Physio-Spiritual - I'm not a big fan of compound, complex ideologies, but still.
The people here in Guatemala are amazing.
A new concept that I would like to propose is that the people down here in Guatemala and in most Central American countries is that they live in a very Physio-Spiritual (I made that up) way. What I mean by this is that in a typical Guatemalan's day-to-day life, their physicality and their spirituality are not separate, but one singular entity.
Here in Guatemala, typical Mayans are not "religious", so to speak, but they are "spiritual." One way that Ben (our leader, that I have mentioned previously) explained it to us the other day was that to the Mayans, new ideas of religion, such as the introduction of Catholicism in the 1500s, is not counter to what they believe. Instead, they are able to incorporate new religious beliefs into their own form of spirituality. For instance: Jesus Christ as used in the Mayan belief system can be compared to their "Sun God" who would make sacrifices of himself for the benefit of the people. Instead of believing in one specific religion, the Mayans believed in a sort of general "motif" of spirituality in which all religions were encompassed and used to tell the same general stories and teach the same moral lessons.
This is not to say that the Mayans are not religious at all. The Catholic cathedrals that we have visited are absolutely breath-taking. When we went to visit the cathedral in Santiago on Sunday, we couldn't walk into the building because it was packed to the brim and people were having to stand outside the front doors in hopes of hearing what was being said.
Anyway, back to the point of this blog. In the Mayan's day-to-day actions, whether it be cooking food, going to the market, or raising the kids, everything they do is a spiritual action. Personal strength and wisdom is a gift from God that the people are thankful for each and every day. All of the people with whom we have worked have, at the conclusion of our work, thanked us personally and then thanked God and asked that "The Creator" continue to bless us.
Now, coming from a background of spending my summer working through church work-camps and summer camps that are clearly God-oriented, I have become accustomed to hearing people thank us, thank God, and ask for God's blessings on us in that kind of a setting. However, this came from the president of the PTA at a school and a 75 year old lady who was working with a reforestation co-op. Hearing these people in commonplace professions do a thing that I was only really accustomed to within the church was really a moving experience.
Sunday, traditionally the day when most believers go to church, is no more "holy" or "spiritual" than a Wednesday or, God forbid, a Monday. In fact, Sunday is one of the biggest days for spending in the market. That same day in Santiago, our group failed miserably at staying together trying to work our way through the sea of bodies trying to buy fruits and veggies, hygiene products (soaps, shampoo), clothes, and even raw meat. For them, buying, trading, and selling in the market is one of the most spiritual things for two people to do. It is a "I have what you need, you have what I need, let's work together for the greater good of both of us" mentality.
All of this physio-spirituality that I've been surrounded by over the past couple of days has really gotten me to thinking. Because of their constant spiritual nature, I believe that, despite their ever-worsening situation (that I will address in my next blog), they have a positive outlook on life. That got me thinking just how different the United States, or even the World, would be if instead of fighting holy wars over which religion was right, we could all see legitimacy in all beliefs and work together for the common good of everyone. Only then will people stop taking advantage of each other and, I believe, actually be able to live together.
The machete, in modern culture, is a weapon of violence and destruction. It is a sharp sword that, when used properly, can cause serious injury. Can you imagine that a man like this would be coming at you for a hug?
Before I go any further, I would like to explain something that a couple of the UVA folks mentioned during devotion one night. Functional Fixity is a psychological condition wherein a person is only able to attribute one purpose for an item. For example, a person who suffers from functional fixity sees a water-bottle for only one purpose - holding water. However, without functional fixity, a person can see many uses for a water-bottle: blowing across the top to make music, putting two together and making a tornado-maker, or even just hitting someone on the head with it.
During devotions, one of the UVA students, Kaeley, made a connection between Christianity, functional fixity, the people we're working with, and the machete. What she said was that in the communities we are working, the machete is more than just a tool for violence. The machete, in these communities, is used for so many different things - chopping wood for fires, putting holes in the ceiling to make room for a chimney, chopping concrete blocks and bricks accurately in the stove making process, and so many more.
When the machete is used in the right situations and with the right intentions in mind, it is not a destructive tool, but a means of construction and hope. This is just like Christianity. Throughout history, people have used the theories and ideas found in the Bible and twisted them around to make them say what they want in order to support their beliefs, a la the KKK, the Crusades, Westboro Baptist, etc. However, when the ideas and beliefs of Christianity are taken beyond what a lot of people perceive them as (people who may be suffering from functional fixity), they can be used for so much more good, be it the spreading of love and joy, or the incitement of a sense of mission within someone, than bad (as shown in history).
Since being in Guatemala, our group has only done two work projects.
The first couple of days, our group worked at one of the schools in the community to get it ready for school starting the following week. To do so, some of us helped the ladies move the desks and tables out of the classrooms to clean and mop the rooms while some more of us helped some other ladies clean those same tables and desks. In doing so, we used a soap/water mixture and a rag that was just a piece of a ripped fertilizer bag. To rinse, we used regular water to wash off the soap and rubbed that around with our bare hands. Washing these desks and tables in such a crude and primitive manner was a very new experience for me, but I enjoyed doing every second of it.
We worked really quickly in comparison to the Mayan women, and we got done with the cleaning project very quickly, so we moved on to painting. A majority of the first day consisted of painting the kitchen in the school's fourth grade classroom. We painted the bottom two rows of concrete blocks red and the rest yellow. While we were in the kitchen painting, a little kid who I believe was named "Elvish" (spelling?) came in and immediately grabbed a brush and helped us paint the red (he couldn't reach much of the yellow - he was only about 5). We all complimented him on how well he was doing, much better than any of us Americans...
We also painted a portion of a recreation area in the same color scheme. More than anything, the walls just needed a rejuvenation of color because the sun and rain had caused weathering to become very apparent and the area was very very dull. When we left that day, the entire area seemed to have a certain amount of sparkle to it.
The next day, we finished repainting the outside walls within the entire school and did some touch-up work on some murals depicting ancient Mayan mythology that had been painted by another mission group some years back. At the conclusion of this day, we got to meet the principal of the school, as well as the president of the PTA, who were both so appreciative for us coming out to help them get their school ready for another year of playful kids.
The other two days that we have worked, we've been working within actual houses in the village building stoves for 10 different women who were just starting their work with AMA (see the previous blog post for more information). It took a while to get used to how the stoves were built, but once we understood, we flew through making them (without making flawed stoves). These stoves are about 3 feet by 5 feet and consist of a base that is made out of three levels of concrete blocks. Once this is done, 'poma' or pumice is filled to the bottom of where the door comes to. On top of that, a very complicated brick design is arranged inside the stove so that the stove top can fit and the stove "innards" work properly. All together, the process was very complicated, but it made sense once we started doing it.
I don't know if it is the internet here, or if this website doesn't work, but unfortunately, even though I have pictures of the stoves, I can't get them to post. Hopefully, when I get back to campus next weekend (woot woot), I'll be able to post some pictures so that you guys don't feel unsatisfied.
A lot of the free time that we have at night, away from the villages where we are working, is spent on learning a lot about ancient and modern Mayan culture and some of the problems that the Mayans face. One presentation in particular dealt with the reason behind the establishment of the organization that we are working with, AMA, and what exactly the organization is doing for the families that it works with. I thought I'd share some of the information with you, just so you get a better understand of why we're doing what we are.
AMA works primarily with women within the community. A lot of these women have been abandoned by their husbands because their lives got too hard and the men decided they wanted to escape to the USA. These women, upon agreement with the requirements, enter a 15 year program to help them get onto their feet and become more independent and more community serving.
The first step in this process is the building of a stove (that's what we're doing). There are a couple of ideas behind the provision of a new stove for these women. One is that with these stoves, the exhaust is directed outside and does not linger inside the house. This increases the health of all of the individuals living there. The second and more important reason that these stoves are provided is that a new stove allows the women to have more time working in the community instead of spending all of her time cooking.
The easiest way I could understand it is through an analogy that Ben, one of our group leaders, told us when he was explaining it to us. The woman's suffrage movement in the United States did not occur sooner than the early 1900s because it was only around that time that machinery and labor-saving equipment made the jobs of women easier and gave them more free-time to rally together and work towards change.
Therefore, the biggest purpose of the organization that we are working with is to help empower the women and give them more independence so that they can work towards social change in a larger scale.
At least, that's what I've gathered from the numerous presentations and lectures that we've had. I may be wrong, but I really don't think so...
Guatemala and the United States are so different culturally that I have seen some things that I would never even dream about seeing back home.
We've been traveling a lot, so I've had a lot of time to "study" Guatemalan road laws. Here is what I gather: there are little to no road laws. As we were driving through Guatemala City the first day we were here, it was incredible how many things occurred on the road that seem absurd or even dangerous in the US. These patterns continued throughout our trip.
-Motorcyclists do not restrict themselves to one lane. They weave in between lanes and other moving automobiles, sometimes even on the bank of the road, to avoid heavy road traffic. -Mass transportation happens in two different ways. First, you can ride inside on one of the mass transit buses. However, in more rural areas, such as in the mountains, you can ride on top of a van or in the back of a truck. On more than one occasion, I saw upwards to 20 people riding on top of a van that was driving very fast on a small, extremely winding road along the side of a very large mountain. -There are very few speed limit signs. Within city limits, speed limits are enforced with speed bumps every 100 yards or so. -Passing other vehicles on the road is a very common occurrence. Such an action is not met with anger, but with understanding and cooperation between both drivers. A vehicle that is passing another will honk its horn to let the other know the intention to pass, and the driver of the slower vehicle slows down a little more so that the other vehicle can pass more quickly. -There are not very many traffic signals. Traffic patterns are determined by the cooperation of everyone on the road with each other.
Outside of road laws, I have seen a lot of interesting and different things while I've been here.
-People in the rural areas of Guatemala do not have the means of transportation like others in the country do. Therefore, to transport firewood, water, groceries, and various other goods back to their house, they carry them on their heads or on their backs. I have seen small men carrying a bundle of firewood bigger than him on his back, and women carrying physics-defyingly large baskets on their heads. -The things that the native Guatemalans wear on a daily basis are absolutely astounding. The women wear brilliantly colorful handmade dresses and some of the men dress up in hand-made pants, vests and jackets. They top it off with a cowboy hat, and they look like authentic cowboys from the old west, only they're much more colorful. -Animals of various sorts are allowed to run completely wild. Dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, pigs, horses and cows are not normally chained to anything and are permitted to roam freely in the communities.
I don't think I've covered everything interesting that I've seen, so I'll be adding on as time goes on...
Due to lack of internet access, I have not been able to post nearly as often as I was hoping to and, to be honest, so much has happened in the past three days that consolidating it into one reasonably small blog is nearly impossible. Still, I will try my hardest to both inform and entertain you with this hopefully educational anecdote of the past few days.
We have been to many different locations, all of which were incredibly unique. Our first destination was Panajachel which was located on a natural lake formed over time by the four volcanoes that surround it. The area of Panajachel that we were in was a very busy market-type area. We had a lot of people coming up to us offering us "special deals" for their "unique" items, such as handmade bookmarks and beautiful handmade fabrics. The lake itself was amazingly tranquil and calming. The group spent a few minutes taking pictures of the lake with the volcanoes in the background and just enjoying the view.
The next day, we left Panajachel and headed toward Chichicastenango (Chichi for short). Chichi is home to two distinct features. The first is the church there which gives a wonderful display of the syncretism of the Roman Catholic religion that the Spanish brought to the Mayans in the 1500s and the religion of the ancient Mayans.
The second feature is one of the largest markets in Central America. Nearly all of the shops were open-air and at least 25% of the people selling things were carrying their items and coming right up to you offering you deals. Before our group even got off the bus, we had kids as young as 5 years old coming up to us trying to sell us things (this is where the title of this blog comes from). Although, I can't deny that the fabrics, clothing, and artistry here in Guatemala is some of the most beautiful and colorful that I have ever seen.
Now, we are staying in El Refugio, which is a little compound outside the city of Quetzaltenango called by the natives as Xela. It is in and around Xela that we are doing our work with the Highland Support Project in the schools and houses in the area. I would say that Xela is by far one of the more relaxing areas we have been in (we aren't getting accosted everywhere we go), but it is also one of the more run-down and poverty-stricken areas.
The place we are staying in, El Refugio, is a really nice compound with beds and walls and showers, but the place that we are working lacks all of these comforts. The houses are surrounded by walls that are topped with barbed wire and broken glass and there are very few trees.
I don't want to overwhelm anyone reading this with too much information at a time, so I'll stop there and post some other blogs that have to do with the mission goal of the group we're working with, customs and traditions of the Mayan people, things that I've seen that were really interesting, and maybe (hopefully) some pictures...
It is currently the night before we leave on our J-Term travel trip to Guatemala to do service work alongside the Mayans and I have yet to pack. I don't know if I have let packing slip by because I've been doing other things or if I'm just so excited about the trip that the whole "packing" thing makes the reality of the trip more and more surreal...
This first week of January has done nothing but build the excitement and maybe even make me a little impatient for the actual trip. The class has spent the past four days learning about ancient and modern-day Mayan culture and every student got the chance to give a presentation on a different aspect of Mayan life. My presentation was on Mayan mathematics and astronomy. I was blown away with exactly how much we know about the ancient Mayan's system of math but even more impressed with the accuracy that they predicted the movement and phases of Venus, the Sun and the moon (also the basis of the 2012 prediction - I tried being clever with the title of the blog entry - give me a little credit, please?).
We've been given Friday off (guess that'll be a great day for packing) and then we leave at 11pm for our flight out of Dulles. There is some call for flurries tomorrow, so fingers crossed for an "on-schedule" flight. Looking forward to the experience and getting to share a select few of them with you on here.