One of the things that everybody we’ve talked to who’s been to Guatemala has told us about is the tortillas, how prevalent the food–and the sound of them being made–is. They are THE FOOD of Guatemala. You are not eating if there are no tortillas present. With that in mind, I was very excited to be invited to watch a Kekchi woman making the tortillas for our lunch on our Sunday visit. And now you can join me:
She makes it look so easy, yes? Well, today I bought some corn flour and gave it a try myself. Let’s just say it’s not as easy as it looks. They were eaten and tasted fairly decent (as decent as you can get without their freshly milled corn and wood fire), but their shape, or lack thereof, left something to be desired. I think we’ll be asking for some lessons on this once we get there. (Oh, and I didn’t use my fingers to test doneness/flip either!)
Not to be neglected, Daisy, Cub, and Chimp got to spend six days with their grandparents in Lancaster County, PA. Though they did continue to do school, they got in a few field trips as well–to an apple orchard and a science museum–along with multiple trips to the library to keep Daisy in books. They even found time to make over 30 quarts of applesauce! We are VERY grateful for my parents for not only watching the kids for us, but having such a good time with them.
Daisy also kept me up-to-date via email with the goings-on in the states, and I did my best to provide her with our activities and pictures likewise. The internet has made a major change for the good in the life and mental health of the missionary!
I am very thankful that we all stayed healthy throughout this trip. Our family faced a not-so-fun stomach bug the week before the trip. It made its way through all but Rosebud and myself and I was concerned we would fall victim while away, but such was not the case! Being able to leave them all healthy made the trip much easier for me. When Chimp spiked a high fever the night before we left, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to go on the trip. But God is faithful and provided health for all, in His time.
Wednesday we started the day enjoying the city skyline and seeing the four volcanos near the city. One of the farther ones has actually been sending up some smoke recently.After breakfast, we were able to skype with Amos from EMM. He had been planning to come on the trip with us, but was not able to last minute due to various factors. It was great to share with him the things we had learned and how we felt God leading us through our time here and in the future. We were also able to discuss some of the concerns we had about certain issues that need to be worked out before we return.
We were then on to the airport to begin our 11 hour journey home, during which Rosebud did not sleep at all on the planes except the last ten minutes of the second flight.
We packed so much into the little time we had there, but there was so much more we would have loved to do if we had the time. We are very thankful for all the people and places we were able to visit. It was truly a blessing.
The language of Guatemala is Spanish, but the Kekchi people also have their own language, derived from an ancient Mayan language. Most of the Kekchi, especially the younger ones, also speak Spanish. It was encouraging that although Ted and I have been studying Spanish for just short of two months at this point, we could usually understand the gist of most conversations. We even managed to fend for ourselves a few times when making purchases. The Kekchi language is totally different, though it does borrow some words from Spanish that it didn’t have before such as days of the week.
These posts have just captured what we did in Guatemala, but the trip was so much more than this. It was experiencing God’s work and meeting His people. It will take some time to truly process everything we experienced. The Kekchi people are an amazing people who have carved their living out of the hillsides. They face severe opposition to any development or growth in their economic status and are viewed by the non-indigenous people of their country much as our country viewed our own black population less than a century ago.
We feel very blessed to have had this time to explore the vision and work God has for us. Although very short, this trip was strong confirmation of what God has called us to and has helped us to better understand the call. We are now faced with the challenge of working with EMM and the Kekchi church to put this calling into words as part of our ministry agreement. In our many discussions the last few days, we have already noticed ways that God has been going before us and preparing the way–even in ways that appeared to be drawbacks initially. Our God is good!
Tuesday morning we got ready to go on our planned visits, but just as we were heading out the door, one of the Mennonite pastors stopped by for a visit. In Guatemala, when you have a visitor, you take the time to sit and visit with them–you do not tell them you have to leave. Saying, “I had a visitor,” is an acceptable excuse for being late for something. Galen and Phyllis made up some coffee and visited with the pastor a while. After we packed up for our return to Guatemala City, we went to visit Bezaleel, a Mennonite boarding school secondary grades and vocational training. We also were able to visit the home of another missionary family that is just heading back to the states this week. They live a bit further out in the country from the Groffs and it was nice to see other options for housing. As they also have four children, we had a nice time talking about life with children in Guatemala.
Back in the city five hours later, we spent the night at Casa Emaús, a guest house associated with the Semilla Anabaptist Seminary.
Monday Wilmar road a bus in from his village and joined us for the day. In the morning, Galen had to take his car to the garage for a small fix before driving us back to the city and then on to Honduras the next day. So we dropped the car off and walked around Cobán. First we visited a local coffee shop so Ted could try some fresh roasted local coffee. I tried a hot chocolate, which they make there with ground cacao beans, water, and sugar–no milk (though that can be added at additional cost). We then wandered back through the markets to get the car. With Wilmar as our personal shopping assistant, we were able to pick up several gifts and other things. The markets are quite an experience with live turkeys and chickens, food of all shapes and colors, toys, skirts, fabric, tortillas, and all sorts of smells.
After lunch and a short rest at the house, we visited the Mennonite Church offices in Carcha. There we were introduced to the president and spoke briefly about our desire and calling to come and help. We then met another pastor/coffee farmer named Francisco who was in town for a meeting and drove back to his coffee farm. He is a very progressive farmer who has worked to bring people together to improve their situation. He recently tried a new spray for his coffee crop to combat the fungus and that day was the first time he had been to the field since he had sprayed it to see if it had any effect. His fields are a half hour from his house driving on very rocky roads; he usually has to walk to them–at least an hour one way. His fields are on a steep hill that we had quite a climb to get to, but the spray appeared to have been quite effective and the bushes were covered with lots and lots of green cherries and the leaves were nice and green. Harvest seasons is November through January, so by February, we will know if he has found a workable solution! Ted enjoyed talking with Francisco about coffee and the potential for bringing farmers together to process it themselves and export it. Even if they can get it processed themselves, there are several levels of corruption that will need to be overcome.
We ended the day with dinner at a nice area restaurant with another missionary couple in the area (non-Mennonite).
Sunday we attended a Kekchi church out in the country. Phyllis shared with me a Kekchi skirt and shirt she had been given, so I was even able to dress the part. Rosebud was too, as we had purchased a shirt for her from the weaving co-op we visited the previous day. (The Kekchi ladies’ skirts consist of EIGHT YARDS of fabric and a drawstring. It is quite a feat to deal with all that fabric to put the skirt on, let alone wear it around all day!) We drove 45 minutes or so through more gorgeous land and then had to hike 10-15 minutes up a narrow trail to the church. The Kekchi have learned from their Latino neighbors, that louder music is better, so they have pretty big speakers in their churches. As each person enters the church (which is just one large room) they go to the front or their seat and kneel to pray before doing anything else. The service is similar to ours with singing and announcements and prayer and a message. All visitors are invited up to give a welcome. Since the Groffs had prepared us for this, we were ready. 🙂 Ted also played and sang a short song for them, and Galen was asked to give the message in Kekchi (which he had also been prepared for). Rosebud was again quite an attraction with the children, and she enjoyed interacting with them too.
After the service, we were introduced to the piano player, Wilmar. He spent a year in the United States a year ago with MCC and is now back with his family and working to discern what to do next. Since he speaks English, Spanish, and Kekchi he was an immense help to us during our trip. We had lunch with Wilmar’s family. His father, Felipe, is a relatively wealthy farmer in the area who has quite a bit of coffee. Following our lunch of Caldo (a traditional Guatemala soup with chicken, güisquil, and other vegetables) and, of course, corn tortillas, the men gathered to discuss coffee and roya and what opportunities there were that Ted could assist with. On our way back to our car, we looked at Felipe’s crops. He has quite a bit of coffee (with various effects from the roya) cardamom, and 28 varieties of fruit. We also stopped and visited a nearby coffee beneficio (processing plant) that has been out of use for about 5 years.
Back at the Groffs’, we spent some time talking about what we’d seen so far and what we felt our mission would be and our vision. We ended that evening with a great time of prayer together.
Saturday we played tourists for a bit in the morning, visiting a local coffee plantation that gives tours and has a zip line course (7 lines) through their coffee fields. We learned about the process of growing and harvesting coffee as well as a bit of the history of coffee growing in that area of Guatemala. We also saw first-hand how devastating the roya fungus has been for the farmers. The particular plantation that we were at, which is a cooperative of over 100 small farmers, had cut down half of their coffee crops in an effort to eliminate the disease. They are planting green beans and broccoli in place of it in some areas. Roya fungus has a progressive effect on the plants, beginning by turning the leaves yellow and keeping the berries from ripening, and ending with completely destroying the plant and leaving only a stick tree behind. At the end we saw their beneficio, or processing plant, for turning the cherries into dry, green beans for shipping.
After our tour, we visited the street market in Cobán. We went through quickly trying to see and absorb so much. The local people were amused at the site of Rosebud with her fair hair and blue eyes. One group of girls even asked to take her picture with their cell phone. 🙂 (The cell network has been great for the people in rural Guatemala–the hope of getting telephone line out to the villages and homes would never happen, but with cell phones, they can now have much better communication.)
Later that day we visited a women’s weaving co-op that had been started by a former missionary to help women earn an income for their families. They had many gorgeous cloths and bags and shirts there. The weaving is beautiful.
Well, we are back from an amazing journey into another time and place. Ted, Rosebud, and I spent five days seeing and learning as much as we could about Guatemala and the Kekchi people and their way of living. We are still quite overwhelmed by everything we experienced. I don’t think I can put much into words right now, so I will just give a brief overview of what we did each day. After typing all this up, I decided to split it up into one post per day. Otherwise, it is a VERY long post.
Friday we got up at 3am EST and headed for the airport. Our flight left on time and after a brief layover in Atlanta, we found ourselves in Guatemala 8 hours later, with Rosebud having slept all but one hour of flight time! There we met Galen and Phyllis Groff, a wonderful couple who has been serving as missionaries with the Kekchi people for over 20 years. They drove us on a five hour drive through an amazing countryside that we couldn’t get enough of! We stopped after a bit for an authentic Guatemalan meal at a roadside restaurant. The roads are full of curves and drop-offs and speed bumps (their way of “enforcing” speed limits) and people walking along sometimes carrying huge loads on their heads. We arrived at their house in Carcha in the early evening and crashed shortly after, as we had been up since 1am local time. Their house is located near the edge of town and is surrounded by hills with houses and corn fields. Most families have a small flock of chickens (and a rooster) that wanders around their yard free range, and there are dogs everywhere.