Somersaults, music, and hula hoops later, our group of 14 set out into the neighborhood, to visit several homes.
Our route led down a narrow lane; accompanied by several children from the Coll, numerous mangy dogs, and our police escort, we followed our Pied Piper, Andres. Most noticeable was the smell– which I had last noticed in Nicaragua– of burning trash. It permeates everything and eventually is unremarkable, but that first walk, I thought, “Oh! I remember this.” Once past the smell, I could actually notice other smells such as food from a tienda–fried plantains, fried chicken. Many people sold food from inside their homes. Snacks for the kids to buy: all sorts of food that I couldn’t name or identify, but that looked delicious and colorful.
Further into the community we entered our first home: walking through a cloth door, we all squished into a small, dim room. One of the fifth graders lived here–both her mother and father were home– which is why we were able to go in. The mother did most of the talking. She welcomed us, time and time again, citing how blessed she was by International Samaritan and how grateful she was for her house and our work. They had lived in the house for several years; before that, they had lived further away. Her husband stood against the wall, silently, as she shared. He was looking for a job and the family was making do with the garbage gathering that the mother did every day. She would begin at 6 am usually, as people would fight and wait for the trash to come in so that they could claim and gather it. She thanked God again for the house and for International Samaritan and blessed us. Andres translated and while he did, I watched her eyes and listened to her speak. With my Spanish I could understand much of what she shared, but her eyes just gleamed with light and took all of my attention.
Our second stop was where Pablo lived. The floor, unlike the others we had seen, was dirt. I felt claustrophobic as I walked in, between the dim light that only came from crevices, the small space, and the lack of air circulation. Magazine pages, advertisements, American kitsch, lined the walls as decoration. There was a clothesline hanging in the room that we navigated around. as we followed Pablo into the second room: two twin beds and all 13 of us crammed in between them. That was all there was space for. Pablo, 11 shared the bed with his mom and sister. His remaining three sisters slept in the other bed. One of them was studying (through Paso a Paso with International Samaritan) to be an accountant. Later, when I asked Pablo what he wanted to be, he told me that he wanted to work as a computer teacher as an adult.
Our final stop on the tour was at a larger home, that we reached by leaving the community there and walking through some sort of recycling facility. There were dump trucks, gates, animals, large mud puddles. One of the girls lived in the home with her mother and 5 siblings. Andres told us she was a “lonely mother” (single mom). She shared much of her story: her family had helped her build the house that we were in. It was relatively large compared to the others. Although she had worked at the garbage dump before, she wasn’t there any longer; instead, she worked right next to where she lived in a small tienda. The owner paid her the same as what she had made in the dump: about 40 quetzales. She spoke of her gratitude and wanted to answer any questions we had. Her pride in what she had accomplished, and her love and generosity in sharing herself, like each of the others we had encountered, jumped out at me.
Yes, they do know how to do hospitality in Guatemala.