Cooking With Myra: Mission team meets villagers, enjoys plantains for breakfast
By Myra Starkey
Oct. 29, 2013 at 5:29 a.m.
It's been a week now since I returned from Guatemala. I traveled with a team of friends whose goal was to drill a water well in a remote village that had no clean water.
We arrived in the old city of Antigua a few days early to see the sites like the normal tourists, but the real purpose of our adventure started when the local guides from Living Water picked us up at our hotel.
The team lodging for the organization is located in a small village near Antigua. It is a compound with three buildings and lots of bunk beds. The accommodations are humble, and perhaps that began to change our tourist mindset before we ventured deep into the country.
Our team attended a church service in Antigua on Sunday morning. Christians sang in both English and Spanish, and we listened to the word of God. The most impressive part of the service was that even though there was a language barrier, we felt we were all part of the same body and of one mind.
Many people in the congregation came to shake our hands to thank us for coming to their country to drill a water well.
We loaded the vans with the drilling supplies soon after the service and drove five hours over bumpy roads to our motel near Champerico.
Janet and I had been on this trip about a year ago. We laughed at our friends, explaining that we would be staying in a Motel 1, meaning that most likely there are geckos climbing on the walls and no hot water.
Last time we stayed there, we discovered a tree frog in our toilet, which nearly scared me to death.
To our surprise, they had upgraded the place, and now, there was a paved driveway and working air conditioners in the rooms.
I loved the first night of our trip when we all sat down for dinner at a long table. Only Janet and I knew what the week held for our team. There would be times of joy and of sadness, and I anticipated that our hearts would be changed forever and bound to the people of the village.
There was so much excitement in the chatter and laughter. It was an adventure.
After we returned on the following nights, the mood would be different as we came to understand the daily struggles and burdens of these simple people.
The village of St. Ines is about an hour and a half from Champerico. The roads have only a hint of paving, and as the rains beat down upon them during the rainy season, large pot holes appear, which greatly impedes driving. We shared the road with motorcycles, bicycles and herds of cattle as we dipped and swerved, sped up and slowed down, passing field after field of sesame and sugar cane.
Sugar cane is the main crop in the region, and most of the men and women work during the harvest. A full day's labor from sunrise to sunset will yield the equivalent of $7 in the U.S.
The land owners watch the laborers, monitoring how fast they cut, and if they cannot keep up because they are old or lame, they are let go. There is little other work.
Those who live in St. Ines stay busy. They garden and raise chickens, goats and pigs in order to eat. They have a three-room school, which children attend until the eighth grade. There is a one-room clinic, but the doctor only comes about once per month. Skinny dogs roam the streets and yards.
As we drove up, people appeared on the road, waving, and somewhere, a loud speaker announced our arrival.
The villagers waved our vans to an area to park, and soon we were joined by women wearing native huilpils (colorful cotton blouses) with dark skirts.
The girls were dressed like their moms in miniature versions of their attire. They seemed shy, not wanting to get near us. Our interpreter told us that most of them had not seen Americans or "gringas."
All of us were dressed in fishing shirts and quick dry pants. We were covered with sunscreen and wearing hats and sunglasses to protect us from the fierce glare.
I am sure they thought the women in our group looked a lot like the men because we were all dressed alike. We depended on Karla, our interpreter, and Jaime, our team leader, to communicate. The locals provided a person who could translate from the local language, Mam, which is a dialect of an ancient Mayan language, to Spanish. And then our interpreters translated that to English.
We were formally welcomed by the mayor of the village, who asked each of us to introduce ourselves. The children laughed and giggled, running around and acting just like children. The joyful sound of kids playing is universal, and all the moms in our group were smiling.
Bananas or plantains are plentiful in this tropical region of Guatemala. In Antigua, we had them for breakfast sauteed in butter with brown sugar. Yum.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.