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