Sunday, March 12, 2017

Guatemala: Follow Up #1 - Privilege

Life after Guatemala has been full. Full hours at and away from work. Full of daydreaming about my next trip. Full of processing a trip that was as great and even better than expected. Full to the brim, life is right now.

To say we had a good time would be an understatement. We learned, laughed, worked, played, ate, explored, helped, and saw the world from a new view. Our team from Greenville was fantastic, our Guatemala staff could not have been better, and our friends we built a foundation and stoves with were inspiring.

The word that resounds in my mind in thinking about the trip is privilege.

It was a privilege to go on the trip and it was revealing of the particular type of privilege we live in every day.

One of the first things our guide, Kayla, said to us was to manage our expectations. To us what might seem dirty or useless might be a prized family possession that we are being offered in gratitude and love. Our perspective of what might be needed may be something that wouldn't be used at all. To manage our expectations we needed to see the privilege in which we were working.

Part of the definition of privilege is: a rare opportunity to do something. This trip, this job, this organization, and this life are just that, rare opportunities to do something: to serve, to love, to lead, to explore, to try, to mess up, to create, to build, to hope.

It was a privilege to be a part of this team and to be welcomed by the Habitat Guatemala community. For me, the desire to go on a Habitat Global Village trip has been 10 years in the making. Just to participate in the trip at all was a privilege and rare opportunity indeed. 

The trip also showed how privileged we are to be born in the United States. Just to have water to drink without concern, a clean and decent place to live, and options at all for what we want to be when we grow up are all huge privileges and rare opportunities compared to what the people of Guatemala are likely born into.

Our rare opportunities throughout our trip included building 5 smokeless stoves and the foundation of a house; experiencing the culture to better understand the community we were serving; getting to know the children, the Habitat staff, the team, and ourselves a little better each day; and many things in between.

Some of these opportunities had immediate impact and some have impact we may never see. That is the challenge and joy of a trip like this: knowing the things we did affect the lives of the community served and participants serving for years to come and in ways we may not even think or imagine.

The trip was truly a privilege and joy to experience. I hope to make it back to Guatemala again sooner than later. Perhaps you could come too! Until then, know I am so grateful for this rare opportunity and the supportive community around me whose impact on my life I may never fully know this side of eternity. 

And now that I am back on speedy (ish) internet, some photos to show a little of the trip:

First view of Guatemala!

Lake Atitlan

First to Last day progress!

The food was so good!

Lake Atitlan

Our new friends! (Jason, in green jacket, is in the doorway of his current home right in front of the new one being built.)

Coffee beans

A finished stove.

Iximche - Mayan Ruins

The Thursday market

A typical stove 

The beautiful corn

My buddy, Jason. Oh how I miss that sweet face.

Silly faces with Jason and Alan (and Edyson).

The team and partner family 

Climbing Pacaya Volcan

Team with Field Coordinators Fredy and Kayla.

Farewell Antigua!

5 hour flight delay made better by free snacks and BINGO!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Guatemala: Sunday Recap (and a wee bit of early Monday morning)

I am back home now. Sitting in my house, in my room, with water I can drink right from the faucet and a shower that I trust will have good water pressure and water as warm as I want it when I go to use it.

I am glad of these things, but possibly more glad to have had the experiences I had last week.

To finish up the recaps, I will give a rundown of Saturday and Sunday in two posts. There are a few more things I want to write in detail about outside of the daily updating, and those may come quickly or over the next few days or a little more slowly over the next few months. But for now, an overview of Sunday:


The day had come to leave this beautiful country and take our souvenirs, blisters, dirty clothes and memories with us while leaving a week of work and learning and a little bit of our hearts behind.

I awoke to chatter outside the room about flights being delayed. Thanks to the Delta app, we were able to stay up to date on our travel needs.

Our flight was delayed by 5 hours! This is the first major flight delay I have ever had. Another new thing to soak in : )

We couldn't communicate with our driver for a later pickup and we weren't sure what was going on with the flights, so we went on to the airport. Our driver was a little late, but the flights were indeed delayed so it didn't affect much.

The drive back to Guatemala City was much faster on a Sunday morning than the drive out on Saturday afternoon.

Once at the airport we sorted out the flight situation and got a few people on earlier connectors once in ATL. We all enjoyed a nice breakfast from McDonald's. I had a fruit parfait with mango! That is not a common option here. And it only cost the equivalent of $1.50!

We then ventured trough security, which was easy peasy. We found our gate, posted a few of the team to guard bags and many of us explored the airport. There were more shops and eateries to check out. I, being the sucker for souvenirs that I am, bought a few more things. I also had one of the best chai lattes I have ever had!

Delta offered us snacks and water and coke as we waited, free of charge. I have never witnessed that at an airport with a delay! They also led us in a few rounds of bingo! What a fun way to spend the delay : )

I got pulled into a special security screening leaving me in a holding place before departure and away from the team. This isn't the first time I have been randomly selected...

Once on the plane we settled in, picked our movies and were on the way to ATL...we thought.

Turns out not only were there problems at GUA the night before, ATL was also having trouble with weather. Because of this we were rerouted to Mobile, AL for a fuel refill and to wait out the storm. Because it was an international flight, we could not get off the plane and into the airport. We waited about an hour, maybe less, and then headed back toward ATL.

While in cell phone access land on the ground in Mobile, we got updates on our flights. Those with the later flight were delayed ultimately to 3:30am! Talks of uber and car rental began.

We landed and deplaned quickly into the very long customs line, which moved at a reasonable pace considering all the troubles that were happening. We met a girl who had just finished her second year of peace corps and was headed home to OH for a month before starting her third year extension.

Once we landed, we decided to rent a mini-van and drive from ATL to GSP for those on the later flight that wouldn't get home until after 4:00am. John's wife, Chandler, was able to secure us a van while we waited in lines to leave the airport.

We made sure those on the earlier flight made it to security and we parted ways with the team to head to pick up the van. The Furman tennis team had the same idea as we saw them at the rental car area to get going too.

We loaded up and headed home.

We dropped off Jim, got the others to the long term lot at GSP, and returned the car all before the group on the earlier flight landed at GSP. Thanks to John for driving and getting us home safely!

Due to flight delays and weather we were only about 8 hours behind schedule for arrival : )

Though the day went a bit off schedule and out the plan for return, the attitude on the plane seemed to be fairly high spirits. I didn't hear much complaining or disdain for the situation as it was happening. Personally, it was a new experience for me. I've never been re-routed or delayed that much! It offered us a beautiful view of sunset from the plane and one last adventure to leave the team with.

Though I am quite tired as I write this, I think that is ok. If anything were to go wrong this week, I am glad it was the end and not the beginning or middle. No one got hurt, no one lost luggage, we all meshed really well, we all had a great time, and we go to learn and experience and serve alongside our new friends in Guatemala. Hopefully the trials of travel on the last day are quickly forgotten and overcome by the memories and joy of what the rest of the week was.

I am happy to be home and to soon wash my dirty clothes and use my warm shower, but I am sure I will also spend a good deal of time missing the people and culture of Guatemala and daydreaming about ways to go back someday, hopefully sooner than later.

The ride to the airport

Goodbye to Guatemala! 

Steve, Joe, and Bob waiting out the delay in Mobile.

Mobile sunset

Guatemala: Saturday Recap

I am back home now. Sitting in my house, in my room, with water I can drink right from the faucet and a shower that I trust will have good water pressure and water as warm as I want it when I go to use it.

I am glad of these things, but possibly more glad to have had the experiences I had last week.

To finish up the recaps, I will give a rundown of Saturday and Sunday in two posts. There are a few more things I want to write in detail about outside of the daily updating, and those may come quickly or over the next few days or a little more slowly over the next few months. But for now, an overview of Saturday:


Our last full day in Guatemala was Saturday. For the morning, Nine members of our team opted to hike a volcano. Two members took a cooking class (that ended up being a public turned private class as no one else was there). And another went to the farmer's market with Kayla and he raved about the food there for the rest of the day.

Those of us that hiked were up to have breakfast and hit the road by 7:45. We wound through the roads and a town or two to make it to Pacaya National Park around 9:00am to begin hiking. It was misty and a little rainy to start, but our swift footed guide got us warmed up enough in the first quarter mile to need to shed jackets despite the wet atmosphere. The hike was an uphill climb for sure, I would compare it to Table Rock locally (maybe a little shorter).

We passed a few recommended stopping places and got to see the signs telling us there were lovely vistas there on a clear day, but we were not there on a clear day. This was a slight disappointment, but it's also not every day that you get to hike a volcano and walk in a cloud! (Well, unless you are the guide who does the tours of the volcano...)

We got to the top where there would be an amazing 360 view on a clear day, but we were in a cloud and couldn't see too far away. At this point, we were noticeably walking on the igneous lava rock that had formed in previous eruptions and volcanic activity. This nature nerd was quite enjoying the time!

We then hiked on, a little downward to where you can roast a marshmallow on the heat (or gas fumes?) coming from the ground! It was so neat. We even packed along some Chiky cookies, a local commodity, to make s'mores. They were delicious!

After we all roasted and enjoyed our marshmallows, we hiked on. At this point it was other worldly hiking. We were in a cloud and walking on igneous rock with no vegetation in site. That isn't something you get to do in South Carolina : )

After hiking through the field of lava rock, we arrived at the Lava Store. That's right there is a store on the volcano. It is a hut at the top of the volcano that tells you a little about the history and activity and sells souvenir jewelry made from the lava. I am a sucker for souvenir jewelry and nature related finds, so I of course found the store fascinating.

Once we all had our fill and made our purchases, we started the descent. We hike back down the same path and some of the cloudy mist started to lift. We were able to see some more of the views and enjoyed the ease of downward movement with gravity on our side.

We loaded up in our van and made the trek back to town to clean up and head out for lunch and souvenir shopping.

For lunch, we split into group. I think it was the first meal we ate with less than 7-15 other people all week. It was a much needed downsize for this introvert. I was with the group that opted for Wendy's. Having been in country all week and getting better at picking up Spanish and being at a restaurant we were familiar with, we still were not good at ordering for ourselves, but that is just some of the fun of traveling!

We finished up lunch and opted for gelato to wash it down as we finished up souvenir shopping. In this shopping I successfully  haggled by using the walk away method three times! I'm usually pretty intimidated by haggling while shopping, but it is expected in the market there and as it turns out, it is kind of fun!

The rest of the evening was spent packing up, cleaning up, hanging out, and enjoying our last team dinner at a place called Frida's. I think we all saw it as a week well spent and were each privileged to be a part of.

We certainly rested well Saturday evening after a week we will not quickly forget.


I can now add pictures! Here are a few from the hike:

Roasting marshmallows!

The whole group

Lava Store, and the hourses that were available if you needed them.

View coming down.

The whole gang!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Guatemala: Friday Recap

Friday was our last day on the build site followed by travel back to Antigua.

Our goal on the build site was to get the foundation finished and all the block moved to an easier place for the masons to work once we leave them. Finishing the foundation involved infilling with dirt into each of the rooms of the three room house; moving buckets of cement to fill the U-shaped CMUs of the base; and filling the CMUs with the cement. To accomplish this we made a chain to pass the bucket down and our ever energetic friend, Jason, quickly returned the buckets once emptied, to be filled.

Our next task of the day was buying out all the handmade bags and frames made by our home owners talented brother.

After a short break so the masons could accomplish their tasks, we moved on to moving block from the street to the interior of the house. Again we used the chain system and had the help of our hard working friend, Alan. The statement "many hands make light work" could not ring more true than for a task like that. Mind you, they grew much heavier than light after passing the first hundred or so, but with a great team and high spirits, we were able to accomplish the task with teamwork and strong hands. Some of the guys even got pretty good at tossing the blocks to each other!

Four members of our team built our fifth and final stove of the week. They even got to enjoy a water balloon fight with the local women! This community and these women were so welcoming and inviting to us. All of them made us tortillas and stew and other special treats throughout the week as we worked in their homes.

While we were moving block, our leader Fredy paused to translate a phone call from our family partner, Ana. She is in Guatemala City all week for work and wanted to make sure that we knew how grateful and thankful she was for the work we put in on her house. Fredy told us he had never had a family partner do that before. How kind it was for her to go out of her way to make a call to tell us of her gratitiude!

After lunch when the other team arrived we had a closing ceremony with the Habitat Guate staff, the family and community members present, and our team. This was the first and only time our whole team was together at the house. The time was filled with heart felt thanks and gratitude, a few tears were shed, and we even got a smile or two from el hefe, Jorge. (He was a hard egg to crack!)

The affiliate did as all good Habitat affiliates do and ended the dedication with treats! They gave us a delicious cake that all were excited to have, especially the kids , and the choice of Coke or Pepsi to wash it down. (The pop here is better because it is actually made with sugar.)

After the ceremony we took our last pictures and said our goodbyes and drove away one last time from the piles of block and sand and gravel that will soon become a home filled with love, hard work, and laughter.

With the help of a Habitat team, a house with Habitat Guate will save the masons 8-10 days of work. Each house only receives one team, so no matter what phase you come in on, you will do the same tasks of tying all the rebar, mixing cement, and hauling block. The technical work of block laying is left to the masons and their knowledge and talent to complete.

Once back to the hotel, we all quickly cleaned up, packed up, and loaded up to head back to our home for the next two nights in Antigua.

We arrived in Antigua with time to settle in a little and do a few quick errands and shop at the Habitat de Kayla shop setup in our lobby. We all were happy to buy shirts and hats from our new friends to support and promote the affiliate and Global Village program.

After shopping to our hearts content, we went out for another delicious meal and enjoyable evening with the team.


It is Saturday morning as I write this and the sun is just waking up here. We have the day to explore and see Antigua and get all our souvenir and food tasting in. Nine of us will go to hike a volcano this morning and hopefully roast marshmallows over the heat coming from the ground. Don't worry, Mom, they don't let us hike the active ones...I think!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Guatemala: Thursday Recap

Thursday in Guatemala has been just as good as each day before. Maybe even better!

This morning we started with a breakfast of hot porridge, coffee, eggs, beans and tortillas. After breakfast we loaded up and headed to the local market that is open each Thursday and Sunday. There were many colors and sounds and things to see. It was a unique experience for sure!

After making our way through the market, we loaded up in or vehicles and went our separate ways. One team went to the home of Ana and her children and another to build our fourth stove.

We have a few ribs left to insert and tie at the house to complete the foundation and more U blocks to chip away at before we complete our work for the week and of course more blocks to haul. The team enjoyed a soccer game with the kids and more time spent enjoying their hard work and sweet smiles! We all have grown attached to this community and family and truly see it as a privilege to be here.

I and three others were on a smokeless stove again today. Today’s location was so simple and easy set up that we each had a good laugh to think how different it was for the team yesterday. We had two extra community helpers and large space to work in. We were so efficient from learning the process the day before and having extra hands that we were also able to spend some time assisting the family in shucking their large harvest of corn that they will later take to market to sell. Most of the corn was white corn, but occasionally we found bright and unique colors making it a fun surprise under each husk!

For lunch we enjoyed a stew they made for us over their current stove and fresh blackberry juice they made with the berries they picked themselves. They pick, package, and sell blackberries to be shipped and sold internationally. If you ever see Berry Best or Special Fruit brand, we know some of the hands that packaged them!

After our work day, our team of four, Kayla, Samuel and our driver all enjoyed another ice cream stop followed by homemade horchata! We then met up with the group at the hotel for a lesson in making corn tortillas and another delicious dinner where we ate the tortillas we made ourselves!

A brief meeting to discuss the next 48 hours was our after dinner plan. Tomorrow we work our last day and have plans to pack up and head back to Antigua. Saturday we have a day in the city to explore and rest. My hope and a few others on the team is to hike a volcano and roast a marshmallow over molten lava Saturday morning! Though these plans sound amazing, I know I will be sad to return stateside and leave this beautiful community behind.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Guatemala: Wednesday Recap

We are now halfway through our time here in beautiful Guatemala!

I know that I will dearly miss this place when we leave. As many places I have traveled to have, this place has stolen a little piece of my heart. The people, the work, the landscape, the food, my best assistant on the build site, Jason, and so many more things I will remember as a privilege and joy to have experienced.

Today the group split up again in the eight and four fashion that we have thus far this week.

Those that installed the smokeless stove today had a different experience than the rest of us. They built inside in a 10x10 space. That is very tight quarters for building the stove. The stove they are replacing is also in that same 10x10 space making it even tighter quarters! They also had a hill to work up and down as they brought in mud, bricks, and mortar. Though their experience was a little different than those of the past two days, they still greatly enjoyed the experience and opportunity to serve as I am sure the family will enjoy their new stove!

The rest of us were back to the build site with our friend and best assistant, Jason, and el hefe (the boss), Jorge. The first layer of rebar and concrete were dried out and ready for the first layer of CMUs for the foundation. (A CMU is a concrete masonry unit or cinderblock, I just learned the fancy terminology today) Jorge and his assistant Andy layered the block as members of our team hauled the block to them as they needed. Others on the team worked on tying more rebar that will be used to strengthen the walls of the house. We are becoming very efficient at make these ribs! The other main task for the day was chipping out the end of the CMUs to make them a U-shape so that the rebar can lay in them as they stack to create the walls.

The weather was perfect today; warm, but cloudy with a nice breeze. It was a lovely day to be outside and working with our hands.

Today we found out the brother of our homeowner makes a living by selling small handmade bags and other items he sews from the beautiful textile fabrics of Guatemala. A few of us were able to support him by purchasing unique souvenirs. We also got to take a walk around the family land. It has an amazing view! They farm strawberries and cabbage among other things. They also have a well they dug by hand that is 5 feet wide and over 100 feet deep. It is amazing the things they can accomplish without the tools and things we see as necessities.

To end the day we spent a half hour moving block down a chain of people from the street to the house. This was a great task to do as a team and with our friend Jason taking his own blocks one by one to stack by his house. How proud he will be when his family gets to live in the house he helped build!

After work today we got to go to see Mayan ruins of Iximche. The culture and history of the Mayans is quite fascinating. The ruins were interesting and set on a beautiful mountain top. This Mayan city was built there because of the location with cliffs and difficult access. Our guide was a student studying history and archaeology in Guatemala City. He gave us a great lesson and tour of the ruins. I will write more specifically on this when we return.

On the drive back to our home for the week, we were talking about what we have enjoyed the most so far. For me one of the things is seeing another culture and how they do things. For others it was working on the stove and being with the family and seeing the joy they had in receiving such a gift. For another it was the simple tasks that we are doing like tying rebar and hauling blocks and how those small, simple things make such a difference. She said “It makes you feel like you can really do anything as long as you have enough people to help.” I think that statement truly sums up what we are doing and a big piece of the mission of Habitat. You really can do anything as long as you have the people to help. The communities here depend on each other and we can learn a great deal from their simple living and how we are serving alongside them.

Tonight we have dinner and relaxing planned. I think we are all glad to have some downtime to prepare for the work tomorrow and the rest of the week. Tomorrow we will do the same work of eight on the house and four on a stove. Hopefully tomorrow evening we will also get to learn how to make corn tortillas!

This week has been a wonderful experience so far and I can hardly wait for more to come. I hope the time slows down as I know it will be hard to leave. Now where did I put that passport…

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Guatemala: Tuesday Recap

Our team split again today to work on the home for Ana and her family and to install another smokeless stove.

Eight members of our team finished tying the rebar to reinforce the walls of the home today as well as mixed and moved and poured 8 inches of concrete for the foundation. They worked hard and were also able to afford the time to play with the kids. They loved the bubbles a team member brought! The kids also led them on an adventure to see where they harvest strawberries and cabbage.

Today I and 3 other members of our team had the privilege of working in a home to install another smokeless stove/healthy home kit. We were joined by our field coordinator, Kayla, and Samuel, a Habitat Guatemala staff member.

We ventured a little farther out to do the stoves than where the home is being built, but the drive is a part of the day I enjoy. Getting to see the landscape and the different communities are a perk of a long drive. And the landscape here is beautiful. We are working at about 7,000-8,000 feet elevation and there are beautiful vistas around every curve.

The smokeless stoves are fairly simple, but a life changing home addition for these families. If there are not teams to build the stoves, the women in the community will build them. There is a promoter who works with Habitat to encourage more people in the community to install the stoves. Once enough interest is met they will bring in one Habitat staff to help with the process. They make their own adobe bricks and allow them to dry the proper amount of time and then build their stoves. Each family pays a portion of the cost of around $20 American dollars for their stove.

Today we were honored to help speed that process.

The first tasks of the day were mixing mud/mortar and hauling 35-40 adobe bricks to the home we would build a stove in. Our leader, Samuel, got us started on the first layer to make sure things were even and level then we were put to work to build the stove!

Stove building here involved a lot of mudslinging and lifting heavy blocks. It’s pretty much grown up Legos or Lincoln Logs! It is amazing that something as simple as a stove can change a family’s life and future for about $100 American dollars and about 6 hours of labor to build once the adobe bricks are ready.

We spent the morning making the base layer of the stove, but a break is needed to let things settle and dry a little. During our break we went for a walk through the community. We stopped by a home to purchase frozen chocolate dipped bananas. They were a treat and only cost .75q! That is less than 10 cents. On the break we also saw coffee beans on their branches, bananas in their bunches, and limes and oranges on their trees! What a beautiful and bountiful landscape this is.

For lunch we had another delicious meal and enjoyed fresh tortillas from the stove the family now uses. If you have never had a fresh corn tortilla, you are missing out! Hopefully we will get a lesson on making them this week. You can hear the clapping sound of making tortillas all over here. What a neat local commodity!

After the break we filled the walls of the stove with dirt on which we would lay the bricks for the stove. The pipe that will be finished in 2 weeks was also put in place. (The pipe is not completed on the main build day so that it discourages use until the stove has had time to dry out.)  Once done laying bricks and placing the pipe we put the stainless steel cooktop on, Samuel finished the last layer of concrete to make the smokeless stove complete (almost).

We were able to celebrate the new stove with the woman who will be using it! What a gift!

Such a simple task and process, but a world of difference for the health of the family. The smoke will now go out of the house when cooking, they won’t be cooking on open fire, and they will use less wood (saving them money and the local trees).  It is a true privilege to see a need met and to work with your hands, seeing a finished product at the end of the day.

After our work day, we enjoyed our drive back comparing Habitat stories and watching the scenery go by. We also got to stop for ice cream! I opted for the galleto (cookie) ice creams dipped in chocolate with nuts on top. It was delicious!

We are now back at the hotel and showered off after the mudslinging and looking forward to what we might enjoy for dinner.

This week is going by much too quickly and we are all enjoying every minute of it.

Tomorrow will be a similar task set up with an adventure to see Mayan ruins in the late afternoon!

Until then…