*Disclaimer: I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Guatemala and would love to go back sometime. But Guatemala is different from the States, and I’m going to talk about what struck me as different. Different isn’t necessarily wrong or bad or weird–sometimes it’s just different.
Coming in for the descent, I was able to look out over Guatemala City. Two things struck me: 1) There are so many people here! 2) Everything looks dirty. Those initial feelings never left during my short stay.
Stepping off the plane, I was struck even with how the air seemed dirty. Guatemala City smells strongly of diesel fumes, quite strongly. I was surprised to see how worn and dirty the carpets were taking us from the plane to collect our baggage. It certainly makes for a memorable first impression.
I know I sound very first-world-y by saying that. This is what happens when one spends all one’s life in a tidy bubble in the States. That’s just my story. But I’m really okay with dirt. In fact, I love dirt! I spend as many hours as I can in the dirt making things grow during the warmer parts of the year.
However, I like for dirt to stay where God meant for it to be. But if some dirt comes inside with me or with others (or if that’s what the floor is made of?), that’s okay. I can live with that.
What got to me was . . . the . . . human dirt in places that I’ve been taught should be sterile, lest the Bubonic Plague befall mankind yet again. Here’s a confession: There are some Human Waste and Sanitation Areas in Guatemala that are cleaner now than before a certain pasty-skinned germaphobe visited from the cold north.
De nada, mis amigos!
Transportation in Guatemala is not for the faint of heart. Although, come to think of it, fainting may have been a pleasant diversion….
Guatemala City is overflowing with people, and they are all headed somewhere, and they are all apparently quite late for arriving there, if the breakneck speeds by which they take those mountain curves are any indication.
I had heard some stories about what driving in Guatemala City was like, but I’m not sure how many times it took for a motorcycle to go whipping between our van and the vehicle a couple feet away in the other lane–DRIVING ON THE LINE BETWEEN US!–before my nerves either settled down or were numb from shock.
I tried to maintain my dignity, but it is difficult to jump in one’s seat and shout, “Oh!” with anything close to nonchalance and poise as another motorcycle tears past one’s elbow.
My dear friend Lamar took me into the City one day by bus; these are long yellow school buses that have been commandeered for public transport and painted in delightfully Latin American fashions. I say “dear friend” because I placed my life into his hands at the beginning of the day, and he breezily handed it back by lunch. No sweat.
(Sorry, this video is of a disappointingly placid moment in traffic. It was not this way during the various rush hours!)
On the first bus, it was packed full; all available seats taken. On the second bus, I learned that “packed full” meant something else altogether, as we managed to fit an additional person onto each seat. On the third bus, I had an opportunity to ponder public transport safety laws, as I stood weaving in the aisle, wedged–truly wedged–between a young mother and a grandpa, seated in the seats on either side of the aisle. Was this bus full? I somehow suspect not.
That’s the moment when Lamar informed me that a fellow was coming from the back of the bus and needed to pass us. I vaguely wondered at first whether he’d go over me or under me until a quaint abuelita stood in the seat behind me, placed her elbow in my ribs, and helped me sit in the young mother’s lap as the abuelita tottered past me to the front of the bus.
There is no way to politely sit in a stranger’s lap.
harrowing thrilling trip to the City, we made it back in time to visit another mission close to where the pastors’ meetings were being held. One of the attendees had bumped into a North American fellow in the small town nearby. That chance meeting led to a tour of their facilities.
The fellow has a decades-long history of working with impoverished and disabled people. They have a children’s dental clinic two days a week.
He has dedicated a large portion of his life to working specifically with people who need specialized wheelchairs. Their ministry ships specialized wheelchairs around the world. It’s astonishing.
They employ local people who are disabled in some way or other. The right-hand man, Gustavo, is restricted to a wheelchair, but spends his days building wheelchairs for others less fortunate than himself.
The wheelchairs can be sponsored by an individual or organization for a reasonable amount in USD. Two of our group touring the facility ended up leaving with specialized wheelchairs for people in their communities in Honduras and Belize. God works in wondrous ways!
They also make standing desks for people with spina bifida, for example.
You can read more about their ministry here.