Thursday, March 10, 2011

Julie's view from the van

Hola! Buenas tardes! We are in our second day in Guatemala. After the other half of our group arrived, we all made the journey from Guatemala City to Panajachel, the village where we will work with Heart to Heart. The fourteen of us from Xavier, plus the four medical professionals who came with us, are all packed into two vans (I knew we would get close on this trip, but I didn’t realize it would be so soon!) Since the journey will take about three hours, this is a good time to reflect on my experiences thus far.
As we ascend higher and higher into the mountains, I look out the windows of the van and am astounded by the breathtaking beauty. The further we go, the less I notice the mountains and the more my attention is consumed by the surrounding poverty. So far, I have seen dilapidated houses, men passed out drunk right in the middle of the sidewalk, people begging you to buy whatever it is they are selling, and many more sights that just tear at your heart. At the same time, though, I have seen beauty in the poverty. I have seen women who you could just tell were best friends carrying baskets on their heads; I have seen families farming their fields together, putting in countless hours of hard work; and I have seen kids playing together in a field, kicking a ball around and laughing as though they were the happiest kids on earth.
Observing all of these sights has caused a million questions to race through my brain. One recurring question that I can’t seem to find an answer to is: why them and not me? Why did I have the privilege of being born in a country where having a house, a car, a job, and new clothes is so common that it is easy to take these things for granted? I could have just as easily been born into a country like Guatemala where not having a car is the least of your concerns because you are more concerned with where you are going to get your next meal. Being born in America really was just pure luck; it’s like flipping a coin—heads, you are born in America, tails, you are born in Guatemala. Although I still do not have an answer as to why I was born in America instead of Guatemala, I do realize that it just as easily could have been me who was born into the Guatemalan poverty. If it weren’t for the luck of getting heads when I flipped the coin, I could have been the one begging people to buy whatever I was selling, just to earn a couple of bucks a day.
Reflecting on the luck of being born in a desirable geographical location, I can’t help but think back to this morning when the first half of our group to arrive had the opportunity of meeting two Guatemalans from the Jewish community—Mario and his 32-year-old son Jonathan. Mario explained to us how in 1934, after Hitler had just come into power, his father immigrated to Guatemala from Hamburg, Germany because he wanted to escape religious persecution for being Jewish. Just as the Guatemalans are randomly born into their poor living conditions, so too was Mario’s grandfather randomly born into an oppressive living situation. Unfortunately in Germany, no one did anything to help the Jews, so six million people died in the Holocaust. We cannot go back and change the past, but we can learn from it for the future, which is why we must do something to help the Guatemalans. Because all eighteen of us on this trip have been given many privileges, we have an obligation to help those who are not as fortunate. My perspective on life has already changed after just one day of being here, so I look forward to the days ahead.

Jonathan and friends

Jonathan and friends

Jonathan on thankfulness

Today was a long day in the clinic but it was so rewarding. I had the opportunity to shadow the doctors and work in the prayer station. Both of these were amazing experiences. The chance to shadow a doctor opened the window to grow leaps and bounds professionally. Interacting with patients was one of my favorite parts of the day.
The prayer station was one of the most beautiful things I have ever been a part of. After the doctor finished the examination, the translator would ask the patients if they would like to read a sample prayer aloud or if they would like to offer their own prayer. Many chose to pray on their own and while I don’t know much Spanish the common theme in most every prayer was the word “gracias,” “thank you.” It is hard to believe how many times they gave thanks during prayer. It made me think how often we as a society use prayer when something is wrong or not going as we planned in our lives. Satchel Paige once said, “Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.” This truly envelops our societal view on prayer as a tool only for forgiveness or intercession. We never take enough time to offer up prayers of thanksgiving for what we have. The people here have so little but so much more than I will ever have at the same time. Yes, they have less monetary possessions but the people of Guatemala are so happy for everything that they own. The spirit of the Guatemalan is so resilient and beautiful.
Those patients that would choose to read the prayer would read in Spanish while I read the same prayer in English. When this happened for the first time I got chills. For that moment, language barrier aside, the patient and I were connected through the common language of prayer which was remarkable. This was one of the best experiences ever. It was unbelievable to see how universal prayer is.
This is such a remarkable experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. As patients come in and out of the clinic each day they always express their immense thanks. They do not realize that they have given me so much more than I can ever give them. I feel it is our duty to serve these people because only by the grace of God were we born into our society and culture.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Katie's first impressions

At the end of the first full day in Guatemala I can already reflect and think on so much. Simply flying into the Guatemala City airport I began to get a feel of the place and the people. After being warmly greeted by the rest of our team we were promptly thrust into the culture and the need of the country where we will be spending our week.
Driving out of Guatemala City, buildings and traffic became small towns and farms. Finally after three hours of breathtaking countryside and harrowing poverty we arrived in Panajachel. The plan: dinner, meeting, sleep, Patanatic. The next morning we traveled 10 minutes up the mountain to the village of Patanatic, the location of the Heart to Heart clinic. Little by little, my eyes opened to the poverty around the world that is often shoved aside because of the hectic lifestyle most of us have in the United States.
Our first task in Patanatic was checking the water filters that Heart to Heart installed in the homes of the 500 residents. After walking up the steepest hill I have ever seen, my group visited approximately 20 homes. These houses are not what we are used to in the United States, with flooring, clean water, roofs, multiple rooms, and sanitary conditions. Not a single home in Patanatic has all those things; maybe only one or two homes have a single item from that list. The average home in Patanatic has a dirt floor, makeshift roof, contaminated water, and no inside lighting. Comparing homes like these to my simple small-town home I did not know what to say. Words fail the emotions I felt walking from home to home and witnessing the conditions that these wonderful people live in. Anger, sorrow, guilt, frustration, shock, and embarrassment all ran through me. These were quickly overshadowed by the next feeling - , a strong desire to help, heal, and love - the reason I came to Guatemala.
Following our home visits, we worked in the clinic for the rest of the day. Meeting the people and attempting to overcome the language barrier was a beautiful experience. Not once did I smile at a patient waiting in line and not see a smile in return. They are wonderfully happy and loving people. I wonder how they can be so happy in the poverty and illness in which they live. The slower pace of Patanatic allows for relationships and interaction, which I admit to cutting out in my overbooked life. The people have big hearts capable of great love which they freely share, and true wealth lies in love.
One interesting reflection I made tonight was at the Spanish Mass we attended here in Panajachel. In my theology class, we discussed the definition of the word catholic. While the “big C” Catholic is the religious belief, “little c” catholic means universal. As in my Spanish classes, the lecture takes on meaning only when it is applied to life. Hearing the Nicene Creed today in Spanish, I caught the word catholic. The word in the Nicene Creed is actually the little c catholic. Today, it finally really meant universal. I finally realized the church beyond the United States and even the English language. It reminded me of a song from church, “We are many parts. We are all one body.” We are all one body- it reminds us that there is no person with any place higher than another. If anything, should we not strive to be another’s servant like the example of Jesus? An amazing man we met today spoke to us about his gratitude for our service in the community. He proceeded to say that he felt sorry that there was no way for the community to repay us. I almost immediately began to cry. We did not come to be repaid, we came to be a servant to another part of the one body.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Greetings from Guatemala City - March 4 from Nicole and Jonathan

We can both remember the phone calls we received in September that offered us a spot on the Medical Mission trip to Haiti. Although things did not work out in Haiti, we are blessed with the opportunity to have this experience in a new country that has just as much to offer. Now seven months after that phone call, we have landed safely in the beautiful country of Guatemala! It feels like we have been preparing forever, so we are so glad to finally be here. It is so real to us now!
We met up with our Los Angeles medical staff (Cathy, Bonnie, and Richard) in Dallas and all of us flew to Guatemala together. When we landed, we rushed through immigration to pick up our bags and head through customs. We met our Heart to Heart representative and our driver to take us to the Hotel Biltmore in Guatemala City. We arrived at the hotel, which is absolutely beautiful, dropped off our stuff and headed out into the city to find some food.
We both were a little nervous at first as we walked through the crowded streets just because the Guatemalan culture is very different from ours. The street we walked on had tons of night clubs packed with people and they were trying to get us to enter their club. Many vendors tried to sell us necklaces, roses, and CDs. We were caught off guard when we noticed several heavily armed guards lining the streets. Little did we know they would be so willing to pose for pictures with each of us!
We found a neat restaurant called Tacotenta and sat down to have chips and salsa, guacamole, floutas, and quesadillas. We talked and got to know each other a lot better as bands walked in off the streets and through the restaurant serenading us with music and singing. We shared stories and many laughs!
Now we are in the hotel, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the rest of our group and the week that lies ahead. We are trying to load up on sleep tonight since it could be scarce the rest of the week! Tomorrow morning we are having breakfast in the hotel and meeting with a representative of the Jewish community in Guatemala City. We are excited to learn more and ask him questions. The rest of the group arrives at 2:15 pm. We will pick them up in the airport and head off to the village where we will be staying! We are so excited for the amazing week ahead of us! Talk to you soon!