It’s 3:30 in the morning and someone is outside chopping wood. Just one more abrupt sound in the night to jolt me once again from a restless sleep, and I find myself staring off once again through the mosquito netting into the darkness, wondering if I should just stop trying to sleep. My mind is buzzing from the stimulus of strange and unpleasant sounds and smells. Well, that and the huge mug of over-sweetened coffee I was served just prior to bed time. As I listen to the axe finding its way in and out of the wood, I run through the catalog of noises keeping me awake. There’s an immature rooster in the coop outside who’s just learning how to crow. A gecko in the rafters chirps from time to time. The dog outside, surprised by something unseen and unheard, launches into a tirade of barks. A poorly-muffled motorcycle makes its way down the rough and rocky drive outside the house. Shortly after midnight, someone’s audio system kicks on. I don’t think they’re home. So the neighborhood is being treated to a short playlist of Latin dance tunes, playing over and over. And now someone is out chopping wood.
What am I doing here? That question comes up from time to time in this type of work. On Sunday I left Cobán for El Estor, a community on the banks of Lake Izabal, close to the Gulf of Honduras. I’d gone to meet up with Brian, my coworker, as well as with two leaders from the Sinódica, the women’s organization of the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church. Their plan was to travel to the remote indigenous presbyteries of Estoreño and Izabal, connect with the women there, build relationships, and talk about potential projects and programs to better the lives of the women in these areas. I was invited along to share some of the education projects going on in other indigenous presbyteries. Plans and schedules are generally goals and guidelines. They are subject to unpredictable bus schedules, weather, and other things that come up in the course of executing one’s trip plans. In El Estor we met briefly with the women and then attended an evening Palm Sunday service. Clearly everyone was too tired to have a productive meeting that night. We decided to gather the following morning.
|Brian (left) and Richard (right)|
Together with the women following the Palm Sunday Service
Meeting with the Estoreño Women
Observing meetings of the women leaders of indigenous presbyteries is often an enlightening and encouraging experience. Our time with the leaders of the Estoreño presbiterial was no exception. They arrive on foot or by public transportation, often with one or more child in tow. They are always ready to greet each other and their visitors from distant places. They work so hard in support of their families, and yet are willing and excited about gathering with us in order to hear about programs that could potentially improve their lives, and the lives of their children. Each has a story worth listening to. Each has dreams they are ready to articulate and share with both the women with whom they have worked and struggled alongside in their faith community, as well as with these women they’ve just met. We four travelers knew we were in sacred space and the time could not be rushed.
|Guatemalan hospitality: |
Richard outside our host's home
So now we are behind schedule and we’re starting to realize that it will be impossible to make the long trek out and back to a very remote village in the presbytery of Izabal. We call the pastor with the responsibility of supporting the presbiterial to explain our dilemma. “No problem”. He assures us, “We’ll put you up in the village for the night”. Normally, when we know we’ll be staying in a village without a hotel, we bring along a few camping essentials to spend a somewhat comfortable night in a church building. A camping cot and a sleeping bag can make a big difference when ‘roughing it’ in a village. The pastor knew we were unprepared; and the tradition of hospitality among Guatemalan indigenous people made us realize we’d be displacing someone in order to make room for us in a house in the village.
|Sinodica leader Betty (right) with Izabal|
Arriving late in the day we were welcomed by the women leaders who insisted we rest and eat prior to meeting together. This was a different meeting dynamic. Meeting late in the day it was clear the women were tired and frustrated. The children were restless, keeping the women occupied with them. Having traveled several hours from the main road by truck, we knew we were visiting a very isolated place where the contrast with the people from our previous meeting in levels of education, language ability, and interest in educational programs was obvious to us. I started to wonder if we were wasting our, as well as their time. As our meeting time finished, several women asked me about scholarships and one asked about the possibility of attending some of the seminary extension classes taking place in Cobán. I could see and hear her interest, but also could detect her low energy and a sense of futility over the possibility of her being able to fulfil that dream.
|Meeting with Izabal women. It's late, it's dark, and|
everyone is tired
I’m running through these conversations and events as the sugar and coffee continue to keep me awake with artificial stimulation and the need for regular treks to the pit latrine. I’m smiling as I remember the Estoreño women and the door falling off the mini bus on the way to our next rendezvous. Still, my heart sinks a bit thinking of the women in this village and their general lack of enthusiasm or hope. Something startles the dog again and he launches into another round of excited barks. The chopping stops and a voice chastises the dog. I recognize the voice of the woman I spoke with earlier. She’s up at 3:30 chopping wood for her fire in order to prepare breakfast for her husband as he prepares to head to the palm plantation for the day’s work. And here I am, lying on a lumpy mattress on a too-short bed, feeling sorry for myself for not being more effective in communicating our project plans to this woman. “Oh Father forgive me, I had no idea of what this woman’s life was like”. Exhaustion and overwork were mistaken for apathy and hopelessness. I had been blessed by a glimpse into one person’s life and have been restored and resurrected. Come Easter Sunday! I’ve a new perspective of a lifelong holiday.
The blessings of the resurrection to you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala
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