Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How's Your Face?


Utz awich! Or, literally, “How’s your face?” This became our daily greeting while working last month in the village of Pachitulul, Guatemala. Thirteen friends and family members of Woods Chapel UMC traveled to this small village of 18 families on July 3rd, living amongst the indigenous Maya until Sunday, July 12th.

This was my 7th visit - and the first time that I took my dad. I was excited to be showing him the beautiful land that I fell in love with years ago.

Along the way, we encountered at least two snakes, three poisonous spiders, five hissing bugs of an unknown species (the locals called them “cigarron”), six nasty scorpions, and millions – no, make that zillions, of stinging, biting fire ants. I found out they're called fire ants for a good reason - OUCH!

We worked side-by-side with the men of Pachitulul, installing a water pipe, as well as learning words of Cakquichel – their local language. Our daily language lessons provided a welcome respite from the muscle-straining work of digging a water pipe. We learned that spiders are known as “um” – and ants are known as “suneek” – two things we tried to stay away from, but quickly found it was just impossible faced with the conditions we were.

The water pipe project was more physically demanding than any other project we’ve taken on in Guatemala. It involved digging a trench over 1,000 feet long, with depths up to 26”, through a rocky, boulder-strewn path that started out relatively flat but quickly took a turn up a steep mountainside through the thick, dense jungles of Guatemala. If that sentence seems long – imagine the trench we had to dig. It seemed to go on forever – and it was never what one would consider “easy” – but, by working together with our new friends, we accomplished it.

Once the trench was dug, we took electric wire and strung it through some piping. Along with the electric wiring, we laid PVC plastic tubing, gluing it together. After this was all laid, we had to bury the pipe.

We thought the burying of the pipe would be the easiest job we had encountered – but we sadly misjudged this. It rained for a day during our trip, and the rain turned our dirt into a nice, compacted layer of mud – which was physically demanding to dig through and put back into the trench.

To our great satisfaction – and disbelief – we finished the project in the time allotted. Our project will allow the community to pump water from nearby Lake Atitlan to their village, eliminating daily walks with jugs on the heads of the village women, to collect the water.

Our lodging was very nice – albeit a bit noisy, located where it was right in the middle of the (almost) daily market. We stayed at the home of Felipe and his wife, who showered us with warmth, hospitality and food. They served us delicious hot breakfasts and hot steaming coffee each morning. In the evenings, we’d be greeted with tasty, delectable dinners that encompassed the typical Guatemalan diet. I couldn’t identify what we ate 90% of the time – but it was all good.

At the worksite, the women of the village of Pachatulul would prepare a daily snack, as well as a hot lunch, for us. We enjoyed fish, crab, soups, vegetables, and fresh fruit and juices on a daily basis.

Evenings and days off were spent touring other local villages, as well as learning about MesoAmerican permeaculture. We met a 90-something year old woman who still hand makes over 900 tortillas on a daily basis – sitting in her dark, smoky cabin, it was hard for us to imagine this kind of life, but she delighted in showing us how to make our own tortillas. We met a lady who still hand weaves clothing – she patiently showed us how she works the loom and what the markings on the clothing mean. One day was spent going on an enjoyable boat ride across the wide, azul-colored lake, visiting three other villages for sightseeing and shopping.

All-in-all, it was an excellent trip. For the most part, the weather cooperated with us, and we were kept very busy – what with working, shopping, guided tours, sightseeing, and eating. Lots and lots of eating.

I had always heard of ancient rites of passages where people had to run across hot, burning coals – well, I do believe our group was initiated into Guatemalan rites of passage when we all ran through 10-foot long areas of stinging fire ants. We screamed and we ran fast – but we did it, much to the amazement of the local men. We “proved” ourselves on this trip – so if you ask us how our “faces” are, we’ll reply, “Se utz, malti osh” – or, “They’re good, thank you!”

Hiking along in Guatemala

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