Gabby's Entry #5

"Labors of Love"

So this is it.  I have now completed two trips with delegations and I have since found out that I have yet to send everyone home in one piece.  Apparently, one of the guys on the last trip ended up with bacterial dysentery and Becky from this trip went through the gates to the plane in a wheelchair because she felt so sick.  Let me tell you, if you haven't already guessed it, Guatemala is no place for wimps.  And for this reason, I question my ability to be here for nine more months.  Thankfully for me, I have God and Scott on my side to help me through the tough times.  

Tough Times.  A good place to start.  Here in Guatemala there are new surprises around every corner.  From foods you are expected to eat to people you meet and their amazing stories.  This trip was definitely a labor of love for everyone.  Don't get me wrong, we all had a great time, but with all great times, there are moments when you are saying to yourself, "I decided to come here to do what exactly?  And how do I propose to get it done?"                                   

   Howard folks with the 
welcoming committee

      The group as we trek up the mountain

We started out by attending the Presbytery meeting in Santo Tomás.  We were greeted with a welcome sign in three languages and a couple of guys with conjunctivitis.  There is quite an epidemic here because people don't get themselves treated quickly (due to lack of money and/or education), they love to shake hands with everyone (it's a friendly culture, whatcha gonna do, not shake someone's hand?) and don't always wash their hands regularly (there isn't always water available in the fields where they work).  So, by the end of the week, I fell victim to pink eye and I am still squirting drops in my eyes. 

It was worth it though.  I got to see the joy and excitement on everyone's face when the covenant was signed. It's a three year agreement between First Presbyterian Church of Howard County and the Boca Costa Presbytery.  For those of you that don't know, a presbytery is a group of churches within the national church that typically reside in one region.  This particular presbytery is indigenous and therefore, many people only speak Quiché.  So we translated from Spanish to English after someone else translated from Quiché to Spanish.  Talk about making already long meetings longer.. whew.

Cristobal and Pat shake on the deal

During all of the meetings Joe, Cathy (a trainer from Howard) and I translated for the others.  Obviously those sitting with Cathy and Joe got more content, but hey, at least I'm cute, right? And I do lack body odor, which in this church was a good thing.  Boy did it get stuffy and downright hot.  Again I found myself feeling as though a sumo wrestler had a hold of Guatemala in a choke hold and we were being smothered by some part of him.  I think one of the most valuable things I learned on this trip though, and don't ask me why this didn't occur to me before, is that the Americans have no idea if I'm translating correctly.  While you'd think I might just have some fun with this, I generally just get all nervous trying to translate everything word for word with interjections of "Yeah... I don't know what he just said".  Such is the life of an honest translator.  A labor of love that I have yet to master but I am determined.

Since this was a short trip, after two days of meetings we all got our hiking gear on for my first hike up a mountain.  For everyone else, it was old hat as on their last trip, they went up everyday to help build composting latrines, host a medical clinic and work on an organic garden. Everyone warns me to bring lots of water, which I agree with 100% but then leave my water bottle on the table at the hotel.  Thankfully Pat had two and gave me one.  Whew.  So up we go.  UP and up and up.  I didn't think we'd every reach the top and was continually reminded of my out-of-shapeness when I'd see an 85-year-old practically running up the mountain or when we were passed by guys carrying loads with their heads and neck.

Manuel, pastor and 85-yr old  spitfire

Typical way for men to carry heavy loads

We labored all the way to the top and what a hike!  It was definitely worth the view and the welcome we received when we arrived.  People were clapping for the gringos as we made the last turn and got to the top of the mountain and into the town of Panquiney (pronounced Pan-kee-nay).  The church service was lovely and the women presented a beautiful banner to Howard County.  

Photo of the path we took up the mountain

Another startling, yet exciting thing was the flub turned sacred.  Last time Howard County was here, they presented the Monte Sión Iglesia with a cross.  It was replica of the cross that was made for their church in Maryland.  Filled with excitement, they were shocked to find out that here, Presbyterian churches rarely have crosses in their churches.  They consider it sacrilegious.  Imagine their surprise!  BUT their pastor gave a great sermon about the significance of the empty cross and that it's a symbol of salvation.  We were all elated to see it hanging in the front of the church when we arrived.  We're all just hoping it wasn't just a "they're coming, hurry, put the cross up!" kind of thing.  Either way, it was a symbol of love and brotherhood in Christ and it was moving.

Pakaya cooked and uncooked

For more pics, click here.

After the service had ended, we stepped outside for my final labor of love.  The pakaya.  When I first saw it, in my head I'm saying, animal? vegetable? mineral?  Feeling slightly panicky because it resembles a squid but we're no where near the ocean, I ask "¿Comó se llama este?" (What is this called? my polite way of finding out what things are).  Just as Isabel was explaining it to me, Martin comes over with the pre-cooked version.  It's a plant (sigh of relief) that only grows on this mountain and is a staple for the people of Panquiney.  They cook it with eggs and serve it with salsa. And I eat it.  All of it. 

I am certain God was present in me that day.  And if you were wondering, no, it didn't taste like chicken.  

Bible Verse
This verse was read on the day the covenant was signed.  I think it says it all.

Ephesians 4: 3
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.