Scott's Entry #7

"Hoping With Anxiety"

"Quieres papas fritas con esa?"  
(You want fries with that?)

When the McDonald's cashier spoke these words of love to me, a wave of calm rushed over me as was thrilled to respond in the affirmative, "Si... yo quiero papas fritas!"   

I had broken down.  I temporarily divorced my vow of simple living by indulging in a passionate tryst with Value Meal #4.  It was wrong, but OH SO RIGHT! Could you resist the gleaming Golden Arches after weeks of eating nothing but rice, beans, strange meats and fried plantains?  Think again, buster!  I couldn't wait!  The special sauce (A.K.A. Thousand Island Dressing) was calling to me in my dreams!  I ate with wild abandon.

It was then that I realized that I am an American male. 

Here's The Gang From School
"Hoping" That A Bus Will Come Soon

I love food that can be delivered to me in the time it takes to recite a quote from a Bruce Willis action flick.  I bask in the glow of an open road with all green lights.  I relish in my ability discern (remote control in-hand) whether a show is worth watching in 162 nanoseconds... while lingering for 100 nanoseconds longer on Baywatch reruns.

In short, I hate to wait.  That's what makes Guatemala a difficult place for me.  In the states I had fast internet access, fast food, and the fast lane.  I have been conditioned for instant gratification.

Here, waiting is an artform.  The reality of the challenge is even built into the language.  The same word is used for "hope" and "wait" and "wish".  In the U.S., when we're really excited about an event, we say we're "looking forward to it."  Here, they say, "Yo espero con ansiadad."  (which means, "I'm looking forward to" or literally translated... "I hope with anxiety").  The Guatemalans call it as they see it.  Waiting stinks, but there's nothing you can do about it, so just suck it up and live with the anxiety.  So... every day... there is the waiting.

Gabby On The Bus

The bus you're riding doesn't have a schedule.  It just leaves the terminal when it's full - and I mean FULL!  The same goes for the boat you're using to cross Lake Atitlan.  First, you have to haggle for a fair price like your great Aunt Bernice at a yard sale.  Finally, you hop on and wait for 30-45 minutes until the captain decides that it's time to depart.

When you move into a your new home in a village outside the city, you have to "sign up" for phone service.  Usually within 5-6 years, your phone will be installed.  Imagine the telephone repair guy calling... um... er... I mean... MAILING and saying, "Hello, this is Pedro with Telgua, just wanting to let you know we'll be by your house sometime between 2004 an 2006 to install your service.  Please make sure your dog isn't in the backyard when we come by."

Church services last anywhere between 1 1/2 hours and 3 1/2 hours.  We've heard stories of services lasting upwards of 5 hours.  We can't verify that there were survivors, but we assume so, since the stories are now circulating by way of oral history.

We had to wait THREE HOURS at the bank to open three accounts.  This doesn't sound so bad until you realize that only 5 minutes of that time was sent waiting in line.  The rest was spent getting fingerprinted, watching the teller gossip with her pals, and sitting around while documents were typed by hand.  

The fruits and vegetables that you buy at the market can't be trusted, so you must soak them in water with a couple drops of bleach for 30 minutes "just to be safe."  In the smaller villages, such as the one where most of us will be living, there isn't a Wal-Mart or a big grocery store.  Instead, the town has "market days" twice per week.  If you need toilet paper and it's Tuesday - SORRY - gotta' wait 'till market day on Thursday.  'Til then, decide which pages of your favorite Harry Potter book aren't that important.

The Guatemalans are used to all of this.  It's no big deal.  To me, it's a frequent cause of frustration.  

After five weeks of language school and "waiting" for our jobs to start, we're finally moving on next week.  In fact, everything is changing. We'll be moving in with our new host family. While we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Casa Esperanza, our new family is truly awesome and will ease our transition into Guatemalan life.  However, we have some genuine challenges ahead - especially coming from the U.S. where speed and space is an expectation.  Back in the states, if something is uncomfortable, we change it as quickly as possible.  Here, discomfort is part of the culture.  Life here is not better or worse - it's simply a different reality. 

As is typical of many families in the U.S., Martin (pronounced Mar-teen) and his family bought a house with the intention of adding new rooms and making improvements .  While it has a lot of space by Guatemalan standards, it is tested by the size of the family.  There are eight people in total - two adults and six kids ranging in age from 2 to 20.  Add Scabby to the mix and you're one linebacker shy of a football team. (This is another new name but for the both of us.  You get it right?  Scott & Gabby... yeah, exactly.) 

There are three rooms that are used as bedrooms.  Their two oldest boys have given us their room - the only one with a door - so the "newly married couple" can have their privacy.  (Note... this is a luxury that is not reserved for their parents.)  Needless to say, we're quite humbled and honored.

At Church With ALMOST All The Family
(We're Missing Juan Eduardo and Marlon)

For the time being, the two boys are going to cram into one of two small rooms with the other six members of the family.  If I was one of these two boys (ages 19 and 20), I would be cursing the new gringo additions to the family and plotting late-night summer camp pranks.  Instead, they are waiting patiently for a new cinder block enclosure to be added to the existing house.   This past weekend Gabby and I visited our family to spend some time with them and help out with the construction.  Amidst all of the turmoil, the boys still treated us as sister and brother.

The New Bedroom
(Check Out The Size OF The Stones!
That's A Five Gallon Bucket On The Left)


The Bano At Our New Casa

In addition to building an extra bedroom, the family is working on another home improvement project.  Right now, they have no indoor plumbing.  While this is unheard of in the U.S., it is quite common here.  The only running water is a small faucet that drips into the pila behind the house.  About 20 feet from the house there are two outdoor toilets - deep latrines surrounded by a concrete cylinder which is the commode.  There is no roof covering your head while you're in this " powder room."  Instead, you are slightly obscured by sheets of clear plastic drop cloths strung between the trees that form 4' high "walls."  Being a giant in a country of small people, it is possible for me to "take care of my business" while simultaneously waving hello to my host mom doing laundry in the pila 15 yards away.  

It is evident that Gabby and I were "hoping with anxiety" that we would be around to see the bathroom project finished soon.  In fact... it was more than anxiety.  It was full-on "please-Jesus-we-are-SO-used-to-morning-showers-and flush-toilets-that-we'll-give-our- 401K-for-a-shiny-commode" BEGGING.  While we were prepared to use our stipend to purchase a bedpan for the 30-degree rainy winter nights, we hadn't warmed up to the idea.

We reasoned it was probably our arrival that prompted this construction in the first place.  Before we ever arrived, the family had a great system worked out.  Every week or so, they would go to a hotel owned by a friend - a nice place with saunas and showers that the average Guatemalan can't afford.  There, they would spend the morning or afternoon in "spa-like-style" before making the five mile trip back home.   Now, our presence (or at least we presume) was changing things.  Since this was the case, Gabby and I REALLY wanted to assist with the project.  We surely couldn't sit by idly while the family bore the brunt of the burden.  The question was, what could we help out with?  Mixing concrete?  Laying cinder blocks?  Setting toilets?  Installing sinks?  

Martin marched me down the hill, through some tall brush and into a small grove of trees and plants.  There was a small area of tall grass tucked in between the apple trees and huge Dr. Seuss-looking bushes.

I heard him say, "Necesitamos un holo aqui por septico... uno por dos por cinco."  (Translation:  We need a hole here for septic... one by two by five.)  I was thinking, "Man, that's a funny sized hole... one foot by two feet and five feet deep."  Then Martin pulled out his tape measure and stepped off the dimensions of the hole.  

The Path To "The Hole"

It was then that I realized that his measurements were in METERS... not FEET!  I looked at the pick in my right hand and the worn out spade in my left.  These two tools powered only by my hands, back and arms would need to dig a hole three feet by six feet wide, and 15 FEET DEEP!  To give you an idea of the depth of this hole, it would literally be as tall as me standing on my own shoulders, with a dwarf wearing a ten-gallon hat standing on the second "me's" shoulders.

Gabby And Edwin Digging 
By The "Dr. Seuss" Bush

I started working right away with Martin, Gabby, and Martin's oldest son Edwin.  We cleared brush with spades.  We hacked away branches of the big Dr. Seuss-looking bush with machetes  We loosened the soil with picks.  

Once the area had been cleared, I grabbed a shovel.  Trying to prove my manhood, I jammed the shovel into the ground with all of my might in order to move a giant chunk of earth.  Not two inches into the soil, my shovel met something solid.  The shock sent a jolt through my body akin to what you might feel when you miss-hit a baseball and you get the "zizzle" of the bat in your bones.  Martin looked at me and said, "Cuidado Scott!  Hay muchas piedras!"  (Careful gringo-dumbo! There are many stones!)  He then described how his grandparents tell the story of a huge landslide.  The landslide carried earth and mountain rock from the top of the peak to the valley below.  Peppered throughout the soil of this mountain (our septic site) are thousands of stones.   My head still ringing from my macho mishap, I decided to heed Martin's advice and follow his son's lead.

As we dug the hole, we met up with countless stones the size of watermelons and cantaloupes.  These would be discovered by pick and extracted by hand.  The most troublesome stones were those that couldn't be budged without the help of leverage.  The first such stone we found only one inch beneath the surface of the terrain.  With a huge steel pry bar, we would move the boulder a few inches, and then slide small rocks underneath it.  Eventually, it had been hoisted high enough for three of us to get underneath it and roll it over... out of the hole and out of the way.  The stone must have weighed 300-400 pounds.

Scott And Edwin Trying To Budge A Stone

As we continued, we found three more huge stones in the first three feet of digging.  After four hours of work, we were still shy of one meter in depth.  I found myself wondering how we would get those huge boulders out of the hole when we discovered them 10 or 12 feet down.  At this rate, I estimated that we would be finished sometime during the 2008 Olympics.  

All of us were exhausted.  I was asking myself, "Are the latrines really that bad?  I can't believe we're working this hard just to make a new home for my poo!"  I envision myself and my new brothers coming out to the hole, week after week, to extract some more earth.  To me, it all seems so overwhelming.

Then I look at the faces of my brothers and Martin and the rest of the family.  They are happy to have us there.  They have great attitudes and NEVER complain about the work.  Instead, they keep plugging away, telling jokes and laughing.

Jose and His Big Brother Francisco

When the rain came, we gathered the tools and walked up to the house.  No one is worried about deadlines or when the project will be finished.  What is important is that we are all together as a family.  Waiting.  Working.  Being.  We eat a hot lunch of boiled chicken, rice and carrots.  We share tamales and smiles.  When the dinner is over, little two-year-old Jose comes up to me and stands at my side with his head bowed.  I wonder what he is doing.  Martin tells me that he's asking for a blessing.  It's a custom here in Guatemala.  So, I rest me hand on his head and say "Buen Provecho" (the equivalent of "Bon Appetit").  Each of Martin's younger sons follows suit.  Before they leave the table, they get their blessing from everyone and then go out to play.

After lunch, we rest awhile and then go play basketball at the worn out school court nearby (half court, praise God above).  When the rain comes again, Gabby and I head to Martin's "workshop" in the house where he sews shirts, jackets and shoulder bags.  We help him "re-cover" some fabric seats for the camionetta (mini van) while chatting with him and his wife.  This is no minor task.  It involves pliers, sweating and a good pinch of Gabby's finger.

Soon, the day is over and I feel tired but satisfied.  I think I learned a lesson.  It's not about the accomplishments or production.  It's about building relationships.  When you're truly in community with other people, your priorities shift.  Pretty soon, these relationships take the worry out of waiting.  The journey is more important than the destination.  Why?  Well... once you've arrived at the destination and you know the outcome, the mystery and energy of anticipation is gone.  All that remains is how you got there.  It reminds me of Gabby's favorite Maya Angelou quote, "People will forget what you said, but people will never forget the way you made them feel."  When it's all said and done, these relationships go far beyond language.

Though I am only a student of this lifestyle, I can see where it's taking me and I'm excited to get there.  However, now I know that I don't necessarily need to hurry up and finish the trip.  So, here's a few passages to pay homage to the beauty that lies between the wanting and the getting.  They often help me to remember there's more to life than worrying about bathrooms, bedbugs and knowing how things will turn out.  So, if you're sitting somewhere stressed out about what life is throwing at you, and feeling overwhelmed with all you thought you "should do" and "should be"... take a deep breath.  In my opinion, our God is a laid back God.  If you listen, He's always hanging out with you saying, "Chill out... it's all gonna' be OK!"

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us... For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  Romans 8: 18, 24-25

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying , "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?"  For pagans run after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given unto you as well.  Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6: 25-34