Habitat Guatemala 2017: First Work Day

At 8 this morning, we gathered in the hotel lobby for our first work day. Our hotel from last year, Cacique Inn, had a fire in the office so we got upgraded to Hotel Porta Lago. This hotel is so luxurious, it probably has room service. It has an elevator, the wifi reaches the rooms so we’re not forced to mingle at a common “wifi watering hole”, and there’s reliable hot water. I’ve been calling it Gringotopia. It’s embarrassing how nice it is, honestly. 

All of this, of course, is in extreme contrast to our work sites. For the most part, the aldeas or small outlying villages are the picture of abject poverty. Our work site today had electricity, but no running water. It’s surrounded by dusty cornfields. The homes are adobe or cinder block, the paths to the homes are well-trod, and the families are extremely kind and hospitable. 

We’ve split into Stoves and Homes, and I’m on the Home team for today and tomorrow. We’re working on putting the foundation this week. Today I clipped the wire ties for the rebar for quite a while with the help of Don Antonio, who taught me a little K’iche and chatted with me about his family. I also tied the wires into the rebar, made links out of some metal, and removed excess cement from the cement blocks. Best of all, I got to coordinate the coloring book and crayon disbursement to the little kids from the village as they got back from school. There’s a lot of pictures (and therefore proof!) of me doing these activities but for the moment I only have the photos I took myself. 

The future homeowners, Dulia and Nelson, are both teachers at the local school. Nelson teaches fifth and sixth grades, and Dulia teaches “los niños más pequeños” or the smallest kids. I’m excited to talk to them tomorrow about how they teach the Mayan numerical system. Professional interest, of course. 

I’m also really excited to see the kids again. They’re whip-smart and so cute. They filled up almost two whole coloring books after they got home from school. 

I think I’ve managed to make friends with all of the child vendors on the street today. There was Sara, who sells bracelets in the Artisans Market to pay for her middle school tuition (I gladly paid full price for a bracelet), and Christian who makes and sells shirts to pay for high school. I bought a shirt from him last year. Both speak excellent English from their time talking to gringos and from their educations. The souvenir market is quite intense here, as it’s all very beautiful and well-made and the vendors are extremely convincing. I made the wise decision to come down with a specific list of what to get while I’m here, and I feel I’ve done a good job of sticking to it. It’s very tempting to be overly helpful in invigorating the local economy. 

My group members keep asking what I’m going to do when I’m done with my doctorate. Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve been joking with them though that I’ll be coming back here to get some land on the side of the volcano to start a secret lair. I’m getting increasingly serious about it each time I say it though. Guatemala and Lake Atitlán grow on me every single day I’m here. 

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