Tuesday, July 28, 2015

2015 Guatemala: The Road to Mach

Where to start.  So yeah, the bus.  After a fun filled day in Lanquin (and boy was it packed to the gills with fun, adventure and team time!), we boarded the bus for a very long ride.  I think it wound up being around 10 hours and I would love to say that it flew by...but it just didn't.  What it was though...was quality time. Being displaced in Guatemala...being in a new country, a new culture...without any cell phone reception or a data plan or friends, family, our favorite blanket, our beds, our shower...those comforts...we were off kilter, off balance but in a beautiful way.

You see...that very same discomfort is what started to bring us together.  We were all from a place that we were used to...a place we called home with the comforts that go with it...the routines we had built and become used to and truthfully that we knowingly abandoned to head out on this journey to something...somewhere in the wonderful country that is Guatemala.  We had seen it in pictures and maybe heard stories but now we were in it...together.

We came to learn, to grow, to be stretched, to smell things that were not pleasant, to smell unpleasant (as happens on a bus after 10 hours), to be hungry, to share food, to be each other's comfort...together.  it's tough if not impossible to put the formula that is a team trip to guatemala into words...but it's real and it's not always easy but it's so worth it.  We were being stretched...being shaped...being melded into something beautiful.  On one level, two important things that happened on the trip were - 1) we became, were shaped into, grew into an authentic community and that's nothing to scoff at.  It's VERY tough to replicate here in the US where we have all the comforts we're used to.  If we get thirsty, turn on the faucet, pickup a bottle from the back seat...no biggie.

In Guat, you don't have those options.  you have to share to make it work.  you have to accept things from others to get by. of course you can have some of my bug spray.  Yeah, the sunscreen is over there.  No biggie - you can have the last tortilla.  I'll take the uncomfortable seat for the next 4 hour stretch - you relax and get some rest.  Let me bang on the concrete floor for a few hours...please. I want to help.  Let me do it.  I'll drive.  You relax.  and LOVE...just love.  It becomes something different when you're reliant on one another.  It's a team thing. It's a body thing...a community thing. and it's beautiful.

Taking a break from the gushing there's also the flip-side.  I'm an introvert so talking with people, being with people, connecting and being real with people takes energy.  That's not saying that I don't like it because most people are great and it's a good time but from an energy standpoint, it drains my batteries.  In my normal world, that's no problem. But in Guat where there's 29 people in tight quarters, working hard, emoting, smelling, eating, playing, stepping on toes, crawling over each other, grabbing each other (scott!) for 14 DAYS...my batteries run low. I know that I'm that way and I'm super ok with it but it needed to be managed. so by day 10 or so, I was done with people and I was very thankful and greedy about any downtime we had.  I spent many mornings walking around by myself because I need that time.  I need ME time and that was a scarce commodity on the trip.

So yeah, we're on the road to Machaquila.  There was an angst in the air.  We all knew that we were on the road to the place where we were going to do the most work.  To get our hands dirty and open up our hearts to some Guatemalan kids and that it was going to be rough.
We arrived in Mach and it felt like home from the get go.  Spirits were high but we were exhausted and as we took our room assignments, we lazily looked around at the "eco resort" we were staying at, unsure.  It may sound fancy, but this place was rough - even for me and I consider myself a pretty easy going guy when it comes to living conditions.
 Mach ~ the big Red Dot

Our rooms were in the rainforest - literally and had vines going up the sides, giant trees right outside which is fantastic.  BUT...that comes with getting all up and personal with nature.  Regular sightings of giant bugs in our rooms...6" locusts (grasshoppers), a myraid of moths, mystery roaches or all sorts on the floor, noises from here and there that came from something living and my favorite on our second to last day - a snake.  I saw just the tail of it as it slithered from our bathroom into the space under the floor of our room and it was unmistakable.  That wasn't a confidence builder but we made it.

The next morning we loaded up and headed off to the orphanage on what was to be quite honest, too short of a trip to get there.  I didn't have time to do my final mentally prep work and arrived a bit awkwardly. I didn't really want to get out of the car, unsure of what was inside the orphanage but like cattle, we shuffled in, assaulted by what we saw.  This was the first time anyone from our group had been there and you could feel it.  Kids everywhere - some 56 kids in total - wandered around the gated property.  You could tell it was their place and they felt at home but also that they were used to outsiders coming by...whether to drop off another child, to talk with the couple that ran the place, to serve for a bit then leave...it was clearly their place and they were trying to figure out who/what/why we were - it was tangible, in the air.

the awkwardness was shattered when a little boy named Noah (if I recall correctly) ran up and just started giving huge (for him) hugs with his little 2 yr old arms.  A bundle of joy and a huge smile, he cracked the ice and flipped the dial from awkward to OMG I'm going to cry.  From that little dude radiated a love and an equal measure of "PLEASE LOVE ME!" that it was painful and the utmost joy at the same time. He ran around from person to person, smashing us open in a matter of minutes.
The other kids gradually did the same but in a more rote fashion, out of obligation more than affection but we had already crossed the line.  We were ready to love on these kids in any way we knew how...and we did.

We intuitively split into two groups - most of the women went to work with the kids - teaching them to brush and floss their teeth, singing and doing crafts with them...just loving on them and getting to know them.  Most of the men gravitated toward one of the 3 physical labor projects - starting to chip away at the areas of the concrete floor that were damaged and eventually repairing them, replacing a few toilets that had stopped working and building a new structure up the hill from the orphanage which they would use for church gatherings, devotions and storage. None of the work was easy and only a few of the group had done much work in those fields but we all charged in with as much energy as we could muster.
As we worked, the kids in the orphanage continued to feel us out.  There were 56 kids in the orphanage ranging from babies (3 mos old) to 17 with two older girls of 22 and 27 that needed special care and were not ready to be on their own.  Bear in mind that this place was run by an older married couple - just two of them - and they were making do.  Two people can only go so far.  thinking back to my posh setup at home where Sokny and I occasionally struggle with just our two boys, I couldnt imagine doing life full time, 24/7, 365 with 50+ kids.  It's just insane. On top of that, they don't get any support from the government.  From what I could discern while we were down there, they raised funds from the community via a sign posted at the entrance to their property that solicited donations as well as likely significant funding from another western church based organization.  Needless to say, they struggle.  Their meals were much the same as what an average guatemalan eats - black beans, tortillas and on good days, meat.  While we were there, we saw a few cow heads that they were butchering and cooking as well as a few other odds and ends that have likely never made it to my table in the US.
Anyhow...the kids were everywhere.  some played, some did crafts, some sang and ran around but others wanted to work. It felt like they were yearning for that father figure.  To learn a trade, to do something well and to be commended for it.  To learn, to love and to be loved.  It was tough and I struggled with this.  I'm very task focused and for a long time, I was getting frustrated by them as they constantly grabbed any spare tools and started banging, scraping, and just being in the mix of the work.  I'm admittedly slow in this area and it took one of our younger team members - Tim - to sit down and be patient with a few of the boys as they painted on some of the primer for the concrete for me to realize that we were not just here to work (as I said, I'm not the brightest...even when on a trip built for us to serve).  After getting over my frustration at the fact that the job would take 3 times as long with the kids helping, I saw how he was mentoring them, loving them and teaching them. They just wanted to be near us, to help, to be validated and Tim did that.

With that example, we all started pulling the kids into the work.  Fathering, mentoring, teaching and just spending time with the boys that wanted to get their hands dirty.  We ripped out toilets, they helped carry the left overs out of the building.  We chiseled concrete, they held the chisel.  We cleaned up bathroom floors that were in dire need of cleaning...they were in there with us.  On it went, side by side.

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