Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day 3 ~ La Lancha a San Juan

Francesca Explaining Natural Dye Technique

With all roads out of Pana closed and rain continuing to fall, our Mission Team decided to travel across Lake Atitlan by boat to the village of San Juan to visit the Women's Cooperative and learn about their ancient natural dye technique. Above, you see Francesa giving a presentation to our group as a woman from her co-op group demonstrates backstrap weaving and as a pot of dye is prepared over an open fire.

This fascinating process of creating natural dyes involves the use of materials such as bark, heartwood, plants, and even insects to create gorgeous shades of blue, green, pink, purple, and beige. Fransecsa explained that the tradition was lost for many years, but they have since returned to their "roots" (so to speak) with hopes of preserving yet another piece of their Mayan culture. I was thrilled to watch it and bought quite a few treats to remind myself of the experience.

Like in Pana, the people of San Juan have been dramatically affected by the storm and continued rain. Lake Atitlan's water level is currently 7 feet higher than its normal state, and our lancha (boat) sadly needed to navigate around a rooftop as we approached the dock. As we neared, we noticed nearly a dozen men working on the dock, and we learned that they had raised it last week only to discover that it would need raising yet again.

The men working on the dock were volunteers who were motivated to help knowing that the dock was indeed the only way that tourists could enter their village and contribute to their economy. They gently lifted each of us up and down and across some balance-beam-like planks to make it safely to the shore. Upon our departure, we offered them each 10Q (quetzales) for their kindness and they cheered as we began our journey back across the lake.

Our luck with transportation this week has not been good (landslides, flat tires), so it should be no surprise that our boat stalled in the middle of Lake Atitlan on a rainy and cloudy day. Thanks to great cell phone coverage (believe it or not), we were able to call for assistance and eventually made our way back to shore with a great story to tell.

The highlight of my day was meeting Dilson, an 11 year old boy with kidney disease. Due to the prohibitive cost of dialysis plus the cost of transportation to go to and from Guatemala City twice weekly to receive treatments, Dilson's health was deteriorating rapidly. My brother, David, learned about Dilson and offered a helping hand. He has made it possible for Dilson to begin receiving dialysis at home within the next couple of weeks and has been funding medicine and transporation to the city since learning about Dilson's needs.

As a sister, it was heartwarming to stand alongside David as he met Dilson and his family for the very first time. Dilson offered David a firetruck that he had made from popsicle sticks, and Dilson's mother and grandmother presented David with several handcrafted gifts. They served us tea and cookies and we had a lovely visit where we learned that David and Dilson share many of the same interests. As we were about to leave, Dilson gave me a small toy. I could see the care and kindness in his eyes as he wanted me too to understand the depth of his gratitude. Surely, Dilson would not be alive at this very moment if it were not for the help provided by his Padrino (Godfather), David. What a blessing it was to witness their very special connection.

The rain continues to pour and we're living life day-by-day with hopes to make a difference, despite the storm. And, you know what? Even in torrential downpours or rain or mist, Panajachel is still one of the brightest places on Earth.

Until tomorrow,


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day 2 ~ El Barranco Pre-School

In Need of New Shoes

I started today, knowing full well that it would be an emotional one. On the agenda was a trip to the village of El Barranco to visit the new pre-school, conduct an eye glasses clinic, distribute donations, and build a couple of Onil stoves. I checked my backpack for tissues and hopped in the van.

El Barranco has special meaning to our family, because Jay and I pledged our support to fund the rental of the compound that is used for the school and for other Mayan Families business. Because of our pledge, and the promise of others to fund the teaching positions, the school opened in March and has been a blessing to this wonderful village.

After distributing toothbrushes and toothpastes to the 30 children in the program, we stepped outside for a gathering with our Team, Mayan Families Staff, and lots and lots of mothers, many with infants and toddlers strapped to their strong frames in slings.

I was touched beyond words when a student presented me with the gift of a woven tablecloth from the mothers of the village. It truly wasn't until that very moment that I realized how much impact our small monthly contribution was making each and every day in a village far away from home. In a matter of seconds, I could feel my heartstrings tightening.

Together with my new Mission Team friends, I then went on to distribute clothing and shoe donations to each student and their older and younger siblings. They were each so very grateful, but none perhaps was more thankful than the little boy in the photo above. Imagine walking around in these sole bare shoes during the storms of this past week. I'm happy to report that he now has new walking shoes.

Our day ended with another great dinner. I've quickly formed friendships with members of our Team and am thrilled to be sharing this experience with them.

Because of the weather and the road access, our plans for the week will be made on a day-by-day basis, which proves for sure that this trip is not like the last. It's always an adventure here in Guatemala.

Until tomorrow,


Day 1 ~ The Journey to Pana

View From The Van Window

I started my day knowing exactly what to expect on our journey to Panajachel, as we had made our first trip here - by car, then plane, then van - in March, 2010, but nothing truly prepared us for the bumpy road ahead.

Last week's tropical storm devastated Guatemala and specifically the Department of Solola which was hit by landslides, mudslides, and raging rivers. Many roads remain impassable and others are just plain scary to navigate.

The photo above was taken from the van window as we (slowly and carefully) crossed a section of a cliffside road that had experienced a massive slide and was now faced with the constant flow of erosion causing rainwater. This is not a bridge that exudes confidence. We recall, last year, on a perfectly clear weather day, being asked by the policia to get out of our vehicle and cross on foot for fear that the road could not withstand the weight of a passenger full van. Needless to say, we all held our breath as we crossed.

Thanks to our wonderful driver and our faith, we arrived safely in Panajachel and then the magic began. There are few places on Earth that feel like home to me, but Pana is one of them.

Our group of 14 ladies and 1 man (David) enjoyed a lovely evening at the home of Sharon and Dwight Poage, two of the three founding members of Mayan Families, the organization that we are serving this week. We were treated to a tortilla making lesson by Gloria, using an Onil wood burning stove, and we were touched by slide show presentations and welcome speeches made by members of the staff. Before we even lifted a finger, we felt like we were already making a difference.

I can hardly wait to get to know my Mission Team this week. Each person has such an interesting story as to how they came to know Mayan Families. We span many decades with teammates in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, and - after just a few hours together - I know for sure that the week will be full of laughter and fun.

Mission work really doesn't feel like work at all. It's all about human interaction... working together and helping others.

And so, the first leg of our travels is over but the true journey is just now beginning. The road to Pana tells me that I may indeed be in for new experiences this time. I am ready. I am excited. My heart is open... and it is singing (in Spanish).

Hasta manana,