I’m sitting in Guatemala City packed and waiting for tomorrow. The end of this journey is unavoidable. The last week has been painfully good. We spent everyday with the team from Heart to Heart working, then I would return to Patanatic in the afternoon to try and wrap things up there.
Each day I found myself saying goodbye to another person or family. Through the tragedy of Agatha, incredible relationships and bonds were formed. On Thursday, I had a short opportunity to say farewell to Rosa and Guillermo. On Friday, Cesar invited the team of volunteers over to his house for coffee. It was incredible to have my friends sit in the house of Cesar and experience the things that I have for the last four weeks. They served us café and pan, the usual, and Cesar had the opportunity to meet the two volunteers who will be living in the house for the next seven weeks. You can follow their journey at theviewfrompatanatic.tumblr.com.
When it came time to leave, Cesar’s mother was especially moved. It was hard to let go of this family as I feel they have accepted me as their own. They all expressed hope for my safe return and for the health of my family in the US. It is hard to understand or comprehend the sense of gratitude I have found here; from people who have very little, and face great adversity. The day after Agatha ripped through the community cutting off all access to the outside world, stripping the town of electricity, water, and flooding homes with mud, the people pick up and start over again. It is very easy for me to get frustrated for the people here. Its like they can never get a foot up, they are always recovering from something. And yet, you would never get that from their demeanor.
Friday, as I was walking down to catch the bus to head back to Pana, Louis (brother of Guillermo) came running down the hill. He had talked to Dan, who had told him I was leaving. I could see the emotions built up behind is eyes. He expressed his great thanks for our help, and for our friendship. He told me he wished for my quick return and that he will see me again soon. The words were very few and simple, because he knew I still don’t know much Spanish, but the nonverbal communication worked wonders.
I returned to Patanatic again late Friday night to help the girls get settled into their new house. It was fun to see their excitement and to imagine all the experiences they will have in the next seven weeks. Jose came over to bid his farewell, and I introduced him to the new team. The last week has given me time to accept the fact that my time here is concluding. And now as I sit here in Guatemala City, I can do nothing but accept it. The last five weeks have changed me, without a doubt. Through much trauma and adventure, joy and agony, frustration and excitement, despair and hope, and I have somehow survived. I can’t begin to identify the things I have learned from my experience, and I am sure it will unfold in the coming weeks and years. I want to thank all of you for being a part of this journey with me. Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts and your prayers. Not only did I find a loving community here in Guatemala, I have been encouraged and inspired by the community from which I have come.
Thank you all for your support. I could not have survived without you.
Day thirty-one, and I’m still breathing.
The last few days have been a blur. On Sunday, a group of volunteers arrived to spend the week with us. Their arrival was a little bittersweet. Many of my friends are part of the group, but I knew that their arrival signified the final chapter of my time here. Not entirely willing to accept this, I talked with Jorge immediately after her arrived about the possibility of staying another week. He shut me down pretty fast. He said if I didn’t leave when I was supposed to, then I never would. “Go back, and get more experience. Then you can return.”
Monday and Tuesday we spent visiting every school in the Lake area where Heart to Heart is connected. Tuesday we met with the mayor of San Antonio to get another idea of how they were managing since we met them last week. The city seemed to be in much better condition. The frenzied havoc that seemed rampant among the streets had settled, and large amounts of aid have arrived. The mayor informed us that the national government was going to help purchase the materials needed for the water pipes, and until then, they had other ways of coping.
We also made a visit to the town closest to San Antonio, Santa Catarina. Santa Catarina lost a number of homes as well as two girls to the storm. Heart to Heart was able to donate 21 water filters to the school, so that all the teachers’ classrooms could have clean water.
Today we spent the day in Patanatic. The morning we spent working the clinic, and getting hands on the supplies that we have spent the last year raising money for. It was very difficult work, but very good work. For lunch, Jorge told me the teachers had prepared a little something for us and asked if we could eat it at the house. Dan and I prepared salsa and guacamole for the group the morning before, so I said it would be perfect. By the time everyone arrived, the total of our group was around 30. The teachers prepared chuchitos, a tamale-like wrap with sauce and meat in the middle. Then, the unveiled the key to my heart, Tres Leches. One of the teachers had made the cake, lined with peaches just for the special occasion. The event turned into a goodbye celebration for me and I didn’t even realize it. Cesar, the principal, had arranged a certificate to be made for me that was signed by the mayor, himself, and leader for the community Cocode. I am deeply humbled by the gifts of the people. I can’t explained the connection that has formed with them in the last few weeks, but it is unlike any other I have had in my life.
My time is almost finished here, and yes I pains me a little to think about it. The time here has been difficult, exciting, mysterious, adventurous, fearful, and simply rich. There are still three days left here with a lot of territory to cover.
Day twenty-eight and I’m still breathing.
The wake of a mudslide in San Antonio.
Jackie and the principal from San Antonio looking at the main mudslide that went through San Antonio.
Where do I begin. Tropcial Storm Agatha. Three days no electricity, no water. A whirlwind of activity, and Heart to Heart is able to purchase the materials to replace the broken water lines. An assessment trip to San Antonio Palopo. San Antonio suffered a devastating loss; 19 dead, 2 missing, and an estimated 150 families without homes.
We returned to San Antonio on Thursday, and were lead through the town to the site of the major mudslide. An entire family of 11 was lost in one house. The scene was very difficult to take in. Rescue workers still digging through mud, after 5 days still searching for the missing bodies of two children. Standing at the site, you imagine the scenes and sounds that took place last Saturday. I will admit, that type of trauma takes a lot on your body. After a few hours of walking through the town, my head was hurting.
Our goal in San Antonio was to discover what aid was needed and see where we can join in. Heart to Heart was able to donate about $500 worth of meds to the clinic in San Antonio. The main problem is water. San Antonio is a town of 7,000 people and they have been without water since Saturday. The spring that they draw water from is about 24 kilometers away from the town, across mountains, rivers, and canyons. The town is only accessible by boat, because the road on either side of the town has been taken out by mudslides. When we were there on Thursday, it seemed like chaos. No one was working together. The government was working over here, the teachers working over there, and a community group in that place over there. And they were all angry with the other. And everyone had a different answer to what was being done about the water situation. Our team consisted of Dan, Cesar (the principal from Patanatic), and Jackie (woman we met through the Garcia family, she has been with us since Agatha and helping translate. We would be nowhere without her). I will admit, it was one of the most frustrating days I have had since arriving here. The town is a desperate situation, but they aren’t coordinating together to accomplish the things that are the most vital to survival. We left San Antonio with spirits crushed, and feeling like we accomplished nothing. That night we had a conference call with Jorge, and brainstormed what to do next. Jorge urged that we help the town work together, to empower collaboration to help restore the town. Cesar said he would make some calls, and attempt to get a meeting with the mayor of San Antonio, so we could get the real story of what was being done about the water.
Friday morning, Cesar calls and says he has a meeting with three members of the Consejo. Jackie and Dan are unable to attend, so Cesar and I head out for San Antonio. When we arrive, the mayor is there and we have the opportunity to talk with him. It turns out, they haven’t inspected the water lines yet, but they do have an estimate of the materials needed to repair the damage. Unfortunately, its 24 kilometers of work on a near-deadly trail. The list of materials is enormous. Even if we could raise the money, its not a efficient fix. Say we fix the 24 kilometers of pipe, what happens when the next storm comes? One person told us when Tropical Storm Stan hit in 2005, it was 8 months before they had water again. That is unacceptable.
We know of another organization called Mercado Global who has a donor who wants to help the town rebuild their water system, and has a team of engineers (again this is all what we hear). Jackie, Dan, Cesar, and I brainstorm the idea of building a new water system. One that pumps water from the lake, filters the water, and distributes it to the town. And apparently, the team at Mercado Global is thinking the same thing. But we have failed to connect with them. We spent all day today trying to get a hold of our contact there, but we haven’t yet. The plan now is to still try and make contact with them. Cesar has scheduled for us another meeting with the mayor on Monday, so that Jorge can be there.
Today most of our efforts went into putting together a party. Jackie had the marvelous idea of having a celebration, in honor of water and electricity. We invited the Garcia family, Cesar and his family, the members of the Agua Commuté, and the Cocodé (from what I understand, this is the main leadership group in Patanatic). It was a huge celebration. Guillermo and his family brought tables and chairs to help us fill the house. Over 40 people came over for dinner. Towards the end, we ran out of food and had to scramble to make pasta. But, buy the end of the night everyone had eaten, and Los Hermanos Garcia entertained us with music.
I can’t explain what has happened in the last week. Last Saturday, Dan and I sat in our house wondering if we would make it out alive. There is a feeling of complete helplessness as you sit there and listen to the rain pouring down. Then, to see the community pull together and accomplish the incredibly difficult task of repairing their water lines, within a few days. Then, within a matter of hours on the same day, to have electricity and water return to the community. The last week has given me the opportunity to become more intimate with the families here. It is making it so much more difficult to leave. Rosa, a member of the Garcia clan, is known in as a Healer. She has studied natural medicine her whole life. Cesar has devoted much of his time the last three days to helping San Antonio with us. Jackie has been volunteering practically full time with Heart to Heart. She has moved into the house with Dan and I, and gives the house a fresh flair. All this to say, I’m getting sucked in here. I’m becoming a little addicted.
Day twenty-four, and I’m still breathing.
Los Hermanos Garcia performing in our dining room the night after Agatha struck. Simply incredible.
Lunch with the Garcia family. Even after half of their house had mud come through, they still made lunch for everyone.
Mudslide that came through the Garcia house. Nickolas Garcia is the father (left) and Rolondo is in the white shirt.
Mudslide that took out the main road in Patanatic. The white rock in the middle of the picture is where the road normally is.
Photo of Pacaya erupting. Mike sent me this photo. His friend took it as he was flying his helicopter.