazing experience for our team. We don't have many pictures to document it (although we each have our share of scrapes and bruises) which makes it a very special day that only we can really share together. This adventure was definitely one that would not be legal in the United States. We didn't have to go through a training or sign papers; there was simply a sign above the registration hut that said: "Enter at your own risk."

And it was a team-building activity to the max! Each of us had our strengths and weaknesses throughout the day. When one person needed help, someone was quickly there to hold their hand, give them a push, or talk them through it. It was incredible to see the encouragement that was passed around the group. We cheered one another through every obstacle. Congratulated each other when we made it through. And supported each other when we were hesitant or fearful. Just like a team should.
natural beauty

we were warned... and we did it anyway

if someone dared you to jump off a bridge in Guatemala, would you do it?

exhausted and happy to be alive

At mid-afternoon, we hopped back in the van and were looking forward to a nice relaxing ride back to Coban - maybe we could even take a little nap! Little did we know, we were about to experience the most intense part of the day. Semuc Champey is down in the valley and we were headed back up to the hills. We came upon a hugely steep and long uphill road (aka stretch of rocks winding beside a dropoff into the valley) right as a storm was rolling in. Our 15-passenger van rumbled up the hill then stopped about 2/3 of the way up. Completely caught of guard, we all stared out the back window as we slowly started descending backwards down the hill. The van just didn't have enough power to make it up. After a quick tutorial in Spanish by some men walking along the side of the road (aka climbing over some of those rocks), 3 people evacuated the van, the rest of us moved to the back, and our driver Pablo gunned the engine back up the steep hill. The wheels were rolling, the tires were spinning, and the rubber was burning. But again, we stopped 2/3 of the way up. Then slowly started rolling back down the hill. Greta and I begged to get out, but everyone was ushered back into the van and told to "bounce with it" to help keep up the momentum so we could get to the top. So that's what we did and we barely crested the hill before the van gave out again. We all gave a huge sigh of relief, burst in to cheers for Pablo and once again thanked God for our lives.

bouncing with it up one of the lesser hills after the initial life-threatening ascent...
this is pretty much what the first half of the 3 hr ride was like

Thursday, June 21, 2012

MTI Trip to Guatemala

Last week I traveled to Guatemala for 7 days with Medical Teams International.  Yes, I was going with my organization but I was going as a volunteer on a layworker team to build stoves in a small Guatemalan village called Saqib.  It was an amazing trip with an incredible group of people whom I didn't know but got to know pretty well throughout the week.  I kept a blog on the MTI website, so here are some clips that hopefully capture the trip...

Our diverse team included Judy, Amy, Evan, Howard, Cassie, Becca, Megan, Greta, Charley, West, Ryan and me

Day 1:
We have yet to interact much with the local people, the Guatemaltecos. Today has been a day to take in our surroundings: the culture, the terrain, the weather, the food, the sights. Our team is ready to serve. We want to be active and get our hands dirty. We want to interact with these people that we traveled so far to meet and begin the project that we've been anticipating for so long. But I think we are going through the necessary process for serving in a foreign country. It is so important to understand the people and the country before you can serve them. What's their culture? What do they do? How do they do it? What's important the them? What are their real needs? How can we best serve them? Where can we be most helpful? Where would we get in the way?

One of the things I admire most about Medical Teams International is their commitment to working in solidarity with the community; as partners. This evening, a few of our Guatemalan staff lead us through an orientation and presentation of the stove project including health statistics on why this work is important in the specific area of San Juan Chamelco. I think our team has gained a deeper perspective of why we are here. We knew that we were coming to build stoves. But we are realizing that we are here to participate in tranformational development. Rather than coming, giving a handout, and leaving, we are building relationships and participating in building up a community. Hopefully in the process we will transform this community through improved stoves, better health, and a sense of value and worth. While at the same time we will be transformed in our understanding and posture towards this new country and our ability to relate to and learn from our friends in a whole other part of the world.

Day 2:
Today we finally traveled to the village of Saqib to start the stove project. We drove about 45 minutes outside of Coban up a windy road to this secluded village of about 370 people. When we arrived, the people of Saqib were standing outside to greet us. We all gathered into their community center, a cozy concrete building in the center of the village, for a welcoming ceremony.  The children sang the Guatemalan national anthem for us and many of the community leaders greeted us.

Our group split into three teams of four, making sure each had a Spanish speaker and a Q'eqchi speaker who could help translate. The Q'eqchi speakers were men who work for Lola, the Guatemalan company who designed the stoves we were building. Over the course of the day (which we really only worked a little over half of due to the welcoming ceremony), we were able to install 10 new stoves in the village of Saqib. That means 10 families were able to cook dinner in a smoke-free home tonight; 10 families will go to sleep breathing in cleaner air; dozens of kids have less risk of developing respiratory illnesses.

Day 3:
Today when we arrived in the community of Saqib, we went straight to work on building stoves. The best thing about this stove project (besides improving health, of course) is that we are able to enter people's homes and really get to know the families in the community. These people are gracious beyond belief. They embody the meaning of hospitality.  The gifts and kind words were overwhelming.  All we could do was smile and say "bantiosh" - thank you.

And then there was Aldofo. A child who only spoke to me with his eyes. I would call his name and he would simply raise his eyebrows and giggle. He somehow reminded me of my nephew who, although is blond-haired and blue-eyed, has the same expressions. It reminded me that children all over the world have that same joyful spirit.

Day 5:
Wow, what a week of working on the stoves in Saqib and getting to know the people in the village. Our team successfully built 40 stoves in 3 days. I had heard about the problems the old open-fire stoves were causing in the homes and I had read reports on how Medical Teams International is working to improve health by building new stoves; but I had no idea what a problem this was until I saw it firsthand.

As much as I enjoyed visiting these people’s homes, it was difficult to be in the house for more than a few minutes at a time. The smoke made it hard to simply breathe. My eyes would start to burn and I would start coughing. These Guatemalans were using the open-fire stoves to fill a basic need of eating. But in exchange, they were compromising the basic need of breathing clean air. No one should have to live that way. We all deserve a good meal and fresh air under the shelter of our own roofs. I realized that this is a problem that can’t be ignored. What a blessing to be able to offer our friends in Saqib a healthy way to live their everyday life.

Today, we celebrated with the people of Saqiib. These people are simply beautiful. They have impacted my life and I am forever grateful to have met them and shared a short time in our lives together. They have given me a renewed perspective on the meaningful things in life. And for that I say thank you: “Bantiosh.”
me and little Marvin

Monday, June 18, 2012

En Guatemala

I just returned last night from a week in Guatemala with Medical Teams International.  It was an absolutely amazing experience.  You can read about the week on my MTI blog.  More details about the trip coming soon!