Laundry, Trenches, Family, and New Friends
From the journal of Dolly DeWald:
Rooster crows, the cacophony of bird singing and dogs barking is our morning wake up call. After a hearty breakfast of fried eggs, white rolls and San Lucas coffee, we board the pickup truck with our coordinator Alex. The 25-minute ride down the mountain is a chilly one. We pass children at morning recess who wave and shout ‘hola’ to our group. Road side shops are open for business selling fruit, veggies, tortillas, chips and candy. Dogs lay on the roadside taking their first or second nap of the morning.
At the community village, our group separates into two teams of four. My team heads to a spot where a foundation trench is being dug for a new block home. We’re on a side of a mountain and it seems that there is more rock than soil. There are no jackhammers or saws that cut through the rock. There are only pick axes and large pry bars. The work is painstakingly slow and hot. A couple of us work on large chunks of granite that can be chipped away and used on the home’s foundation. A team of 5 or 6 Guatemalan men work with us. The family who will eventually live in this home live in a galvanized metal shack just next door. The women, with babies on their backs and toddlers at their feet, cook over a stove and hang laundry.
The other four members of our team are working on tying rebar at our block home just down the road. Tomorrow the block laying begins. The St. Mary’s girls have brought crayons, coloring books, soccer ball and other small toys to share with the children living in this home. The little boy and girl shyly receive the gifts, and you can tell they are happy to have new items to enjoy.
We trek back to the mission after a brief stop for ice cream. Lunch was yummy: grilled chicken, rice, veggies and fresh pineapple.
The afternoon was spent at the San Lucas Women’s Center. It’s located on a beautiful tranquil property, where mothers can work and learn new skills, while their children play outside.
I’m amazed at the amount of work the Guatemalan women do by hand on a daily basis. The women who work at the center taught us the art of tortilla making over a fire, washing clothes by hand, and balancing baskets of clothing on our heads as we walked. A man who works at the center demonstrated how to pack and carry cut wood on our backs. Men and their sons are frequently seen walking the roads with up to 200 lbs of wood. This wood is cut and chopped, sometimes twice a week, and used as the sole source of heat for their food and home.
I think that most of our group would agree that meeting one of the families who will receive a St. Mary’s block home was a humbling privilege. This quiet family of 10 lives in temporary housing while awaiting the purchase of their land. They have been saving for this land for years. One plot cost $7k which is a fortune in a country where the average income is $800-$1400/Year. Their current home consists of slat wood covered in tar paper. We all drove to the future site of their home and plan to help two of the sons clear the land tomorrow. The family expressed their deep appreciation and wished God’s blessings upon us.
We arrived back “home” in time to change for dinner. Sautéed potatoes, rolls and veggie and rice soup were served. In addition to a group from St. Thomas and St. Katherine’s, a group from California and Boston College had just arrived. And guess who had dish duty?!! I think every cup, plate, bowl and piece of silverware was washed! Only the girls of St. Mary’s could make doing dishes fun!
After dinner, we watched a power point on Fr. Gregory Shaefer. He is pretty much solely responsible for the progress that’s taken place over the last 50 years here. In the presentation, he’s seen speaking to an audience of mission volunteers. He said: “The people of San Lucas appreciate your presence here. They know you left your home, to sleep in discomfort, eat food you’re not accustomed to, work under a hot sun–just to be with them. And you paid money to do it!!” It does sound crazy, but there’s no place we’d all rather be.
From the journal of Courtney:
Today is our 6th full day here in San Lucas Tolimán, and I think we love it more and more each day. We usually roll out of bed sometime after 7 and make our way down to the breakfast place for some coffee then breakfast at 8. Today’s breakfast consisted of eggs with salsa on them and black beans. After breakfast, we loaded onto a fruit truck and made our way through several communities to go work at our house that we have funded and been working on for the past couple days. Like yesterday our group of 8 was split in half and half stayed at our house and the other half went up the road and worked on another block house. My half was the one who went up the road and dug trenches for about two hours. It was fun to be in a different atmosphere and interact with different locals, and we had some company of two little boys watching us from up above. There was also a man watching us and before we knew it he was down there digging with us in his shorts and crocs! I asked if he was getting paid or just being helpful and our guide that went with us told me he was just helping! It really shows how much people in their community care and help each other through just about anything. We found it really different, but at the same time very sweet that a woman brought each of us a bag of water… yes, you read correctly, a bag of water! The time went by really fast by doing something other than tying rebar like we did all of Monday and half of the morning yesterday. After our time helping at the block houses was over, we talked with our family that the block house was for. Kia was super sweet and thoughtful and brought with her some gifts for the family we were building for. The little boy of the family was extremely excited about a new soccer ball that Kia brought and we even got a chance to play with him a bit before it was time to leave. It is definitely the little things that make this trip so worthwhile for this all. The mother of the house thanked us for our support, and it was really touching to all of us to see them all smile. We hopped back onto our fruit truck and of course had to stop for some ice cream before lunch and it hit the spot for sure! After lunch, we got back onto our truck and headed for an afternoon at the Women’s Center. We got right to work there with learning how to make tortillas like we have seen on the streets that the women sell. They are extremely delicious especially with beans inside of them. Before we came to the center, we were told you bring a dirty piece of clothing because we would be washing our own clothes! There is a “pela” at the center and we learned how to wash our clothes and ring them out so they are as light as possible when they carry them home with the basket on their head. So that was our next task was carrying them on our heads. Everyone took a stab at it and the only one that seemed to get the hang of it was Mary! She claims her talent comes from carrying encyclopedias on top of her head as a kid! Haha! We moved to our next station of carrying bundles of firewood on their backs. This is typically a men’s job, but women can be seen doing this, too! The man explained how they are careful putting the wood into stacks and tying them together. So then the hard part came, having the huge load of wood on you then trying to stand up! The man stood up without a flaw, but that wasn’t the case for the rest of us, especially me, but we did our best and had fun with it! During all of our activities, we met some children at the Women’s Center and totally fell in love with them! They were so fascinated with our phones and loved to take pictures and have their picture taken. It was definitely a hard goodbye for all of us. After the Women’s Center, we all expected to go back to the hotel until dinner but were surprised and so excited that we had the chance to meet the other family that we funded a house for! We took the truck and went to their temporary home and met 4 of the 10 children that live in the home. We also met the grandmother who was so sweet and grateful for us being there and our donation. We were told how everyone in the family has been working extremely hard to make enough money to purchase land so they could get a new house. It is so cool because they hope to finish the paperwork and officially have the land tomorrow. We went out to the see the land and how one of the children has already started clearing some of the weeds on the lot. We were so impressed by his efforts that some of us are going to help him with more tomorrow! We left the property and headed back to the mission for supper, and we were on dish duty, but it is not as bad as it sounds, because we do a lot of laughing. We ended this long and rewarding day with a film about Father Greg who started the mission and learned about his life beginning to end. It was truly inspiring and the perfect ending to a great day! We are so grateful to be here!