Cooking with Myra: Mission trip aims to provide working water well to Guatemalan village

Nov. 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.

The villagers met the Living Water International group with gifts of flowers when they arrived.  Myra Starkey is shown with two ladies from the village.

The villagers met the Living Water International group with gifts of flowers when they arrived. Myra Starkey is shown with two ladies from the village.

By Myra StarkeyEditor's note: This is Part I of a two-part series about Myra Starkey's mission trip to Guatemala. Part II, 'Water and Weaving,' will run next week.

My thirst has been quenched in a big way during this past week of my life.

I traveled to Guatemala with Living Water International. This organization builds water wells in Third World countries with the help of volunteers.

I had the privilege of being a driller. This was a true treat since I had been told the drilling team spots were filled and I would be a hygiene teacher.

Because I am someone who loves being outside and doesn't mind being covered with mud, it was a dream come true to actually help drill the water well in the remote village.

The most dangerous part of my trip was from Victoria to Houston, where my Prius had two flat tires. My friend, Janet, was traveling with me, and we finally arrived at the Sheraton airport hotel around midnight sitting in the cab of a flatbed tow truck. I cannot say enough good things about tow truck drivers who come to your rescue on dark highways.

Our team arrived in Guatemala City at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. This place is a busy metropolis with smog, dust and masses of people crowding the streets riding bicycles. Many of the citizens are dressed much like Westerners.

The city folks work at jobs in factories or for the government.Once we passed through the center of the city, we began to see the poverty of the country, which I will never forget. The mountains rose on either side of our vehicle, and tin and wood shanty villages were nestled among the trees.

I was traveling with a team of 11 others, mostly from Coastal Oaks Church in Rockport. A young couple from Austin had joined us, as well as a DuPont engineer from Delaware.

Our bond was our common mission of bringing water to a village. The village was five hours from Antigua, the home base for Living Water.

During our short drive to the host family's home in Antigua, I was struck by the beauty of the country. The dark green trees and lush foliage are a stark contrast to the drought-stricken land of South Texas.

Our first day was spent in Antigua at the organization's compound. From our bunk room, we could see an active volcano, but the distance kept us from seeing all but small puffs of smoke.

We loaded the trucks with our luggage after a morning service at a Bible Church and headed toward the coast and the region called Champerico. I garnered a front seat in the truck driven by Jaime, who was a Guatemalan working for Living Water. I typically get car sick and was offered the seat since we were driving on winding mountain roads. Jaime is the head guy of the Living Water team and our master driller.

I pestered him with a barrage of questions during our five hours of travel. I guess he thought I chattered a lot because he laughed and said I was like a lorita, which means parrot.

Perhaps I was just excited about being a part of this once in a lifetime adventure to a world I had only read about in books.

Our team referred to our accommodations as a Motel One, but because we had cold running water for showers and air conditioning in our room, it scored at least a four with me. Unlike most of the people living in this area, we had flushing toilets and running water, which came out of a faucet.Our hotel had a huge swimming pool with a high dive shaped like a sea horse and was referred to as the luxury motel.

Our dinners were served outdoors on a table under a palm covered roof. Our cook served us a dinner of roasted chicken and macaroni salad. She explained that Americans love macaroni, and she had carefully prepared what she heard was our favorites.

We retired early after planning out the next day. So far in our trip, we had been awakened every day at 4:30 a.m. I was hoping for a reprieve, but our guide explained our schedule and assured us that if we went to bed at 9 in the evenings, getting up would be easy.

We traveled to the village of Nuevo Cajola before sunrise, and I was not prepared for the welcome we received. The drilling site was lined with local women dressed in the brightly embroidered guilpil blouses and dark skirts, which are wrapped several times around and cinched with hand loomed colorful belts. They brought beautiful flowers for us, which they placed at the well site.

The men of the small village stood with their hats in their hands cheering for us as we stepped from our vehicles.

We set up our drilling rig and began the process of preparing the drilling mud. Within minutes I was splattered in mud and could not wipe the smile from my face.

One might question where a village like this gets water before we come to help. Some of the villagers dig wells by hand to about 30 feet. They use hand cranks or small electric pumps to bring this lightly brown water to the surface. Because the area experiences heavy rain at least six months a year, the wells and the nearby latrines overflow, and their drinking water becomes contaminated.

We did need water to operate the drilling rig. About 20 women carried water to us in large rubber jugs, which were balanced on their heads. Many had babies strapped to their backs. I tried to carry a water jug on my head with marginal success, which elicited giggles from the village women.

They never seemed to tire as they continued to bring us water, and then quietly sat upon the ground waiting for whatever instructions they received.

After setting up the rig, we began drilling. After almost the whole day, we were at a depth of 200 feet. We took samples of the strata to determine where we could obtain the best water. Things looked most promising at 130 feet. This was greatly encouraging because we were told there was no guarantee that we would even find a good source of water. Our drilling team took turns operating the rig or digging trenches or mixing more drilling mud.

At midday, we took a break for lunch. Several of the women in the village had set up a cooking station near the community meeting place. This building was basic cinder block with a tin roof. The other part of our group met there to teach the women and children basic health and hygiene.

At noon, the men put a huge table in the middle of the place, and the women served us large bowls of chicken and squash soup with stacks and stacks of fresh corn tortillas. The amazing thing was that they grew the corn, dried it, then ground it, then made the tortillas.

They also raised the chickens and the squash. In fact, they raised almost everything they prepared for us.

The meals were simple yet they satisfied our ravenous appetites and gave us the sustenance we needed for the remainder of the day. We sat at the long tables and shared our meal with several of the village people, who were probably the leaders. We had several interpreters, but words were not needed to see that we enjoyed their hospitality.

Our team drilled until about 6:30 the first night, and then headed for the motel. I was so dirty, I had to sit on a piece of plastic for the ride back. Normally, I have trouble sleeping, but after a day on the rig, I slept like a baby. I woke up the next day ready to do it all over again.

I have difficulty imagining the difficult lives these people lead. They work harder than most Americans for only a few dollars. They wake at around 4 in the morning and catch the bus into town for work. Many work at a shrimp factory and others work as day laborers in the sugar cane fields. Many sleep in small homes with walls made of sticks, dirt floors, and tin and palm thatched roofs. Their doors were generally open as we passed each day, and they would smile and wave as though they had not a care in the world.

I found a recipe for Guatemalan tamales. The tamales on our trip were delicious.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail



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