Tomorrow morning, bright and early...and I mean early, we will head to the airport and get on a big United Jet headed to Guatemala. Once we get there, we will gather our belongings, the stuff we packed and decided that we couldn't live without for a week, as well as our hammers, work gloves, tool bags, fat pencils and our measuring tapes. My daughter will meet us at the airport and we will pile into a bus to go to the small town to begin our vacation.
I started doing things like this for vacation in 1999, when my kids were little and I was hanging with the teenagers at church. They wanted to do something different and I was all in. My kids couldn't go because the were 7, 5 and 2...so Jim stayed home with them. At that time, what struck me was how hard the work was and how difficult it must have been to live in the conditions that they did. I came home to my big house and felt terribly guilty. "Why me and not them...why do I get a big, dry house and they live in cardboard boxes, pallets and bed springs for walls?" I just got lucky...I guess.
For most of my life after those trips I wondered what I was and am supposed to do. Am I supposed to sell my house and move to a little one because people don't have houses that are dry in Juarez? Am I supposed to go to nurse practitioner school so I can move down to Nicaragua and take care of a town with my medical knowledge? Or, do I put my life's work into figuring out water and sanitation for the third world countries?
In the beginning of my trips, I went to these places thinking they just needed to change. They needed to do things how we do things in the US with regard to health and they will all be healthier. In Nicaragua, they need to move their wood burning stoves outside so when they cook, the smoke didn't give the babies asthma. They need to use birth control and stop having so many babies because they can't afford the ones they have. In the other countries, they need to stop drinking that filthy water so they don't get sick so much and they feel better. It was so simple when I started.
Then I went a few more times and grew up a bunch more. I realized that we are guests in their country, they welcome us and we are there to help. We are not there to tell them that we have the lock on happiness, health and hygiene and they need to just get going. It's not so easy to change everything you know and grew up with.
I know in the US, we have a lock on some things. We have water from our taps that we can drink and we can flush our toilet paper. We have medication, although sometimes hard to get, and can get it if we really need it. In other places, if you or your child needs medicine, you may or may not get it. But, I would argue that they have a lock on "family." Generations and generations come to our work site to watch the home being put up...and joking and exuding joy for each other that they are going to have a water tight home. They carry their babies on them in wraps and those babies don't cry. They nurse them wherever and whenever that baby is hungry. Maybe we could both learn from each other.
As I got older, I have come to some pretty deep answers about these things. I can do what I can do. I can find a need somewhere, whether it be walking dogs in a dog shelter or flying to a third world country and putting up a house, that I am able to do. You do what you can do...and maybe a little more. That's it. When you get uncomfortable with having so much and watching the suffering around you...you find something and do it. That's it. It's sounds so easy, yet is so hard to do it.
So when I land tomorrow in that country, it is not my job to look around and see what "needs" to change and start talking. My job is to sit back and let them teach me. If I have been respectful enough to offer advice, and if they want it, sure we will talk but most of the time on these trips, these folks are giving me advice...
Yeah, it's about the house I guess but really it's about the relationships. It's about being with another human who is very different from you and finding the common ground. It's about remembering the things we all cherish, such as the love of family and helping provide basic human needs of food, water and shelter.
It's about basic human connection and being fortunate enough to help another and getting much more than you give in return.
Oh, and for me...seeing those babies tied to their mommas with big smiles on their faces...that's what it's about for me. I cannot wait!
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,