Phew. Finally a few days to catch my breath after 4 fun and exhausting weeks of traveling.
After FiP trip #1 in Jalapa, I left the very next morning to accompany a Cedepca trip- 2 days in Guate and then 5 in good old Xela. The trip was put together by an ex-YAV (Guatemala 2003-2004) who formed a group of Guatemalan women from all over the country into a theater company of sorts to give them a place to express themselves and share their stories. They get together each year with about 6 women from Winchester, VA, who pay their ways and their boarding for the week-long retreat. During the week, we also got to visit the health post in a rural aldea oustide of Xela (Pachaj, where I did a week of language school) and give two info sessions and teach women how to do breast exams. It was a really cool week, and also really eye-opening, mainly because of one of the Guatemalan women, Petrona.
Petrona and her 8year old daughter, Petronila came all the way from Northern Guatemala to be with us for the week- a journey I´m told took 24 hours by foot, boat, and bus-- all expenses paid by the Winchester ladies, or else I´m sure she could have never come. She and her daughter are native kekchí speakers (in fact, her daughter doesn´t speak Spanish) and are from a very small village near Lake Izabal in Petén. They´re really tiny ladies with really huge hearts.
One night, Jenny split us up into 2 groups to share stories. The prompt was to tell a time when we experienced hunger, or helped a friend who was experiencing hunger. Petrona offered to go first, and shared the following story (which I translated).
About 15 years ago, when she had only 5 kids, her husband got a job. When he got this job, though, he started to drink. Every night, instead of coming home to his wife and 5 children, he went to the bar and drank away his money. When Petrona asked and begged him not to spend their money this way, he would hit her. The family literally did not have food. Not just a low-stocked fridge and pantry full of food they didn´t feel like eating- literally nothing to eat. Finally, even though she had 5 kids to take care of, Petrona had to take matters into her own hands because they were eating nothing but a few corn tortillas each day. So Petrona started carrying water from the water source to people´s houses for Q.25 each way. That´s about the equivalent of US $.03 per journey-- I didn´t have the heart to ask how far it was, or how many trips she could make each day... But I´m pretty sure it didn´t amount to much. Somehow she maintained her family this way for nine years. Nine years.
Apparently after 9 years, her husband stopped drinking, or things got better, or something... but little Petrona definitely gave me a Real Problems moment. There at that table, she was willing to trust us -essentially strangers- enough to share these dark times with us. Us, women from a different country and a different context. Women who had never experienced hunger, and most likely never will. Petrona shared her Real Problems and let us soak them in and learn from them. That´s what real mission partnership looks like. Yes, the Winchester ladies paid for her to come and eat for a week which was really generous, but Petrona gave us all something way more valuable without even realizing it.
Lord, thank You for women who are bold enough to be vulnerable.
¨The world is hungry for goodness and recognizes it when it sees it... When we glimpse it in people we applaud them for it. We long to be a little like them. Through them we let the world´s pain into our hearts, and we find compassion.¨
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu