A walk in the mud

A walk in the mud

Paul Pitcher – Guatemala

Paul Pitcher – Guatemala

A reflection from December…

Little did I know what Mother Nature had in store for us as the pickup truck hustled around the hairpin turns dug into the side of the mountain or huffed and puffed up a steep rut-filled incline. It still didn’t click in my mind as the mist began to settle around us, the tiny little droplets beginning to mount upon the brim of my hat. That mist transformed into rain, a rain that appeared to not have an ending point, that seemed to suck the soul out of everything it touched. It was the first time I had felt the rain with such a dark and ominous presence. Usually the rain means life to me and I skip along under its company.  The last time I ventured up into these mountains the rain was so intense that the paths were like rivers under my feet, but on that trip the sun eventually came out. But this time when I arrived a few hours later at the small community I found out that it had been raining for 3 consecutive weeks, that the villagers had not seen the sun…It had taken us a good while to reach the village, much longer than my usual sprint down the trails, through the valleys, and up into the hills. This time the paths were not rivers, the paths were full of more mud than I have ever seen. Sink holes that swallowed feet and hiking boots whole and wouldn’t let them go without a fight. Once you were able to extract your boot from one of these carelessly arranged traps that spanned from one side of the path to the other, you found that your boots no longer looked like boots; their form only slightly resembling a shoe and looking more like a square slimy adobe brick; their distinctive colors were now just a dull shade of brown matching the color of your pant legs. And all the time with the rain soaking everything.

This is how I entered the village of Saq Ja’ that I have been to many times for what may be my last visit in this stage of my life. And that is where the real rain begins to pour down. Rain can mean so many things as I look at the two years of my life here and the history of Guatemala. From the actual rain that caused massive mud slides and cave-ins killing thousands in October; to the rains of war and terror punctuated by the massacres in the 1980s; to the tears that fall inside my heart as I watch the children wallow in poverty; to the actual rains which dominate the country from November through April and sometimes make it hard to live, work, or smile; and to the difficulties I am dealing with as I prepare to exit this stage of my life…the rain comes tumbling down…

I have walked into that village with groups and sometimes on my own, a multicolored woven sheet tied in a hobo-like manner and slung over my shoulder filled usually with some kind of candy for the kids. I have shared meals around the fire with the community and with individual families who freely invite me into their homes for a moment of just being together. I have played with the children, running this way and that on the soccer field, screaming and laughing. One friend of mine tells me that he has heard so many stories of my entry into the village that he makes it out to be a fable when he tells people of the tall white man who appears out of the mountains, with his knapsack full of candy and a “patux[1]” which he yells out into the valley and all the kids come running like the pied piper with his flute.

It was as I set foot into the warmth of the communal house, as I saw the open arms waiting to welcome me in and greet me once more though I was soaking wet, stank like a wet pig, and looked like something you would never bring home to your mother, that I felt the family that I have come to know and love circle around me and I realized that it was the beginning of the end of my time in Guatemala.

And that is where this reflection really starts. Two years, the 24 months have flown by. They look like a bunch of scribbled lines in the four journals I have managed to fill up, a host of memories guarded sometimes in secret and sometimes openly in my heart.
Both my most recent trip to Saq Ja’ and my entire journey in the last two years could easily have been trips that might have dampened the spirits, broken the body, and inundated the mind. But as I sat around the warm fire in the village, my pants hanging on a rafter above my head while the sounds of laughter and cooking stirred a delightful mixture around me I realized that my own trials and tribulations were like an earring lost in a corn silo, small and easily overlooked in the grand scheme of things.

I have come to this conclusion many a time and as I talked to Jacinto a little while later, I confirmed what I had feared, that the rains were having a negative affect on the village. Rains, which can bring life as they bless the lands with abundant crops and rains which can bring death, the world crying out with scratchy throats as drought racks certain area. It is the harvest season and the rain was making it almost impossible for them to get their work done. The lack of sunshine had taken a beat out of their usually lively and sprite steps. But as we stepped in out of the rain, looking like the swamp monsters covered in mud, we were met with smiles, we were greeted with laughter, and we were welcomed by children jumping back and forth. Our presence brought the normally separate families who live scattered around the mountains together in the communal house. Over the next two days we saw about 100 patients and distributed all types of medicine. I, along with the family, a medic, his wife and daughter who had sloshed through the mud with me, a journey that was much more difficult for them to make and to have even imagined brought, in my opinion, a small ray of light into the soaked community. Jacinto told me that they were so happy to have visitors, not only because we were there to distribute medicine but also because it made for a sunny respite from the tedious days of rain. But still I worried about the village since the harvest means life for them. It would end up being a journey of both joy and concern.

It is appropriate that as my journey began over two years ago on my first trip to this village, where I saw something I knew I had to follow that it should begin to come to a close in the same space.

Late the second evening, after our work was all packed up I sat around a fire blazing out side one of the 7 classrooms of the villages’ school. On one shoulder perched Juana Isabel’s two hands. One on top of the other she laid her head down to rest. On the other side of me, Miguel leaned his elbow upon my leg. Diego sat upon my lap with his head swiveled around to stare up into my eyes as he kept poking me in the stomach and saying jun kach’ since I had been handing out starburst earlier and that is the K’iche’ word for gum. I watched as Baby Juana Lucia poked her head through one of the open windows to watch the marimba players inside the classroom, a huge grin plastered on her face. It was almost as if tears were rising here and there in my eyes as I looked from face to face, feeling this family around me. But only I knew what was going on in my heart, I choose to keep the emotions guarded. The night before I had stood with the entire upper section of the village in the communal house and felt their energy all around me, listened to their words of thanks, shared a moment of silence with them for a member of the village who lives in the states and is very ill. I had brought them this news through the mud. A lump grew in my throat. I wasn’t sure whether this would be my last visit to the village for a while, whether it was time to tell this family of mine how much they have meant to me in the last two years.

I know that I am trying to describe something here but that I am failing. Finding words to describe these last two years, to talk of the relationships I have formed, to explain the rain, and to look at the next big step in front of me. The multifaceted metaphorical and factual drops of water could have sucked so much out of this country and out of me, yet even as I see the rain falling around us, I can still see that little ray of sunshine that nudges through and dries up the rain. It may all take me a lifetime to sort it all out, journeys to see friends and family, and, a few more walks in the mud.

Paul Pitcher is a missionary with the Christian Action of Guatemala (ACG). He serves as a communication and youth worker with ACG.

[1] “duck” in the Mayan language of K’iche’ (beginning of the game duck, duck, goose)