Today was our day to visit a high mountain Mayan village. The sixteen of us Carroll folks, along with Sheila and our amazing drivers, Cerillo and Chico, piled into two four-wheel drive vehicles at 7:40 a.m. and headed up-up-up into the mountains to attend mass with the people in the village of Pacaman.
First, let me tell you about getting there: When I say Cerillo and Chico are amazing drivers, I mean it. They wrestled the wheel for two hours as we bumped over incredibly rocky, washed out, and winding switchbacks to deliver us to this remote village perched on a hillside way up, literally, in the clouds. Half of us rode standing in the back of a truck—the usual mode of transportation here. The other half rode inside a jeep. We all pitched and rocked as the vehicles crawled the 40km from Santo Tomas to our destination. We climbed out about half a mile away from the village.
As we walked the last part of the road, we could look up hill or down hill onto tidy corn fields, divided into sections by fences made from poles which, stuck into the ground right next to each other, sprout leaves from the tops. The distant backdrop to these patchwork fields is the vegetation-covered volcanic mountain, where fog hovers pretty much all the time. We passed by goats with tiny kids, garden patches of blossoming peas, and an assortment of small dwellings, also set into the hillside. Some had wood and thatched roofs, some were made of corrugated tin sheets attached to poles, and a very few were bright-colored stucco. Smoke from cooking fires comes out of the space between walls and roof. They are separated by the same kind of dense fences. Most have packed dirt yards, with maybe a flowering bush. We also passed by a number of Packman’s residents—men or boys carrying wood or a machete, girls and women dressed in their traditional cortex—a mid-calf “cut” of dark cloth that they wrap around as a skirt and secure with a bright belt—and bright embroidered blouses. As we passed by, they stopped to look. Sheila told us groups like ours rarely came up this far to visit (the long bumpy ride is not an incentive!). Father Kevin only gets up there every several months to say Mass—the last time was in February of this year.
Soon, the number of people increased, and we were pointed to the church. Outside the small stucco building, a crowd of people had gathered. The colors are what strike me first. Black hair, eyes and brown skin are set off by the heavy pink, red, orange, and green embroidery on their shirts and shawls. And so many children! So there are always big eyes, big or shy smiles, and fidgeting. The area outside the church was packed with people. As we approached, they opened up a path for us. Fr. Kevin told us a spot had been saved at the front of the sanctuary. We moved inside and headed for the front. As we passed all those people, I got a lump in my throat—their chance to attend mass with Fr. Kevin is, as I said, rare. Besides, he was doing a number of baptisms at today’s Mass. And probably a third of those who wanted to attend were left peering in from the outside. I felt pretty sure that they should have the front row seats at their mass. Still, I imagine that giving them to us was their way of honoring the Mission by extending hospitality to us.
My favorite part of mass was the constant hum of kid sounds—lots of tiny babies there for the baptism, plus the many other children attending. They also moved in and out from the front area of the Church throughout the service, watching this bunch of big, pale people who were apparently special guests today. Nobody made them sit still. And many people were standing, so the kids wound their way through the crowded aisles—intrigued for a bit with us, and then onto something else. I also loved the music—sung in K’iche and accompanied by an accordion (played by Mission musician Pedro) and a bass guitar. I also loved sharing the sign of peace, and the varied responses to our handshakes. Some of the men came across the whole room to shake hands with all of us. A few of the women responded warmly, others more gingerly to our extended hands.
As soon as Mass was over, the people at the back set up a long table with chairs and set out lunch for us all. Rice, beans, chicken, and big baskets filled with hot tortillas. We sat down to eat, while many of the residents stood in groups a few yards away and watched. The food was delicious. After we finished, we moved out of the church—there was another high mountain mass to attend in another hour, at another village. I asked a few people if they would like me to take their picture. Some retreat, others engage happily. After I take a shot, I show them the picture, and they often giggle at their images. But then, some Pakaman residents own their own cell phones with cameras, so for them this is old news.
Really, I don’t know how to process the mix of thoughts and feelings that arise during our encounters with these Mayan people, in their home place, high up in these volcanic mountains. We stare at each other—the basic desire to do so makes simple sense to me. They are visually beautiful people—that’s one reason I want to look. And we are different, in so many ways—in our appearance, in what we do in our daily lives—that’s another reason to look. Differences intrigue us. If we were all kids, it might be just as simple as that.
But there are other dynamics that make this more complex, and that make this exchange somewhat uncomfortable for me—especially when they displace themselves for us and honor us by giving us space and food from limited resources. They appear so generous—we could learn from how much they give of resources that are scarce. But to conclude there, as valid as it might be, seems too simple. Perhaps our status as U.S. citizens courts a particular kind of favor that we should consider more critically; as we also see where our influence here is less than positive. After discussing this with several other students, we concluded that our encounters with other people should begin by acknowledging their complexity. We want to meet these people and interact with and learn from them, but this only touches the surface of knowing who they are. We need to resist over-simplifying our understanding of them in any way. It’s too easy to let our own “ideas” about them replace the complexity of their individual and their collective lives in ways.
It has been a long-standing tradition for the Carroll College group to play futbol against the Clinica Maxena team. As you read from Hannah and Jacob, we as a group went into the match pretty confident, while others had their doubts (aka Colleen Dunne and Father Marc). To give you a little background, the last Carroll group, three years ago, lost with a score of “a lot” to zero. From the starting whistle, on foreign turf, we had our backs against a wall. Within one minute, Clinica Maxena delivered its first strike and the score began to look like a repeat from games past. While Colleen’s face turned smug, Ryan (our goalie) blocked the next 700 shots, Jenessa took out half of Guatemala’s ankles, James took out his own and the Carroll Saints proved they would not fall with out a fight. Within a minute left in the half, Carroll was up 3-2 and Kristen was so excited that her arms levitated a little to far from her body and ended up getting a handball in the goalie box. Despite Ryan’s best efforts, the Clinica Maxena tied up the game 3-3 with a penalty kick, ending the half. Carroll pulled away the second half to clinch the victory with a final score of 8 to 6. Sheila, the director of Clinica Maxena, returning to her alma mater, traded her old Clinica Maxena jersey in for the new powerhouse, Carroll College.
It would be impossible to pick an MVP of the game because each and every one stepped up and played their hardest. It was a great bonding experience working together and having fun… and winning. While this was just a soccer game, it was a beautiful way to break differences between our cultures and join one another on common ground. While there are obvious differences and barriers between our cultures, it is within the experiences that transcend beyond us, as individuals, that we are bound to one another’s humanity. It is within experiences, such as this simple soccer match or in sharing something much deeper in the Eucharist, that we find ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ.
David and Matt H
I am sorry we have not posted anything today but it has been a long day. In just a quick post I want to say everyone is doing well, other than being really tired. We spent most of today traveling high up into mountain villages on bumpy roads. We left at 8 AM and didn’t return util later in the afternoon.
Tomorrow we have more soccer and time with the parish youth group and it will be our last full day in Santo Tomas before we leave for Panajchel on Sunday. Right now David and Matt H are working on a blog giving all of the details of yesterday’s soccer game, be ready for exciting stuff! Kay also has a blog ready but she has asked me to edit it first — since she was my writing teacher at Carroll I am nervous for the task.
Please continue to pray for this group. This is a really difficult trip that is hard on the body and the mind, we have been so lucky to not have any one get sick though James did have to get his foot x rayed today (it’s fine thankfully). The days and nights have been hot and humid and we are all feeling tired and sore from so much soccer and traveling around. In the end though, having this experience is an amazing blessing!
This James (a.k.a Diago) – speaking to you with my foot covered with ice after playiing today’s game!
Today I wanted to reflect on the visit to the coffee co- op.
Being a coffee snob most of my life, I was excited to finally be able to see how the coffee bean makes it to your mug in the morning. As Many people don’t understand the back -breaking work it takes to harvest the beans off one plant during a typical harvest season. One coffee bean plant produces roughly five pounds of beans and do the local workers pick hand. The coffee co-op Nahuala we visited today is a certified fair-trade/organic coffee. Which means that most of the profit is put back into the community to support clean water, support the local school, better wages for the farmers etc. I have known little about the impact fair-trade coffee and its impact it has on the community that surrounds it. I was amazed on how much fair trade coffee has an impact on a community in Nahuala. We learned that the profits generated helped build a small library to distribute books to the students nearby. I was touched on how much coffee can help a small community like Nahuala. This was truly a blessing to experience today ( with many more to come).
Thanks again for following our blog!
– JAMES TEMPLE
This is the youngest child back to blog again. I’m going to go a little out of order and reflect on something that happened yesterday (the day before the big soccer game). After playing the school kids in soccer and basketball, we got to celebrate mass with them. Everything was spoken in Spanish except for the music—it was in K’iche. We had a quick tutorial on how to sing in K’iche, which is a pretty difficult language to follow along with and speak. (I don’t know if we have told you, but K’iche is the native Mayan language spoken by the people here. For most, Spanish is their second language.) The music was my favorite part of my mass experience at the la Asuncion school. The children and teachers sing with such loud, full voices that are filled with excitement, joy, and passion. The singing during this mass is much different than any mass I have gone to in the United States; it was faster paced and very motivating. Their singing made me want to sing louder than I ever had at church before and I didn’t even know what I was singing or how to sing it! I thought their responses throughout the mass were much louder and assertive than back home too. Their overall involvement during the mass just made me excited to be there and excited to be in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. They got me excited to embrace my faith and inspired me to be more interactive and confident with how I express and share it with others. It was truly a blessing to celebrate mass with these students. I have to go change for the big soccer game! Talk to you later and I hope we will be able to bring you good news after our game(s)!
Morning of “The Game”
Yake (aka Jacob) and Hannah here! It’s the morning of the game we’ve all been waiting for. The day we prove Father Marc wrong. A day that will live in infamy. It’s day that we will beat the Guatemalan’s in soccer.
But, in all seriousness, we are really excited for this game. We’ve found this is more than just a sport – it’s a game that transcends the barriers of language and culture. Once the ball is in play, we’re no longer the Americans and the Guatemalans. We’re all just a group of people having fun. Since most of us speak very little Spanish and definitely not a word of K’iche (except “ick’ex”, which means moon, month, and actually we have no idea), it’s been wonderful to bond and communicate with the people of this culture through soccer, the beautiful game.
At 10am, we are off to visit the coffee co-op up in the mountains. Some of you may be lucky enough to taste some of this coffee once we’re home! After the coffee tour, we’re visiting a public school, which will give us some good perspective on the differences between the private school of Ascuncion and the public school system here in Guatemala. After a glorious six kilometer truck ride, which are always fun, the Guatemalans plan to fatten us up with a traditional barbeque. The “kind gesture” is actually a ploy to slow us down on the field. Yes, we have intimidated them. Since this is our third soccer match of the week we are feeling confident in our skill and teamwork. If you’re lucky, Colleen will be streaming the game live so you can experience the victory along with us. Tune in to ESPN6 Latino.
Love to everyone back home. We miss you and are praying for you often.
J and H
P.S. We don’t know how much more we can take of this rooster.
We Americans are so used to a fast pace life we often think we are too busy to do the things that matter. I was reminded of a story I read about Mother Theresa today. A young American man asked her how often he should pray. She told him that an hour a day would a good amount of daily prayer; however, the man was astonished and said there is no way to pray an hour a day because his schedule each day was so full. She replied, “You are right you are a very busy man, you should be praying two hours a day not one.” One of the most important things I have learned this week is how important our time is. In America we plan our time out down to the minute to ensure we get the most out of our day, but here time is centered on what matters in the moment. It has been hard for some of us to accept not every scheduled event will start on time, but it has been in these moments of “waiting around” that great conversations have arose and I have learned a lot. The other important aspect of time I am learning is how we need use it for others. When we first got here we met Diego. He was very small looked like he was maybe 12 years old. I later learned his friends brought him to the clinic eight years ago because he was very sick. His family is extremely poor and unable to get him medical help so they left him at a church. He was diagnosed with diabetes, and malnourishment. He since has undergone two eye surgeries and many other treatments. Though he is much better he is unable to work a job like the men of Guatemala are expected to. He got a scholarship because of this, and graduated with a graphic design degree. Diego now makes baskets to sell as his business. I am so impressed with what he as accomplished, but what is even more surprising is Diego is not 12, but my age, 20. Yesterday he gave us all pens made from yarn with our names wove into them. Sheila told us can usually make 12 in a day, so it took him a day and a half of time he could be making baskets to sell to make our pens. It was one of the simplest, yet special gifts I have ever received. It is through Diego I see God. He as suffered through many things, and when many of us would think our suffering is enough, he is out giving more. It’s time all of us do a self-check and see if the way we are using our time is how God would want us to. Are we living in the moment using what God has given us, or are we sticking to the schedule and looking out for ourselves? I know I can do much better in this area of my life.
Shout out to my family and friends. I love you all!
Today in Guatemala is warm and humid but there is a slight breeze, which is nice. I am sorry we have been slow to post. Our schedule has been busy and there has not been much time to reflect on our experience other than just the basics of what we have been doing each day. This morning we are touring Clinica Maxena (the medical clinic) and the medicinal garden. Students are taking in a lot of information about health care and the concerns of money to treat very poor people and diseases that are common among the Kiche’ people. Later today we will visit la Asuncion, the school that the Diocese has in the mountains to educate the Kiche’ children.
Overall everyone is doing really well. Other than bug bites, a few sunburns and some soreness from yesterdays soccer match we are all feeling good. It sounds like this afternoon the kids are expecting us to play basketball and soccer with them. Kirsten said yesterday, “I didn’t realize this trip would be so athletic.” Sports seem like a really natural way to build relationships and to find common ground between us since we do not speak the same language. As well as a great way to laugh together and enjoy being outside.
We will post more reflections probably tomorrow, since the rest of today will be really busy.
Buenos tardes! Kirsten and Ryan here to tell you about our day so far. Last night we turned in early. The girls are staying in the “brick house” and the boys are in what looks like a dorm with bunk beds and the bathrooms and showers outside. Before we left for bed, we noticed that the big spiders and cockroaches were out (“gross,” says Kirsten, “awesome,” says Ryan).
This morning we started with a yummy breakfast of tortillas, black beans, milk cheese, (which are actually paste/soup), yogurt, and cereal. We quickly got ready to go to the Clinica Maxena’s garden. It is a piece of land that is worked by local villagers who are seeking to promote sustainable agriculture for the many malnourished people in the area. A couple months ago, a group of students from Great Falls enlarged the area of the garden. We worked at clearing weeds and unwanted plants and digging an irrigation ditch. Ryan and I both cleared weeds. It was entertaining and a little difficult for us rookie gardeners to decipher which plants to pull and which to leave. For a while, we spent a lot of time pointing to plants and saying, “Bien o malo?” The women who are working at the clinic for the week packed us a big bowl of fruta, jugo, y pan (fruit, juice, and bread) which we snacked on. At lunch, we left to return to Santo Tomas la Union for lunch with the clinic staff, sisters, and even clinic musicians!
On a side note, traveling around here is a lot of fun! We ride in the back of trucks and wave to people who we pass by.
After lunch, we decided to get in a futbol scrimmage with the Clinica Maxena team. At first, we thought we’d just be playing “poppyfoot,” which is played in a court, with our group. Quickly, ten grown men joined us, and we moved to a turf field, playing nine-on-nine. While we proved to be younger and more athletic, they showed us up with their footwork, passing, and strategy skills. After a couple hours of playing, we ended with a score of nine to seven….US! So as exciting as it was to do so well, we’re starting to mentally prepare ourselves for our tournament on Thursday…and hoping that they don’t recruit too many younger athletes.
Right now, we’re sitting around, enjoying a bottles of Coke, and shootin’ the breeze. We’re looking forward to our next meal, which is sure to consist of more tortillas and beans! We’re having a lot of fun and really getting to know one another, sweating (a lot), and learning about the culture.
We’re thrilled that you’re reading our blog and hope that you continue with us each day!
Ryan Anderton and Kirsten Rotz
Hola! Marcar! Siesta! …Hello! Score! Nap! As you can see, the locals here are already teaching us plenty of new words. As we were out and about in Santo Tomas for the first time, it didn’t take us long to engage in a game of futbol (soccer) with some of the local kids. It was great to run around after the long trip and interact with Guatemalan kids and also work up a great amount of sweat in the Central American humidity. Not long after the game ended, with our shirts soaked in sweat, that the kids hunted us down and asked if we would play another game with them tomorrow. One of the kids who approached us was named Miguel Eduardo and was eleven years old. We walked several blocks to the town center where the church is located. Inside, there was a group of about nine Guatemalan women praying a rosary and a few of us knelt down and joined them in prayer. It was a welcoming sight and a home in our global faith with Jesus Christ. We left a nice puddle of sweat in our place as we left and continued exploring the town a little more, heading back to the Mission where we ate a delicious late lunch of peparo chicken and rice. Then, with our bellies full, we dispersed around the Mission and some of us found ourselves in “Siesta” mode (a.k.a. nap time). After waking up from our naps somewhat rested, it is time to kick back with a Gallo cerveza (a Guatemalan beer) and enjoy the scenery, secretly hoping for a potential downpour for us to play in. We can already see and feel the blessings that our Lord has poured out on us in this immersion and look forward to what he has in store for us. Please continue the prayers as we can definitely feel them. Until next time, adios Amigos y Familias!
Hayley and Matt H