Yesterday, Isabel de Bosch, along with Miriam de Contenti, my teacher (Janet) and I went to visit two places that are dear to the heart of Isabel and the foundations with which she is involved.
First the four of us visited a newly constructed building that will become a women´s hospital and clinic in Santa Catarina Polopo near Guatemala City. This new building is located next door to another smaller clinic named Healing Hands. (In case you look it up on google, you will know the difference. I am unsure if and how these two organizations will work together.)
An article was written about our clinic and you can read it at http://www.natmedglobalhealth.org/our-projects/clinic The group that wrote this article wanted to begin working in the new building by January 2012. For a reason that I do not remember, they were unable to actually do this. When Isabel began looking to build a hospital for women, this unfinished building was recommended so that she would not have to start from scratch. She gladly took this opportunity.
The fully constructed building is lovely. It has plenty of electrical outlets and ceiling lights; running water from a clean source; windows; many sinks, toilets and showers; several private exam rooms as well as an operating room; and, places for nurses and doctors to work. I inquired about a kitchen and laundry, but the conversation was interrupted before I got an answer. There is no room for a garden near the hospital at this time. In United States of America, we might take for granted that windows would be a part of a hospital (as well as clean water, bathrooms, etc). In other countries, such as Guatemala, such luxuries cannot be taken for granted.
The building consists of three floors with an elevator and ramps. The first floor is a clinic. The second floor has the operating room and rooms for patients to stay in the hospital as well as places for the medical personnel to work and plan. The rooms for the patients will hold 3 or 4 persons. The third floor is a HUGE open room. The plan is to use this room for education of women and youth regarding health and other topics. I believe that they will find other uses for this room as well.
The building is clean and newly painted but empty. The next phase is to get computers, medical equipment, trained professionals and everything else that would be needed inside the walls to make this project work. A director and a team have been hired to put the hospital together. Isabel and a new foundation are responsible for raising funds to get this to happen. The hope is that the building will be in operation by November 2012. That seemed like a heavy timeline, but the desire to get this going is great and the need to do so is greater. I cannot wait to see the hospital and clinic up and running! I think that this will be a good place for SewHope to send a surgery team in the future.
In case you are confused on people, names and places, this is not the clinic that Dr. Coral Matus and her team are working to build in the Peten with SewHope. Isabel is a friend of SewHope but her projects are separate from those of SewHope at this time. We do, however, work as partners and assist one another as we can.
In yesterday's blog I used this picture to demonstrate the work done by people in Antigua.
Our first impression might be that we think this man is lazy. This work is so different from what we would expect of a well dressed man in United States.
To help myself to understand, I have attempted to try to put the life of this man in perspective. I do not know this particular man, but I try to imagine.
If your life up to age 20 had been an experience of guerrilla warfare is this life of peace something to take for granted? What might it mean to you to experience this place of openness and safety? Is it perhaps healing? Does the street that you watch and the people that you meet bring hope to you for yourself, your family, your village, and your country? Does it feel good to talk to friends and passersby with a feeling of trust and communion? You might wonder what school is like as you watch the young with their backpacks knowing that you never attended school because it was too dangerous to leave the house.
My teacher lives with her husband in Antigua because it is a tranquil place. Visiting her home is a traumatic experience. Janet shared with me a small bit of what it was like growing up in the war which lasted until she was 18 years old. She remembers that....
...one day the soldiers came to her house and her father put both her brother (age 3) and her (age 5) under a basket and told them to be quiet. The children watched silently through the wicker as both of her parents were beaten. She remembers that somehow both she and her brother fell asleep and slept through the night under the basket. (Today she attributes the sleep to the angels.)
...her father dug a hole and the family of four slept in this small hiding place every night. Her father would leave a bit of food and money on the table as a bribe for the soldiers.
...her father was a baker and had a good business until the war. The war ended that.
...one night the soldiers came and killed the father of every family around her entire block. The only man spared on the block was her father who had spent the night in the hole. All of the fathers of her friends had been murdered. (When I asked why the other families did not follow the example of digging the hole, Janet said that they could not tell the other families about the hole because they did not know which people were their friends and which were spies for the soldiers.)
...her father hired a teacher to come to their house to teach her and her brother because going to the school was too dangerous.
...one day they were playing ball and her parents called her inside as dusk was coming. She and the other children continued to play. Someone kicked the ball away from the place they were playing. Janet retrieved the ball and when she stood up, there was a man standing in front of her. She ran back to her house. The man followed her and beat her parents and made them pay him some money so that they would not hurt her.
So, perhaps this man had to start his life all over as a young adult. Perhaps he started with nothing and with nobody. What he has now is a job, a family, a small home, some nice clothes, and money to buy food and pay rent for his space on the sidewalk where he holds his business. These are perhaps relationships and things that he never dreamed he would ever have. When he sits on the sidewalk waiting for shoes to shine, he offers prayers of gratitude that he is alive and that there is hope.
As I wandered through the various markets one Saturday, it occurred to me that I was more than likely experiencing a hidden poverty. The vendors are lovely in their native garb, especially on the weekends when the tourists are more numerous. Whole families may sit on a curb selling lovely woven shawls of Guatemalan colors and other souvenirs and trinkets. In other words, it occurred to me that perhaps some of the children and families were not selling wares that they themselves produced, and that perhaps they were not running their own businesses and making some profit for the needs of their own families. It seemed to me, that at least in some instances, some businesspersons had hired some of these persons to sell the wares, and that in actuality, the persons or families who were the vendors would take home little pay....maybe not even enough for rent and food. I was intrigued and determined to find out more.
Two women that I encountered at a place where the artisans sit on the ground and sell merchandise, particularly to tourists, happened to speak pretty good English. I involved each in conversation about the pieces that they were selling. Both assured me that they and their family members had made each of the items. There were tall stacks of beautiful cloths and women's native blouses, and it takes perhaps one whole month for one person to make one of the items. The woman explained that her entire family of 12 members was involved with weaving and that on some days a family member comes to the market to sell. I had no reason to doubt them. In two other ventures, I engaged two other women in similar conversations as I watched them at their weaving looms doing intricate work totally from memory. These conversations gave me peace of mind, however, I still believe that other vendors, particularly the children, are working for poor wages for someone else.
I would love to spend more time sitting beside these women as they work on their embroidery or weaving and engage them in conversation (in Espanol) as I watch the marvels that their minds and fingers create from the simple wooden loom. (I would love to learn how to use the loom!) However, I feel guilty each time. Each woman that I befriend wants me to purchase some lovely item that she herself has made and so that she can use the money to send her children to school. It is so difficult to say no in a kind way and then to walk away. This is the most pressing thing that keeps me from the markets. I think of Peter and John as they approached the beautiful gate and met the blind man who was begging. They did not give the man a coin, but they did give him something greater. Is the smile, the kind word, and the hug that I deliberately share enough for the women in this situation? Is my awareness that God is there in the moment of encounter blessing enough for each of us? This alone is a call to deeper faith.
Who is hidden while in plain sight in your circumstances? Who might you notice in a new way whom you have previously overlooked? Your smile or kind word may be just what God wants you to share with that individual.
When we run out of things to say, we generally talk about the weather. Well, I haven't run out of things to say, but the weather in Antigua might be an interesting topic. Guatemala has only two seasons: winter (or the wet season) and summer (or the dry season). August to December is the winter. (By the way, the children have free from school in November and December for their summer break.)
Winter means that I might wear a jacket in the early morning or in the evening or when it rains. By December, I may need warmer clothing, but for now a simple jacket works with my summer clothing. Winter means that it generally is sunny in the morning and rainy by mid-afternoon. It never snows in Antigua. My teacher has never even seen snow on the mountain tops. It must be different to sing Christmas carols about snow when you have never experienced it!
Antigua is surrounded on 4 sides by mountains and volcanoes. In the morning the sky is clear and blue. When the rain comes, the clouds cover the mountain tops. We have had some thunder and lightening since my arrival, but nothing that I would call a huge storm. When it rains long and hard, the streets become wide rivers. The streets are built for the rain. You will notice that there is a slant to the street and that the bottom center is a trough for the rain to run to the sewers, which are located in the middle of the streets usually at the corners. In the rain I wear a light raincoat basically to cover my bookbag. I also use an umbrella. My shoes and the bottoms of my pants will be very wet upon arrival home.
For the past three days, the mosquitos have been ferocious!! Perhaps they like the new menu on the street! The sun is very warm if you stand directly in it. There is generally a slight breeze that helps to cool the noontime. There are nice flowers in the winter here, but I am guessing that the flowers are even more colorful and perhaps larger in the summer. I haven't found a weather channel on the TV, so basically what is happening is what I experience.
When I left United States, many parts of our country were experiencing drought. Here, we have had rain almost everyday because we are in the wet season. The contrast is difficult to imagine. I also find it good to see trees on the mountainsides. This tells me that erosion is at a minimum and that we have plenty of brand new air produced by the trees to breathe.
So, how is the weather in Toledo and around the country?
Here are some pictures of the Probigua School where I spend most of my time each weekday. The top left picture shows a view of various work stations where one teacher will work with one student. Each desk has two chairs and a computer. Our computer is usually turned on to Google Translate so that my teacher can write out words that are new. We also will go directly to Google to research various questions or to demonstrate the word or subject that we are discussing; it is a magnificent tool You also notice many plants growing inside the school. The roof is made of hard plastic sheets with some places where a less opaque piece is inserted to give light from the sun. There are a few electric lights that we might use when it gets dark because it is raining. There are also a few ceiling fans. The school has cement walls that do not reach to the roof.
The second picture in the top shows the view if I look to the right from my desk. It is actually on a level higher than our desk. Because the school is built on a hill, there are various levels. This happens to be a place where a full panel of plastic windows is. There are several desks beyond there that can be used when it is not raining. There is also a guava tree as well an avacado tree and chili plants and likely other things. There is also a steep stone stairway that leads up to one desk....the penthouse class with the storage of additional desks and chairs.
Antigua has many churches. The churches have huge statues and paintings of saints as well as prayer altars and places to light candles. There is lots of history and art in the churches, and everything is very old. The church that I attend, Iglesia La Merced (Merced is the name of the locality so don´t try to find Saint Merced), has a large statue of the Holy Family. It is similar to one that we would be familiar with. Mary is seated and baby Jesus is on her lap and Joseph has his arm around Mary. Everyone looks happy and all is well. But really, was this the real life experience of the Holy Family that we know? What we see in churches is a family portrait not the reality of the life of La Sagrada Familia.
Think of the experiences about La Sagrada Familia from the Scriptures....Mary is with child out of wedlock, the government demands a census that is most inconvenient to Mary and Joseph but there are no exceptions, they travel long hours by foot or on a donkey, the baby is born in a barn, strangers are the first visitors, they run for their lives in leaving Bethlehem...etc. These are some of the real life experiences of the family that we call holy. (Which Holy Family is the one that first comes to your mind, the portrait or the real one? For me, at least up to this point in time, it has been the portrait. Why is that? What keeps my mind from embracing the truth? I need to continue to reflect on this and its implications. I invite you to do the same.)
Many families in Guatemala make their living by selling items on the street. These families, these Guatemalan vendors, are real life holy families. Like the Holy Family, they are happy. However, their work is difficult and much of it demands long hours and manual labor such as pounding corn, clipping grass by swinging a long blade, or walking the streets in the sun with the children to sell cloth that is hand woven or designed. At the same time, many of the paintings and photos of Guatemalan children and families that are found in the shops are stunning in their colors and loveliness. I need to remember that though I am attracted to this beauty, these are portraits.
On the same day that I visited the statue of the Holy Family, I found two paintings in a store (they are meant to be hung side by side). These were entitled: La Sagrada Familia. The colors and figures were magical in their simplicity and clarity. They are profound in that they portray the struggles that Guatemalan families and families around the world experience in their real lives today. They portray the realities that divide or distract the relationships of family members. (It was an even more shattering experience for me because I thought that the totality of the painting consisted of just the single painting of the mother and the child...and knowing that is was entitled La Sagrada Familia...thinking that perhaps the father of the family had crossed the border for work....).
What if the paintings that we hung on our walls better conveyed the reality of the poor. Would we more likely be drawn into their reality? What if we went out to experience the real people rather than stayed with our false images of people? What if we made an effort to remove whatever it is that shields us from the pain that is real? How would our world be different?
Our dear Sister Marie Julie went home to God a few days ago after suffering for more than 4 years with cancer. She died as she lived--as a humble woman of deep faith and warm compassion. She is already dearly missed. Her students will remember her smile, her grace, and her joy in simple things. (Sr. Marie Julie taught math and religion and Spanish at Notre Dame AMay she rest in peace....AND....in her simple way ask Jesus to bless us!
I do not believe that it is by chance that today I met a young woman named Julia. Julia is 12 years old and is the daughter of the founder of the Probigua School that I attend. She is the youngest of three girls. She is pictured here with my teacher, Janet. When I met Julia, I was compelled to tell her about Sr. Marie Julie. If you look closely, you can see a little guardian angel on Julia´s left shoulder...Sr. Marie Julie. Julia was deeply touched when I shared about the life and gifts of Sr. Marie Julie. I told her that when she felt that she needed a friend or some guidance, that she should remember that God was with her through Sr. Marie Julie and that she only had to look at her shoulder. It was a deeply graced moment.
Julia left the school for a violin lesson and then returned. She opened up her homework and pulled up a chair to the already crowded desk that Janet and I share. That said alot as there were many empty desks in the area. It was a simple bonding of new friends.
Julia´s goal is to attend high school in the United States. I invited her to attend our Notre Dame Academy and told her about Jessie Martinez, the son of the family who helps SewHope in the Peten who is currently living with a family and attending St. John Jesuit High School in Toledo. I also gave Julia the website of Notre Dame Academy. She comes to the Probigua School on Mondays and Wednesdays, so we will meet again on Wednesday, I am sure.
Sr. Marie Julie, thank you for your witness of God´s deep love for each person. We celebrate with you the great joy that you now experience in the arms of Jesus.
After working hard and long throughout the week in my studies, I took some rest. On Thursday, my friends Brenda and Lucy and I went to the market. As we were wandering, I saw a small bag of popcorn. On Friday night after supper, we popped the corn on the stove. Neither Brenda nor Lucy had done this before. That alone made it very fun. I told them in Spanish how my dad used to pop corn with us kids on Thursday night. One kid would put in the butter. Another would add the salt. Another would add the popcorn. Another would put on the lid.....and then my dad would.....SHAKE THE STOVE! I think they got it! I have taught them how to play Crazy Eights and Rummy using Spanish and gestures. So we ate popcorn and played cards and I practiced conversational Spanish to celebrate one week of school finished.
I spent Saturday morning wandering the city. I definitely know it better than I did one week ago. I wandering in the marketplace. There are tiny booths, large stores, vendors on the street, children selling various items, covered booths, open booths, booths crammed next to one another under a large roof where the holes are patched with plastic bags. This man and young girl were playing music on the corner. The harp is made of wood and the strings of some kind of cord. The young girl is using the base of the instrument as a drum. I am convinced that you could find anything that you wanted in Antigua. The trick would be finding what you needed when you needed it, especially if it is not a common item or not an item that is commonly sold. I plan to return to the house to study for the afternoon and then walk down the street to mass at 6:00. I discovered that there are papers with the words of the mass in Spanish, so I will look for one this week. It will be a big help.
In this picture there are two young boys walking together in the marketplace selling things. I am guessing that the boys are brothers. What they sell will provide money for their family.
I am learning how to download a picture from the camera to this page. Most of the time that I had to accomplish this on my break from class has passed. It is likely that it will take me a few more tries to figure this out.
I chose Probigua because it is a non-profit school that also works to establish libraries in out of the way villages. It also travels to villages with two school busses of books. The man in the picture is the founder, Rigoberto. I have met him and he seems like a wonderful man. At some point, I will show him our website and see if he can help us to organize the books that SewHope has and perhaps get a bus to the Peten. I believe that this picture was taken in the square of the local church. The people are looking at the main door of the church and the school is a short way down the street to the right as you face the picture. It is my hope to be able to travel with the bus to visit some of the schools and to see their libraries and how they are organized. One thing is true, when a book is in the hands of a child, that child is smiling.
I thought I might share my daily schedule. I get up at 6:00, get ready for the day and organize my room. Then I spray down with bug spray. I sit on the open porch and pray looking out at the open courtyard with its birds, mountains, sun or rain. I eat breakfast and leave for school at 7:45. I walk to school and meet my teacher at 8:00. We first go over homework and then study a new verb. At 10:00 there is a break for 30 minutes. I might run an errand, check the internet at the cafe, or take a short walk. My teacher and I work again until 12:00. We might study new vocabulary, engage in conversation or play a game to reinforce the words and ideas. I walk back to the house for lunch. I might also take a short nap or start on my homework. I return to the school for class from 2:00 until 5:00. I again might run an errand or wander back to the house. I work on homework on the open porch until it gets dark. There are electric lights but they are small and high which makes it difficult to read or do homework in the evening. Supper is at 7:30 or so. After supper I might try to listen to the TV to see if I can understand anything or perhaps catch a phrase or use of a verb that I have already studied. I will sit on the porch to read or reflect, and then am likely asleep before 9:00. The day starts all over again in the morning.
Sounds like a simple day with a rhythm, perhaps like your own day...or like Groundhog Day. If only the star of the movie could get HIS day right, we could move on to something more.....____. Perhaps it is more about MY day (or YOUR day). Each of us gets so many changes to get it *right*. Maybe to get it *better* or to get it *good*....or to *find God*. So, what did I do *better* today than I did yesterday? How was I more aware of God in my day today than I was aware of God in my day yesterday. Takes us right back to Ecclesiastes. God IS in the laughter and the tears, I have only to recognize God´s presence. And really, is there something else to move on
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012