Today was another day of travel in Guatemala, but the sun was out and shining and we were able to see the beautiful country. Charley and I started the morning with a nice jog which was a great way to see Guatemala City as it was waking up. Our team enjoyed a delicious breakfast at San Martin, complete with bold Guatemalan coffee, before loading a bus and making the 4 hour drive North to Cobán. It was definitely a windy road, but the scenery was amazing with rolling limestone plateaus and fields of lush agricultural fields. We went through a brief afternoon rain shower which gave a cool break in the creeping heat, as did our tasty ice cream stop half way through the drive.
ice cream stop at El Rancho
When we arrive in Cobán, our hub for the week, we went to La Plaza food court and ate a traditional lunch which pretty much consists of meat, vegetables, tortillas and refreshing hibiscus tea. After checking into Hotel Posada de Don Antonio, a group of us walked several blocks to Central Park which seemed to be the city hub. There were artists, food vendors, children playing, teenage boys skateboarding, and a man in a suit preaching from la Biblia.
Central Park in Coban
We have yet to interact much with the local people, the Guatemaltecos. Today has been a day to take in our surroundings: the culture, the terrain, the weather, the food, the sights. Our team is ready to serve. We want to be active and get our hands dirty. We want to interact with these people that we traveled so far to meet and begin the project that we've been anticipating for so long. But I think we are going through the necessary process for serving in a foreign country. It is so important to understand the people and the country before you can serve them. What's their culture? What do they do? How do they do it? What's important the them? What are their real needs? How can we best serve them? Where can we be most helpful? Where would we get in the way?
One of the things I admire most about Medical Teams International is their commitment to working in solidarity with the community; as partners. This evening, a few of our Guatemalan staff lead us through an orientation and presentation of the stove project including health statistics on why this work is important in the specific area of San Juan Chamelco.
Here are a few stats:
- the #1 cause of death in children ages 1-5 yrs in this community is acute respiratory infections
- according to the International Human Development Indicator, the United States is ranked #4. Guatemala is ranked #131. Zimbabwe is ranked lowest at #173.
- 85% of people in Guatemala City are literate. Only 44% of people in rural San Juan Chamelco are literate.
I think our team has gained a deeper perspective of why we are here. We knew that we were coming to build stoves. But we are realizing that we are here to participate in tranformational development. Rather than coming, giving a handout, and leaving, we are building relationships and participating in building up a community. Hopefully in the process we will transform this community through improved stoves, better health, and a sense of value and worth. While at the same time we will be transformed in our understanding and posture towards this new country and our ability to relate to and learn from our friends in a whole other part of the world.