Photos tell this story best

Before we ate lunch, we drove to the cemetery.  Why the cemetery? Because from the cemetery we could walk to an overlook and see the garbage dump from above– it was inside a crater-esque area.  For our bus to enter the cemetery, Juan Carlos had to pay as we drove through a gate.  We navigated to a spot far back, and he parked the bus.  All of us hustled out and followed Andres and Juan Carlos, police officer in front and police officer behind.  I meandered.  It was easier to take pictures. that way, but one of the officers, Carlos, then stayed back so that I wasn’t alone.

There was beauty there and history as well. I noticed, as I looked up, that there were hundreds of birds in the sky.  I felt like someone in The Birds: totally creepy.

We could smell burning and there was trash littered throughout our path to get to the overlook.  Our group spread out, single file, as they walked through the thigh-high grass.

The section of the cemetery that we passed through had been closed and people weren’t buried there anymore:

I wondered whose bodies had been removed.  How did their families feel? Did they even know? So many stories in those boxes.

And then, we were at the overlook. Years before, I had been in JustFaith and they showed us a video of a garbage dump community.  I’ve done community service and worked in impoverished areas for 15 years. I thought I knew. I thought I was prepared.  I was wrong. Continue reading

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How to do hospitality well…

… That’s what our arrival at St. Francis Coll was all about on our first day.

As we entered the facility we were given small handmade placards that said “Guatemala” and had a small doll on them. We sat alongside the walls of the inner courtyard and waited, warily, to see what came next.  Andres informed us that an assembly would occur shortly and that we should sit tight. The bell rang. Chaos began as children poured from classrooms and into the perimeter of the courtyard. They lined up all tucked in to our group. I was against a pillar and next to me was Jorge– probably in 5th grade– who kept nudging closer to me, his leg against mine, even when I moved over to “give him space”.  Hungry for contact: the kids oozed it and excitedly draped themselves up around, in, and against the teens we had brought and the adults.  The assembly began and so much took place.  We were welcomed, thanked, blessed, by Sr. Esperanza, the principal of the school.

What generosity and kindess. You can see on their faces how joyful they were to invite us into their homes.

Several of the children had prepared a skit to share with us what their days were like in the garbage dump communities.  What follows are several pictures from that.

More occurred during the skit, but I’ll begin with the first photo and cycle through the stories here. All of this was pantomimed, without any dialogue for the audience, except for the introduction we were given by the teacher in the beginning.  The children are sleeping there, awaiting the beginning of their days.  They are in different homes, with different things to do and such.

The second picture is one of a city worker cleaning in the streets.  She bustled around and was rather buffoon-like. The children in the audience kept hooting with laughter.  There was a police officer as well that earned a lot of laughs from the kids.  It was obvious that they didn’t take the police seriously.  So strange for me to watch this play unfold and watch at the same time our police escorts.  I kept looking to see their reactions; they must have seen similar before or were unaffected, as neither of them flinched even a tad bit.

The third picture was a group, perhaps a gang, who was eyeing two young girls who were selling produce or some other sort of merchandise.

Next up, the actual mugging.  The kids are laughing in this picture, as their friends hold a toy gun (that looks mighty realistic).  When I am in a situation that really makes me nervous, I laugh and I freeze.  It seemed from how the kids all around reacted though, that they thought this was funny.  It wasn’t nervous laughter like mine is.  It was the “funny” that comes from something that you see around you all the time.

The last picture in this set is of a young girl who was pregnant. She’d sleep on the ground with her friends, wake up, then party and drink.  She walked around for a bit of the play, drinking and drinking.

The skit, even more than our journey into the community, reminded me that I needed to listen and ask lots of questions. The ordinariness of the violence and chaos for the children called me out to learn more.

Tomorrow, a bit about the more lighthearted parts of the welcoming, then the nursery!