We touched people’s lives during our week in Guatemala**, and they touched ours, and perhaps none of us will ever be quite the same.
And maybe that happens more often than we realize. But it happened so much last week. And paradoxically, I grew more connected to the people I met than I could have thought possible in such a short time, with such a great language barrier, but at the same time, so clearly only touched on the surface of people’s lives.
My favorite moment was with these girls.
It was Wednesday afternoon, we were providing our second handwashing station and second latrine of the day. And by “we,” I mean largely Tracy, David, Edye, and the community.
I was tired, hot, and just done. I didn’t even really want to spend time with the children (and I ALWAYS wanted to spend time with the children). But the children wanted to spend time with us. After a good dose of stickers and photos and laughter with Jody and Tracy, Jody and a gaggle of girls came into the one-room home, with its dirt floor, stove, newly-installed handwashing station, grinding stone, and the bench I was sitting on, and pulled me outside into the sun. The girls wanted to talk. They learn Spanish in school, and I was surprised that my widely scattered experiences of learning Spanish 20 years ago held up pretty well (thanks for the refresher, Duolingo!)! At any rate, far better than my three phrases in Pokomchi, the local Mayan language.
The kids and the mother of the household we were visiting showed us where they studied and slept. Then the kids grabbed Jody by the hands, and took her off down the hillside and across the dirt road on a new adventure. I visited with Ermahilde, the mother, and while we both spoke limited Spanish, I think we both felt connected. There was coffee drying outside, as the men were up the hill working on the new latrine.
Then Jody and the kids returned, Ana Consuela in the lead. Jody told me she’d seen “doce conejos.” Did I know what that was?
Twelve…. er … I did not. So I found myself grabbed by the hands, tugged down the slippery hillside, and across the dirt road. This home belonged to a relative, and inside, we got to watch traditional mat weaving.
Later, at the end of the week, each of us received a hand-woven gift from the “mother counselors” of Esquipula, which meant even more as we watched the work that went into these projects.
And then … Doce conejos blancos!!!
At the beginning of the week, the children were so shy! Not any more … Ana Consuela and I chattered in Spanish, about our names and ages and school and Alaska. The children renamed me “Susi,” and for the last two days in Esquipula, my heart nearly burst when I’d hear them call “Susi! Susi!”
My heart is still bursting, full of stories from Guatemala — it’s been hard to return to work this week, to my “regular life,” filled with responsibilities and tasks and needs, because I haven’t wanted to lose or even be separated from all that happened a week ago as my new friends and I built latrines (but more importantly, built relationships) in the village of Esquipula.
And again, I have to remind myself that this blog post won’t be the whole story, won’t capture every moment that stretched my heart during those days in the mountains. But this is a start.
In tiox awe, Esquipula. Thank you.
**I recently spent about eight days in Guatemala with a team from Providence Health International. We partnered with Medical Teams International, and in the village of Esquipula, in one of the more poverty-stricken regions of Guatemala, we helped provide handwashing stations and latrines.
***UPDATE: I’m thrilled to be returning to Guatemala in March 2017, co-leading a team of Alaskan Providence caregivers. If you’d like to donate to this work (and all money raised goes toward the community health work we’ll be doing), you can do that here. Thank you! Even $10 makes an incredible difference.