Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 4

As each day passes, I feel more and more at home here in Guatemala. In fact, today, I ventured out on my own for a bit and was hardly approached by the street vendors. I must have lost that "deer in the headlights" look that they immediately noticed when I arrived.

And yet it was still a day filled with "firsts." This morning, we traveled by tuk tuk to Mayan Families, and it was a very exciting ride. The tuk tuk system is best described as a taxi service in a three wheeled vehicle with the driver in the front and room for three passengers in the back. There is no room for cargo, but these little vehicles can surely get you where you need to go in a hurry. As I rode today, I was reminded of my experience sitting in the back seat on the Antique Car ride at Canobie Lake Park, with Juliana as my driver. There is lots of starting and stopping, and the engines literally sounds the same. If you were to close your eyes, you surely couldn't tell the difference... other than the fact that the ones in Guatemala go really, really fast.

Another first was a visit to the lakefront. What a beautiful sight to behold... blue skies on top, blue water below, and towering volcanoes as the backdrop. It's incredibly soothing to stare across Atitlan and breathe in every ounce of its serenity.

Much of my time at Mayan Families today was spent sorting and distributing donations. I found treasures for Griselda, and Jesus, and Elvis, and lots of other visitors who had some urgent needs and came to the right place. I will never underestimate the value of our shipments of donations. They are life sustaining... there's no doubt about that.

This afternoon, I gladly accepted an invitation to follow along on the delivery route for the elderly feeding program. This is a new MF program that sustains some of the oldest and most dear in the community. Those who know me well know that I totally dig old people... always have and always will. (Have you met any other college student who chose to spend her class-free Fridays volunteering in an adult day care program?) I am truly touched by the labor intensive work performed by MF staffers on a weekly basis to ensure that these nutritionally fortified meals are prepared and hand delivered to so many lovely souls.

It should come as no surprise that, on the way back from a feeding program visit, we rescued a dog. Imagine a place where - when you find someone (or some animal) in need - you help. No excuses and no exceptions. Panajachel is teaming with stray dogs and many of the injured ones find their way to Mayan Families. A staff member (or visiting volunteer) notices one, a call is made to Sharon, and she lovingly instructs the caller to bring it home to get care. The sweet puppy we rescued today was laying two feet away from the edge of a bridge enbankment , and he had what appeared to be a broken or sprained right paw. One phone call to Sharon and a quick trip up the road by Don Bartolo resulted in this sweet pup visiting the vet's office and getting immediate medical attention. The ease with which this all happened was inspiring. I truly believe that if more people understood how easy it can be to help others (human or canine or otherwise), they would challenge themselves to do it more often.

It wasn't long after the puppy rescue that I met my sponsored student, Daniel Pablo, for the very first time. He arrived with his brother Antonio (sponsored by my parents), his sister Maria, and his mother, Alejandra. Honestly, I felt as though I knew them long before I even shook their hands. They are a wonderful family. With some tears in my eyes and a bit of a shaky voice, I explained to them that my Mom was especially honored to sponsor Antonio and to help their family because she too was the child of a single parent family after her own Dad passed away when she was just 5 years old... the same age at which Antonio's father passed away. Like my Nana Sughrue, Alejandra is a strong woman, and she is protective of her brood. She spoke with such sincerity - in her native Mayan dialect which was then translated into Spanish - when she explained how hard her life had become after her husband's passing and that the gifts from Jay and I and from my parents had helped to ease the burden. Can you even imagine what it must feel like to know that there are people in another part of the world... a world you hardly know because you cannot read or speak the common language and because you have never traveled away from your village... who are willing to lend a helping hand? Perhaps that is why this culture calls its sponsors "Padrinos" or "Madrinos" which literally translates to Godparents. There's no doubt that God has played a role in creating this very special relationship. My time with this family ended with the sharing of some gifts that I had brought from home (including Boston Red Sox t-shirts for the boys) and arranging for the purchase and delivery of a new bed and new armoire for their home, thanks to Los Padrinos Patterson. That Mom and Dad of mine will surely never step on Guatemalan soil, but I am overwhelmed by the generosity that they have shown to Alejandra's family and to the people of their Grandson's homeland. They taught me well.

The grand finale of our day was grand indeed. The children of a community called El Baranco traveled to Panajachel to perform a Mayan dance ritual. It included traditional clothing, ancient hunter/gatherer dances, and even a monkey dance in which they were covered with soot and wore masks to resemble the hairy primates. It was clear that, not only had they practiced, but that these dances sprung from their little bodies as only something that is part of your being can do. I am reminded how diluted my ancestry is and how I don't hold tight to the traditions of those who came before me. That is certainly not the case with these children from El Baranco. They are pure Maya and they wear it with pride and dignity. There are too few places in the world like this... where tradition is not on the endangered list. Keeping it alive is truly a gift that all the world should see.

Who knows what is in store for tomorrow, but it is sure to be another dia magnifico!

Abrazos Grandes,

Solamente Beth


  1. Oh Beth You are bringing back so many memories for me. I love your meeting your sponsored family thoughts and feelings. I, too, felt that I already knew my sponsored family before I had actually met them. It was surreal and sort of funny too. The puppy rescue is another story we have in common. I love how you point out that when someone needs help there is no thinking you just do it. Mayan Families is so awesome! I am so glad you are enjoying your trip and wish you continued eye and heart opening experiences! Muchas Abrazos con Besos!