Caridad's Entry #1
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
*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"
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
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.
"peeps" for the year
(mi familia en espanol)
Mountain View near
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
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:
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
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,
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