Tuesday, July 31, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (27) Alone In a Village

Sterling with flowers given to her by Kenya
Her brother told me that he was 10 years old, and judging on his age, I would place her around 12. Age is hard to estimate where malnutrition runs rampant. Her hair was dark and neatly combed and her head came up only to about my elbow. She wore a green and blue skirt, hand woven in the Guatemalan tradition of intricate patterns. Her blouse was an amazing blaze of white with hand-stitched flowers around the neckline. Great care had gone into the crafting of this textile, and it was spotless.

She called my name from across the cinder-block school and my ears heard her above the fray of 120 students at play. I turned to her and saw her running towards me as she continued to call my name… “Chad… Chad… Chad!”

Her hand locked into mine and I realized that I had to get my work gloves off. This beautiful little girl would not be made to hold a gloved hand. I remembered that my right hand was torn and bandaged and so I removed the glove of my left and then took her hand in mine. We exhausted our mutually understood words in about 10 seconds, things like: “how are you”, “I am fine”, and “you are pretty”.

She began pulling me through the courtyard of the school… and then up the stairs to the street… and then down the street. My feet stood still as I contemplated the situation. I was an American adult male holding the hand of a young Guatemalan girl in a remote village… and we were walking together away from her school. I considered that this was not a wise situation. A passerby could understandably see us and fear the worst.

Her name was Kenya (or at least that is how it sounds to me). She is the oldest of three siblings. This past June I worked with the team that built their house. I was nearly certain that this was her… but in the back of my mind I worried that I might have her confused, and if that was the case… then I had no idea where she was leading me.

But I was nearly certain… I weighed the risk… and we went forward. We came to the end of the street and turned right, walking up the mountain. I could see the path that led to what I hoped was her house! We walked up the dirt road, hand in hand, making sounds at the animals we passed by. We neared the path to her house. Thankfully she turned and began walking to the house. My recollection was correct.

We stepped through the trees and I saw the house that I built. It now had curtains in the windows, a chicken coup full of chickens, and a pot simmering on their Onil stove. I called out, “Hello… is anyone here? Mercedes? This is Chad.” I listened and heard only the sound of the wind in the trees.

I nervously chuckled as again I remembered that I was standing alone in a village in the mountains of Guatemala with a child that was not my own. I took a step back towards the gate.

It was at that moment that again I heard my name called out from a distance. I knew the voice even before I turned… it was Mercedes, the little girl’s mother.

The first time I met Mercedes was when I was attempting to foreman the building of her home. She sat nearby and watched as I led the team to incorrectly form her first wall, and subsequently had to disassemble it twice. Now as she called out my name, I picture the perplexed look of doubt on her face on that hot June day. I remember wondering what she was thinking. Probably something like, “Is that Gringo really gonna build my house? It probably won’t stand. I want another Gringo!”

But today the house stood strong and beautiful as Mercedes made her way across her courtyard and greeted me with a firm hug. Her two boys followed behind her as we all shared a group-hug reunion. She spoke rapidly in Spanish and I only caught a few words. It was apparent that she was both surprised and very happy to see me. She was telling me how much she loved her home, how it changed the lives of her children, and how she was forever greatful.

I was speechless. I just stood there in silence.

Luckily she saved me! I heard her asking about my spouse. I couldn’t believe she remembered! When I was here before I had shared pictures of Kellie and the full family. I laughed out loud, smiled, and said, “Si, Kellie, Me espousa es aqui!” Using my spanglish and hand motions, I communicated that I would go and get her, along with Caleb, Aleksandra, and Sterling. Mercedes smiled and laughed with delight when she learned they were all there and I ran with Kenya’s hand in mine to bring them to her house.

It was incredible to realize that we had all become family.
My hands were full all day long today. I walked around Michael Jackson style with my right hand gloved and my left hand free. I held shovels, pick-axes, wheel-barrows, hammers, trowels, buckets, and backpacks. When I wasn’t holding a tool… I was holding the hand of Kenya.

Her and her two brothers followed my every step from about 9:30 to 5:00. I held them each nearly every free moment I had. I carried them all around Labor de Falle. We ran, we spun, we danced, we played ball… we even invented our own games.

Meanwhile Ramero, our construction foreman, relied on me to construct the block wall that supported the hypoponics project that combines 250 live tilapia with a veggie patch. Working alongside Margaret Updyke, we hand-mixed mortar and placed over 50 block, level and plumb, and then gave them a stucco finish. We transported 2 130 lb bags of concrete, 15 wheel-barrows of sand, and 7 wheel-barrows of stones down a hill, over a ditch, and up a hill to our worksite. We graded the dirt within the walls to create a base for the concrete bottom that will hold 6” of rock. The rock-bed will act as the filtration system for the fish and will also hold the vegetables.

Our progress just before inserting the tank and applying stucco to the walls.
I came back tonight, took out my knife and cut away the bandages from my hands. The palm of my right hand and the thumb of my left show the evidence of my work. While we don’t always have such a physical representation… it is true that the way we live our lives bears evidence.

The choices we make and how we spend our days… how we invest our time… the things we accumulate… the way others speak of us… all these things are evidence of our belief.

Today I was blown away by seeing familiar faces and thankful hearts. I was blessed to be a part of something far bigger than myself. I figure at the end of my days I may have the chance to look back and consider how I lived it.

I hope to have scars on my hands that remind me of the beauty of days lived like today.

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