Cooking with Myra: Guatemalan mission trip success with working well

Nov. 8, 2011 at 5:08 a.m.

Guatemalan Tilapia

Guatemalan Tilapia

By Myra Starkey

Editor's note: This is Part II of a two-part series about Myra Starkey's mission trip to Guatemala.

As I sat in the front of the truck on the way to Nuevo Cajola, I fell in love with Guatemala, which was a country I had never visited, until now.

From my window, I could see acres and acres of sugar cane, corn and sesame. Workers had arrived early with machetes and were slicing through the green stalks of sesame and tying them in bundles. Women walked along the road already burdened by bags of corn tied to their backs heading into town. Children rode on backs of bicycles while their fathers avoided pit-sized pot holes in the road, which could send them tumbling off. Life seemed so fragile in this place, yet so beautiful.

The team had spent our first day drilling for water in this remote village. We went to a depth of 200 feet, but our master driller had decided that the best water was at 130 feet, so that was where we would set the pipe. A large shade cloth had been placed over the drilling rig by the local men, which gave us some relief from the rays of the intense Central American sun. I was thankful since I was sunburned from the previous day.

Most of the days at the drilling site were so similar that I have a difficult time remembering each day. We worked hard securing the metal casing pipe and then set the PVC, which would carry the water to the surface.

After the pipe had been placed in the hole, we blew the drilling mud and dirty water out of the well using compressed air. I was standing near the end of the pipe when this water first came out and was horrified to see that it was dirty. My first thought was, "Oh shoot, you can't drink that . what do we do now?" I looked at Jaime, the master driller, and he seemed pleased, so I figured it must be OK.

I quietly asked him about the dirty water, and he laughed. saying that it would be crystal clear by the afternoon.

I realized I had no water well drilling experience, so I did not know what to expect, but I was so excited to finally see clear water coming out of that PVC pipe. I joyously and immediately doused myself in the water along with the laughing children from the village. Our team accomplished what we came to do, and that was a great feeling.

Now that the well was done, I could wander off and explore. I headed to the house of a weaver that I had heard about. I came by the information by pantomiming, and it took me several episodes, which brought giggles from the native children, before I could get someone to understand.

When I arrived, I found that she was not at home, but her younger daughter sat on the ground in a back loom. This type of loom is secured on one end to a post or tree and the other end is tied around the back of the weaver, which keeps the threads tight.

I ventured into the back of the yard and found two large looms tied to trees. I was disappointed that the lady was gone, but planned to return later hoping to meet her. This craft is generally passed down from generation to generation and many women support their families weaving blankets and guilpils, which are the colorful, embroidered shirts that the women routinely wear.

Later, I did return, and two weavers sat under the trees creating masterpieces of color and texture. By this time I had coerced Janet, my photographer friend from Victoria, to come with me and take pictures of the ladies. Most of the women are very shy, but do allow photographs.

The people of this country have beautiful brown skin, dark hair and dark eyes, but the colors of their clothing are like nothing I have ever seen. The hues are vibrant, and I could not help but be happy surrounded by all this color.

Our final day included the placement of the hand-cranked pump, which was securely cemented in place.

A celebration followed with music, speeches by the mayor of the village and the local preacher. Most of us took turns pumping the well as the villagers drank their first taste of the clear, clean water. I felt goose bumps each time a women would kneel down to drink. Children giggled, old men talked and everyone smiled as we snapped photos.

It was a festive occasion and one we had looked forward to all week. There was lots of singing and clapping and simple joy. It was time for us to pack up our drilling rig and compressors and drive away leaving the villagers we had come to know.

I always hate to think I may never see someone again. And although I had only been with them a week, and only spoken through interpreters, I was sad to leave these new friends. Our group was mostly silent as we left, and I assume most of the others felt the sadness as well.

Our final day was spent in Antigua, shopping the artisan markets and touring old churches. We took a break for lemonade in a courtyard restaurant, but I could not stop thinking of the faces we had left behind.

I have been home almost a week, and daily I think of the people of Nuevo Cajola. They are happy despite their meager existence. They do not have any of the luxuries I enjoy, and yet they smile all the time. I must admit that I do not always feel like smiling. This truth has been the hardest part of being home.

I believe their smiles are the result of knowing that their treasures are not what money can buy. Their most valuable possessions are their families, children and their promise of hope.

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



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