Sunday, January 11, 2009

Guatemala is amazing. I just returned on New Year's Eve from a humanitarian trip there. We flew into Guatemala City on Dec. 22nd and the next morning we got on a bus for about a 7 hour drive to the mountains. Our group included the Stone family from Farmington, UT - Dave, DeAnn, Ann, Jaymes, Phillip, Jared & April (Pop - pronounced pope in Q'eqchi), their friend and now our friend Juan Cervantes, my friend Cynthia and the Chen family from Guatemala City - Jorge, Martha, Jorge Jr. and Juan. Yes we had jokes about 2 Juans. Which Juan? The big Juan or the little Juan?

We stayed on Santiago's land. Santiago can't be taller than 4'8" or 4'9" I would guess, but he's the man. He adopted us all into his family. We stayed in the building that was built for Choice Humanitarian on his land.

Our commute each day was about a 40 minute ride standing up in the back of a truck. Bugs in the teeth, eye, etc. and fun rides in the rain. But man oh man - the views. The pictures don't even come close to capturing the 360 degrees of pure glory that is the lush mountain area of this Mayan land. We traveled to the nearby village of Sepamac to help finish construction on a new school building there. There was a group that was supposed to work on this project back in August but tragically the expedition was never carried out because of a plane crash. Most people in that group died and it was important for us to carry on their work to soothe the fears of the people there that we would still come to their country and villages despite the tragedy.

Christmas Eve was uniquely special as there were a couple of tree-planting ceremonies to honor each person who was killed in the plane crash. Santiago became emotional as he dedicated a part of his land where the trees were planted saying that those people will always be remembered - that as those trees grew so would the memory of those who came before. He said this land would be a special place of reverence and reflection for all who visit. It was very touching.

After the tree-planting ceremony we ate a wonderful meal of tamales with Santiago's family and friends. Then SURPRISE - Santiago stood up and announced that it was time to give gifts and that if your name was called that you should come to the front and open your gift for all to see. Well guess who got all the gifts? Our group. They gave each of us one or two gifts - things they had made. Santiago said that these gifts were small but they were from their hearts. It was all we could do to keep back the tears. How nice. I got two gifts - a drinking glass/ vase made from clay and a purse crocheted around tab tops from aluminum cans. After that we went to the LDS church that was just up the street for a program of singing and talks - turns out we were part of the program. Then at midnight there were fireworks and the lighting of special mini hot air balloons - also in honor of those who died.

One day before we went to the school construction site, we stopped in Nueva Concepcion where they showed me the water system that was finished with the money that was raised through THANKS FOR WATER. They were able to complete a holding tank and extend pipes down to the village for each home to have a tap. Later we visited a little store and the owner - Sebastian took me down to his house to show me where his water tap was just outside his house. It made me so happy to see this and to meet the people who are benefiting from something that I started. It is something so simple and yet makes a huge difference in the lives of these people.

We went to the LDS church on Sunday and WOW. We had some translation from Jorge who speaks Q'eqchi and Spanish. He would tell someone in our group in Spanish what was said and then they in turn would translate to English, but there were a few of us so it was hard to get the word out to everyone. But I got the gist of it. Then in Relief Society with just the women there was no translation. But we were all in tears because we felt their love for us and after the meeting there were hugs and kisses from most of the women. In Q'eqchi, the main greeting is "Ma sa la cho'ol" which means "Are you happy in your heart?" and I think that says a lot about these people. They don't have much but they are happy in their hearts - very humble, very pure, very sweet and loving.

Our last night in the village Santiago sang and played a song on his guitar that he dedicated to us. What an amazing experience.

The next morning we loaded up our van / bus at 4:30 in the morning and we left around 5 a.m. I still can see Santiago standing outside the bus and waving as he was holding one of his twin baby girls swaddled in a blanket in the dark of the morning before dawn.

Cynthia and I stayed with her aunt in Guatemala City for the next couple of days. We took a trip to Antigua and while we were there we met up with our group again and took some pictures. Antigua is the original Spanish capital city that was later abandonded, but the architecture remains and now it is kept as a remnant of the past. Some of the buildings date back to the 1500's. Amazing.

I want to go back. I probably will.

A couple of funny things that I forgot - in the pictures you'll see some multi-colored Christmas lights. I don't know what it is about these lights, but the people just love them. They not only light up but they play a high-pitched tone of jingle bells on endless repeat and they keep the volume up - even when someone is talking or singing something else. They were at Santiago's house and at the church. I think they are desensitized to them because they don't seem to hear them. It was so funny. Also - Santa came to visit the church during the Christmas Eve program. He was so creepy / funny. He was wearing velvety red pants, a red old navy sweatshirt and he had a blue bandana on the back of his neck. He had a santa hat on his head and another santa hat around his neck. I couldn't stop laughing. He walked around to everyone there and handed out menthol candy and fruit candy. Luckily I got the fruit candy. Santa really does know what I want.

Posted by Posted by Judy Neil at 7:57 PM
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Anonymous said...

Wow, Judy. I am really happy you put this slideshow together. Really makes the stories come to life. What an experience you had there. Thanks for sharing it.

Heidi said...

Wow, Judy! Looks like such an amazing trip. I'm jealous you have been able to see more of that country than myself but I hope ot go back when the kids are older. Were you in the Alta Verapaz region? I ask because that man translated Q'eqchi and that is the language Emmi's birthmother speaks.

Damian said...

Hey, we were near Coban when we went (also with Queqchi speakers).

Sounds like a great Christmas.

Jen said...

I really enjoyed reading about your trip and looking at the pictures. I can't wait until Megan is old enough that we can go on those trips with her. What an education that family from Farmington had! Thanks for being such an inspiration.

wild murdocks said...

I am so delighted! What a beautiful place, and what an incredible experience. I enjoyed seeing a bit of where you stayed, the people you worked with, and the project you worked on. The architecture at the end was lovely too--especially with the bright flora and fauna around it.

You're amazing.

Lee said...

Gracias for agua.