Caridad's Entry #1

"Rockemos Para Siempre"

Hola y benediciones a todos!

This is the first of my (hopefully) monthly updates from Guatemala. I'll warn you right now-- it's long! It's hard to narrow a massive life change down to a few paragraphs. So if you want the full scoop, read on.


If you only want the highlights, here's a list of things you won't find in the states:

*57% of the people living in poverty or extreme poverty. "Poverty" here means earning less than US$3.50 per day, and most people are contributing to families. That's reality. Ouch. *Five-foot women walking with baskets on their heads and men with loads the size of a small car on their backs.
*Kids hanging out around the highway.
*colorful, traditional garb (aka "traje") on Indigenous women everywhere
*Diesel clouds at every corner (no pollution laws that I can see)
*live marimba players in restaurants
*one big cement sink (La pila) to wash everything in the house
*toilet paper goes in the garbage, not the toilet
*the best instant coffee ever
*hot coco made with dark chocolate!
*people swimming in hot springs under a volcano
*signs for the dominant political party, FRG, on EVERY phone pole, rock, tree, etc.
*People squeezing themselves onto buses where the seats and aisles are already packed *women with fabric braided into their hair
*women who will climb a fence to get into a locked building
*My hair is suddenly very curly in the wet climate
*everyone calls me "Caridad" or "Cari" and my English name sounds like their equivalent of "cool" --  "chevere"

And now... the rest of the story...

I have been in-country since Aug. 27 after nine days of pretty intense missions training in Chicago. It was a lot of lectures, discussions, discussions about the lectures, and discussions about the discussions, along with lots of learning, worship, reflection, and the development of some amazing friendships. It is truly a privilege to spend so much time with 80 people who believe in Christ, community, multi-culturalism and digging into the sweet messes life makes. These people are now serving in the Philippenes, the Ukraine, Germany, Northern Ireland, Thailand, Guatemala, Argentina, Kenya, Egypt and Costa Rica (Iīm sure thereīs more I forgot), and I am so proud to know they are representing the US, the church and the human race. We probably wonīt change the world, but I know each of us will be changed, and hopefully others will learn from us too.

At the end of training we split into our country groups and left for the Grand Adventure. My group includes Jennifer Thalman, who was a drama teacher in New York City, Brian McDonough, who is from Texas and trained in disaster relief, and Scott and Gabby Dannemiller, a really fun married couple, who both left corporate jobs in Texas. We have a really good mix of people-- I think our strengths really balance each otherīs weaknesses, and we all know how to laugh at ourselves. Our site coordinators are Joe and Selena Keesecker, a beautiful, graceful couple from the mid-west. They have been here three years and know all of our challenges first-hand. They had to learn Spanish in their late 50s! Too bad we will all be split up in a month; Iīve really gotten used to this new family.

The Guatemala Gang in San Juan

One odd commonality we have is that we love to sing, especially on long car rides. Selena was a music teacher and Scott has a songwriting hobby, so weīre always playing around with showtunes, Lyle Lovett, New Kids on the Block, church tunes, whatever-- all in bizarre 5-part harmony. So far our greatest original hits are, "Rojo es 'red' en Ingles," "Me extraņo mi baņo" (I miss my bathroom), and "Corre en la carraterra" (run in the highway). At the end of the year we want to release a CD called "Rockamos para siempre." HA!

Until Oct. 7 I am staying in Quetzaltenango, also calledĻ"Xela" (say "Shay-la"). The group is studying Spanish at a great school with one-on-one instruction. Itīs really the best way to learn, but my brain often feels like its been through the spin cycle. Iīm really grateful for what I already learned, though. Brian knows no Spanish at all and he says every day feels like being run over by a semi-truck! I will finish my refresher in Spanish next week, and then spend three weeks learning Q'anjob'al, which is what most women speak in San Juan Ixcoy, where I will work this year. Yeah, Iīm going to learn a Mayan language-- that will be my semi-truck. But itīll look cool on a resume, and even better, it will allow me to connect with people who are hard to reach, and thatīs very, very exciting.

I am living with a wonderful family here. They have four children younger than 10, who are hilarious, brilliant and loving. They are totally into "The Lord of the Rings" ("El Seņor de los Anillos") and during meals they like to remind me, complete with sound effects, what each scene in the movie is like (God forbid I would forget!). We also watch "Barney" and "Clifford" every evening-- something I can translate easily! Pedro and Catalina, the parents, speak Q'uanhob'al and Spanish, so I'm learning a lot from them. I'm also learning a lot about dedication. Their whole lives are their work and their children. Pedro is a teacher (my teacher, actually) and Catalina is a nurse on a night shift. But with kids like theirs, it's really worth it. And it's pretty obvious that they are living well in a country where even having money to eat is difficult.

On the weekends we're visiting different churches in the region to get an idea of where we'll be for the rest of the year. It has been nothing but unforgettable. One church had a 30 km run with torches uphill, in the rain (no joke!) to proclaim their belief in the Bible. The next day we went to their service, where there were huge groups of women in matching traditional traje singing hymns. It was beautiful, except they had absolutely no __expression on their faces. Later I was told this was because they didnīt want to look Pentacostal. This gives a whole new meaning to the "Frozen Chosen" Presbyterians! But their pastor shattered all of that when he started his sermon. I swear, the man must have been trained by James Brown. He was a-howlin' and a-growlin' and preachin' all about the light of God. Very cool-- but what a contrast!





This weekend we went to my home-to-be in San Juan Ixcoy, and I completely fell in love with it!!!!!!! I was feeling kind of weary from being in the city day in, day out, and was wondering how much I really wanted to be in Guatemala. When we hopped in the car (a 4.5 hour ride from Xela) and headed into the huuuuuuuge mountains, I realized I was in for something completely not-cityish. These mountains are higher, greener and more stunninger (???) than anything in the Northwest. Some parts were veiled in clouds, and others were floating in brilliant blue. They were carpeted in lush, lush wild flora that looked like it was from the dinosaur days. There was a plant that looked like a giant artichoke that women make woven goods from. There were bizarre rock forms everywhere and green, green fields. People actually farm on these super-steep mountains, often with a rope around their waist since straight slopes are pretty common, and falling is more than easy.
They live in the mountains for a variety of reasons. I have heard that it's because the Mayans wanted to live closer to their gods, and also because the Indigenous people had to hide from the army and the guerillas during war. Nowadays, I think most people live there because they can't imagine anything else. Their families have been there for generations. It's really incredible that people can establish a rich civilization and be nearly self-sufficient in such a remote area.

My "peeps" for the year
(mi familia en espanol)

Mountain View near San Juan

What did I love about San Juan? I loved the tranquilidad that you don't find in the city. I loved the women in traje and men in cowboy hats (just like home!). I loved that people in the Presbyterian church there pray out loud A LOT! At first I was annoyed-- "We're praying again? I thought we were done!" But they weren't done. They could have talked to God all day, because they know him so well, and because they are much more aware of their needs than I am. I love that. I love that they say, "Amen! Gloria a Dios!" every time there's a pause in the service. ("Your sins are forgiven."-- "Amen! Gloria a Dios!" "We'll meet for cake after the service."-- "Amen! Gloria a Dios!") I loved that one of my five host-sisters wants to learn English, and that she's going beyond the typical female education of sixth grade. I loved that I would have a chance to teach her, and to teach other women something as simple as signing their names. I loved walking through the market and being surrounded by the smell of corn tortillas, the swirling colors on scarves and skirts, and the sounds of a language older than the USA. I loved seeing that paradise still exists.

So am I glad I left everything I know to be here? After being in San Juan, YES. But it has really been painful here at times. It's easy to forget why I came when EVERYTHING is unknown and uncomfortable. But that doesn't last for long. The people are what hook me. I have so much to learn from them, and I know I'll spend the rest of my life sharing what I've learned.

I can't say that things make sense yet. I hardly know what my job will be for the year, and I know very little about the Q'anhob'al. But words from the poet Rainer Marie Rilke are carrying me every day:

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart.... Try to love the questions themselves.... Do not seek the answers which cannot be given, because you will not be able to live them, and the point is to live everything. LIVE the questions now. Perhaps you will, gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers."

And from my other favorite poet, David, God tells his children, "(you) will call on me and I will answer." (Psalm 91)

Again and again I'm already finding these words true.

I would LOVE to hear from any of you throughout the year! I will be able to e-mail pretty regularly in Xela, but after that it will only be about once a month. Snail mail is always welcome, but the Guatemalan mail system is not super-efficient. The post office box where I can always receive mail is: Charity Thompson c/o Joe Keesecker Apartado 3 Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, C.A.

If you scrolled to the end, this is where you can stop reading. If you've read to the end, thanks for being interested. I will be in touch over the next few weeks. Please write, and please pray for me and the people here.

En la gracia de Dios, Charity