Friday, March 30, 2007


After reading my last few entries, my father suggested I give you an update on the woman who had trouble during our outreach last Friday. She was stable within the first 24 hours of the incident and upon her daughter's arrival several hours later is doing fine. She was transfered to the Guatemalan hospital in Tejutla and was still doing well upon our leave on Sunday morning.

Things like this, however, cause a person to realize the fragility of one's life. Aside from the Carpe Diem cliche, don't forget to tell those who give you energy and reason their vitality to you. Irreplaceable experience and skies, though often brevities, are integral to our moments.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

So it's already published..

There is little I can do, now that I've posted that poem...
But it's really terrible.

I guess you own the good and the bad, right?

Dust as catalyst.

So all of you know that I'm more of a non-fiction writer than I ever have been a poet. Actually, I'm admittedly a terrible poet and thus am not entirely sure why I even believe this post will be of any kind of merit. But I'll cease my blubbering and get on with the show. I just cared to be sure there was a proper disclaimer before you read any further.

It has no title, and is barely legible in my moleskine as I wrote it traveling through the mountains from Tejutla. Criticsm is welcome.

There are paths along the highways
that I've never noticed before

Others who have walked the stretch
I ride

Men, women carry worn wood
along the equally etched trail
barely able to stand
with their back's load

I wonder,
if there are churches everywhere
why God seems sometimes to lack Grace

It's hard when you're on the inside
- but then I feel the wind,
or whitness the
of the sun's show of color
behind the largest volcano I've ever seen

Those loved are at my side:
those who have been far away for months,

And those who will too soon be far

But put your worry aside
and live your life,

show love

For there exists a spirit in which
partaking guarantees that which is human

I'm surrounded by dust,
covered actually,
as all my belongings

A coating of brown
mud for my toes
onces the rain washes over my nakedness

Have you ever noticed
how the dust settles on everything
but the flowers?

... or the way shadows play on walls
in morning?

So I'll stay here in my happiness,
and let other things drift away

For now I'll see in me,
faces that,
will no longer be clear
as time envelops

and we, as elipses,
move along..

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Mayan Morning.

So after hearing complaints that I hadn't written in quite some time via email and a phone call from my mother, I've decided it was time once again. I apologize that I have made very little effort to write to all of you in the past few weeks. Adequete writing time simply evaded my life for a short while. I've just returned from a medical team in Tejutla, San Marcos. We had a great week and an indescribeable vew of Tajumulco (Ta-hu-mool-koo), the highest volcano in Central America. Waking up to breakfast outside with such a skyline makes a person truly believe they are among the luckiest in the world. It makes me wonder if the people who live there realize just how beautiful their land is. However, I imagine that perhaps, too, people are all alike. Just as in the States some know this kind of beauty and some just let it pass them by like scenery on the highway. These mountains were cold at night, and I understand at 45-50 degrees a night, all at home in Minnesota were surpassing me in warmth. Ironic, is it not?

Another added perk of the week was the addition of my dad to the mix. A long time veteran of HELPS, he made his thirteenth trip with me. Translating for him and two of his dental classmates for the week, we ran into very little trouble until a woman had a panic attack while outreaching on Friday. We've had time to catch up and catch coffee, catch dinner and shop a little in these last few days in Antigua. Yesterday, we took a trip to Lake Atitlan off of the coastal town of Panajachel (Pan-a-ha-chel). Brilliant blue waters and the surrounding of three other volcanoes kept us company in our boat for the day. What is interesting about the lake however, is at approximately the size of Lake Millacs in Minnesota, there are several small communities that have developed around its shores. Each village has their own dress and traditions, wholly different from their neighbors. Warm spots emerge in various places around the lake from the volcanic faults in the area and many bathe in it's clarity. It's magestic. I could take the entirety the afternoon to tell about these places, but if you google Lake Atitlan, you're likely to come up with great photos.

Dad and I have had fun, too, with out photo competition. It's fair game as we own exactly the same camera. So one evening this last week we climbed to the roof of the hospital to shoot the fire of the sunset. Perhaps I'm just biased, but though I won that night, he definitely out shot me yesterday at the lake. Where I had two or three frameable shots, his were fantasic. He caught a fisherman's wooden boat in the shadow of the Volcano yesterday morning that I just couldn't surpass.

Tomorrow, I leave with the other four staff members to spend a few days in Panajachel again. We have a few days off between now, Semana Santa (Holy Week), and the next medical team. It will be good to spend time together as drastically our time here becomes more limited, and we begin to realize the reality of home is merely a few weeks in the future. All of us have become overwhelmed with melancholy in the last week. Within the next two weeks we, the staff, will be four, then two weeks after, three.. and so on and so forth. We're beginning to realize that our life here is not forever and light is beginning to shed upon our lives in the States once more. It's not been a joyus dawning to know we will never be together in the same manner again.

I relize many of you cannot wait to hear my stories and see my pictures. But I realize that I can. I love you all, and do miss you, but there are certain pieces about life here, that are simply more rich than I've ever found in the United States. Home is not a place of volcanoes and cool mornings, sunny afternoons. I've come into myself here, and more into the realities of humanity than I could have ever found in the protected falsity of the "American Dream." This dream is one, to which all have a right, but few in the scheme of the world ever have the opportunity to experience.

I mentioned earlier that while outreaching Friday, a woman began to panic from the feeling of the anesthetic in her mouth. With severe periodontal disease, we were going to remove all of her teeth so she might have a denture made. She was 50 years old with a weathered face of 85. As a consequence of her panic, her heart condition (that she was not taking her medicine for) emerged and caused more than severe palpatations. Increaing difficulty in her breath and a racing pulse caused panic in us all. Twenty minutes away from the hospital, my Dad helped the woman to the truck and jumped in next to her. He left me and his assistant to take care of the instruments and tell the other 20 people waiting in line that the days was over.

Sensing my panic, and knowing the face that my dad held (which was the kind of face I've only seen when his parents had been rushed to the hospital), I handed toothbrushes out to the rest of the people around, feeling helpless as a mere translator. The small gym we were working in cleared... for a few minutes. At the sensation of a tap upon my shoulder, I found all the mothers who had evaded the line and headed for home. They'd returned to say thank you, and one by one, children and their parents hugged me and asked that God bless me, my father and the work we had done. These were people who had not been treated that morning. They told me they would wait for the next medical jornada (journey) and wait to see me there. Bending down to let small children hug my neck, I was given their gift of calm. They understood that what will be, will be.

This kindship toward those strange is something infrequently found.

Such a remarkably simple idea it is, to stop worrying. It is easy to forget just how little control we actually have over the course of our own lives. I was not put into a family of blessings by my choice, nor was I not born to a farm here in Guatemala by my power. I make series of decisions, but have very small influence in the scheme of their outcome.

I was told this week that the Mayan people's dwelling places was one room beacuase their lives took place outside. When the Spaniards came with their "civilized ideas" of property and God having a house within that property, the Mayan people thought the Spaniards were crazy. Just as incense sticks to the ceiling of God's house, prayer gets stuck among the rafters with the stale perfume. God, was instead outside, in the mountains. Space among sky and air was the mecca for their prayer. God is outside of a dwelling, of a holding place, of the comfort of normal. God is in that which is beyond us. As wood and limestone churches are created by that of man, how can we believe this thing called a church can contain all that he desires for our lives? Naive and silly, I feel this people of 4,000 years past fancies a more sensible idea than our younger, "educated" race could have begin to foster as of yet. I understand these Mayan people, and the face of God that dwells outside of a catechism. To leave and to surround oneself with what is uncontained and unfamiliar, is more of a God than I've ever found in the walls of even the most beautiful and ancient churches.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Apologies for My Brevity

So after procrastinating entirely for two weeks, I decided the only way for me to catch up with all of you was to merely open a new blog entry and write. However it's a thing that is significantly easier said than done. As I spend more time here and my life becomes normal, I find myself writing less and less and forget that all of you have no idea what I am doing. Thankfully, after four medical teams back to back, I have a week long break. I decided to spend it mostly on my own to make a short trip to a town spoken highly of. I've been in need of a break for a while and have a newfound respect la Jefa (the boss), Megan Albertson. She's been doing this for nearly three years now and keeps going with stamina I've seen in few people. I thought I had a high tolerance level for a rapid lifestyle, but I must admit I was tired after four trips. It is refreshing to be away from everything HELPS for a week and have time to just be and spend time in a new place.

I arrived in Xela (Shela) or Quetzaltenango (kate-saul-ten-an-go) on Sunday and was taken to la casa de Doña Hilda, a woman in her seventies who reminds me much of my Grandma Rosie. Her decor (sp?), mannerisms, even the aging radio in the kitchen are uncannily similar. She travels the ten or twelve blocks to church by foot in the mornings and uses a gas stove to make sure I always have too much food on my plate. Though Doña Hilda's house is her own, it is always filled with a bustle. Aside from myself, she takes other students from the school and has two young tenants as well. Additionally her children and gradnchildren are constantly dropping by for meals. It's bustling and she alway comments that I haven't eaten much (especially because I don't eat meat), asks whether am going to church with her in the morning, and how quickly I need to leave for my next endeavor. She never lets me touch the dishes and makes cauliflower much like my mother's.

It's good to see the middle class of Guatemala as well. In contrast to an earlier entry, ít does exist, though in a significantly smaller quota. I've now had the opportunity to talk with people spanning from the villages to the ritzy part of the country and am beginning to develop a much larger scope of the life here.

We spent our last medical jornada in Solola, approximately three hours from the city and a half an hour away from Atitlan, a beautiful lake for which the country is known. My father and I will be there for a day while he's here. However, not to travel a tangent, the team from Oregon who stationed themselves in the city of Solola also manned what we call a stove team. This stove was developed by a man who previously traveled as a McGyver (mechanic) on medical teams and was searching for a solution to prevent so many of the chronic eye and lung conditions and burn cases the plastic surgeons see. Often children burn themselves in fires while their mothers are cooking and find their hands or arms fused shut and disfunctioning. This stove however, costs the family 23 dollars to purchase, and our teams come in to install them with the people.

I was able to go out on a stove team one day last week and work with four middle aged men not so unlike my father. Within twenty minutes of our day, they were already concerned for the kind of man I might love and marry. It's nice to know someone is always watching out for you. A couple of them shared my enthusiasm for cameras and gave me a few pointers as well. These men and I had the rare chance to actually go into the homes of families and know them well. Out of 14 cinder blocks, a few pieces of aluminum, gravel and limestone we create two stoves that cost significantly less to use. On average, these stoves save the woman of the house seven years per year worth of time they would have spent gathering wood or manning a stove. The ONIL stove burns on sigificantly less fuel than a typical house stove and therefore gives the head of the household more time to spend on other endeavors. Most families in the villages live on approximately three to seven dollars a week, and this stove saves much of the money the might have spent on wood.

The smiles on the faces of people recieving the stove are undescribeable. We joke and attempt to speak a few words of Kachiquel, the local dialect with them. The children are excited and giggle and wrestle for the gringoes (white foreigners) in their house and their mother beams with excitement and care for her new appliance that burns cleaner air through a chimney out the roof and relieves the family from smoke in the kitchen. It is beautiful work.

I've also been translating more frequently and have found a new love of words in the Spanish language.

Se quiero ustedes mucho.