Scott's Entry #16

"Final Thoughts"

Well, here goes.  My guess is that this will be my last update from Guatemala.  There is less than a month left, and I know in the coming weeks my brain will be nowhere near disciplined enough to stop and conjure up any coherent ideas.  There is just too much emotion surrounding the idea of going home.  I will be lucky to remember to pack my passport and a change of underwear.

Writing a wrap-up of a year living among the poor is a lot like trying to describe the taste of water.  It’s something I now know very well, but it’s really hard to put into words.  I’ll do the best I can.

With Some of My Friends
In Canton Los Angeles

I have learned a lot this year.  I can break this knowledge out into two categories: “stuff that’s good to know” and “stuff that could affect how you live your life”.  In the “stuff that’s good to know” department, I have learned the following:
  • When planting corn, throw six kernels in the hole

  • Newspaper can be a substitute for toilet paper

  • Burps that taste like rotten eggs are a sign that you have amoebas

  • It is possible for one man to move a refrigerator by simply strapping it to his back

  • A capful of bleach keeps the “pee bucket” from smelling too much like urine, even after three days of straight use

  • I can eat leftover meat/eggs/refried beans that have been stored in a cupboard for days instead of a fridge, and live to tell about it

  • No matter how many flies are stuck to a fly strip, the slower, shallow-gene-pool flies will continue to land on it.

  • To get rid of rats in the attic, just open a hole in the roof and throw the cat in there

  • Burning your trash is an effective way to heat the water for your sponge bath

  • Turning on a faucet does not guarantee that water will come out

  • Roosters smell fear

  • People can get fleas just like dogs and cats

  • There is no known way to keep diesel fumes from sticking to your skin

  • Smoke in the house may not be a sign of danger, but rather, a sign that breakfast/lunch/dinner will be ready in about an hour

  • In about three weeks, a person gets used to not having indoor plumbing

  • Whether you throw it on the ground or in a can, trash never really goes away


Planting Corn In March

Fearing The Roosters

On Our New Toilet
(Which Still Requires A
Hike Over Rocky Terrain To Reach)

I could go on forever, but the more important learning of the year is in the “stuff that could affect the way you live” category. 

  • Choice (what to eat, when to eat, where to live, what job to have, what to wear) is a luxury.

  • Washing machines, dishwashers, indoor plumbing, showers, hot water, couches, cars, disposable diapers and electricity are WANTS rather than NEEDS

  • The amount of food that the U.S. wastes in ONE DAY could feed over 240,000 people for ONE YEAR

  • 60-70% of the world, depending on which study you look at, lives in poverty (no access to adequate health care, education, nutrition)

  • How we choose to spend our money affects people all over the world, from coffee farmers in Guatemala to factory workers in Thailand

  • God can be found everywhere

At Dinner In Venice
In A Past Life

All of this “life affecting” stuff makes me remember how we lived before we came here.  Lots of vacations, travel, dinners out, living life without much thought as to how our choices affected other people except our friends and family.  It was a wonderful life.  We loved it!  Now, that life seems really far away.  So far, in fact, that we’re not sure that going back to the States actually means going home.  Our friends have changed.  We have changed.  The places have changed.  Heck, we have a niece and a nephew we haven’t even met yet!  Through all of this, one thing remains the same.  We will still likely go about living our lives without much thought as to how our choices affect other people except our friends and family.  The change is that our family now includes the poor of Guatemala.   
I know it sounds cliché.  It sounds like a bunch of hooey to me, too.  But it is a fact.  If we had only come down here for a week or so, as hard as we tried, these people wouldn’t feel like family.  We would have a lot of compassion for their situation, and we would pray for them on occasion, but they wouldn’t constantly be in our thoughts.  However, these people who normally receive our handouts and leftovers have cared for us this year.  They have invited us into their homes.  They have fed us.  They have nursed us back to health.  They have watched out for us in dangerous places.  They have shared their fiestas and funerals with us… their joys and their sorrows.  All these things that we equate with “family sacrifices”… they have done for us. 

Our U.S. Family Meets Our Guatemala Family

Now we know that how we choose to live our lives affects these people – our new friends and family.  If I buy Folger’s instead of Fair Trade coffee, I am affecting my friends Juan Ixmata and Pedro Yac in Guineales and Canton Los Angeles whose families work on coffee farms.  If I buy a shirt mass produced in a sweat shop, it affects my friends who work for COVERCO.  If I choose to buy a THIRD DVD player, I remember my friend Jose Sapon who had no food for his family for lunch, or Ito the carpenter in Santo Domingo who can’t afford medicine for his son who will die without it.   

All this being said, Gabby and I will never be perfect people. As hard as we may try, we will continue to buy more than we truly need.  We will continue to make choices that harm the poor.  Even though we may try to make a fashion statement by wearing sandals, tunics and nun’s habits, we will never be Ghandi, Mother Theresa, or Jesus.  It’s just not happening.  However, what IS happening is that we are being transformed from the inside out. 

There used to be a barrier between US, the "privileged," and THEM, the "poor and outcast."  It existed in many forms, even in situations where we may have had the noblest of intentions.  In some cases, the barrier was trays of food between US, the servers, and THEM, those being served.  Or perhaps it was an envelope full of money, or a wrapped Christmas gift, being passed from US to THEM.  We were always afraid to simply show up empty-handed and only use our listening ears, loving arms, and caring words to truly get to know those we wished to “help”.  All of this is not to say that money and gifts aren’t needed by the poor.  In fact, these things are greatly needed.  However, the gift of dignity costs nothing, and is just as appreciated by those who receive it.   It can be given simply by caring enough to be vulnerable.

Though it has been hard, we have entered many situations this year empty-handed.  We had nothing to offer but ourselves.  At first, it was very frightening.  “What will I say to this woman with no shoes and no money?  What on earth do I have in common with this man with no job and no hope?  What can I share with this girl who has no education and no family?”   

It took a lot of time, but we finally realized that what we have in common with each of these people is a name and a soul.  We’re all humans with stories to share.  Dreams.  Hopes.  Expectations.  Families.  None is better or worse.  It is in hearing these stories and sharing our time that we felt closest to humankind, and closest to God.  I think He feels especially giddy when two unlikely souls make an honest connection.   I’m not going to lie to you.  It’s not always easy reach out.  At times it still feels like a chore.  But time and time again we are reminded of the importance of the work. 

In the end, the Big Guy has put us all here to make the best of what time we’ve been given.  I’m starting to think that Heaven isn’t so much a place that we go when we die, but rather, a place that we make while we’re here.  If we’re all servants of each other, then there are no needs – the hungry are fed, the thirsty are satisfied, the sick are cared for, the strangers are invited in, the naked are clothed and the prisoners are set free through caring and compassion.  Isn’t that the definition of Heaven?  A place without need?  Works for me. 

It’s been a whirlwind year – one that I will never forget.  In less than four weeks, I will board a plane headed for Texas.  I hope that when we finally meet each other again, face-to-face, that each of you will be able to see the change.  I hope that the change is positive.  I think that it is.  I hope and pray that this connection we feel with the world’s poor will not fade once we land.  I also pray that Gabby and I can continue to follow the path that God has laid out for us.  It’s not always an easy road to follow, but the journey always has some great views along the way.  I also ask that you pray these things for us.  We can use all the help we can get.