When the sun rises on Guatemala City, the true nature of the city comes with it. In between the staples of North American life, the Taco Bells and the Sherman Williams, is a city of painted cinderblocks, street vendors and beggars. Crowds flock to the square in front of the Presidential Palace where these groups congregate.
The scents of roasted corn and fresh cut fruit permeate the air in the market as vendors shout their inventories to anyone who will listen, and even those who won’t. One man carries a large bag of boiled peanuts while another totes bags of cotton candy. Old women sell baskets while children sell baskets of various fruit. Near the road a man slices the skin off pineapples and sells the cut fruit for about 60 cents. It’s sweet and wet and sticky and a little sticky. A few streets of way under a sign that says Tipicos is the underground market, where hand woven goods meet with various tact types of mass-produced t-shirts. The vendors there act the same, calling out their goods as we walk by. Several say proudly that their goods were made in Atitlan, where we’ll be going on Saturday.
Beggars sat on cardboard outside the large Cathedral de Santiago de Guatemala on another end of the square. Inside, there was a christening and confirmation going on. Outside, in the square, a large stage was being set up for a visit from the most recent Latin America Idol winner. Those stereos duel with a marching band that’s leading a processional for the celebration of a saint.
When we left Guatemala City, it didn’t take long for high rises to give way to the cinderblock slums and automobile salvage yards. Small homes were stacked on each other closer to the city, but as winding mountain roads snaked and hair-pinned northwest to Chichicastenango, homes of brick and scrap wood and sheet metal began to take the place of the cinderblocks.
Driving in Guatemala is like skateboarding down a roller coaster with no harness and no helmet. Buses loaded with people, some hanging on top of the bus, barrel around jackknife turns while swerving around traffic. The road was out in some place where mudslides, the consequence of carving the roads out of the mountains, had washed it away. In some places, the road narrowed to two lanes. Pedestrians, whether children on foot or men on bicycles, traveled the same roads in a way you don’t see too often in the United States. At the end of this treacherous stretch was the city Chichicastenango, a town full of gray one-lane wide cobblestone streets and devoid of the chains that dot Guatemala City.
But the people are the same, which has made Chichicastenengo perhaps even busier of a city than Guatemala. The market may only be open two days a week, but people still line the streets in an attempt to sell whatever they can. The streets are still packed with buses, cars, and any other mode of transportation that can possibly take a person from one place to another.
Most of the streets of Chichicastenango are one lane wide but the natives still drive like an open field. Only now pedestrians are more prone to walk directly in the street. The buildings are concrete or cinderblock and the city can seem quite chaotic at times.
However, the people of Chichi have been like everyone else in Guatemala. They are helpful, understanding and cordial. They run on their own time, a trait that makes it difficult for a person whose life is normally centered on deadlines.
From my limited experience with the two cities, it’s amazing how two cities so different in size and scope can come with the same feeling. The people have, thus far, been friendly and hard-working.
Our next stop is in the mountains. The first village the missionaries will visit is so remote that they haven’t had any medical care in years.
Lightning was still arcing in the sky when our plane traveled through the heavy turbulence into a landing so hard that my father, who was sleeping in the seat next to me, let out a yelp and clenched the seat in front of him.
In Oklahoma, it was just after midnight on Sunday when we landed after long delays in Houston. I stepped off the plane, taking my first steps into Guatemala City.
My first sight was a Playstation 3 set up in the terminal a few steps away from a Pizza Hut.
In many ways, Guatemala City is a lot like any other major city. In the rainy Guatemalan night, or rather really early morning, familiarity was not hard to find. Whether it was the logo of the Volkswagen dealership or the Sherman Williams paint store near the airport or the Burger King that are identical to the stores at home, one could be forgiven for believing they were in the United States. Despite the suitcases of pills and syringes and various other medical implements, the customs agency didn’t examine the suitcases. That was a far cry from what Bill Brewer remembered about the first time he came to Guatemala in 1991. Then, customs wouldn’t let one suitcase of medicine through without searching it, much less 20. Now our customs forms were given a quick glance and we didn’t lose a step as we wheeled them out onto a waiting bus where we met one of our interpreter’s for the trip, Raul.
It’d be easy to look at the flashing fast food signs and find such familiarity, but even in one night the differences started to creep through. I could smell the water even through the persistent rain. I couldn’t tell whether it was sulphur or something else, but it reminded me immediately of the first thing I was told about my trip to Central America. Never drink the water. Even after midnight we could hear the blaring horns of a taco truck as it drove past, its driver unhappy with the speed of the buses’ progress on the street. Dance clubs darted the street view and we had to take a detour to the hotel when we ran into a police blockade. Shortly before we got to the hotel, a man was walking through the street in plain view, his eyes darting around as he held a loaded shotgun in his hands.
Raul told us that such a sight was common, not only in the relative metropolis of Guatemala City, but throughout the country.
“It’s everywhere,” Raul said.
It was well after 1 a.m. when a doorman at the hotel locked the door behind us when a drunk man knocked on the glass and tried to get in. We’re exhausted, but in a few hours we’ll leave, traveling to southwest Guatemala to the city of Chichicastenango where we’ll set up our base for the bulk of the trip.
On Saturday, a group of volunteers will leave Oklahoma City and fly into the Central American country of Guatemala. Their suitcases will be loaded with bottles of medicine, latex gloves, bandages and anything else they can pack along with them. They’re medical missionaries and from through Monday through Friday, they’re going to provide basic health care to natives in rural areas.
Guatemala is located south of Mexico and west of Belize and Honduras in Central America. According to the CIA World Factbook, there are more than 13 million people living in Guatemala, according to the most recent estimates. The average life expectancy is roughly 70 years and the risk of infectious diseases is high. More than half the population is below the poverty line.
That’s part of the population the medical missionaries will be targeting. The group will base out of the city of Chichicastenango in southwestern Guatemala and travel to rural villages to set up clinics. Many of the people they’ll treat have no other access to medical care.
I’ll be with the group, helping out where I can. I’ll be blogging throughout the trip, assuming there’s internet access throughout.
The group consists primarily of medical professionals, a doctor, a dentist, and three nurses. Including me, there are five others making the trek as well.
What’s it going to be like for doctors to provide health care to places without running water or electricity to people who may have no other access to a health care?
Come Monday, I’ll find out.
I’m a romantic at heart and Scott Williams of Crofton, Md., recently made my day.
According to a Capital News Story distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, Williams is frantically searching for someone who will give him two tickets to Thursday’s papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Williams said his girlfriend, who is completing her theology degree at Mt. St. Mary’s University, wants to attend the Mass and see Pope Benedict XVI.
Williams wants to propose to her, either at the Mass, or present them to her during his proposal beforehand — the wire story wasn’t clear about that.
One thing is clear – those papal Mass tickets are hot items.
Here’s the thing: It’s wrong to sell such tickets, according to the Archdiocese of Washington.
A spokesman for the archdiocese is quoted as saying a Roman Catholic Church Mass is considered a sacrament, and scalping the tickets (which were free, but in limited supply) is equivalent to selling a sacrament, which is forbidden according to church law.
This has not stopped some folks from trying to sell the tickets, though.
As of April 11, there were 28 “tickets wanted” posts in the Washington section of classified ad Web site Craigslist, with one post offering to sell, according to the Capital News Service story. The story went on to say that the Archdiocese of Washington had the site remove about 20 posts selling the tickets or passes.
Anyway, I’ll be curious about Williams and his proposal plans. Interestingly enough, Williams doesn’t want to buy the tickets since that’s wrong. He is proposing an in-kind exchange. He has information technology skills and is offering to fix a computer for someone who might want to give him two tickets to the Mass. Or he’ll even clean someone’s house.
People who want to help him are probably going to proceed with caution, according to the wire story. You see the tickets are the nontransferable property of the archdiocese and there is a designated process for assigning “unneeded” tickets.
The archdiocese spokeswoman said each ticket is seat-specific and bar coded so officials should be able to track who is supposed to be sitting in any given section. If archdiocese official see a seat or section number on sale, they can cancel that ticket or flag a row for monitering, the wire story said.
Imagine being pinpointed as an illegal ticket holder at the papal Mass –– beyond embarrassing!
The spokeswoman said 200,000 people applied for 46,000 passes and there are 10,000 people on the waiting list.
Romantic though he may be, Williams may wait in vain for these golden tickets.
I’ve met many “cradle-Baptists” in my time as religion editor.
Yep, I’ve also met plenty of people who were raised as Roman Catholics and who still adhere to the faith traditions of their youth.
However, a survey released this week said those folks still dedicated to the faith traditions of their childhood are decreasing in number.
In fact, the survey released this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says that nearly half of American adults have left the faith tradition of their upbringing.
According to the survey, they are either switching to another denomination or faith or deciding to reject religious affiliation.
A story about the survey is featured in Saturday’s Religion section. I’d like to know what readers think about the survey findings.
E-mail your comments and opinions to email@example.com.
Martin Luther King Jr. said America’s most segregated major institution is the church.
“At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation,” King said in 1963. “This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this.”
In noting today’s national holiday, ABC News on Sunday ran a feature about an Ohio church that is trying to break down the voluntary segregation of most churches. The church members regularly visit Sunday worship services at predominantly white churches. Sometimes they tell the church they’re coming; other times they drop in unexpectedly. The pastor is trying to break down barriers between Christians.
“We are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” the Rev. Cliff Biggers told ABC News. “If there’s one Lord, one faith, one baptism, then we ought to be able to worship together.”
In a small way, my family did that on Sunday. Our predominantly white Edmond church for the past four years has with predominantly black Holy Temple Baptist Church staged a joint Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative service at one chuch or the other. Since this year’s service was scheduled to be at our church on Sunday night, we decided to worship at Holy Temple in the morning.
The members couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. As you might expect, the service was considerably different than what we experience at our church. It was longer, louder and more participatory than what we’re accustomed to. But the central message was a familiar one, and the experience was in all ways positive.
Unlike Biggers’ concept, our attendance at Holy Temple was not part of any broad-based plan to tear down walls that separate black and white — it was an opportunity for us to get out of our spiritual comfort zone. We’re the kind of people who sit in a different pew just to meet folks and stir the pot. It also is part of an effort to help my children experience diversity, and to grow up as someone who evaluates people by the content of their character. But frankly, we did it mainly because we thought we would enjoy it, and we did.
Only 7 percent of America’s churches are racially mixed. On June 29, Biggers is planning a nationwide Mission Sunday. He hopes to organize 1,000 churches across the United States to visit churches that “look different from one another.”
Can I get an “Amen?”
Travelers at Will Rogers World Airport may notice people waiting for large containers of water along with luggage in the baggage claim area.
In the last few days, many Oklahoma Muslims have been arriving back in the state from their Hajj journey and most of them have brought back Zam-zam water. Imad Enchassi, imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said Zam-zam water is a precious gift that Hajj pilgrims bring back to share with others who did not make the Hajj journey. Hajj is observant Muslims’ annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the five pillars of Islams.
Enchassi said last year, the Travel Security Administration (TSA) developed specifications for pilgrims desiring to bring the holy water back to the United States. He said pilgrims don’t want to simply bring back a small bottle of the water. They typically want to bring back gallons of Zam-zam, which they consider miraculous.
Enchassi said the good news is customs officials in Saudi Arabia were aware of the complexity of traveling with the water, plus it was packaged to meet TSA specifications this year.
According to the Council on Islamic American Relations, many Muslims believe that the water from a well in Mecca is divinely blessed. According to Islamic tradition, Zam-zam water is water that Allah presented to Hagar, who cried out for water for her son, Ishmael when they were alone in the desert.
CAIR advised Hajj pilgrims to pack their Zam-zam water it in their checked baggage if the container was larger than three ounces, pursuant to the TSA’s liquids regulations.
The Rev. Wayne Childers always expects a larger than usual crowd at South Lindsay Baptist Church on the Sunday before Christmas.
This year he’s expecting the holiday service to draw more people, but for the last few days he had been afraid folks would flock to the church at 3300 S Lindsay — only to find noone there.
The reason behind his anxiety?: Church leaders decided this afternoon to hold Sunday’s services at Wheeler Elementary School, 501 SE 25, instead of the South Lindsay church building.
The building had been without electricity since Dec. 10 because of the ice storm. He said electric company representatives had told him the power would be restored Dec. 19 or 20, but he began to fret when that didn’t happen.
Electric company crews restored power to the building at about 3 p.m. today (Dec. 21) , a few hours after Childers said he and other church leaders made the decision to move services to the school.
But another few hours after the change had been made, there was another switch (pun intended).
Childers said the decision was made to switch the services back to the church late this evening.
So it looks like the South Lindsay Baptist sanctuary will likely be filled with people come Sunday just as the pastor had envisioned.
“It’s Christmas Sunday — one of the biggest Sundays of the year,” he said.