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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Guatemala Day Eleven - Thirteen

Day Eleven Wednesday morning we headed back the Scheel center (the short route) and met the Psychologist there who offered to take us to the poorest families on the mountain. He had three female long term volunteers that were to come with us to document life on the mountain and because they had not been able to go up the mountain yet. We parked at the Scheel Center at the base of the mountain called Vista Hermosa which means beautiful view. And the view was to be beautiful but nothing on the mountain was beautiful. It took us two hours to climb the mountain and visit 10 families. The climb was exhausting, slippery, dangerous and often disgusting. The path was very steep and very narrow in places. There were many places where only one person could pass and there would be a hundred foot drop off at the edge. The path was at times crossed or bordered by small streams of water and raw sewage and garbage. Some families had make shift outhouses but many didn’t. There was garbage everywhere and feces strewn throughout the pathway. The smells varied from feces, rotting garbage, death and smoke from burning wood and charcoal used for cooking. The families lived in small shacks, normally one room, made of sheet metal, bamboo and other vegetation. Some of the rooms had beds but others did not. One family we visited had one bed for four people. Most of the families consisted of at least 5 people. There are many tales to be told but two I want to highlight right now. One woman we visited was very glad we came and she was willing to answer a lot of questions. She was actually living in a one room house that was built by volunteers from the Scheel Center. She had an outdoor concrete washing basin, access to water, and a separate outhouse (which was simply a hole surrounded by a wood framed, sheet metal roofed structure whose walls were just tarps tied together). But what she told us was that she was so grateful for the food we brought because that day she had run out of food, so her and her 5 children would have not had anything to eat that day or maybe even for several days. When we left that home the reality of their situation set in for me and it was very difficult to deal with. Then there was a family we had stopped to see on the way up and we passed by them again only a few minutes later on our long trek back down the mountain and they came running out to greet us. They were all smiling brightly and I immediately spotted the reason why. Each of the children and the mother as well had a candy sucker in their mouth and they were so happy and excited. Those were the last thing we purchased the night before and it was kind of a spur of the moment thing. We had spent a lot of time developing healthy staples to provide them the most we could and at the last moment I the thought came to my mind that it might be nice to give them something that was sweet to break up the monotony of the beans, rice and tortillas they exist on daily. So we found the suckers. And at that moment on the mountain I felt like we gave them something a little more than just sustenance. Something that made them a little more human. We are not meant just to live. Humans were created to live life abundantly and it is the creative things, the beautiful things and the sweet things that make us so very different than the animals, the way God intended. And in an extremely small and brief way I think we brought a moment of that to the lives of these families. We all wish we could have done it to the full for every family on that mountain and we pray that God will bring that about someday, in this life. After arriving at the bottom of the mountain, we thanked those from the Scheel Center who helped us and headed back to the house. It seemed odd this time, as I sat parked in front of a beautiful and secure villa that was worth a lot of money here in Antigua and lifted my head to the mountain directly above me which had become a monument to human suffering and poverty. Often times I hear peple come back from missions trips to third world countries and they tell us that though these people had nothing they still had such a happiness about them. Maybe that is true. But the two places that I have been where severe poverty was the norm, there was little happiness. The people of Vista Hermosa were not happy. In fact, one of the women related how sad she was that she could not provide for her family. There is no happiness on that mountain, only misery accented by fleeting moments of relief brought about by small things like a piece of hard candy on a stick. We cleaned up, packed up and headed to eat and hit the market one more time before we left. After we finished at the market, we dropped off our friends from Guatemala City near the bus stop and made our way out of Antigua to our next adventure on our way to Panajachel. The first part of this 3 hour drive went pretty smoothly in terms of driving in Guatemala at least. I have become almost used to the style of driving here. Or lack thereof. We had some issues getting through Chimaltenango. The city was constructing a new road through the city center and so it was down to one lane. This meant that one direction of traffic had to wait for the other direction to go for a while until the police let us go. Thankfully we hit it at just the right time and didn’t have to wait too long. But as dusk set in, we began the ascent up the mountain and the higher we got, the thicker the clouds became. I would call this fog but it really isn’t fog, it was the actual clouds. That is how high we were. We were passing through the first level of clouds. The road was two lanes each direction but had a turn every 100 meters or so and the turns were often extremely sharp. The incline was trying for our over packed car and there were many places where there were fresh landslides that at time blocked both of our lanes so we had to pass on the oncoming lanes. These were all marked by arrows and cones so there was not danger for the most part but as the night grew darker and the clouds grew thicker, the ability to see was at times down to a few feet. I had drawn close to a car in front of me and decided to stay close to him in order to better make my way through the clouds since I couldn’t see anything really. We passed another landslide that sent us into the opposite lanes and we slowely made our way up the steep incline. Suddenly, the car in front of me pulled all the way to the left into the far lane of the oncoming traffic and there was nothing for me to do than to follow him because I couldn’t see what he was driving around or why he had made that move. So I did. But as we moved farther along, I came to the realization that what he had moved over for was the sign that told us that we needed to go back to our lanes. The clouds were so thick that I didn’t even see them. What this meant was that we were now traveling the wrong way on the highway and the cars coming down the mountain had no warning that there would be cars coming the opposite direction in their lanes. Panic set in but there was nothing that could be done as there was a large cement curb that prevented me from returning to our lanes. As we rounded a curve I realized what had happened. There were two semis who were directly ahead of us traveling the same direction as us. The first semi must have not seen the return in the clouds and continued when he should have crossed back over and the truck and cars that followed, not being able to see either just followed the one in front of them, resulting in two semis and about five cars driving the wrong way on a mountain pass, at night, in the clouds. I felt a little safer knowing that someone would have to plow through two semis and tow cars before they got to us but I wanted desperately to get back on the right side of the road. After several miles we came to a return and we were able to all cross safely to the proper lanes. What a relief. Little did I know this was just the beginning. As we reached the peak of the mountain I recalled that what goes up, must come down. And so we did. I had been on many steep roads on this trip but never had there been a warning sign. All of the sudden we were barraged with signs warning of extremely steep inclines and warnings to downshift. So we began the descent. It was so steep that at one point I had my brakes fully on and there was no way we were stopping. We wound around sharp curves and giant waterfalls, occasionally catching glimpses of the cities far below us and even lightning. The lightening was below us. It was a very strange feeling being on the ground yet looking at a thunderstorm from above. The steepest portion of the road down to the lake was only 6 miles but it took us a very long time. We traveled an average of about 5 miles an hour all the way. So after over 4 hours we finally pulled into Panajachel. It was packed with people and cars and street side food carts. I was a bit surprised because in both Guatemala City and even Antigua things closed very early and once it was dark the streets emptied rather quickly. Not so in Panajachel. I would describe the city as a more trashy Guatemala City by a lake. We had a hotel that we were planning to stay at which however we did not know where it was in the city. We passed by the city center that was absolutely packed with people, and cars and motorcycles. I felt that we might be in trouble when a guy came running up to our window and began shouting and pointing toward a hotel that was in front of us. After we had moved away from him I asked what he wanted and it turned out he was a guy from that hotel whose job it was to get people to stay there. The troubling part was that part of his effort to draw us in was highlighting the fact that this hotel (unlike others?) had hot running water. That was disconcerting. Asking directions from strangers is a normal way of getting around any city in Guatemala but the results can be iffy. And Panajachel was worse than normal. After being sent in every direction multiple time, we finally found the hotel. It looked nice enough from the outside. They came out and directed us to their “parking garage” which turned out to be more of cellar large enough to park cars. From there we went up to our rooms. They were concrete and tile just as everywhere else we had been. They looked nice enough though the entire room was lit by a single light bulb and the lights went from dim to bright and back to dim every few minutes. There was no air conditioning and no heat and it was vented to the hallway and to the alley out the back of the hotel. The hallway was really a covered but open balcony. So this hotel kept the theme of very open construction that you find throughout the cities we had been. One other interesting item was a sign above the toilet asking to please not throw toilet paper in the toilet. The alternative was not very pleasant. We had not eaten supper yet so after disqualifying the hotel restaurant we went out to the street to find a suitable restaurant. Most of what we found were food vendor carts. They had raw meats piled onto an upright skewer from which they would carve a piece when ordered, grill it and place it in a tortilla. We decided against any of those. We did find a restaurant that had a number of foreigners leaving it so we thought it may be safe but as we tried to enter, we were told they were just closing. After commenting on the beauty of the girls in our group, asking them how old they were and if they wanted to come back for a party later (men here are much more aggressive in showing attraction to women in public, this sort of thing was more the norm than an exception everywhere we went) they directed us to a good restaurant down the street. However after arriving and seeing 3 stray dogs lying about the floor of the dining area we decided to buy some chips and cookies from a small convenience shop we had passed and turn in for the night. Day Twelve The morning came quickly and we showered and packed, retrieved our car and headed down to the lake front to acquire a restaurant for breakfast. We found a paid parking spot and were immediately accosted by men and women shoving menus in our faces and assuring us that their restaurant was the best. We decided on one that one of the members of our group had eaten at the previous year. The view was breathtaking. A very large lake surrounded by green mountains, three of which were volcanoes. The sky was clear but the volcanoes create their own clouds so the tops of each were covered. There was much activity along the lake with tour boats and fishing boats. There was a small concrete soccer field right next to the lake where some guys were shooting a small, plastic soccer ball. On wrong kick and the ball would be in the lake. One wrong challenge and you could be flying off a 25 foot concrete wall. We sat down for a wonderful Guatemalan breakfast with fresh papaya juice, plantains, eggs, chorizo, tortillas, frijoles and a spicy sauce full of flavor. After breakfast we were asked if we wanted a boat tour. The full day tour was too much money for us and we did not have the time either. So we chose a short, one hour tour that would take us to a hot springs on the side of the lake and to one of the lake villages where we could buy crafts from the actual people who make them. We pulled into the dock made of two simple planks hovering just above the water. We balanced along the planks, to another set of planks that crossed in front of a flooded restaurant a tree stump, across a small sandy area and up a mud bank to a mud and concrete littered lot next to a muddy soccer field strewn with trash where kids from the local school were just finishing recess. We aimlessly wandered down a narrow ally way and finally emptied out onto a street with some shops. We were able to watch a lady actually making a scarf which would take forever. It increased my appreciation of the items they had. We passed five native ladies who were making hand-made tortillas and we asked if we could take a photo but they sternly said no. Then we asked if we could purchase some fresh tortillas, and again we were met with a glare and another stern no. So we put our collective tails between our legs and sulked away down the street. After the village experience we went back to Panajachel and spent a little time in the market there and then made our way out of town. I was very concerned that we would not make it out but there was not much traffic and I was able to accelerate enough on the lighter inclines to make it up the steeper one. We stopped to take pictures of an amazing waterfall and to take picture of the city and lake from high above. The rest of the trip back was uneventful aside from the construction mentioned before. This time it took a very long time to get through which was annoying. We arrived back in Guatemala City with time to spare for once and made our way to a restaurant where we would be dining with the Guatemalan relatives. It was a beautiful restaurant serving true Guatemalan cuisine to the sounds of a Marimba band hired specifically for our dinner. We enjoyed classic Guatemalan dishes and desserts. It was a wonderful night. We turned in early, ready for our second free day of the trip and our last full day in Guatemala. Day Thirteen We awoke on our last full day in Guatemala and headed out to the Nazarene School to take photos with the children. We arrived pretty quickly and it was amazing getting to spend time with the kids. They were so excited and it was difficult to leave them. We then went and got the food that I was the most excited to try. Shukos. It is a small hotdog or Chorizo on a grilled hoagie bun with cabbage, mayo, mustard, Guacamole and a variety of sauces and onions and cilantro. We went to a cross street that that had about 15 Shukos restaurants. There was only one lane to drive on the four streets that converged at this intersection. And there were guys running everywhere to the cars driving through asking them how many shukos they wanted. It was a rudimentary drive through system. There were small areas to sit inside each restaurant but most people simply drove through, ordered from the street and waited for the guys to bring the sandwiches back to them. We wanted to eat inside so we found a guy that said he would clear a table for us and we parked about a block away and walked back to his locale. It was a small concrete room, open to the street with a small cooking area in the corner and the remainder of the room filled with plastic tables and chairs. We ordered and I enjoyed the shukos. Most of the others did not. I think they were really more concerned with the sanitary situation so it colored their opinions. I would have liked more meat because it was a bit like eating a cabbage sandwich due to the very small size of Guatemalan hotdogs. When we paid, we were shocked to find that eat sandwich was only seventy cents. So with our drinks we each spent just little over one dollar. We then got the car we had borrowed, serviced and then stopped at a very large mall to meet some other friends. I met with some fans of my band from Guatemala City and it was absolutely wonderful to sit with them for about an hour and a half and just talk. They presented me with some great gifts from Guatemala and I signed some autographs and we took some pictures. After that our other friends arrived and we went to eat at a favorite restaurant called Friends which was like a Hard Rock CafĂ© but with a movie theme. It was pretty good and a great way to end our trip, saying thanks to the guys that really helped us out in the services. It was a sad departing. Tomorrow we leave Guatemala and fly back to Chicago where I will take a nap and then we will drive back to Bismarck. My last updates will be from home. Thanks for following our trip Pray for us.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Guatemala Day Nine - Ten

Day Nine Monday morning, we were able to check out the house more. It was a wonderful little two story villa at the base of a large mountain, within a secured complex. Now, when I say secured, we all think of having a gate around the area we are living but in Guatemala, secured means not only the gate but armed guards at the gates and strolling through the complex, 24/7. The villa had three bedrooms and a bath up stairs. All the bedrooms had large windows that fully opened to the outside. There are no screens here. One bedroom had a door that opened to a small balcony and also had a loft with a hammock. The main area between the bedrooms and the bathroom had a door that lead to a large rooftop sitting area that offered a good view of the surrounding area. There was a wonderful courtyard off of the dining room that was accessed through French doors. The courtyard was surrounded by 15 foot walls and was a combination of grass and tile with a large tree in the center, a small fountain on the left and several flowering plants along the wall, where humming birds would come to every morning. The first floor had a kitchen and dining area separated by a beautiful wood counter and a small living room just inside the front door. The living room had three wooden benches with pillows and a small TV. There was also a very small bathroom and shower down a few stairs off of the living room. The shower was so short that it would have sprayed my chest only if I had attempted to use it. The entire place had tile floors and concrete walls just as the majority of the building here. Directly above the house was a large mountain which was covered by small shacks piled on top of each other all the way up the steep sides. We decided immediately, we wanted to go there. The city of Antigua is an old city so there is much great architecture but since it was built using cobble stone streets and those were intended for horses or mules, it is a very tight squeeze to get around with all the cars, trucks and busses that are now used. It is situated at the foot of a Volcano named Agua which has already destroyed the city once but is now sitting dormant. The volcano towers above the city and is mostly covered with clouds, even when the rest of the sky is clear. We were there to volunteer for the God’s Child project which is a project of schools, clinics and shelters started by a man from Bismarck, North Dakota. The main offices are in Bismarck and that is where we got connected. We went to the Dreamer Center Monday morning. This is the main center for the God’s Child project. Despite my attempts to let them know we were coming, it still caught them by surprise. So after a tour and filling out some forms, we were sent home because the director of the location we would be working at was in Guatemala City for the day. So we went back home and got some much need sleep. We then went to a market that is housed in a section of ruins of a large cathedral that was destroyed when Agua buried the city in the 1700’s. The market was a unique and surreal place. It was very compact with little room for two people to pass at the same time. It was dark but very colorful with all the handmade Guatemalan purses, scarves, shirts, skirts and crafts. The people at each table immediately began trying to bargain with you but of course in Spanish. Some spoke a little English and they were very helpful. The concept here was to find what you wanted and then try to get them to the lowest price you could. That went very much against my German—American sensibilities and since things were very reasonable to begin with and since I knew many of these people had almost nothing, I didn’t bargain as you were expected to do. I brought a couple things down a little but for the most part I just paid them and went on my way. I found everything I wanted in a very short time so I was very excited. We stopped at an Italian restaurant and had pasta for supper and then headed back to the house. Day Ten Tuesday we headed out bright and early to the Scheel Center which is an elementary school and clinic for the poorest of the poor in Antigua. We had got directions from the Dreamer Center which was on te other side of town from where we were so we went there and flowed the directions that took us closer and closer to the mountain above our house. The Scheel center turned out to be at the base of that mountain and only about 3 blocks from our house. So the twenty minute drive to get there was completely unnecessary. The Scheel center is a four story building that houses a school, a clinic and soon a pharmacy. Its main benefactors come from the mountain directly above it though some come from Antigua below. They are chosen by their poverty level and only the poorest children are allowed entrance to the school. This school goes entire days and serves two meals a day while the public schools only go half days and only serve breakfast each day. The method of the Scheel center is not just to be a place for the children but for the entire family and if the families pay the 12 to 24 cent fee per month tuition, they get access to the clinic and medicines for free for their entire family and well as classes for the mothers and fathers on many different subjects from hygiene to cooking and nutrition to even make up application. In addition to schooling, the children all get trained in one of two vocations. These are cooking and carpentry. They all get certification in typing and Microsoft Office as well. We spent are time sweeping the tile floors which get dirty very quickly, preparing for lunch and cleaning up after lunch, clearing some drainage issues and installing sound panels in order to cut the immense reverb caused by having tile floors and cement walls and ceilings. The difference the panels make is really quite drastic. After we left the Scheel center for the day, we cleaned up and headed to pick up some friends from Guatemala City who had rode the bus out to Antigua to assist us in our project for Wednesday morning. We went to a grocery and used money that the Worship Team had earned while leading several retreats and services in the States and purchased enough food to feed 10 families for 3 days. Each bag contained Rice, Corn Flour, Sugar, Noodles, Salt, Black Beans, Coffee, Cooking Oil and Candy Suckers. We went back to the house and separated out the food into 10 bags and then went to bed, excited to head up the mountain in the morning to distribute the food. We did not know what to expect. Pray for us.

Guatemala Day Seven – Eight

Guatemala Day Seven – Eight I am sitting in a hotel open-air lobby in Panajachen, Guatemala waiting for the others to be ready to go on our second quest to find foreigner edible food for breakfast. I have not been able to post any blogs since Saturday because of little time Saturday and Sunday and then extremely limited internet access Monday until today while being in Antigua. We have driven many, many Kilometers since then and have done, seen and experienced a large variety of things since then; from the awe inspiring, to the terrifying, from the “awwwwwwww” moments to the very sad moments. Since this will be split into a couple large updates, I will try to stream line a synopsis of each day so you can get an idea of where we’ve been and what we have been doing. I will try to blog later about specific, major events on this section of the trip. Day Seven After a great service Friday night, we got up Saturday with great expectations for that evening’s service. We got up and began preparing for the service as we had plans to meet some of the family at a local restaurant for lunch and then head over to the church. Have I mentioned the traffic? There is a running joke amongst us about “Guatemalan time”. Just add an hour to whatever time is established and you will be close. Well, to be fair, I am beginning to realize that a big part of that issue is due to the immensity and unpredictability of traffic in Guatemala. There is simply no way to accurately determine how long it will take to get anywhere and this was never more evident than during our attempt to meet the family for lunch. A drive that should have taken no more than 30 minutes ended when we gave up after over 2 hours. We had run out of time and needed to be at the church, so we stopped at the next restaurant we saw which was a Dominos Pizza and we ate there. (It was an eat in shop which we don’t typically see in the States). We then proceeded to the church and made it just on time. Of course, no one else was there and after close to another hour we were finally in the church.. From the start, nothing worked right. The sound system that worked flawlessly the days prior just wouldn’t come together. Frustration was high and what added to that was another band that it was decided would play with us had to be worked into the evening which was something we had not planned on. They also needed time to practice and that was not available, mostly due to the sound problems. We finally got the sound working adequately, and only a half an hour late (the people didn’t care much because they are used to that and they were playing football up on the roof) we began the service. This was a typical N.O.W. service like we had held in Mandan several times. It consists of songs of worship and praise, a little talking, some Scripture readings and a time of group prayer. These aspects of the service are interspersed throughout the service, not in any particular order. The singing was great. The people here really sing out and love clapping (in time, I might add) and so that was a nice thing for us. When we got into the prayer time, the power of the night was really revealed. Of course all the prayers were in Spanish but we were informed later that they were amazing prayers of dedication of lives to God and a focusing on living every moment as worship to God. It ended up being a great night. Day Eight The next day was Sunday and we were in charge of the morning service. We arrived early and turned everything on and everything worked perfectly. This was such a drastic contrast from the night before. I fully believe that Satan had tried to thwart Saturday night’s service by messing things up but in the end God was victorious as always and this morning had a very peaceful start. We had arrived before Sunday school but since only one of us spoke Spanish well enough to really be able to follow a lesson, we took that time to get some breakfast. It was a quick run and we were back and ready for the service. Things went very well, though the crowd was smaller and older than the night before. People responded well to the music and to my sermon which had to be given through an interpreter. That was a unique experience but I know that the message got across so that was good. They had a potluck planned after the service but we had already scheduled a dinner with one of the Grandmother’s of the Guatemalan member of the team so we waited a while to speak with people and as we were about to leave, an older man came up and began speaking to me. I called over someone who could speak both languages and the man basically said he really enjoyed what I spoke about and the need for obedience in our lives as Christians and it really had an impact on him. That was a great conformation that the message had been delivered. We left the church and headed to the grandmother’s home. She laid out an amazing meal for us that consisted of so many different foods, in such great quantity that I didn’t know how all of that could have possibly come from the incredibly small kitchen. There was chicken and cream, whole, cooked carrots, potatoes, two types of rice, two other vegetables that I could not identify as they are not common in the U.S. and the requisite corn tortillas. To drink, she made a rice and cinnamon beverage, served cold. It had a very unique flavor. Very sweet. The cinnamon was not the brown type that we would typically put into foods but the red type that we would more often use in hot beverages, or as candy. It was really good but I would prefer it as a drink to be drank on its own, not as part of a meal. But it was a great experience. We had an awesome time hearing the stories of the family and then she broke out what was possibly the most amazing dessert any of us have ever tasted. It was made from fresh pineapples and was topped with freshly sliced strawberries. I wish I could describe it but though I have thought of it often, I cannot find the right words to use. The consistency was something that I haven’t really experienced before so I can’t compare it to anything familiar and though it was called a cake, it was not anything like what we would consider a cake. I will post a picture later and maybe exact assistance form the others in giving a good description. One of our team members asked if we thought it might be able to withstand mailing to the United States. I think that sums up all of our reaction to this magnificent dessert. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the mall and then headed to Antigua. The distance is not far but the drive is. We arrived after dark and so we acclimated ourselves to the new home we would stay in for the next couple days and we went to bed. Pray for us.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Guatemala Day Five

I awoke this morning to three of the team members having been up most of the night with a stomach sickness. The thing we had been waiting to happen finally happened. It really wasn't unexpected but was still a disappointment. So then a decision had to be made about the days activities. We were supposed to be at the church by 2:30pm to load up instruments and head to the smaller church where our first service was to take place. It wasn't that everyone was laying in bed groaning but no one dared be far from the bathroom and in Guatemala City the car rides are often over and hour or more and bathrooms are not in ready supply. After calling both pastors and coming to the conclusion that their wouldn't be more than 10 people at this service we decided it would be best to let everyone get throiugh this illness in order to be ready for the much larger services the next three days. The reason it was such a small service was because it is a very small church of less than 10 people and it is located within a red light district in the worst zone of Guatemala City. They had wanted us to go door to door to invite people to the service but everyone we spoke with had strongly advised against that. In fact most suggested that we don't even go out of the building once there. There has been much made of the fact, also, that we drive a car without tinted windows and that wasn't even a good idea in that zone. It really was frustrating for everyone. We wanted to do the service but weighing everything we just thought it was best to try to get people healthy. So that made for a very dull day. I really wanted to get out in the car and drive but I knew that I would never find my way back. The complete lack of road signs and an adequate map has relegated me to relying on our Guatemalan team member for all navigation while driving. I also didn't feel right about taking him with me and leaving everyone to their discomfort. So they spent the day sleeping for the most part. For breakfast I had cereal again but after I finished the maid made eggs and onions which typically we would eat in a tortilla if I were at home with my wife making it the Puerto Rican way. They ate it with a Guatemalan type of bread which look like very small hamburger buns when they are still connected in the bag. They do not have the consistancy of hamburger buns however, more like a biscuit or a more dense and drier bread. For lunch (ha ha the highlights of our day) we were prepared a magnificant meal of chicken breast soup, steamed vegetables (potatoe, carrots and one that no one knew what it was but it was actually good), steamed, white rice (the first time we have had rice since we have been here which surprised me), and hand made corn tortillas. I enjoyed it very much but I think it was wasted on the rest since they were not in the mood to eat anything at all. In the evening we decided to invite a couple of the other worship team members from the Guatemalan church to come up to the house so we could really get to know how they view worship and where they are with God. Three of us headed into the city to pick them up. We parked at the church and our Guatemalan team member walked the three blocks to their house to get them. I don't know why we didn't just drive to their house and I didn't ask. As we were waiting for them to return, we heard many sirens behind us and as we watched, 10 truckloads of armed military police flew down the street. I wanted to follow them so bad, ha ha. But we stayed put, with the doors locked, keeping an open eye. On the way home we stopped at the same chicken place we had the other day. This time we went to the take out counter to order. I chose shrimp this time and also noticed they had Flan (a favorite hispanic dessert of mine) and so I ordered that as well. We took our orders back to the house and we discussed worship and God and church life while we ate. The night continued as they started trying to teach us more Spanish and we taught them a little English. It was a fun time. Some other of the family members came by to say hi and they offered to drive the guys back to the city which we greatly appreciated. We got to bed about 11:30pm and I think we will be ready for a busy but great day tomorrow. Pray for us. Nyk

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Guatemala Day Four (Drive, Drive and Drive Some More)

Today started early at 6:30am because we had to be to the Church by 9am for rehearsal. So we awoke and had breakfast (frijoles negro and bread) and then set out on our drive into Guatemala City to the Church. Our daily or sometimes multiple times a day drive to the church takes us through an area with many prostitutes on every corner. Prostitution is legal here so they are all along the street without fear of arrest. That has been a source of many discussions with the group as they have not seen a real prostitute before. I mention this because even as we drove in this morning, there were prostitutes out on the corners which surprised me because you tend to think of it as more of a night activity. But I guess it is 24/7 with those poor women. We arrived at the church and set everything back up and began to have a real productive practice. The spanish songs are coming along great and I had some time to work more on my sermon for Sunday. Its funny that though this was only the second time we have been inside the Church it was already becoming more familiar to me and more comfortable even. Today, since we were there early, the ajoining Nazarene Elementary School was in full swing and the sounds of the children were so loud at times it nearly drowned out the music. I felt bad for the teachers because I know how distracting it can be when things out of the ordinary are happening around the school (like four Americans playing music). The staircase that leads from the other end of the building where the school is located to the rooftop playground area passes right next to the stage in the church. There isn't so much of a wall there as a bunch of bars with semi-transparent glass that can open like a venetian blind. These were open to allow air to flow through and today, more than yesterday, the air had a very pungent odor to it. It wasn't really foul just powerful and thick and it turned out to be the smell of burnt coffee beans. Coffee is the number one industry in Guatemala just before Tourism. And the church is near a coffee plant and the roasting of the beans do not give off the wonderful aroma that we are so used to when we think of coffee, rather the smell is that which eminates from the carafe at work when someone leaves a tiny amount of coffee in the bottom yet still on the burner and it begins to burn. The opening in the ceiling that I described earlier actually opened to this rooftop, caged-in playground area. It seemed during recess the children, dressed in their school uniforms, were much more interested in looking at us than playing soccer and basketball on the roof. So I looked up at one point and a group of young girls were sitting on the steps with their faces pressed between the bars watching our worship team practice. And during some of the more lively songs they even began to move with the music a little. It was such a cute scene that I had to take some pictures. But when the flash went off the girls screamed and covered their faces and some ran up the stairs. Kind of startled me. I am not sure why they were so frightened of the flash but they quickly returned and the many other pictures that were taken didn't seem to bother them as much. After practice the guys helping us on guitar had to leave because they are also still in school this time of year so they had to go to school. We then were brought over into the school to be treated to a Guatemalan breakfast of Frijoles Negro, bread and made from scratch Limeade. We had already had this breakfast but we had eaten at American breakfast time and it was now Guatemalan breakfast time so we sat down to eat again. Yesterday it was two lunches due to the timing issue and today it was two breakfasts. Tomorrow I was hoping for two suppers but with the service going through what we would consider supper time I don't see that happening. Anyway, I digress. We have enjoyed the Frijoles Negro quite a bit but we have had alot of it (nearly every meal) and as we understand it is actually a part of every meal. In America, we have such variety of foods and they do here as well but we are beyond having a staple food anymore I think. We might have pasta and then potatoes and then rice and another time beans but here as in many many other places around the world they still stick to staples pretty strongly. And so I think we might be Frijoles Nergoed out by the end of this two weeks, ha ha. After breakfast we then had a tour of the school. The building was all tiled floors with concrete walls, similar to the church which seems to be the norm here. With torrential rain storms and hurricanes this makes sense. Its no wonder students from UMary like it here so much as it must make them feel like they are back on campus. (a little cement humor there). The main room is long and high with two classrooms off to the side and the school office and a bathroom. We couldn't help from peeking into the classrooms and waving at the excited children. I'm sure to the teachers dispair. The upstairs had 6 rooms; a computer room, a kitchen, a classroom, two playrooms for the younger children and a spare room. Up on the roof there is a cement area about the size of a basketball court. Before we left we needed to use the school phone to call some of the soccer complexes and reserve a feild for our soccer night with the teens from the Church. We ran into a problem however when we found out that every soccer complex in the city (and there are alot of them) was booked for the time we wanted due to tournement time in their city leagues. We finally found one feild available for the hour before we had wanted so we booked it. We then invited the Sixth Grade class at the school and they seemed very excited. Not many of the young people get to use the fields in the city because they are expensive to them. For us it was very inexpensive, about $30 and hour compared to $50 per hour that I would have paid for a field in Kansas City. We were also excited to give them the two very nice balls that we had purchased for the night. We left the church and headed back to the house to clean up and then we went off to another mall to meet the Grandparents (who are actually the owners and principle of the school) for lunch. We went to Oakland Mall in Guatemala City, a four story mega mall with a four story cut out of Kaka shooting a ball on the outside. My kind of mall! We didn't have much time so we went straight to the restaurant. It was a themed restaurant called Nais Aquarium. It had very unique booths that surround a huge aquarium in the center of the restaurant filled with many tropical fish including very cool rays. Each booth had its own screen showing a documentary about tropical fish and the many lights shining on the ceiling would change colors from red to blue to green. We ordered a special lunch combo which contained a salad, a soup, a sandwich, fries and a coke, all for about $9. The coolest thing though that fascinated everyone was a soda fountain spout built right into the table so we could refill our beverages at will. Very nice for everyone except the person unfortunate enough to have sat next to it. What we have noticed about Guatemalan restaurants is that the servers take your order, bring your food and then you will never see them again unless you call for them by raising your hand and yelling out to them. We surmise that this fact was the impetus for the developement of the table soda dispenser because bringing people refills would certainly go against all known Guatemalan serving etiquette. Eating was a nice respite from the chaos of driving through the city but just as it had begun, it was over and we again had to head back to the church to meet everyone who was playing soccer with us. When we got there, late as we were, the other driver had still not arrived. We had to leave right aaway because if we did not get to the fields on time the reservation would be cancelled. So our crew left with the addition of two of the sixth grade boys who had come, 7 people in a small sportster, fun, but apparently not at all out of the norm here. We set off and immediately came to a 6 lane street which I need to take a left on across traffic which was bumper to bumper both directions. The way you accomplish this in Guatemala is to continue to inch out into the street until the cars feel as though they can't continue without hitting you at which point they will stop. This is bad enough with one lane but with three lanes it is even worse. But the worst part is the motorcycles who do not use lanes at all and are traveling much faster than the flow of traffic and are very hard to see. So now after pulling out into the street and blocking three lanes of traffic I needed to insert myself from a dead stop into flowing traffic of the other three lanes. Fortunately, there was immediately a small break in the cars and if there is one thing I have learned since being here is that if you snooze you lose. Unfortunately, there was a motorcycle coming very fast and I had no choice but to pull out right in front of him. This gave my little sixth graders a slight heart attack. Fortunately the motorcycles are used to this and he managed to hit the brakes and swerve just enough to miss us. But we were on our way. We were going pretty well and quickly when I needed to exit the roadway on the right but I was all the way on the left and there was a car next to me. I accelerated to get past him but my lane was ending in a row of parked cars. For an intense second we were not sure we would make it. But at the last moment I was able to cut across in front of the car and make the exit. This actually caused everyone to scream so it must have been quite a move cuz no one had screamed to this point and we had already been through some very tight spots. I don't know how people deal with this stress of driving here day in and day out. My only hope is the reality that someday I will once again get to drive the calm and orderly streets of North Dakota. Or even Chicago for that matter. After our hearts calmed and everyone was assured that I was in control we finally arrived at the complex. We went through some of the poorest parts of Guatemala City to get there and it amazed me how literally one turn can transport you into a whole new world. We went from destitution into a shopping district that would rival any in the US with literally one turn. It was like driving through a wormhole or something. The soccer complex was magnificant. It was perched on the very edge of a tree covered canyon that dropped straight down hundreds of feet. In fact, though we tried, we could not see the bottom. The feilds were each surrounded by about forty foot fences and nets to keep the balls from dissappearing into the abyss. There were sitting areas with tables in between the feilds. I don't know how many feilds there were but I could see three from where we were allowed to go. There were probably more. Fields in Guatemala are not like ours in America. The play on a futsal field which is similar in size to a full size hockey rink. It has smaller goals but still require a keeper. The fields are made of either the newer style of artificial turf (which is what the ones we were playing on had) or actually grass and the fields are all outside not inside. We had about 15 guys finally come to play and we split up the teams and played non-stop for the next hour. It was an amazing time. It truly is a sport that can bring all people together even if they can't communicate. Yet the biggest frustration was the fact that I didn't know any of the spanish words they used to let them know where I was or where I wanted the ball. By the end of the match I was able to pick up a few commands but still, it was a source of frustration for me. It's hard when everyone else can communicate on the field except you. But the night was a huge success and a great experience. After, we gathered to say our goodbyes, take a few pictures and present them with the balls. They really did not have the reaction I was expecting. They were very reserved and really didn't say anything that I could tell. They took the balls and we all parted ways and that was that. I asked our Guatemalan team member about it later and he said that the reason for that response was that they were literally in shock. They didn't know how to react. He said, it was unheard of for someone to give away an expensive ball like that and for it to be a brand new ball as well, they were just stunned that it was happening. They couldn't really believe it. I felt better about it all after that. We just want to be a blessing to them and I hope that they will get hundreds of hours of enjoyment in the future and maybe even have their hearts turned to Christ through the testimony of how they got to have a nice soccer ball to use. After leaving the complex we took the boys back to their neighborhood, drove past the Presidential House, Palace, Cathedral and National fountain. It was amazing. We so wanted to get out and walk around and take some pictures but like most places here, it was far too dangerous to do so. We asked if we could come back in the daytime but were told it was even to dangerous during the day for us. So we will just have to remember the sight of it as we drove past in the night. It was grand and yet such a shame that it can't be enjoyed. We drove back to the house and ate supper which was ham and cheese quesadillas and frijoles negro and then we went straight back out in order to take advantage of the first clear night and stop at a restaurant along the road where you can view virtually the entire city. There was an outdoor patio that sat at the edge of a hill that sloped down to a cliff that dropped hundreds of feet no doubt. We sat there and could see the lights of the city that stretched as far as the eye could see to the left, to the right and straight ahead. We could start recognizing some of the landmarks that we had been driving past everyday. And we could also see, as we asked where each of the places we had been were located why it took so incredably long to get there. They were so far away from each other and some were actually out of sight. I was amazed at how far I had driven through this city and the places I had not yet been. But as the fog quickly descended from the mountain tops into the city below, already obscuring the veiw of the volcanoes surrounding the city we decided to head back up the mountain to the house. The way back was pretty open until it all stopped completely. Yet another landslide to be cleared off the road. They made quick work of it and we went home. Since I was working on 13 hours of sleep for the past four days I went straight to bed. The others weren't so lucky, but you will have to wait til the next post to find out why. :) Pray for us. Nyk

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Guatemala Day Three

After a nice and refreshing 10 hours sleep in the surprisingly cool Guatemalan air we awoke to breakfast having been set on the dining room table by the Maid. We decided to relax most of the day today to try to recover from the trip down but there were a few things we needed to get done today in preparation for the rest of the week. So it was nice to have breakfast waiting. When we had showered, we sat down to some fresh Guatemalan fruit juice (sorry, I can't remember the name, I will try to get it for tomorrow's post), bread and black beans, cereals and leche (milk), and cinnimon rolls. I wish I could say that I tried the black beans and bread but I was still pretty shot from the trip down and wasn't in the most andventurous mood so I had Sugar Puffs. After breakfast we headed out to find a bank in order to get some money changed over to Guatemalan currency. This sounded easy but turned out to be quite the task. I will only relate my efforts and not the others' in order to spare humiliating them. We went to a large, three story shopping mall that is in the town we are staying in outside of Guatemala City. There were two banks on the outside of the mall so we tried the first only to find out that they could not do the transaction I needed which was getting money from my business Visa card. The bank that holds my card assured us last week when we called to advise them I would be using the card in Guatemala that getting money would be as simple as going into any bank and showing two forms of ID. Turns out that wasn't true. And it wasn't going to be the last of the statements they made to us that turned out to be less than truthful. So we went to the next bank, they told us they could not do it either but a bank inside the mall could. So we went inside to find this bank of all banks apparently. I should digress and mention what it was like entering a bank in Guatemala. Each bank had multiple armed guards at the doors which is not terribly unusual even in the US but these guys meant business. They weren't sitting in the corner playing cards, no these guys were on high alert. At the first bank the doors could only be opened by the guard from the inside and he let you in. At the second bank, a man wearing a black jacket walked in before me and tried to walk past the guard who found that to be a highly offensive move and promptly grabbed the man and pushed him back into a wall demanding, it seemed. to see what might be in his jacket. The man was clearly frightened and quickly opened his jacket. It was a little disconcerting to say the least. I was not bothered as I made my way into the bank. So at the third bank we stood in line only to be told that while this bank could indeed do the transaction we needed, they would not be able to do it at these service counters. So we had to move to another area of the bank and get back in line for those tellers. We finally got to the person we thought would be able to help us but when we told her what we wanted, she seemed a little confused. And then she got up and went in to speak with her supervisor. From the completely confused and slightly disgusted look on the supervisor's face, I began to doubt that I was ever going to be able to get the cash I needed. However, when the teller returned she did in fact verify that she could do it. When everthing seemed to be in order, instead of handing me cash, she handed me a reciept which, we were informed, we had to take back to the first counter we had waited in line for when we first walked into this bank. So we got back in line and finally had the cash in hand. This turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. We headed into the mall in search of a soccer shop in order to purchase a couple of balls to be used at a soccer scrimmage we were hosting for the Nazarene teens the following night in Guatemala City. We weren't able to pack any balls with us so the idea arose to purchase a couple really nice ones and then after we finish playing that night we would present them as a gift to the youth group at the Nazarene church. Everyone here plays soccer but very few have the money to rent the feilds to play on (so they play in the streets or empty lots, both of which we have already witnessed yesterday) or to buy a decent ball. So we thought this would be a nice gesture, especially since the price for things here is significantly lower than in the States. We found two great balls for a quarter of the price they are in the States and we were very excited about that. However, when I tried to use the credit card for the purchase, it was denied. Somehow, in the 15 minutes it took us to get from the bank to the soccer shop, my card had been cut off. I wasn't completely surprised because this happens nearly every trip I take with the Youth Group. As soon as the card company notices a transaction outside of North Dakota it raises some automatic red flag and they stop the card. On the other hand, I was a bit surprised because in anticipation of that very issue, we called the company last week to specifically inform them to expect that very transaction in Guatemala. Apparently that made no difference to them and as soon as I made my first transaction in Guatemala they cut the card. Previously when this has happened I was able to simply call our secretary and she would call them and get it sorted out, however, for this trip I needed a special phone that was able to be used in Guatemala and it hadn't worked since we arrived. I discovered after much searching that the SIM card had been inserted backwards into the phone. This was done by employees in Bismarck so I can't completely blame them because North Dakota does not use SIM cards in their phones on this particular network and therefore the employees were not familiar with them at all and there was not way to test it since we do not have a network that uses them in ND. So after inserting the card the correct way, WALA! service! That only lasted about an hour and then the Data service became disconnected which, despite calling customer service has still not been restored. But back to the card issue. Thankfully I had the cash from the earlier transaction that caused all this trouble in the first place so I was able to make the purchase. We shopped around a bit and then decided to go eat lunch and then head back to where we are staying until it was time to go to the church in Guatemala City to meet the Pastor and begin to practice for our upcoming services. We decided to eat at a local chicken restaurant similar to KFC or Churches. The restaurant was very nice inside and you actually took a seat and the waitresses came out to your table to take your order. One member of our group simply assumed that we would order the same as our fast food restaurants so she just walked up to the counter where all the waiters and waitresses were standing but we caught her before she started giving her order and informed her that we need to sit down not walk up and order. The selection at the restaurant was also different. The typical things you would expect to find at a chicken place were all there such as different varieties of fried chicken, fries, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw but there were other things that were quite different. Each table was supplied with a bottle of green hot sauce for your chicken and fries. We saw some who mixed it with the ketchup and ate it with their fries. They also had amazing ice cream cones and donuts for dessert. Everything was very good and we enjoyed it alot. After lunch we went back to the house and relaxed until it was time to leave for the church. The problem with figuring out when the actual time to leave for anything is that the traffic is extremely bad and extremely unpredictable. The church wasn't in the best part of the city (for instance, it really wasn't advised to walk outside the church) so we didn't want to get there too early and have to sit outside but at the same time we didn't want to be very late either so we left with about 40 minutes til the time we were to be there. Normally it was a 20 minute drive so we figured we had plenty of time. Turns out we were wrong and it took us over and hour to get there. The Pastor and worship leader had waited for us so that was nice and we were able to check out he church and the sound and projector systems to make sure it would work for us. Everything turned out to be fine as far as equipment and sound went and later some more friends came who will be helping us out on acoustic, electric and bass guitars as well as some singing. They practiced for a while and then we closed it all back up. This church was one long room with tile floors and cement block walls and cement ceilings. It has a stage on the far end from the door. The doors are like most that I have seen here and that being a large steel door with peep hole type windows so you can see and speak with someone outside without opening the door. The door cannot be opened from the outside without a key. Everything inside was locked in cages. All the speakers were surrounded by cages and bolted to the floors or ceilings. Everything else except the drums were locked in a room on the side of the main room. This room also doubled as the sound booth. To the side of the stage there was a door through which you could access two sets of stairs. One set led to the basement which seemed to be only one very small room and the other which was secured by yet another chained and locked steel door led upstairs which you could see from the main room through windows built into the ceiling. All were covered by steel bars but through those windows I could see a large chain link cage that house a small basketball court. This, I was told was actually on the roof of the church and was open outside. We left the church and headed to our Guatemalan team member's grandparents' home but gave the worship leader a ride home on the way. One of our female team members, in an attempt to ask him in spanish something about loving something (we never did find out exactly) instead informed him that she loved him. This caused quite an uproar in the car to say the least. Even I who does not speak any spanish understood that phrase. After dropping off the worship leader we made our way to the grandparents' house. The house is protected by a large steel gate about 15 ft high topped by twisted razor wire which is is seen alot here. The gate has two smaller doors within it which allow people to be able to enter without opening the entire gate. After going through the gate there is a small cement courtyard and a place to park a car. Continuing into the home through another steel door we entered a small living room with tile floors and cement block walls. Passing through that room we entered an adjacent dining room/kitchen a little smaller than the living room. I would guess about 15 ft long and 10 ft wide. To the right of the dining area was a single bedroom and to the left between the living room and the kitchen was the bathroom. This is where our next andventure began. One of our female team members (the very same who expressed her love for the worship leader) who was wearing flip flops had stepped off the curb of the street while getting into the car at the church. Unfortunately she stepped into a puddle of fresh urine. Apparently urinating on the street is a very common thing here. This disgusted her to say the least and she went straight to the bathroom in order to wash her soiled foot. Upon entering the bathroom everyone noticed the shower head. This shower head was electrified in order to heat the water right at the shower head eliminating the need for a hot water heater to heat the water for the shower. What made it even more exciting for us is that our paster had just described such a shower head in his sermon the previous week and now here we were looking at one in person. Of course all the cameras came out and it was a pretty exciting scene for a few moments. After the foot washing we got back in the car and followed the grandfather to a Pizza Hut where we would have supper. They wanted to show us the club district first however so we followed them through many streets with many discos, restaurants and clubs. After passing through the same streets several times it became clear that we had gotten lost. The grandfather finally stopped and our Guatemalan team member asked for directions. He informed the grandfather of the proper route but after only two blocks the grandfather turned the opposite direction he was supposed to and we passed many of the same clubs once again. This time the grandfather stopped for directions and we were on our way again. But after seeing several of the same clubs again it was clear that we were still lost. The grandfather stopped once again to ask directions but our endless circling of the club district continued until he finally pulled over and proclaimed the fact that we were lost and he had given up. So we decided to stop trying to get to the restaurant we had planned on going to and finding another that he was more familiar with. We found that one easily and sat down for a wonderful time eating pizza and talking. Then we headed for the house which was going great until we hit stopped traffic on the way up the mountain. Eventually we discovered the reason for the back up was several landslides which had buried half of the road. The landslides are an ever present danger here. We even saw a sign warning of landslides actually crushed by a landslide. Everthing about this place is serious and at least a little, if not alot dangerous. Tomorrow's another day in which we plan to practice more in the morning and play some soccer at night. I am excited. Now for sleep! Nyk

Monday, July 12, 2010

Guatemala Day One

A quick recap of what brought me to these next series of updates. One each day for the next 14 days, I hope.
My Youth Worship Team, two of which are Guatemalan, decided they wanted to go to Guatemala to help show the teens of our Nazarene Churches in Guatemala City how Worship of God should impact every part of our lives, not just an hour on Sunday each week.
Which brings me to Day One of this trip.
We left Mandan, North Dakota just before 1pm Sunday afternoon. We made our first stop about 100 miles east at Jamestown to sit down to an amazing meal at one of our team member's Grandmother's home. We caught most of the second half of the World Cup Final between the Netherlands and Spain. After leaving Jamestown, we drove to Minneapolis without much drama. Minneapolis changed all that.
Our route through the Twin Cities was to be I-94. However, I-94 was closed at the West end of Downtown. We proceeded into the detour which took us miles out of our way. The signs were not adequate and at one point the sign that the detour was to take the next exit was literally about 15 yards from the exit. If you were lucky enough to be in the correct lane you might have had a chance to slam on your brakes and drift onto the exit. We were not that lucky. Being in the next lane over made the attempt a near impossibilty but having a car between us and the exit guaranteed its impossibility. So we took our first detour from our detour. After returning to our proper route we again experienced signage sabotage when the sign failed to revealed which direction of the fork to take. We chose the wrong one. This detour required GPS to get us back on track. In all, the detour took us through downtown three times. We were pleased to get pictures of downtown from 3 distinct viewpoints but after over an hour of time wasted to get out of Minneapolis we were behind schedule and not terribly happy. Won't be taking that route on the way home!
Through dense fog that nearly caused us to drive straight into the first Toll Booth we finally arrived in Chicago at about 4:30am Monday. We decided to head straight to O'Hare to be ready to board our flight to Mexico City only a mere three hours later.
As I sit here awaiting our flight and passing the 24 hour mark of being awake I am getting a little sleepy. Not a good way to start 2 weeks away from home. Oh, well.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


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