Ya’ll may be tired of me yakking about Guatemala but there is just so much to tell. Bear with me today and I’ll change the subject next week, I promise. There are a few odds and ends to wrap up.
When we visited Guatemala in 2003 the church we visited was very poor. During the Vacation Bible School that year we noticed something new. These kids were clearly mal-nourished. The babies were especially sick looking and had a kind of dead stare in their eyes. Our friend Loida told us these children needed help. The following year we met another woman, Miriam Leon, who already worked for a similar program and who we knew would be able to design a program we call the Childrens Nutrition Project. That year all the right people met each other and the Nutrition Project was born. And ever since then, part of each visit has been to eat lunch with the children.
The project always rotates to a different church on an annual basis. The first thing they do with each new group of children is to give them anti-parasite medicine. You have to rid the child of chronic worms, otherwise, the worms will take the nourishment. Then we provide daily vitamins. The kids go to the sponsoring church twice a week for two meals and a snack. Sometimes it’s the only meat the kids get all week. They also have bible study and the mothers get health education. Then, during our visit we review the immaculate records they keep on each child to show that our dollars are making a difference. We’re very proud of the women who designed and maintain the program.
Well, we didn’t need a written report to prove how healthy the kids have become. Here's a video of a musical program they put on for us. I’m sorry the audio doesn’t seem to work. Blogspot says they are working on the problem. Sometimes the audio posts and sometimes it doesn’t. Be sure to click on the control, though, the motion works and you can see how much the kids are jumping around. These are healthy kids.
Miriam continues to review the records. In this picture Annette Renaud is translating for Linda who is also an RN.
We cover a lot of ground on our assorted visits to other churches or spots of interest. At one restaurant we visited they had monkeys for us to visit while we waited for our lunch. This fellow was so gentle and seemed happy to just touch us. How many times do you get a chance to shake hands with a monkey?
We spent one day visiting the Mayan Ruins in Copan, Honduras. I’m not one to get excited over ancient Mayan pyramids and stellae or temple carvings. I’m afraid I think if you’ve seen one ancient mayan ruin you’ve seen them all. Sorry. That’s just a little failing I have. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get anything of value from the visits. Quite the contrary. Instead of climbing over the stones I have found something else to marvel at.
I have noticed there is “something” present in these ancient places. Something I can’t really explain. There’s a unique feeling of peacefulness. I first noticed it a few years ago at another site in Quirigua. I lay down on the stones and spent an hour just feeling the peacefulness. It was one of the most astonishing feelings I’ve ever had. So, while the others tromped off to climb and listen to history lessons as we walked into the park I headed off to the side of the park to lie on the rocks.
When the rest of my group sees me sitting or laying down they always worry about me. I gave Linda instructions to explain to the others if they worried. I’m just fine, thank you, but I wanted to experience the ancient ruins in my own weird way.
The stones I chose were part of a retaining wall at the edge of the park. I carefully lay down and closed my eyes. I stayed there motionless for about ten minutes. Nothing was happening. I noticed a bug flying around but didn’t wave it away; I accepted its presence as possibly a part of the serenity package I was to receive. Ten more minutes passed and nothing was happening. Nothing. I told myself that I was ahead of some folks who probably couldn’t have lain there on the ground in Guatemala with bugs flying around my face. And gave it another half hour.
Finally, I gave up. I decided my stones must not have been ancient enough. Maybe not part of the original ancient site. Maybe even some gringo rocks imported from Texas or something. But as I sat up and prepared to join the others I spotted Miriam walking over to me.
Miriam is one of my favorite people. We communicate without words usually since neither of us are very good at the other’s language. Instead, we communicate by hugs. She came over to me with a worried expression. I gave her back a peaceful look and an “esta bueno.” She motioned me to follow her and walked over to a tree. She said, “energia positive.” I understood clearly. “Positive Energy” is a phrase that is almost exactly the same in Spanish as in English. She motioned me to follow as she held her hands out and touched one smooth, ancient tree. Then she reached out and gave it a hug.
When I tried it I was disappointed that I didn’t feel anything. I’m not about to discount that Miriam felt something. She is of different culture, lifestyle and experience. She has an advantage in that respect. But I was thankful she knew enough about me to give me a lesson I would appreciate. Because I really do believe her when she told me I could feel the energy from the tree. I think I was too caught up in the visiting and tension that comes with being away from familiar surroundings. I vowed to try this on a tree at home, probably a well-loved pine, the gringo version, so to speak. And I’m prepared to hang in there if it doesn’t work immediately. I think tree hugging takes a while to learn but I’m convinced Miriam can feel something and it’s worth it to me to take the time to acquire the skill.
Finally, one of the lessons I try to teach whenever I talk about mission trips is how valuable the mere act of loading everybody up in a van and driving around together for a few hours. It’s really not about the destination; it's,instead, always about the journey. It’s about the wonderful things you gain by just spending time together being in the same place at the same time. On the trip to the ruins the seven norteamericanos shared a 15 passenger van with 8 guatemaltecos. Sometimes we talked. Sometimes we just looked out the window together. I spent my time watching Elda Leon sitting in front of me. The open windows brought a steady wind to blow through her hair but somehow her hair never looked windblown. It wasn’t perfect but it maintained its beauty no matter how hard or how long the wind blew.
Elda is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met. She’s Ludin’s mother, Miriam’s mother-in-law. I have a picture of her in my bedroom. She has a weathered face with all the lines and wrinkles an 80 year-old woman can acquire in a life fully lived combined with grace and dignity in the way she carries herself.
It’s always about the bus ride. The journey. Meeting people of grace wherever you are. Spotting those who can teach you how to hug a tree. How to keep strands of hair in place while the wind blows through it. Because the wind is always going to blow. I can only look for a tree to stand against to keep my balance when the wind blows.