Hola todos! My, it has been a long time since I’ve posted so I appologize for that. I’ve been busy with my family and my jobs here and just falling into the rhythm of life in Pachaj, and time has absolutely flown by (which I take as a good sign :)) It feels very fitting that I’m writing this post over Thanksgiving weekend, because I couldn’t feel more grateful for the things that God has blessed me with and has been teaching me here. I have an extremely loving family, and although I was hit with a wave of homesickness spending my first Thanksgiving away from home and missing my dad’s birthday, it is such a blessing to be surrounded by such kind and loving people at my home in Pachaj. I am reminded each day of the strength of the bonds of love between family and friends, and although I can’t always communicate with my loved ones back in the States, it makes me so grateful to have wonderful people in my life both here in Guatemala and around the globe.
Well, after almost 2 months of living in Pachaj there is TONS to update about. But, to keep things relatively compact I’ll just touch on a few of them here. The first that came to my mind is corn, believe it or not. There are cornfields everywhere in Pachaj, and they have turned into a common sight for me as I’ve adjusted to life here. Corn makes up the base of life for people in Guatemala, since tortillas or tamalitos are eaten with every meal each and every day (No, I’m not sick of them yet (I actually like them!), and yes, I can now make a decently round tortilla and fold the corn leaves for tamalitos! 🙂 ). It’s now the time for harvesting the corn, which the families here will use for their food supply for the coming year. It’s been fascinating for me to learn more about this process and to see just how much the people depend on the crop. Since corn is a lifeline, many people that I’ve met and talked with have a deeply strong bond with their land, which I find very beautiful. They are also proud of the land they have, and it is almost a part of their identity. However, it becomes very difficult for families who have fewer economic resources, because many people are not able to afford plots of land to cultivate their corn. That means that they have to buy corn flower, which has fewer nutrients and also ends up being a more expensive investment in the long run. However, since these families do not have to pay it all upfront like they would for land, they are able to afford payments in smaller bits for bags of flour. The corn harvest is also intertwined with the weather, and my family has told me that the climate changes that have been happening can have big effects on the harvest. Once the corn is harvested and shucked, it needs to dry out in the sun before it can be stored for the year. However, if it rains consistently while the corn is outside, the corn can become moldy and the crop can be ruined. Usually the rainy season stops at the end of October in Guatemala and the corn is harvested in mid-November. However, this year it continued to rain into the first week of November, which worried the family. They’ve told me that they’ve noticed changing weather patterns in Guatemala, and sometimes wonder how it will continue to affect their lives. This just makes me reminded all the more of the importance of caring for our earth, especially for people whose very lives are so strongly tied to the land.
Another theme that has been coming up again is medicine, and how much of a difference it makes in people’s lives. My job at the health center has taught me a lot about medicine, and the importance of health education in general. Although I don’t really feel called into a medical profession, I am so grateful to be here and to be learning about these things. Health is a basic right of every person, and it has been heart-wrenching to meet mothers who can’t even afford to give their children food with enough nutrients to ensure their healthy development. All of the medicine and supplies that are given out at the health center are free for the people who come, which seems like a good and necessary idea in a place that has people with fewer (if any) resources available. However, the supply at the center is limited, and whenever the doctor or nurse prescribes a medication to buy at a pharmacy it is doubtful if the family can afford it. Partly as a result of this, one of the main focuses of the health center is on preventative medicinea and health education. The idea is that with more education, the families will be able to learn simple methods that they can use at home to lead healthier lifestyles (drinking purified / boiled water, eating more fruits and vegetables, practicing family planning, etc.) and hopefully not have to rely on the health center only after they need medical attention.
Another big thing that happened was that a medical mission team came into Pachaj and the neighboring communities for a week in early November. I got to spend the week with them helping out as a translator, and it was an incredible experience. I loved the chance to get to meet the team, and just being with them each day and seeing how grateful the people were when they received medicine was amazing. Many of the people we saw had parasites, and quite a few had diabetes as well. These cases reminded me once again about how important education is; many, though not all, of these cases could have been prevented if people knew more about the importance of drinking purified water and not eating too many foods that are high in carbs and sugar. The week was a mixed blessing, since it felt so good to help people doing the little that we could. However, some had cases that we couldn’t really fix (a lot of people suffered from nerves / nervousness from traumatic experiences in their lives), and most of the medicines, vitamins and parasite bars we did give out were only temporary fixes. I pray that the people we saw, and their families and communities, continue to stay healthy, and I hope that health education can continue in these communities to ensure a better future.
Last, but certainly not least, are what I can only describe as miracles that have happened since I’ve been here. It has been absolutely amazing to see the way that God is working here, since it is so far beyond my comprehension. I just know that I am humbled and grateful to be here in the midst of it all, even if I don’t know yet exactly what my role is or will be. The two things that come predominantly to mind are the stories of two little boys, Carlos and Danilo. Carlos is 12, and he had an extensive open-heart surgery before I arrived in Pachaj. He lives in a neighboring community with his widowed mother and 3 siblings. Although Carlos had been suffering from heart problems for years, his mother had no way of paying for a surgery for him. Last January, a medical team (many of the same people who I worked with!) met Carlos and wanted to do something for him. They, along with a group from a US Presbytery, helped to pay for the costs of his surgery in a hospital in Guatemala City, which never would have been possible otherwise. I got to meet Carlitos and his mom Rosa earlier this month, and immediately fell in love with them both. Carlos has the most heart-warming smile, and seeing him sitting there it was hard for me to imagine what he looked like a few months earlier – completely blue from lack of circulation. He is now a healthy and healing boy, still unable to run and play with his friends, but grateful to be alive and on the mend. We had a scare with him though, because he had a recent development of a little protrusion on his chest right after his checkup visit at the hospital in Guate. A little bump is visible right above his ribcage, and we didn’t know if he was in any danger because of it. We took him immediately to the hospital in Xela for an x-ray, and all of the internal things with his implant came back normal. When the medical team saw him a few days later, the doctors also said that the protrusion is ok, and that sometimes the sutures shift slightly while the chest bone is mending back together. It was so wonderful to see the reunion of Carlos and the medical team, since they could see him before and after his surgery and see how much of a difference that had made in his life. One of the most impactful parts of that week with the medical team for me was translating a message from an emergency pediatric nurse to Carlos’ mom. Susan has worked in emergency pediatric medicine for years, and she wanted to tell Carlos’ mom Rosa how brave she was, to bless and encourage her in this process and thank her for the way that she loves and cares for Carlitos. She passed along the message to me, and then I said it in Spanish to my host mom, Juana Herlinda. She then translated it into K’iche’ for Rosa, who spoke back to Juana, then me, and then Susan. Seeing the bonds of love between doctors and patients, mothers and children, and women of two very different cultures was incredibly moving experience, and as we all finished the conversation and gave one another hugs, we had tears of appreciation and understanding in our eyes.
The other little boy, Danilo, has a story that is perhaps even more intertwined with my own. Before leaving for Guatemala, my family decided to sponsor some children through Compassion International specifically from Guatemala, with the idea that I would take on one of the children as his or her sponsor upon my return. One afternoon my mom and I picked 3 kids from the Compassion website. One of them, Danilo, had been waiting for over 6 months for a sponsor and also needed special medical attention for a vision problem. He seemed like a natural choice. After we had made the jump and decided to sponsor these kids, we looked more closely at their information. Danilo’s description said that he lived in Pachaj. My jaw dropped and I called mom over; I had already received my placement information, and knew that I would be living in Pachaj! However, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, since I had already looked at a map of Guatemala and discovered that there is another Pachaj about 2 hours away from where I’m living. When I arrived here and got settled in, I honestly have to admit that Danilo had slipped my mind. I was busy learning about my new jobs and getting into the rythym of everything around me, but obviously thoughts of Danilo hadn’t left my mom. One day on the phone she said, ‘Annie, I just keep getting this feeling that you are going to meet Danilo someday. Do you know if he lives there or not?’ I said I didn’t, but would ask my host mom. The next day, I was working at the daycare, which is my other work placement in Pachaj. When I came back for the afternoon, some of the kids had left and my boss told me that it was because they went to the Compassion center. I almost lost it, and asked her if the center was here in Pachaj. She said yes, just up the road! That afternoon as soon as I got home, I told my host mom the whole story and asked if she knew of a little boy named Danilo. She was amazed and laughed with joy, saying she would ask her sister (who works at the center!) if she knew of a Danilo with vision impairments. The next day, I got my answer. ‘Yes, there is a Danilo with visual needs who goes to the center! In fact, there are two. Which one do you sponsor?’ I was in utter amazement and disbelief to find out that one of those little boys was our new little brother. My host mom and aunt laughed, and we all agreed that this was obviously the work of God. I got to meet Danilo, his mom, sister and brother a few days later at the Compassion center (which, even more amazingly is at the church my family goes to here!). They are such a sweet family, and I almost cried on numerous occasions that afternoon from all of the different emotions spinning around in my head and heart. While the medical team was visiting Pachaj, Danilo and his family came one day with other kids from the Compassion center. There was an optimologist with the group who was able to see Danilo, and he daignosed his problem. Danilo has strabismis, which, Dave explained to me, basically means that the muscles in his left eye don’t cooperate with the muscles in his right. He needs surgery to correct it, and if done right away Danilo can recuperate some of the vision that he’s lost because of this impairment. I was blown away, and so grateful once again that little Danilo could see an optomotrist who could diagnose exactly what he needs. I’m also so grateful that I am living so close to him, and that I’ve met his family. They are a part of my life here now, and I know that God brought me here for a reason (and probably many!). I don’t know as of yet exactly what role my family and I will play in Danilo’s story, but I am without a doubt that he is my little brother here and that we’ll try to do whatever we can as appropriate to help him and his family. In just the two times that I’ve spent time with them I’ve felt incredibly blessed by their love and generosity, and feel that I’m receiving so much more from them than they know.
So, on this sunny Saturday in Xela I am thankful for many things: love, family, friendships, health, medicine, miracles, the beauty of the earth, and all of the ups, downs and complexities that this life gives us. Most of all, I am so grateful for God’s grace, sovereignty, provision, faithfulness and love, and the ways in which he is present in the journies that we all face. Happy Thanksgiving, all! There truly is so much to be thankful for, and I’m glad to be able to share just some of those things with you.
Many blessings and all of my love,