by David G. Woolley
We've been back for a few months, but the wonder of a Guatemalan jungle adventure is just now settling in. No snake bites, though the members of our team did, indeed, conceal this plastic snake in my sleeping bag. I jumped. Pretty high. So did the youngest villagers in Sajonte when we chased them down with this plastic reptile. They'd never seen a neoprene snake. I hope I never see another.
They call these structures ruins. I like to think of them as unclaimed real estate, though the Guatemalan government did seem to think they had squatters rights. Some indiginous persons from preclassic Mayan days (550 BC to 400 AD) just got up and moved on. What's even more impressive about the thousands of structures that dot the Mesoamerican landscape of Guatemala and southern Mexico is that they were abandoned.
In a future Top of the Morning post I'll share some rather scholarly if not down right cool observations about those ancient lands. But for now, what is most cool are the people who currently inhabit those ancient stomping grounds. You can't help but feel the spirit and enjoy the friendship of these people and at the same time wonder if you're not working, eating and living alongside descendants of men and women who gave rise to the greatest ancient civilization in the Western Hemisphere. I've invited fellow expeditioner, Ryan Wilson, to share his observations about our humanitarian trip. He's a tenth grade scholar who left part of his heart, as did we all, in Sajonte Guatemala, across the mountain from lake Isabal on the slopes above the river Cohobahn. Here's Ryan:
By Ryan Wilson
I didn’t volunteer for a humanitarian expedition. I had the bad luck to not win an I-pod and that made all the difference.
About a year ago CHOICE Humanitarian, a large humanitarian organization started by some Utahns, held a fundraiser at Timberline Middle School. All I had to do was participate in a service project or pay a dollar to their organization to get a cool bracelet and my name entered in their drawing. David Hardman (93 Premier), one of my Ranger teammates, was doing his eagle project about then so for a few hours of effort I got my bracelet and a chance to win an I-pod.
CHOICE had a lot of other prizes in the drawing like a Wendy's gift card, Cinemark gift cards and, of course, the coveted I-pod. To increase my chances at winning the pod, I collected as many drawing tickets from less-interested friends and entered my name as many times as I could. In the first round of drawings they gave away everything including my I-pod with the exception of a place on a CHOICE Humanitarian expeditionary team. A week later when they were doing the school video announcements I figured it was a replay of my bad luck from the previous week. It wasn’t until everyone in class was congratulating me for being selected as a member of the expedition that I drew a blank. Did I just win a trip to the mountain jungles of Guatemala where they speak an Indian language and eat crazy stuff?
My parents weren’t too excited about the chaperone thing, so when Dave Woolley nearly jumped out of his skin about how cool the trip would be it didn’t take much to convince him to volunteer as the official adult chaperone—for lack of a better title. We decided November was the best time to go since coach wasn’t as busy with soccer. While the rest of you were eating turkey we were hanging out in the jungle.
The village we worked in is called Sajonte, high in the jungle mountains and about an hour walk from the river Cohabon down in a steep gorge-like valley. They had a water line running from a spring above the village but the small ½ inch pipe didn’t carry enough water for 60 families living in thatched-roof huts.
The money that expeditioners pay to participate goes towards purchasing pipe and other supplies needed for the project—money the villagers don’t have and the government doesn’t provide. The first day we hiked up the mountain to the spring and started digging a trench for the new pipe. It was two feet deep and two feet wide and by the time we got about 50 yards, the natives had accomplished about 150. They’re hard workers and they know how to swing a machete.
The second day we were a little bit more efficient. Don’t tell my mom, but I worked harder in Sajonte than I’ve ever worked at home.
By the third day my I-pod-bad-luck struck again. We started uncovering the old pipe near the holding tank on the slopes a few hundred feet above the village. Fellow expeditioner, Mike, hit the pipe with a pick ax and water started spewing out. Our resident genius Santiago, a local villager, fixed it by wrapping a piece of inner tube from a rubber bicycle tire around the crack. Pretty smart guy that Santiago. After some more digging Dave gave me a break on the shoveling. No more than 4 powerful pick-ax swings into the dirt he broke the pipe clean in half. So here we are trying to bring more water to the villagers and we nearly cause a drought and drive them from their homes. Really bad luck. Thanks to this guy in the photo below (Santiago the genius to the rescue) the water didn’t stop for too long.
Santiago fixed the pipe with a little fuego (fire) by warming the ends of a spare piece and wedging it open with a jungle vine enough to fit it over the broken ends before gluing it in place with glue from the only bottle in the village. Hopefully the pipe is still together.
One of the fun parts of the trip was the daily soccer game. In Sajonte they have a lot of members of the LDS church. Out in the middle of nowhere is a really nice LDS chapel complete with a solar panel for light on Sundays and a cement futsal court outside for all the other days (lights on the court not included).
We gathered there around 4:30 pm each day after the work was over and played until sundown at about 6:00 pm. We were really tired, but it was a blast and the natives are really good. Two boys from over the hill in another village, Neri (14) and Maynor (15), played with us every day. Edgar (18) was rather good. But the best of them all, I think, was Eddin (14). He was crazy good. We stuck some little kids in the goal and they weren't half bad.
It was my bad luck I didn't win an I-pod in the CHOICE drawing, but after this experience I’m really starting to like my bad luck. Helping the people in Sajonte was better than any tunes on a new I-pod. The people in village Sajonte changed me. And just maybe my luck is changing too.