Monday, February 5, 2018

Guatemala, Day 5 (Wednesday 10/25/17)

Wednesday started just like Monday and Tuesday: breakfast at 5:15am, depart hotel at 6:00am, stop for gas and ice, then arrive at Bethania Iglesia. We had Connie and Mary back with us, so our team was at full power. This was a good thing, because Wednesday was a day for more lessons, clean up, and also my favorite part of all: our water party!

Once we arrived on site, our team split up into two groups. One group joined Blanca to teach the last lessons while the other group cleaned all the equipment including pipes, hand tools, gaskets, hose connectors, and hard hats.
Photo by Lisa McCutcheon

The mood on Wednesday was light hearted and full of happiness. We worked hard and sweated, but laughed a lot too.

Connie asked me to get this photo of her with a huge pickaxe because she looked so fierce. How can you not have fun when one of your best friends is running around looking like this?!

After we worked up a good sweat, our friend Maria told Jaime she bought each of us a special treat: fresh coconuts to drink! Jaime took a handful of us and we followed Maria behind the church to her house, where Jaime chopped the coconut tops off so we could drink them.

While we waited, we got to see a little of Maria’s house. We saw two lizards Maria had in a cage in her kitchen area. Jaime told us the lizards weren’t pets, but are meant for a meal. Maria offered to show me and Katie her “tortugas” behind her house, so we got to see her turtle pen. I wasn’t able to count all of them, but I think there were about 20 turtles in all.

Katie also stopped to meet one of Maria’s cats.

Katie and I were called back when the coconuts were ready, because our arms were needed for carrying them back to the church.

Coconuts are not your regular kind of drink. For one thing, you cannot put them down because they don’t have a flat bottom so you have to hold them pretty much the entire time.

While we enjoyed our coconut treats, the local men worked to remove the sludge from the trench around the new well site. Then they used dirt to fill the trench and packed it down with their feet.

The women were busy in the kitchen, preparing our lunch and making the daily allotment of corn tortillas.

Meanwhile, some of our team took a snack break and cheesed for the camera.

After morning lessons finished, there was a little bit of play time in the street. This time, the soccer ball (football?) was turned into a basketball with a little volleyball spin. I’m not sure anyone knew the rules of this hybrid game, but everyone had fun playing it.

Lunchtime came, and we sat down to a big meal of veggie noodles.

I had worked really hard so far to eat what was served by our hostesses, but the noodles pushed my gluten limits a little too far. I asked Blanca to help me ask the ladies for a modified meal. Maybe just the veggies without the noodles? She explained my non-gluten diet and the women offered to scramble some eggs for me. I felt terrible asking them to go out of the way for me, but also knew I shouldn’t skip a meal. I jumped at the offer of scrambled eggs, and was also asked what else could be added to the eggs. Tomatoes? Yes! Peppers? Not if they’re spicy. Pretty soon, I was served one of the best meals of all: perfectly scrambled eggs that made everyone at the table around me a teeny bit jealous. Aaaah!

The other best part of this meal was the men of the church offering us all ice cold Cokes, Sprites, and other carbonated sugary drinks. Jaime gave us permission to drink them. I say “permission” because up until this point, Jaime had told us to decline offers of sodas because what we really needed to be drinking was lots of water and maybe only one Gatorade per day. The Coke I drank was such a great treat! And when the bottles were empty, Katie had a little fun with them.

Hannah got in on the fun too, and she learned how to fill the bottles just a little and blow into them to make a mini concert for us.

One of the first tasks we did that morning was to insert an air hose into the drill hole. I didn’t quite understand why we did this then, but after lunch it became obvious. The hose was used to blow all the dirt and muck out of the well piping. This was drained out a very long PVC pipe that dumped into the street outside the church courtyard.

Throughout the morning and during lunch, air kept pushing muddy water through the pipe. Shortly after lunch, the mud subsided and clear water started spewing out of the pipes. This was our cue: it was time to CELEBRATE!

We ran over to the end of the pipe and watched clean water pour out. It came in fits and starts, blowing out in great bursts. Before I knew it, Sonja stood in front of the pipe and bent over so her head was directly in the water’s flow. She was soaked! And that’s all it took for the rest of us to step up and get our heads wet too. We spent the next 30 minutes laughing and splashing and getting drenched in joy. It was AMAZING! Little kids dunking each other in the streaming water, grandmothers holding their grandkids in the spray, then buckets getting filled and dumped over heads. There’s so much life in this water!

I love these two photos of Katie bent over in front of the pipe, with one of the local woman’s arm around her. The water poured over them, then they lifted their faces to show huge smiles.

As the water fun continued, Dan came to tell me I should head back to the drill site to see the installation of the concrete pad and marble plaque. I did, and got to see this glorious beauty in its new home.

The next few hours were spent teaching lessons, cleaning up tools, and waiting for concrete to dry. I wandered with my camera, taking photos and getting some of my favorite portraits.

Once the afternoon lessons ended, I happened upon a sad scene outside the church walls. Our friend Alder was saying goodbye. He would be attending school the following day, when we had our worship celebration and final departure. He was tearfully hugging Mary and Connie.

I suddenly remembered the flashcards and Spanish-English dictionary I had shown him earlier in the day, and I ran to retrieve them from my bag in the van. I found Jaime and asked permission to give these items to Alder, and Jaime agreed. I thanked him, then told him if he said no I would have done it anyway. I ran back to Alder and gave him my gift before hugging him goodbye.

But before Alder left and before we piled into the van to leave for the night, I insisted on one photo of him with Hannah and Katie.

The truck had been loaded earlier with pipes and equipment that we transported, along with the drill rig, to a nearby school when we left Iglesia Bethania. Jaime told us the school is the next Living Water drilling site on his list. At the school, Jaime greeted his contacts and unhooked equipment to leave with them. He also took a few minutes to show them where the well would be drilled, and drew out the plans for them to dig a trench similar to the one in the courtyard of Iglesia Bethania where we had been drilling.
Photo by Lisa McCutcheon

We finished our drive back to our hotel, where we showered, ate a late dinner and had team devotion time.

Before we left the dining room and headed to bed, Katie told me her right eye was hurting. It was very red, so we showed it to Blanca. Her first thought was maybe in the water celebration Katie got squirted in the eye and the water pressure caused her eye to be red and irritated. We discussed the possibility that it could be pink eye, since the day before we had all noticed one of the kids in the village had very swollen, pink/red eyes. Blanca gave Katie some saline eye drops, and Katie said they helped. I also figured her eyes were simply irritated after the water celebration, plus Katie was tired and it was compounded. After a quick good night hug, we parted and all turned in for the night.

Click here to read about day 6 of our trip to Guatemala. (The link will work when the next blog is posted - which should be tomorrow!)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Guatemala, Day 4 (Tuesday 10/24/17)

Tuesday started just like Monday: breakfast at 5:15am, depart hotel at 6:00am, stop for gas and ice, then arrive at Bethania Iglesia. The one difference on Tuesday is we were down two team members. Connie and Mary decided to stay at the hotel together and recover from Monday’s illness. They were very sad to miss the day they planned to work on the drilling team!

Before we left the breakfast table, I told the team that October 24th is a special day. It’s the birthday of my cousin, Leilani, who died on March 31st in Hawaii. Leilani would have turned two this day, so I asked the team to wear special pink bracelets all day in memory of her. I also told them my hope that we would hit clean water and finish drilling today, as a little birthday gift for our Leilani. The rest of the day, I loved seeing the pink bracelets on the arms of our team.

One other difference about Tuesday was a short stop we made on the way to Iglesia Bethania, when we visited a church where Jaime helped drill a well two months ago. We investigated their well and the church grounds for a few minutes before finishing our drive.

Tuesday’s routine was similar, but our tasks were different as we switched crews around. Sonja, Katie, and I joined Lisa and Greg on the drilling team.

Since Lisa and Greg had drilled the day before, they showed us some of the ropes as Jaime gave us lessons on drilling. When it was my turn as head driller, Katie played the role of assistant driller to me. It was pretty cool to actually – finally! – do with Katie what we’d been talking about doing for so many years.

Meanwhile, Dan and Derek joined the prevention team and were teaching upstairs in the classroom. I snuck up there to take some photos.

Drilling continued, and it felt much slower than Monday’s drilling. For one thing, we kept hitting rock and jamming the drill bit. I learned to lower the drill a fraction of an inch at a time, getting into a rhythm of counting to eight before barely tapping the lever to lower the bit. Any quicker than that and the drill would make this sharp “stuck” sound and I’d have to reverse out of the hole just a bit and try again. This was the part of drilling that scared Katie, because she felt like she was breaking the machine. Lisa was her assistant driller at the time, and Katie told Lisa she wanted to quit so Lisa could take over. Lisa, being the pro mom she is, wouldn’t give in to Katie and made her finish her turn. I am so glad for that, because Katie stuck it out and later told me she’s glad she did.

Drilling is kind of a solitary job. The rig is too loud for you to talk much to anyone around you. As head driller, you have to pay attention to the drill’s rotation. As assistant driller, you stand and wait for the cue to shut off the water and clamp the drill pipe. As I stood beside the drill and waited for progress, I started paying attention to the sensations around me: the subtle shifts in noise made by the drill (which signify its stress or success), the smell of generator smoke, and the sensation of the rig shaking the earth under my feet as it chewed and chomped through layers of rock. I could feel the vibrations, and it made me think of stories in the Bible where God descends to His people with such power that the ground shakes under their feet. Was this a slight glimpse of what those moments were like? The drill roaring in my ears with the glory of God, and the rock under my feet trembling as it surrendered. Before I knew it, the song “Tremble” by Mosaic MSC started playing in my mind and I started singing it under my breath. After all, no one could hear me over the noise of the rig! “Jesus, Jesus, you make the darkness tremble. Jesus, Jesus, you silence fear. Your name is a light that the shadows can’t deny. Your name cannot be overcome!”

My thoughts turned to prayer, and I started praying for the villagers who would spend future days drinking water at this well. I looked at the work crew around me, full of old men and young men, and wondered why exactly they would give up so many days of their lives (and, I assume, time away from work that paid) to come sweat while digging and scraping gravel and mud. Who would jump at the chance to volunteer for a team like that?

And then I remembered Blanca telling us about a drill team she led recently. On the first day in their village, the team met a mother with a very sick baby. On the second day, the baby died. The team knew it was a waterborne illness that killed the baby, and they naturally wondered if the baby could have been saved if the village well had been drilled earlier. On the third day, they attended this baby’s funeral.

I stood beside our drill, and the thought hit me: the elderly men on the work crew were busting their butts to make sure the grandkids of their town wouldn’t die from dirty water. The young bucks on the team were working hard to provide for their own children. One man on the team, Wesley, had a baby on the way. No wonder he worked 12 hour days of hard manual labor; he wanted to give his unborn child a good chance at LIFE.

Oh, the things I take for granted! Forgive me, Lord.

We ate lunch in shifts on Tuesday. Jaime wanted to move forward with drilling, so the team took a break to eat while he and the work crew kept drilling. It took us a really long time to eat, though. The ladies served us our lunch, which was a clear broth vegetable stew. It was flavorful, but MAN was it hot! Imagine sitting down to eat steaming hot soup after sweating in the 100 degree heat all morning, dressed in long pants and boots. I couldn’t even get the soup in my mouth until it cooled down, and then I wasn’t too eager to eat it when I felt so hot that I’d prefer an ice bath.

Katie sat beside me at lunch, and started looking a little pale. I had reminded her to drink water all day, but she hadn’t consumed nearly enough. I asked if she needed to take a break and sit outside the church courtyard to get away from the drill noise and find fresh air. She said yes, so we walked outside with some water to drink. A few kids followed us, because they liked to tag along with Katie. Blanca came out to check on her, and Hannah came to say hello. After a few minutes away from the lunch table, Katie perked up and the kids asked her to play. Before I knew it, we had a soccer ball and a frenzy in the middle of the street. I had so much fun watching and snapping photos.

The soccer game (which became a mixture of volleyball, soccer, and basketball) lasted less than 40 minutes, because rain started pouring down.

Meanwhile, the drill team kept at it and brought on two new members as it was Shauna and Tami’s turn to take a break from teaching.

I stood in a dry spot and used my zoom lens to observe the activity, and take some secret portraits like this one of a boy as he watched the rain and drilling.

This daddy comforted his daughter while she cried.

Miley blowing bubbles.

Peekaboo with this sweet boy.

After many attempts, I finally caught this momma smiling.

Afternoon lessons rolled along as the rain slowed and drilling finally finished. There wasn’t much fanfare when Jaime started withdrawing the pipes from the drilled hole, but I noticed them getting wiped down before being stacked back on their pallet.

Where the metal pipes had just been removed, the crew lowered the PVC pipes that would permanently line the well. The hardest drilling was over, and Dan stood by the well to show his pink bracelet for me to take his photo. Happy birthday, Leilani!

We got to have a little celebratory break for coffee and sweet bread. There were sugar cookies embedded in the puffy rolls and some sort of honey sugar in the coffee. Pretty spectacular!

The next step for the crew was to add gravel to the drilled hole, to surround the PVC pipe and stabilize it. Hannah kept track of how many buckets were dumped, and Jaime and Nestor measured the depth of the hole yet to fill. Katie and I tried to carry a few buckets of gravel together, but they weighed WAY more than we expected!
Photo by Lisa McCutcheon

As the rest of the team waited, Katie and Hannah started singing that old song from their childhood. You know, the one that goes “Baaay-beee shark, doo doo doo doo dah-doo. Baby shark, doo doo doo doo dah-doo.” Blanca had never heard that song, and the girls delighted in teaching it to her.

After a while, I noticed our friend Alder sitting at the table with Katie. He asked for her help on a handwritten English-Spanish dictionary he was creating. And it wasn’t just a dictionary – Alder was illustrating it with his own drawings. I was amazed by this, and promised to bring my flashcards and dictionary the next day to help him.

Finally, the day’s work was done and around 7:30pm, we piled into the truck and van for the drive back to the hotel. There were many rounds of “Baby Shark” on the way home, and we arrived at the hotel with good news to share with Connie and Mary: the drilling is done! They had good news for us, too: “We feel better!” Smiles, showers, and dinner all around before we turned in for the night.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Guatemala, Day 3 (Monday 10/23/17)

5:15 on a Monday morning is not my favorite way to start a week. But breakfast is a great incentive to get me moving, so I rolled out of bed at 5am to make it to breakfast on time. Our team members muttered morning greetings to each other over cereal and orange juice, loaded our gear, and hit the road at 6am. I got to ride with Jaime again – lucky me! We stopped for ice and gas, then left the urban area for rural roads. We had to pick up pipes for the drill rig from people Jaime knew at one of his last sites, so we stopped and got to meet a family who invited us to see their chicken coop and hold their chicks.
Photo by Lisa McCutcheon

Their son showed us his treasure under one of the hens.

We got back on the road and arrived at Iglesia Bethania in Caballo Blanco less than 10 minutes later. The pastor and a work crew (formed with church and community members) greeted us with a formal hello. One of our leaders, Sonja, returned the greetings and then the pastor and church prayed for us.

Rabbit trail: I’m used to the kind of corporate prayer that my church practices. We politely pray one at a time, listening to each other’s words and nodding or “amen-ing” or “mmm-hmm-ing” in agreement. Not everyone has to pray if they don’t want to, and we do it “popcorn” style with those who want to pray jumping in when someone else finishes. At Iglesia Bethania, those “polite” prayers go out the window in favor of bold, loud, all-at-once prayers. Everyone from the church prayed at the same time and the messiness was so perfect. It didn’t matter that our team couldn’t make out any words in the jumble of voices. What mattered is these prayers were spoken to our poly-lingual, multi-cultural, everlasting Father who is omnipresent enough to decipher each word that each voice spoke, even at the same time. Later, our team discussed why we don’t pray like that back home. Isn’t God big enough to hear simultaneous prayers? Or do we pray “politely” one at a time because we’re more interested in the other people around us hearing our prayers than God Himself?

After the “amen” was said (it’s the same in English and Spanish, ya know!), each team member received a hug from every man on the work crew. And then, we jumped in with both feet.

Pipe was unloaded. Craft supplies were carried to our Sunday school classroom. The drill rig was backed up to the pre-dug trench. Chairs were moved from the church to the courtyard. We found the bathrooms, got the lay of the land, introduced ourselves to some of the adults and kids, and got to see the church’s current water well in the courtyard. It’s 30-feet-deep, carved by hand, and not exactly clean.

Our team of 12 had previously split up into hygiene and drilling teams (Remember the “fight” Sonja and Blanca had previous night?), so the drilling team donned their hard hats and started working. The hygiene team met our local escorts for a community walk. Alder and Marvin are two teenaged boys who walked us door to door to meet neighbors and invite them to the church later in the day to hear lessons on clean water and prevention. (We were taught to say “prevention” instead of “hygiene” lessons, because hygiene makes it sound like the locals need lessons on how to be clean – which could offend some of them. Disease prevention is information everyone needs, no matter where they live or who they are.)

Our first stop was at the house directly across from the church courtyard. We met a mother and her kids, and got to see the family’s water source: a hand-dug well with a few mushrooms and algae growing on the sides.

We met other neighbors like this carpenter who runs a door-making business. He showed us his work and said it takes him and his crew a week to make one door. The finished products show great craftsmanship.

As we wandered around town, we definitely drew a few glances. Why wouldn’t we? I’m sure groups of gringos don’t often walk the streets of Caballo Blanco.

At one house, we got to sit on the front porch with a seamstress who makes uniforms for a living. Tami decided to take a turn inviting the family to our prevention classes, and Blanca translated for her.

At our next stop, Shauna did the inviting and then we talked with the family and they told us about their daughter, Grace Amaryllis, who’s been ill since age three. The mother said it was something to do with bronchitis that developed into a deeper illness and affected Grace’s motor functions and development. She brought Grace out to meet us, then we offered to pray for Grace and ask God for healing. It was a special moment.

We continued to travel through the town, meet people, and invite them to the church. I was so curious about people’s houses and their way of life and tried to restrain myself from gawking and asking dumb questions. (It’s so so hard to restrain myself from those dumb questions!) The good news is I wasn’t the only one who was curious. The locals were just as intrigued by us and our differences. At one of the houses, one woman commented on my white skin and told our translator to make sure I wear sunscreen so I don’t get a sunburn souvenir from Guatemala!

When we arrived back at the Iglesia Bethania, kids had already arrived for our morning class and drilling had begun. I soon found out that drilling involves a special mixture of bentonite clay that is pumped through the drill bit. It coats the inside of the drill and also provides lubrication while flushing out rocks and dirt. It makes for a pretty muddy mess, especially if it sprays out at you when you’re adding extra pipes to the drill rig.

While our team drilled, the work crew (make up of church and community members) were assigned the job of sifting the bentonite clay/water mixture as it flushed back out of the drilling hole. Since the mixture was recycled back into the drill pipes, their job was important to keep too much gravel and dirt from recirculating back into the mix.

Before our morning prevention class started, some of our team got to help the church ladies make tortillas for lunch. Mary cracked me up as I watched her pat her corn meal into circles, tenderly lay them into the hot pan, and try not to get burned. The ladies giggled at her attempts to make perfect circles because the circles turned out not-so-circle-y. We joked and called her Tortilla Maria.

Katie jumped in and tried her hand at making tortillas, too.

It was time to start our classes. We had so many kids show up for the day’s three lessons. We started with a lesson on clean water and why it’s so important, then moved into a lesson on germs and hand washing demonstrations.

Our third lesson (which Katie taught in the morning and I taught in the afternoon) was about how germs are transmitted by our hands and animals (like flies) and other ways (bathroom habits). Pretty gross but it involved a great skit where Tami pretended to be Josefina, who pooped out Play-doh that a fly (it was a toy one) landed in before landing on people’s clothes, food, and skin. Her play-acting poop skills brought laughter from everyone.

Everyone took a break to eat lunch at a long table in the church courtyard. We were treated like royalty, with a fabric tablecloth and the first servings of all the food. Monday’s lunch was unusual but tasty: an entire fish, with its head still attached. Of course, lunch also included rice and tortillas. Mary was proud of her lumpy labor of love!

A few of our gringos aren’t fish eaters, especially when the fish’s fried eyeball is staring up at you. I think Connie tried only one nibble before passing her plate to Jaime to eat. The church ladies were stirred up by this, asking Blanca in Spanish what was wrong with Connie. Is she sick? Does she not like the food? Could they make her something else? It was an offense to the ladies if we didn’t eat the food they worked hard to offer us. Connie realized her mistake and felt terrible about it, and promised not to pass her food off so early in the meal again. We all realized offending the church ladies could be minimized if we timed food rejection a little differently and waited until much later in the meal.

We split back into our work crews after lunch, with the drilling continuing in the courtyard and the lessons continuing in the classroom. The afternoon lessons were the same as the morning lessons, with a new audience: all the mommas! Blanca had warned us that adults tend to be very late for events in Guatemala, while children are on time if they aren’t early. This proved true, as the mothers slowly trickled in to class. We treated them to manicures while we waited for the crowd to grow, and they giggled over the fun color selections each other made. We also pulled out adult coloring books and colored together to pass the time.

The lessons started, the ladies giggled a lot, I took a lot more photos, held a baby (who looked so hot in her sweatpants and sweatshirt!)…

When we got too hot in the classroom, we’d step out on the narrow balcony to get a little breeze and sit down for a moment. That’s where I found Connie, looking slightly pale and hot. She perked up when a little girl came out to chat.

The next time I saw Connie was about 45 minutes after that photo, when she was puking outside the church. Mary was helping Connie, and asked me to alert Blanca to Connie’s situation. I did, and then talked to Connie and Mary to find out how I could help. Pretty quickly, I realized Mary was declining too. While she wasn’t puking (yet), Mary felt very weak and nauseated and hot. Eventually, I pieced some clues together and figured out Connie was ill because of dehydration, and Mary was ill because of a migraine that was brought on with all the fire pit smells, generator smoke, and the incessant noise of the drill rig in operation.

It made for a rough end to the day, and we finally packed up and left sometime after 5:00. I got to ride in the truck with Jaime one last time while everyone else piled into the van. I didn’t realize until we got to the hotel that the van turned into a mess on the way back: Connie and Mary had gotten sick in the van. I found this out when we parked at the hotel, and I went to the van to help unload. All of a sudden, the van door slid open and everyone (except Connie, Mary, and Greg – who was helping Mary) fled the van. Dan told me Connie had been sick, so I dropped my things and jumped in to help her. Slowly, I got Connie out of the van and carried her things – including her bag of barf – so she could creep her way upstairs to her hotel room. She had to pause for a while on the stairs because they were too strenuous to climb.

Once I got Connie to her room and into bed, I found a trash can (with a liner) to put by her bed, along with a fresh water bottle. At this point, the rest of the team had finished cleaning the barf out of the van. We took time to shower and eat dinner, then met for a little devotional time on the balcony to discuss what we learned today.

Pretty soon, we said our good nights and headed to bed.


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