Mission Boat

Last week, a short-term missions team came to Bella Bella. They were a team from Mission Boat, which does week-long mission trips to small, isolated communities on the coast of B.C. A Mission Boat team came to Bella Bella last summer when I was here as well. They arrived on Sunday, and led the service at the Pentecostal Church, with lots of singing (some old hymns, some newer songs) and testimonies from some of the team members. After the service, I chatted with some of the leaders of the group about their trip, and life in Bella Bella. When the topic of bears came up (there are about 10-15 bears roaming around the Bella Bella area, often coming into town to go through people’s garbage looking for food), they asked me to come have supper with them on Monday night and tell the whole group about the bears, and what to do in case they have any encounters with them during their ministry in the village. On Monday, I walked back to the church, where the group was living for the week, with some of the team who had been skipping stones at the beach near my apartment. We had supper, and I did a short presentation about bears.

            They were doing various ministries in Bella Bella over the week, including a daily Kids’ Club, a Spa Night for the women on Tuesday night, a Song Night on Thursday (by request of the congregation, who love the chance to sing new songs), a Youth Night on Thursday, and visiting people in the community throughout the week. They asked me if there were any patients or residents in the hospital who would enjoy a visit, or a hymn-sing led by the team, and I encouraged them to come, as our long-term care residents would enjoy visiting and singing. So the guys from the group came on Tuesday night while the girls gave hand massages and painted nails at the Spa Night at the church. I felt bad for them, because the turnout was lower than I had expected, because some residents didn’t want to come out of their rooms, and one had gone away for a few days, but the residents who did come enjoyed the singing, as did I and the guys leading it. The hymn sing on Thursday went well – I love singing hymns and many of the newer songs! A hymn book was left in my apartment by the previous resident, and I’ve sung my way through it once and am going through again. ☺ But I digress. Quite a few youth came to the youth night on Thursday as well. On Friday, the teens and young adults on the team (which was the entire team minus the four adult leaders) attended the weekly Sports Night at the Community Hall. I came too, and watched from the bleachers with some of the other team members who weren’t sports-inclined. They brought Sharpies and had the kids sign their t-shirts as a memento, and a few of them had me sign them too.

            On Thursday night, one of the adult leaders pulled me aside as I was leaving and presented me with a t-shirt from Red Deer, Alberta, where the entire team came from. She thanked me for everything I had done with the team – the presentation on bears, and visiting with the team members, and helping out with various events. And when they left on Friday night, they left a card and small gift at the church with Pastor Glenna to give to me, which she did when she saw me in the hospital a few days ago. I was so surprised by the gifts, and by their thanks. I was thankful to them because I had been blessed by them each time I was with them that week. I spent a lot of time with them, partly because I wanted to help in their mission work, but also partly because I felt like I was able to relax completely with them, like I was back in my normal world of being surrounded by white Christians. I feel terrible saying this. As a semi-missionary here in Bella Bella, I feel like I shouldn’t feel that way. But I do. As a pastor’s daughter, attending a Christian university, I am surrounded by white Christians. It’s my comfort zone. There are Christians here, and there are white people here, but at the moment, I can’t actually think of any white Christians here that I know of. I feel like part of the family at church, and with the Christian staff at the hospital, and I feel kind of at home with the white staff at the hospital, but those are two separate groups. I try to live out Christ’s love in everything I do, but it means I’m constantly in mission-mode. So I was drawn to spend a lot of time with the Mission Boat team, because I could just relax and let myself be ministered to and blessed. And they were blessed as well. But I’m still not completely comfortable with it.

            One other interesting note: One of the couples leading the team are Dan Folkman’s parents. (Dan was the TWUSA President during the last school year, and a good friend of one of my friends from my nursing class.) I love the small surprises and smiles that God gives us!

 

This is the end of my group of journal entries to update today. I’ll update more in a while. Goodbye for now, and I look forward to reading your comments on these posts. 🙂

Encounters with Former Patients

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had several encounters with patients I cared for last year. Of course, that’s to be expected, living in such a small community. But two stick out in my mind. Here they are.

            The first one, who I’ll call Ben, came in regularly over a few weeks for dressing changes. We do dressing changes for patients in the ER here, because the Community Health Centre, who would generally be responsible for them, is short-staffed on nurses. They now have a nurse who does regular dressing changes, but she has other things as well, so we still do some in the hospital. Last year, she wasn’t working at the health centre, so dressing changes were a big proportion of our ER patients.

            Ben’s wounds were large, infected, and made wearing clothing over them painful. They were also disfiguring, and he was embarrassed to go out in public. It took some convincing from the nurse for him to let her put dressings on the wounds, because he thought they would hurt, as any clothing touching them was painful. But he did get dressings, and over the next few weeks, his burns healed beautifully. I didn’t do his dressings at first, as I wasn’t sure how to approach him – he was so embarrassed and awkward that it made me embarrassed and awkward to be around him. But one day the nurse was busy, so I did the dressing changes. Turns out, Ben is a friendly, kind man who likes to chat about fishing and life. I enjoyed doing his dressing changes after that. I was the one who did has last few dressing changes as the wound healed completely, and Ben and I were both surprised at how well and how quickly the wounds had healed. His only complaint was that the skin over the healed wounds was itchy (a good sign! – it means the skin is healing), but he understood that scratching would damage the wounds again. So I rubbed some moisturizing lotion on the skin, which brought instant relief. He was surprised that such a simple intervention could bring such relief, and very grateful to me for thinking of it.

            Ben, and his son, who brought him to each appointment, and I became friends over the days that they came in for the regular dressing changes. And I grew, as a person and as a nurse, in my comfort treating and interacting with patients.

            I saw Ben a few weeks ago. He smiled and said “Hi” as he walked past the nursing station to visit a friend in the hospital. I was surprised and pleased that he remembered me, and pleased with myself for recognizing him and remembering his name. I’ve been reflecting on my learning with him, and over the year since I saw him last, since then.

 

The other patient came to me in a different way. “Nick” was my first palliative patient last year. He was the first patient that died during one of my shifts. I learned a lot about palliative care, including symptom management and comfort care and support for the family while caring for Nick. I was reminded of him yesterday when the medical records clerk handed me his (substantial) chart, and asked me to find some specific records within it before we sent it off to an agency that records statistics for deaths due to certain diseases.

            It was an odd feeling, going through the chart of a deceased patient, and seeing my own handwriting on the pages from a year ago when I cared for him. Like seeing a ghost of someone deceased, and hearing the voice of my past self. But again, there was that feeling of being able to look back and reflect on the nursing student I was then, and how much I’ve learned in the year since then. God has blessed me with these little remembrances from the past. I’ve been encouraged about who I was then, and who I am becoming.

Surrender

I’ve struggled for a long time with the concept of surrendering to God.

            Although I’m from a small, country church where the majority of the congregation was over 65 (at least that’s how it seemed to me as a child), I occasionally went to large Christian events or rallies with a youth group as a teen. At these events, the speakers and bands and actors would say and do certain things that would get the crowd very emotional, excited about God and Jesus and thinking their lives would be completely different at home and school and work after this weekend of spiritual renewal and revival. (Side note: I’m not saying that God doesn’t change lives. He does. But you’ll see where I’m going with this.) They sang songs about surrendering their lives to Jesus. I sang along, and, caught up in the moment, I really meant it. I was going to live for Jesus and only do His will from then on. Giving everything over to Him. But then I left the rally, and went back to school on Monday, and daily life went back to normal very quickly. I wasn’t a terribly rebellious teen; I was raised as, and remained, the stereotype of the “good Christian girl.” For the most part, I did serve God in my daily life. But I think that was partly because I was doing the things I would do anyway, even if I wasn’t a Christian – being nice to people, helping others, etc… it’s just who I am. But when a situation came up and what I actually wanted to do and what I knew God would want me to do, especially if it involved me going outside of my comfort zone, I would go my own way, not God’s way. And as this happened in the days and weeks immediately after the weekend of spiritual revival and re-commitment of my life to God, much guilt-tripping ensued. I would beat myself up mentally and emotionally because I had promised God everything, then I had taken it back when I didn’t feel like following Him into the difficult parts of life.

            So I stopped surrendering my life to God. When a song about surrendering comes up in the song list at church, I don’t sing along, I sit in the pew and pray to God for mercy for not giving Him what He deserves, or for strength to one day be able to surrender. I became cynical about the revival events. I could see how they planned the song order, and carefully crafted their speeches and sermons to do what I saw (and still see) as emotional manipulation to make people surrender to God. I don’t want the spiritual highs and lows that result from surrendering, then realizing it’s impossible for me to really surrender everything. There are always little parts of my life that I can’t – or rather, don’t actually want to, deep down inside – surrender. When I think about it, I realize that all Christians must be like that too. We talk in church about how we’re all still struggling to do the right thing, and we all still stray and must come back to God and confess and ask for forgiveness again, each day. But then, how can other people sing those songs, surrendering their lives to God, when they aren’t really? Or maybe they are, like I was at the revival events, but then they take them back, just like I did? Or maybe … maybe they don’t. Some of my strong Christian friends looked and talked like they had really surrendered everything to God, so maybe they found a way to actually do that – doing God’s will every day, in every thought and deed.

            So then I felt like a bad Christian. And I gave up on pursuing a relationship with God. Because I knew that if I wanted to grow closer to Him, the next step after accepting salvation was to surrender my life. But I couldn’t do that. And I couldn’t stand the guilt-tripping I gave myself if I did try, but only half-heartedly, knowing that it was futile. I didn’t go to church much, didn’t read my Bible or do devos, and avoided conversations with my Christian friends about living for God. To others, I expect I still appeared to be a “good Christian girl” for the most part, since my personality didn’t change, and I was still doing all the Christian “things” like being nice and helping people, etc. But it wasn’t real. I was ashamed to come to God. I didn’t pray. How could I? What was there to say? “I’m sorry that I turned away from You, God. But I’m not repenting, because that implies that I’m changing, and coming back to you. But I can’t. I can’t give you everything. So have mercy on me, and have patience with me, I beg You, as I wander on my own.”

            Eventually, I decided to try coming back to God, rebuilding the relationship, learning more about Him, and serving Him again. I’m doing devotions, and reading my Bible, and going to church, and trying to serve Him in my daily life.

            But when I think about surrendering, I can’t do it. Because surrendering means everything, permanently. And I know it wouldn’t last – there would still be times when I choose my own way, instead of His way. And I won’t give my entire life to Him until I’m sure I can do it without taking it back.

            I wonder what He thinks. Is He patient, kindly waiting and gently guiding and encouraging me? Or is He frustrated with my fickleness, angry with me for only following Him halfway? So it’s still hard to pray, because I’m afraid of what He might want to say to me.

[This isn’t really a well-written post, but I think the basic message gets across. Too much to do to spend my time editing and revising blog posts! The end of summer draws near.]

A very late introduction to my work here

For those for whom this blog is the main way you keep up with what I’m doing, I apologize for not posting in a long time. I’m doing my RELS 380 (missions practicum) journal entries on my laptop, and not as regularly as I should be, so I’ll be updating this blog with groups of posts based on my journal entries, with other news-y stuff added in.

I’ll hopefully be adding more blog posts over the next while more regularly, as I just realized I only have one more month here, then it’s back to the Vancouver area for a day before I leave for a week-long TWU course at a camp in Kelowna, then a week of free time, then I’m back to school! So I need to finish up the work projects I’ve been doing, and finish the blog posts and annotated bibliography and final essay for this course, and do my pre-readings for the course at camp, and get pumped up for my last year of nursing school. Eek! Yay! I’ve been watching (too much) TV during my free time up until now. I think that’s going to have to stop. Maybe I’ll ask my apartment-mate to hide the remote in her room so I’m not tempted. (Please, someone keep me accountable for doing that!) Speaking of the course at camp, it’s a photography course and I need a digital SLR camera. Does anyone out there have one I can borrow? They’re fairly expensive, so I’m not going to buy one to use for one week.

Here’s my first of this round of journal entries, an introduction to my work at the hospital.

I work as an Employed Student Nurse (ESN) at R.W. Large Memorial Hospital, in Bella, Bella, BC. The job title means that I’m working here, earning money: it’s not a clinical placement for school, and that I’m working as a student nurse: I can practice all the nursing skills I’ve learned so far, but I’m still officially under the supervision of a Registered Nurse.

            I’m alternating between two types of work right now. The first is normal 12-hour shifts, including days, nights, and weekends, where I work with the RN, LPN, and PCA (patient care aide) to provide care for long-term care (LTC) residents, acute inpatients, and ER patients. The second is “project work,” which involves anything from planning activities for our LTC residents to doing education sessions for the staff. Some of the project work is also to get our hospital ready for accreditation, which is happening in November. I enjoy both kinds of work. I’m in nursing school because I love taking care of patients. Building the relationship with them and their family, and also helping them to feel better and have a better quality of life, gives me joy and satisfaction. I enjoy the project work because it makes use of my love of organizing everything – supplies, papers, information, people, and helping them all to work together better. I like front-line nursing, but I also love behind-the-scenes stuff, where you get to make things happen.

            This past week, I was doing education sessions one-on-one with the staff, teaching about infection control and hand hygiene. I designed the education sessions myself, researching the information I would need from policy manuals, information on the staff intranet, international resources, and links and a format for the sessions sent to me by my supervisor. Doing these education sessions reminded me of how much I love teaching too. Maybe when I can’t do floor nursing any more, I’ll be a clinical nurse educator. Or a manager. Or some kind of assistant-organizer-helper person to a manager.

            Up until last week, I was doing mostly floor nursing with the other nursing staff. I’ve worked with almost all of the RNs that work at this hospital, and many of the LPNs and PCAs as well. I enjoy building relationships with them, working with them assisting residents who require 2 people to care for them at once, and chatting about many things during moments of free time on our shifts. Some days are extremely busy, but some days are very slow. Largely, it depends on whether or not we have inpatients (we have beds for up to 4), and how many ER patients there are, and how acutely ill all the patients are. I also enjoy building relationships with our LTC residents (one of them told me last week that she loves me!), and our patients. There are a few patients I’ve been able to get to know fairly well, because they’re here regularly, or for a longer time, or both. Sometimes it seems that one of the most healing things I can do for them is just to chat with them for a while, listen, get them a warm blanket or a cookie. I know I’ve made a connection when, the next time I go in their room for something, they light up when they see it’s me. It makes me feel wonderful, and it’s the main reason I’m in nursing school.

[Update: I wrote this journal entry a few weeks ago. I’ve been doing the infection control project for the last few weeks, which includes doing education sessions for the staff, revising and improving the education program as I go, and updating the infection control manuals. And random other stuff related to infection control. I actually only have 5 shifts left of floor nursing: tomorrow and Monday, to help out a nurse coming off orientation, and the long weekend, because they expect it to be busier and want an extra pair of hands. The rest of the time, I’ll be finishing up all this infection control stuff, then going through all the supplies in the hospital, especially the storage room and the ER, and restocking, reordering, and getting rid of expired stuff.]

Religion and Missions in Guatemala

I had a good conversation with 3 other students in our group on the bus on the way back to campus after wandering around in the market, near the beginning of our trip. We talked about the different religions present in Guatemala, and Christian missionaries’ approach to them.

The first thing to establish is an idea of what religions are present here. If I didn’t have any knowledge of the culture and history of Guatemalans, my first impression after arriving here would be that Christianity is huge. In Spanish-speaking countries, each town has a central plaza or park. In the places or honour bordering it are 4 important institutions: the palace, representing the King, the building where the federal, provincial, and municipal government offices are, the cathedral, and the commercial district. The buses and other vehicles, and signs along the road have messages like “If God is for us, who can be against us?”, “God is love”, and “Jesus is my friend”. Crosses and crucifixes are everywhere, with crucifixes predominating.

Here is the gist of the very limited knowledge of religion in Guatemala. There are 3 main religious influences: traditional Mayan religions, Catholicism, and a small but growing Protestant Evangelical movement.

The traditional Mayan religions are very intertwined with other aspects of life. It’s not just a religion, it’s a bit part of their culture. The result of this is that even those who are Christians often still practice aspects of the Mayan religions in other areas of life. (Kind of reminds me of someone I met here in Bella Bella who is both Jewish and Atheist. He explained that he is Jewish by culture, but not by faith.) The mix of Mayan religions and Christianity, specifically Catholicism, also dates back to when the missionaries first came to Guatemala. Instead of proposing Christianity/Catholicism as something completely different from their religion, the missionaries found similarities between the two, and used them as a starting point for explaining the Christian faith – an approach of “You’re on the right track, but let us explain this concept even more to you” rather than “You’re completely wrong about everything. Here’s the truth”. While this can be an effective and positive way of explaining Christianity to people (Paul used it too! See Acts 17:16-34), it didn’t work out so well in this case. The result is that there is a mix of Mayan religious beliefs and practices and Catholicism. In Catholic churches, you can find altars to gods of the Mayan religions. Some people intentionally mix the two by coming to Catholic churches and paying lip service to the same, but their attitude is that Catholicism has been forced on them by outsiders, and they rebel by secretly still believing in and practising Mayan religions.

The Protestant Evangelical movement in Guatemala appears to only have started within the past several decades, and is small but growing. As an aside, Christianity isn’t divided into Catholicism and Protestantism as in North America, but Catholicism and Evangelicalism. I don’t know exactly what the implications for this linguistic difference are. Are Catholics not evangelical? Are all Protestants Evangelical? Is there only one Protestant denomination: Evangelicalism? Does Evangelical mean the same thing in Guatemala as it does in North America? Anyway, one of the main differences between Catholicism and Evangelicalism in Guatemala is that Evangelical churches teach that people have to put aside all their previously held beliefs and start from scratch, with a completely new faith to believe in, so that there is no combining of beliefs and traditions from other religions.

 

So when missionaries come to Guatemala with the purpose of furthering Christianity, there are several ways to approach it:

-Join with the Protestant Evangelical movement and have people “start from scratch”, getting rid of all their old beliefs and practices. The worldview or perspective here is that the combination of Catholicism and Mayan religions is all wrong and can’t be salvaged, and/or that Catholicism itself is a modification of Christianity gone wrong and can’t be salvaged.

-Try to “purify” the Catholicism that is being practised by encouraging people to get rid of the Mayan religious beliefs and practices. The perspective here is that Catholicism is a part of Christianity, another denomination like Anglicanism, the United Church, etc. With the experiences I’ve had (daughter of a Protestant pastor, attended public school, Catholic school, and Evangelical Protestant school), I’ve heard a bit on both sides of the “Is Catholicism part of Christianity?” debate, with both Catholics and Protestants on both sides of the debate. I don’t know where I am on the issue. I recognize that I don’t know enough about the theology and history of Christianity and the denominations and splits to be able to have an informed opinion.

-Encourage people to keep as much of their traditional Mayan (or whatever else) cultural beliefs and practices as they want, as long as it doesn’t directly go against Christian beliefs and practices. This appears to be a relatively new approach to missions, at least compared to missions in the past several centuries. When you look at the history of missions, there is an unfortunate trend of missionaries forcing the people they’re evangelizing to to adopt not only their religion but also their culture, value system, language, worldview, etc. A very one-way relationship, not recognizing the value of the culture of the people they were evangelizing to, and not realizing they could learn a lot from the people. But there is a growing movement in missions today that sees missionaries as partnering with the people they’re going to, learning from them, respecting their beliefs and values and practices, and not forcing the culture of the missionary on the people.

I recognize that I have an extremely limited understanding of the things I wrote about above. I would love to hear your opinion, and I welcome your corrections on things I got wrong about history, Guatemalan culture, Christian missions, etc. I also recognize that this is all coming from the perspective that people converting from their original beliefs to Christianity is a good thing and that if you don’t believe that, then you probably disagree with everything I’ve said above.

Late entry: My Last Week in Guatemala

Here are my notes on the things we did during our last week. I started this post before we left, but just finished it now.

Earlier this week, our group hiked up an active volcano. (How active, you ask? Well, it erupted very shortly after last year’s TWU Travel Study group hiked it! But that means it’s not very active now, as it used up the store of magma and energy then.) Actually, everyone else hiked up, I rode a horse most of the way up, then hiked with the rest of the group across the lava fields that had too many small stones for the horses to go on. There were constant Lord of the Rings references made as we neared the top of the volcano, because it looked a lot like Mordor. We hoped to find a vent or something where we could take a picture of one of us pretending to throw a ring into the red lava, but there was no red lava to be seen. We did do some random Lord of the Rings pictures with a ring, Frodo, and Gollum. ☺ There was also a cave that was strongly reminiscent of the cave with the monster rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Although we didn’t see any red lava, we could feel the heat coming off the rocks as we hiked near the top of the volcano. We played a game of “hot potato” with a rock about the size of the potato that was too hot to hold in one’s hands for more than a second or two. We ate lunch near a vent that had lots of hot air coming out, and some people turned their cheese sandwiches into grilled cheese sandwiches by holding them over the vent on a stick. It was a good time overall.

A note about our means of transportation in Guatemala: When we go places as a group (10 students, 2 profs, and our host), we take the van owned by our host, and he drives. When we go in smaller groups into town during our free time, we take the local buses (click on the link for a picture, they’re quite interesting!) which cost 1.5 quetzals each way (about 20 cents Canadian), or tuc tucs (click on the link for picture here too!), which cost about 25 quetzals ($3.30 Canadian) to get around town in. Tuc tucs are essentially 3-wheeled motorcycles with a metal body built around them. The driver sits in the front, and passengers sit in the back. We’ve crammed 3 people into a tuc tuc, and while being squished together provided some good shock absorption as the tuc tuc bumped around on the cobblestone streets and speed bumps, it’s more comfortable with one or two people. When I go to Casa Jackson, I take a taxi (Western-style car one) there (50 quetzals) and a tuc tuc back.

On Thursday, our group went to As Green As It Gets, a small-but-growing, extremely fair trade, local coffee co-op that has expanded into a lot more than just coffee! In the coffee fields, they grow fruit trees and other plants with coffee so they have lots of crops, harvests year-round, which brings in a steady income and is good if one or two of the crops don’t turn out well in a given year. The plants are also complementary: the fruit trees shade the coffee plants, which slows the maturation and gives the coffee a better flavour. We went on a tour of one of the farms, then came back to the house of the farmer who owns the fields we toured, participated in roasting and grinding coffee beans he had harvested from his field, and drank coffee made from the beans we had just roasted and ground. Then we had an opportunity to buy coffee beans from him, and burlap bags from his daughter (the women in the co-op sew things and make cosmetics to sell). It was the best fair trade possible: this farmer had planted the coffee plants, tended them, harvested the beans, his wife roasted them, and we bought the coffee beans straight from them, without any of the money we gave him being diverted anywhere. I bought the coffee to support the farmer and the co-op, but I don’t actually drink coffee… if you want super-fair-trade coffee beans from Guatemala, let me know and I’ll give it to you! ☺

We gained insight into how hard it is for people to run their own businesses, or to start a co-op. The farmer’s daughter that I bought the burlap bag from designed the bags herself, and had to work hard to get protection for the intellectual rights for the design. When she went to the patent office, she was basically told, “You’re a woman. You don’t matter. Go away.” But she persisted, and won. However, the power that having the patent gives isn’t as much as it would be inCanada. Franklin, the director of the co-op, told us about a farmer who wanted to export his coffee to North America andEurope. So he went to the Ministry of Coffee to get the appropriate license, and was told that a coffee farmer has to have deeds to 13 pieces of property before he can export coffee. Now, this is a completely bogus rule. The Ministry people made it up because all of the people on the board of the Ministry also own large shares in the big coffee plantations inGuatemala, and they don’t want competition from small farmers. They knew that this rule would make it impossible for the farmer to export coffee, because a single farmer can’t afford to own or work 13 pieces of land. But he went straight back home, called together 12 of his fellow farmers that night, and got a lawyer out of bed at 2:00am to sign the documents to have the properties owned by the other farmers into the name of the first one. No money changed hands. The next morning, the farmer went back to the Ministry office and presented his deeds to 13 pieces of land. They were dumbfounded. But they still wouldn’t give him a license to export. It took him 4 tries to get the license. The last time, he went to the office very early in the morning to be there when it opened, and stayed there all day. At closing time, they saw that he was still there, and gave up and gave him the license. Now all 13 farmers can export their coffee. Isn’t that amazing? Both the corruption working against the people trying to run small businesses, and their inspiring dedication and ability to work together to overcome the problems.

I encourage you to go to the website for As Green As It Gets, http://www.asgreenasitgets.org/, and check out all the info they have there. There’s info about the products they make, the farmers and seamstresses and others who make and sell things, and articles. Here are links to two of the articles I really like:

http://www.asgreenasitgets.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=363:a-days-work-for-a-slaves-wage-capitalism-now-cheaper-than-slavery&catid=31:franklins-world&Itemid=604

and

http://www.asgreenasitgets.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=300:im-not-tought-enough-to-be-a-guatemalan-woman&catid=31:franklins-world&Itemid=604

On Saturday, we went to LakeAtitlan. This is one of the big tourist spots in Guatemala. We rode a taxi-boat across the lake to Santiago(12 of the towns around the lake are named after the 12 disciples of Jesus). The economy in Santiagois obviously extremely tourist-driven. The main street was a market, with stalls lining the road offering touristy goods and food, and children walking throughout the market, and down to the dock where the taxi-boats arrive, trying to sell us things. I did my best to brush off the children attempting to sell me things with a firm “No, gracias” and a smile. Many of the other students in our group tried to make friends with the kids, asking their names and whether they went to school and so on, while saying “no” to the things the kids were trying to sell them. The kids followed them around for the hour or more that we were there, trying to sell them stuff. I felt bad for the kids. While I’m all for making friends and building relationships with the people I meet, I think my groupmates were unintentionally leading the kids on by chatting with them, even though most of them had no intention of buying anything. Two of them did buy something because they felt bad for the kids, but that just encouraged the kids more and they stuck even closer to the people who bought things in the hopes that they’d buy more. The kids were working, and I’m pretty sure they were working for someone else. If they’re only paid based on how much they sell, or if they sell more than a certain amount, then the hour they spent pretty much fruitlessly trying to sell things to the other in my group may have caused them to not get paid as much, or at all, at the end of the day, since it kept them away from other customers who could have actually bought things from them.

Another difference I noticed between myself and some of the others in the group was regarding how much to pay for paintings in the market. Generally, when we buy things in the market, we debate the price, and are generally satisfied if we end up paying less than half what the seller originally asked us for the item. It is acknowledged that the people in the market, knowing that because we are white tourists we have a lot of money, and don’t know how much we should be paying for an item, we may happily and unknowingly pay far more than what an item is worth. So we offer them a price far lower than what they’re asking for, and work towards something in the middle we can both agree on. But the girls that I was with in the market inSantiago didn’t apply this to paintings. They felt it was inexcusably rude to try to debate with someone on the price of a painting they had done, because the prices they asked for the paintings would be relatively low by Canadian standards, and to refuse to pay that would be to refuse to pay someone a reasonable amount for the amount of time and effort they had put into painting it. I felt so uncomfortable with their criticisms of how I was bartering with the painters that I just gave it up and didn’t buy a painting.

As well as going through the market inSantiago, our professors also encouraged us to go to the Catholic church to look around. There was an alter inside it to one of the gods of the Mayan religion, and they wanted us to see another example of how Catholicism and the Mayan religions had been unfortunately mixed inGuatemala. It’s great how Catholic churches are always open, so people can come in and pray anytime. But tourists can come in anytime too. I felt uncomfortable being part of a group of tourists coming in, as the others in the group were talking and laughing and taking pictures without trying to be subtle about it. So I sat in a pew to pray while they wandered around and did their touristy thing.

After we took a taxi-boat back across the lake to the town where were staying for the night, he had free time for the rest of the afternoon, and were told to be back at the hotel at 6:00pm so we could go for supper as a group. Some of us walked around the huge market there for a while, then stopped at a coffeeshop for drinks. It started to rain while we were in the coffeeshop, but we weren’t done our coffee yet so we decided to wait it out. It started lightly, but by the time we were done our coffee, it was pouring. So we decided to wait it out more. But it just kept coming down more and more, and turned into a real tropical downpour. By that time, we knew we’d have to run through it in order to get back to the hotel to meet the rest of our group for supper. So we ran, stopping along the way under bushes and the overhangs of stalls in the market. I was completely soaking wet. I couldn’t have been more wet if I jumped in the lake. As we ran, we could hear the locals in the restaurants lining the streets laughing at the silly gringos (white people) who got caught in the rain. ☺ That evening, I borrowed a skirt and shoes from one of the other girls, while waiting for my clothes to dry. But there was no heater in the room, so they were still wet the next morning when we went for a hike. I was able to borrow clothes again, and use the one dry shirt I had, so only my shoes were wet for the hike, and they were only damp, not soaking.

Supper was postponed so we wet ones could dry off and change, then we went to a restaurant overlooking the lake. It was very pretty, and the sunset was interesting – it had stopped raining, but the clouds were still there, and the sunlight came through in a very yellowish tinge, like indoor lighting, not like sunlight.

After supper, I walked around town with some of the Master’s students. I wasn’t comfortable walking around town after dark even though there were 2 guys in the group, but we were the last ones left at supper, and they all decided that they didn’t want to go back to the hotel yet, and I didn’t want to inconvenience them by demanding that we do go back to the hotel to leave me there before they went out, and I was kind of pleased to be included in their group. And they seemed confident and unanxious. At one point, one of the guys didn’t see me and another girl walking right behind him, and asked where we were. After realizing we were there and they hadn’t lost us, he jokingly said, “Say ‘here’ if you’re here! No, actually, say ‘help’ if you’re not here!”, in the same joking irony of someone who says to a group, “Is everyone here? Say ‘not here’ if you’re not here!”. The walk around town lasted about an hour, so I had a lot of time to think and commit to speaking up before allowing myself to get into a situation like that again.

Looking over my notes from this week, I realize that I’ve said negative things, directly or indirectly about the rest of our group. Let me clarify: these events are notable because they are unusual. Overall, it was a great group. I enjoyed getting to know each of them. They’re each strong Christians, and I learned from them many things about living out my faith, and we had some great discussions about various things. I was happily surprised several times by each of the 3 guys in our group of students, when they were perceptive to our needs and went out of their way to make me and the other girls feel safer in situations when we were out in town. I really enjoyed my time with everyone for those three weeks.

Home! (-ish)

This is my official I’m-back-in-Canada post, although I arrived back in the country last Thursday. Or maybe it was Wednesday… I’m not sure, that week is blurry with airports, packing, unpacking, re-packing, jet lag, lack of sleep…

But I’m back home now. At least, I’m back in Canada now. “Home” is kind of a fuzzy concept for me at this time in my life. I was born in Labrador, grew up in Ontario, lived for a year in another part of Ontario, go to school in BC, and travel in the summers. I was at my parents’ home last Christmas, and I’ll be back this Christmas. So I feel kind of like I visit my parents in the same way that they visit their parents – go see them regularly, but not making my permanent residence there any more. I haven’t “lived” at home since the summer after Grade 12. The summer after 1st year of university, I lived in Ontario, but worked at a camp, so was only “home” on weekends. Last summer I worked in Bella Bella, a small community in BC, a couple of hours from Vancouver. This summer, I went to Guatemala, now I’m back in Bella Bella. (This is the main reason for the lateness of my post – as soon as I got back from Guatemala, I had to leave for Bella Bella. They put me to work right away, with 12-hour shifts on Friday and Saturday. They provide free housing, but not internet. So I’m writing this on the computer in the staff lunch room in the hospital.) I feel kind of nomadic right now. I don’t know what to put on forms that ask for “permanent residence”. I ususally put my Ontario address, because I know my parents can send mail to me wherever I am. Sometimes I put my BC address at TWU if it’s something for school. It’s a nice feeling, being nomadic. I don’t have sentimental ties to any geographic location, which I like because I don’t like having sentimental ties to anything physical, as it feels materialistic and distracts me from what’s really important – being open to serving God, wherever He wants me. It’s much easier like this. I can move quickly and easily, and I move, permanently or semi-permanently, several times per year. Having opened my horizons even more in Guatemala, I want to actually live in another culture for an extended period of time, so I can become more of a global citizen. So I can feel my ties to Canada becoming looser too. When I get mopey about not having a “home”, I find comfort in knowing my true, permanent home is in Heaven, and I’ll get there eventually.

Wow, that turned out to be kind of long. I’ll probably write a few more posts about my last week in Guatemala, and reflections on the experience as a whole, just to help me process it all. I turned out to only have the opportunity to go to about 4 shifts at Casa Jackson, so I’ll be looking for a missions practicum that I can do here in Bella Bella, to get the required number of hours for the course.

So, hello! I am still geographically far away from all of you. I will see you in September (BC), or December (Ontario), or… sometime. 🙂


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