It is that time again...we are gearing up for another mission/tour trip to Guatemala. I am getting so anxious to get back and work with Mayan Families, to see all my families and my gringo friends and to show a whole new group the Guat I love. I will leave the first week of Feb. and the group will be there Feb 13-20. I am hoping to spend the month of Feb.in Guatemala with a little trip to San Cristobel, Mexico for a couple of days and maybe a trip to the coast. Not sure yet. Always seems there is so much to do in Panajachel that I never get to any of the other great parts of Guatemala. Really going to try this time.
Sat Oct 23 was spent in the lovely city of Antigua, Guatemala. Antigua is a World Heritage Site and the former capital of the Spanish empire. It was also a former capital of Guatemala until the earthquake of 1776 when it was moved to Guatemala City where ironically the capital is now on a bigger fault line. DUH!! We actually got in on fri. night in time to eat supper at La Fonda where they serve a traditional chicken soup that is one of my favorites. On Sat.after breakfast we did a little walking tour of the city heading for Santo Domingo a former convent which is now a very lovely hotel and museum. The grounds are so beautiful and well worth a visit. Also on Sundays they do a magnificent brunch that is very inexpensive. We had a late lunch at Frieda's cafe where I recommend the margaritas and nachos. Then in early for a restful night and sharing a bottle of wine we brought with us from Pana. Then on Sun. morning we visited Fernandos Cafe for more coffee and chocolate. Then we headed for the airport for our flight to Ft. Lauderdale where we had to spend another night before we all got on Southwest Airlines headed in 4 different directions. All of us non-reved and with our full flights these days that was not easy especially for Donna who had to go the farthest..Portland,Or. We all did make it home with hearts full. Thank you to Donna, Amanda and Kara for being such a great team.
Fri Oct 22 was our last day in Pana. In fact we just had the morning, as our hired driver Marcelo, was arriving at three to take us to Antigua for our last two nights in Guatemala. We got out and on the move early to get those beautiful early morning views of Pana and Lake Atitlan. And there was breakfast at the Deli then there was that last minute shopping to do. We had coffee from Crossroads Cafe to pick up that we had ordered previously. We also discovered the best donuts in town. A lovely morning was had by all.
Thur. Oct 21 is the day scheduled for Chichicastanego (ChiChi) for the world famous market. First though we had another job to do. Lucia is a lovely little woman...and we are talking size here.... who is 23 and has a son almost three. She is on that street about 10 a day with Tomas in tow usually strapped to her back and selling scarves and stuffed animals made of traditional cloth which she has wrapped in a cloth balance on her head. I've added a picture of her with Ian from Shelter Box that I took the week before to give you a view of just how small she is. She rents a room back a very long and winding alley. She was given a hope chest made by Mayan Families. Her land lord decided that constituted furniture and doubled her rent. Previouly MF gave her a bed...rather than sleeping on a concrete floor....and had to negotiate for them to not raise her rent then. The same people she has rented from for the last five yrs and they did not know Tomas' name. So we proceeded to tote the trunk to our hired van and move it to her real home in ChiChi where she spends her weekends with the rest of her family. Again another small sq. block room which we reached by going through the cemetery in ChiChi. You can view how colorful the cemeteries are in Guatemala by viewing the Picasa site on the right of this page. We then proceeded to the main church where incense are burned on the steps in hopes for a good market day. To inter the church you go in the side door...never the front door. This church is built on a sacred Mayan mound and so out of respect you don't go up the stairs. Often people here crawl down the aisles on there knees. We had lunch then proceeded to shop for all kinds of things we didn't need but just loved and had to have. We arrived back at my place to Mathilda and her helper preparing for our dinner party that I throw for each group. Somehow I managed to not have any pictures of this for some reason. I thinks it's called tired!!!
Wed. Oct 20 we went to my favorite village...El Berranco. In fact this is the village I have chosen to work in with all future groups. It is a very rural village in the midst of farm land. My groups have now sponsored 12 children in the village. The children have been perfecting dance performances depicting their traditional dancing. They are grateful for any donations so they can purchase more and better costumes and musical instruments. I have seen great improvements over the last yr and a half that I have been visiting them. You can tell they love it. Thanks to my small group and the awesome sale Amanda found at Walmart for shoes we were able to hand out clothes and shoes to the children. Of course my former teams kids got to get in line first...at least those we could find in all the confusion that ensues at these events. Donna and Kara worked very hard to find shoes for all the children but if you have been a part of this process you know very well ther are never enough. I guess they needed a queen for the day so they picked me to be temporary queen. I did my best to reign well for that brief period. I thankfully don't have any pictures of me participating in the "monkey dance". They were looking for audience participation and someone had to start it. During all this Amanda found a wonderful little boy to sponsor. He is now the proud owner of an LSU football jersey as Louisiana is where Amanda is from. We were then able to visit his home and meet his mother. My camera died on that scene so not as many pics as I would have liked.
On Tues. Oct 19 we started out at the used quipil market and then we headed for San Jorge to install two stoves. We all....two teams...four stoves....and a steep hill caused us to have to back down the road with traffic coming at us until we reached a place where Oscar could get it in four wheel drive. We had to walk up the hill a bit then we all jumped in and away we went with a few more gray hairs. The first stove we installed was close by and THEN there was the second stove which was of course up a steep and rocky hill. It was all we could do to get up the hill without carrying anything. Women, children and a couple of men carried all the heavy parts up that hill. These are amazing people. the whole time the mother of the home was looking out for the three of us.
While we were waiting for the pick up to return for us we met the mayor of San Jorge then returned in time to greet Kara who was not able to come until then.
Monday Oct 18 Donna, Amanda and I along with Susie of Mayan Families as our interpreter hired a launcha across the lake to Santiago Atitlan. We hired a guide to tour the village and to see the Mayan god Maximon. After the tour we had lunch and shopped form the local artists. And then it was off to San Antonio Palopo on our launcha. This is the site of one of the worst landslides this spring which buried over 20 people. We visited the preschool that Mayan Families opened after the mudslide to give the children a safe place to play and learn. Mayan families sent a pick up for us but first we unloaded food to be distributed from the preschool. Mayan Families is the only ones to get food to this village when it was isolated after all the mud slides closed the road. They had to take it by launcha. Another group that has been helpful to the Guatemalan people is www.shelterbox.org. They deliver a home in a box which includes a tent, blankets, cooking supplies and the things needed to set up home. Look them up...they are a great group. They housed 10% of all the people of Haiti. Finally back to the condo in the back of a pick up with just a little rain.
On Sun Oct.17...my birthday...I headed out to Guatemala City to pick up Donna and Amanda. We returned to Panajachel in time to dress and go to the best birthday party ever. It was my 64th and I was entertained with 2 men singing and playing guitars. My favorite chef, Mathilda, did the cooking. There were beautiful gifts including a traditional Guatemalan apron and a beautiful pearl bracelet made by a designer in Guatemala. A good time was had by all.
Another day another village. Mayanfamilies was heading to San Jorge with the nurses so I decided to go since one of my sponsored students is there. While the nurses went to the preschool the rest of us went to visit a few people in need of assistance. Some very sad stories out there. And very sad conditions. We then went to see Sulmi, my sponsored student. I had a nice visit with her and her mother who is a very sweet.
For the last I week I have stayed very busy with shopping...bringing lots of wonderful bits of beaded jewelry,Christmas ornaments, scarves and purses back with me. You are going to love them....at least I really hope so since the profits will come back to Guatemala!!! But besides shopping I have visited Tierra Linda which is one of the first villages I saw when I came to check out Mayan Families. It still touches my heart. There are two of the nicest nurses visiting, Carrie and Kelly, who are measuring and weighing the preschool kids and inspecting them for any problems them for any problems. We handed out food to the preschool kids and to a few of the elderly women. One of those caught my eye so I suggested that they have her stay and let the nurses check her out. She looked as if she might not be able to take her next step. It turns out she has congestive heart failure and a serious lung issue but was out of her medicine and out of food. So glad they were handing out food and Mayan Families sent her medicine. As I am writing this we just had an EARTHQUAKE...a bit of a shaking of the house. Oh well I'm still here. After the preschool we visited Kellie's sponsored student then off to a woman who gave birth 3 mo. ago and hasn't been able to get out of bed. The nurses checked her and the baby out.She had no milk for the baby. So I volunteered to buy a months worth of formula. This is why the infant feeding program is so important. By the end of the day I was exhausted but we went out dancing anyway.
Today I return to the land I have come to love...Guatemala. It tugs at my heart when I am not there. But I have to say so does Oregon and that is why I hope to divide my time between my two favorite places when I retire. There will be three dynamic women joining me next week to experience a taste of Guatemala. It will be my niece Kara's second trip with me. She feels very called to return. My friend, Donna from Oregon, had traveled through Guatemala a few years ago so that leaves Amanda as the first time visitor. I was in Guatemala last month for two weeks and I couldn't believe how bad the rains have damaged the infrastructure. Mud slides are doing so much damage to the roads and villages. Many lives have been lost as a result. Children are traumatized by it all too. As a result of this www.mayanfamilies.org has opened up it's fourth preschool in San Antonio Palopo where twenty some people were buried in a mud slide in May. These preschools give the children a safe haven and a time to just play and learn. We hope to visit this village next week and play with the preschoolers. They love it when visitors come. I hope to be able to keep you up to date on our activities next week through this blog.
Plans are being made for our Oct team trip to Guatemala. Already I'm receiving deposits and flight info. I am very excited to again be taking a team to do some work for Mayan Families and to get to know the Guatemala I love. Introducing others to Guatemala has brought me so much joy. The beauty of the people and of the county should be experienced first hand and not in a book or television. I have found so much joy there and to see that joy on other faces as well is so rewarding.
Crisis in Guatemala: Saturday morning the pouring rain and the hurricane warning made us all nervous. We got in supplies of extra water and propane-gas and made sure that we had enough food for a week at least. This was our big concern….it hadn’t been raining enough, we thought, to worry about evacuating but we did get our important papers together and made sure that they were in a suitcase. Around 10.am. we received a call from Aqua Escondido that Ernesto and his family had received a huge amount of mud into their home and they needed help. The road was already blocked and we told him there was nothing we could do. Ernesto is a paraplegic and is in a wheel chair. He was very scared. We told him to move out, stay with family and to hire some people to start digging the mud out and as soon as we could we would get to him and pay for the workers. We still have not We organized workers to dig out the mud in front of our pre-school. It was dirty wet work and it went on for hours. Julio and Gloria were helping to evacuate houses that were in danger of flooding At 4pm we realized that our own houses were in danger. Several of the Mayan Families employees had the same problem, Gloria, Julio, Sandra, Juan, Letti and Amelia all live close to the river. Several of us rushed back to Mayan Families and started evacuating. The house next door belonging to Manuel, Estella and their 7 children was in imminent danger. We rushed to rescue as much of their possessions as we could. We got nearly everything out and watched in dismay and disbelief as it fell into the water. Then back to Mayan Families…..we were blessed to have help. A man from San Jorge came down with his pick up and his two children we sponsor. He worked in the pouring rain taking many loads to the pre-school were we were unloading everything. He refused to take any payment in return for this work. Just as it was getting dark, the wall fell away and the river claimed our bathroom, guestroom and flight of stairs. For you who have visited it is outside the house on the far corner. We were all very nervous, not knowing if the bridge would stand up so that we would be able to cross back. The other bridges had already either fallen away or been damaged and were unusable. Thanks to the US. Engineer Corp who built this bridge in the 40’s, it is the only bridge that has consistently stood up to the wildness of this river and connected the two sides of the town. The noise of the river, boulders, trees, debris and the crash of the buildings falling was unbelievable. While the damage is not as great in Panajachel as Hurricane Stan in 2005, the river was higher and wilder. It was frightening. Just when we thought we would not be able to get everything out of the house…..another father of a sponsored student and five other men and women drove up and said that they had come to help us. The father of the sponsored student had borrowed a large truck from where he worked and made his way to help us. In the pouring rain all these people helped us evacuate. I had nothing to offer them in exchange. I couldn’t even find my purse to pay for the gas. They told me that they didn’t want anything, they were happy to come and help us as we have given them so much help. It was very humbling. Gloria, Julio, Juan, Sandra, Amelia all evacuated as much as they could from their homes and then came to help Mayan Families. We were all drenched, muddy and exhausted by the end of the day. We stayed at Patti’s apartments taking up all the beds, couches and floor spaces available. On Sunday, we organized as much as we could, sorted donations etc. Monday we were in action. Well, most of us, I fell down some wet steps and sprained my ankle badly. Since then I have been confined to a lounge chair keeping off my foot. We do not have internet in the new house and so this has been even more frustrating. I know there are lots of emails and we will try and get to them and answer them as soon as possible. Despite having to evacuate the offices of Mayan Families and move everything to another location we have been able to respond to the crisis and help people. Since Monday, thanks to your generous donations we have been able to distribute food and clothing. There is such a need here. So many people have lost their homes, all their belongings. So many people are without any food to eat. Then there is the terrible sadness of people who have lost loved ones when mud slides devastated their homes. Yesterday we arranged an operation for a young woman who has a badly damaged shoulder. The social worker at the hospital had called us asking if we could help her. The family had lost their home and had nothing left and could not afford to pay for the medications and materials necessary for the operation. The operation was urgent otherwise she stood the chance, we were told by the doctors, of losing the mobility in her arm. When we sent our case worker, Eddy to the hospital he was very saddened to learn that not only had she lost her home, but had suffered the tragedy of losing her three daughters,12, 9 and 7yrs old. She has a little girl 5 yrs old and a son 1 ½ yrs old that were saved. The father is also in the hospital with injuries suffered when the house collapsed. In the bed next to her is her mother in law, a 70yr old woman, who lost her husband, an adult son and her home. Both of them are very battered from injuries received in the storm. We have been feeding approx. 800 people a day in the villages above Solola. There has been no help from the govt. arrive as of yet but we are hoping some came today. There was a health clinic set up quickly and they were vaccinating people against cholera. The Mayan Families crew and volunteers were exhausted after giving out food in these areas. They came back feeling that they needed to go back the next day and give more food because there were so many people in need of food. The desperation of the people receiving the food was haunting for all of them. Today we are in San Antonio giving out food and clothing. Thank you for the donations that you have sent. This is enabling us to give food to the families. Thank you for the donations of clothing, blankets etc that we were fortunate enough to have on hand. The Medrano-Zuleta shipment arrived just in time to be able to help a lot of people. We are in real need of clothing, boys jeans and pants, jackets, and lots of shoes in all sizes. We have given out all our baby clothes and blankets. We need funds to be able to buy second hand traditional clothing for the families who have lost all their possessions. We need funds to be able to pay rent on people who are living in houses that are full of mud and with walls that have fallen down. Today, Eddy visited one of these houses with volunteer, Vanessa. The family is living very close to the river, the house is full of mud, several walls are missing but they have nowhere else to go. Eddy told me that the smell was overwhelming, that it was hard to breath in the house for the mold. The little girl already has a bad cough from being there. This is going to be the situation with many of the families that we work with. Our “Garden House” that we were renting as a shelter for two single mother families has been deemed unfit to live in as it has the risk of a huge mud slide coming down on it. The two families are now living in the emergency shelter in the gymnasium in town. We need to find a room to rent for them and need funds to be able to put them somewhere safe. Neither family can afford to pay rent. There are so many sad stories……the staff at Mayan Families has been amazing. Despite having suffered great losses for many of them, they have been working day and night since this disaster happened. 17yr old Glendy who lost her mother last year to cancer, also has had her house badly undermined. The river now is at her doorstep. She and her brothers have now rented a room. Julio and Gloria, Juan and his family, Letti and her family have moved out of their home, it is too dangerous to live there, the same with Amelia. They are now all living in wooden shacks that they have hastily constructed on the land that the grandmother is a caretaker for. Juan lost the land and house he was building. He had borrowed money to be able to construct the house. He now owes a lot of money on something that doesn’t exist. This will be a sad story that will be repeated by many others. The crew has just returned from giving out food in San Antonio. They are tired and sore from bouncing back in boat that had no seats. San Antonio is devastated. Lime is strewn over the areas where people have died . People’s possession are lying forlornly in the mud. A man asked for help to find the bodies of a woman and two children. The townspeople have given up. The mayor said that they are exhausted from digging. But this man is in deep grief and wants the bodies of his family. Tomorrow we sending a group of 10 volunteers to help try and dig for the bodies. We need lots of boys clothing for older boys 4-12yrs old. We need lots of shoes. Tomorrow morning we will begin packing bags of food again. These bags will be going to the people of Panajachel who are in need, who have lost their homes. They will be distributed the same day. Sunday we will pack more food. As long as you can help us with donations, we will be packing food to give to families in need. The people of Guatemala are in desperate need of help.
A Volcano erupts spewing ash, closing the Airport, Tropical Storm Agatha devistates Guatemala, a new sink hole is found in Guatemala City that swallows a 3 story building and on June 4th we just experienced a small earthquake!
Please give now, even just a little….every little bit helps and will make a huge difference to the people who receive this assistance. Please go to: http://mayanfamilies.org/DonateOnline
and go to General, "Where most needed" and give a family hope. Forward this, post it to Facebook, Blog it, share it and help us spread the word! Thank you for all you are doing to help the people of Guatemala!
On the 25th a small group were going to visit a sponsored student and then the orphanage. I wanted to see the orphanage and take some toys and books I had brought down. Susie from mayanfamilies suggested that the orphanage would be a grat place to take them.
When we got to the home of David's student I realized it was the brother of Hilary's sponsored student. David is the brother of Beth whom I have only know from our MF yahoo group and finally got to meet. It was the first day I did not have my camera w/ me so I downloaded the pics from Beth's camera.
We then went to the orphanage and what a pleasure that was. These are all children who come from very painful backgrounds. They were very excited about the toys and books which I purchased at places like Big Lots for very little. The items included a game for the older children that my friend Kim donated and they loved the toy guitar that Lisa from our teem brought down.
Included in the toys were chalk, jump ropes,playdough and childrens books in Spanish. I loved it when the first thing they went after were the books. The older students were reading to the smaller ones.
We then dicided to demonstrate the chalk and jump ropes. Susis drew a hop scotch game and everyone had a great time w/ that. There was jump roping and several budding artists drawing w/ the chalk. The whole experience was a blast.
On the teams last full day in Guat. we headed to Antigua at 8:00 AM so we could have some time there. It is a lovely colonial city w/ lots of ruins from an earth quake in 177?. We arrived at Hotel Aurora...my favorite.... and since it was to early to check in we went walking. Jolene was not feeling well enough to go so she was going to stay in the lovely garden at the hotel. The staff at the hotel are so nice that when they found out they made a room available for her right away.
We went to lunch a Frieda's Cafe as in the artist Frieds Kahlo. They have great natchos and marguritas. On the way to Frieda's we got to see some of the preperations for Samana Santa..Easter week... where they make carpets out of colored sawdust that the processions will walk through. They are beautiful. Then back to the hotel for rest. Everyone was too pooped to explore. We had wine in the courtyard of the hotel and relaxed until supper.
For supper we ate at La Fonda where they have a traditional Guatemalan chicken soup. It is awesome and everyone enjoyed it. That is those who were able to keep the rumbly in thier tumbly at bay. And back to the hotel for an early night.
On the morning of departure there was a little drama. The chicken bus drivers were striking because of gas prices. The shuttle companies kept saying they couldn't get through. I talked to Sharon at mayanfamilies and she had a driver already at the airport so we knew it was possible to get through. I talked to our shuttle service and we agreed they would try. They breezed through w/o any problems. I then headed back to Panajachel for a few days of rest. I also was told they wouldn't be going but found a service that got me there.
This trip was a most rewarding experience and I hope to do many future ones. You might consider joining us next time.