Friday, March 9, 2012

Visit to the Cemetery and the Dump

The tomb of one of the wealthiest families in Guatemala

Not that long ago I had the interesting experience of seeing first hand the cemetery and the dump which lie side by side in the middle of Guatemala City.  During all the years that we lived in Cubulco when we would come to the city we would stay at a seminary guest house which is very close to the cemetery and the dump.  When the winds were favorable we would not be able to smell the dump which was usually the case.  But every so often the winds would change and some times the smell would be overpowering.  I remember one time waking up in the middle of the night from the stench.  Imagine working and living in or near the dump which is the case for many Guatemalans.  
This is the case of many of the children that attend one of our main schools in the city called Verbena.  Verbena has 800 children that attend classes each day of the week.  This is also where the central AMG office is located and that is where I go almost every day.  I have had the privilege to visit some of the homes of the kids whose parents work in the dump.  However, it was not until recently that I actually could see the dump with my own eyes. 
A looted tomb!
A few months ago I went with a group of people to look at the dump.  I went again before the New Year with my parents and family.  The easiest way to see the dump is to go through one of the main national cemeteries in Guatemala City.  The cemetery is like a small town (except of course that no one is living there), and you see even there the stark contrast between the rich and the poor.  The rich have built themselves beautiful, ornate tombs, while the poor are buried in "apartment" like tombs where if you do not pay the rent the body is removed and discarded somewhere or the poor are buried on the outskirts of the cemetery at the edge of a ravine bordering on the dump.  When the edge of the ravine gives way the tombs falls down into the dump.  Grave robbing is also common so many of the wealthy have built fortresses to keep these grave robbers from entering and stealing any valuables that might be buried with the deceased.  For those who can not afford to make their tombs theft proof they have a good chance of having it opened up and desecrated by looters.  It is solemn to see this.  

The edge of the cemetery borders on a deep ravine where the dump is located.  As we stood there overlooking the dump we could see hundreds of people picking through garbage trying to find discarded treasure. People recycle not out of a desire to be eco-friendly but out of a need to survive.  These people called "scavengers" pick through garbage in order to earn a little bit of money to be able to put some food on the table.  It is estimated that around 11,000 people make a living from the dump. It is a sad reality and one that is not just seen here in Guatemala, but in many developing countries.  AMG is trying to help some of the families who live off the dump by providing children with an education, food, safe environment, and the only answer to all of life's problems which is Jesus Christ.  True transformation or holistic development can not be done apart from Christ.

Trip to Tikal

As mentioned in my previous entry, I was going to write a little more about our trip to Tikal. The Westeringh's generously invited us (Lia and I and Rick and Dianne Postma) to visit Tikal with them which was nice since it is one of the must places to see in Guatemala.  After more than 11 years of living in Guatemala we never had the opportunity to visit this beautiful, historic place.  Tikal is situated in the department of the Peten which is the biggest department of Guatemala although one of the least inhabited because large parts of it are jungle.  (Guatemala is divided up into departments which are like provinces or states.) The trip by vehicle is some 10-13 hours from Guatemala city and the road, although good, is not the safest.  The Peten is known for being full of people with shady pasts. If people commit a crime they often flee to the Peten out of the reaches of the law.  
Huge Ceiba tree- Mayans believed it holds up the sky.
We traveled by plane instead which was around a 1 hour flight from Guatemala City.  From the airport we had to drive an 1.5 hours to get to the park.  Once in the park we spent the next 5 hours touring with a guide who shared with us the history of Tikal.  People started settling in Tikal and building there around 400 BC and this continued on until 900 AD.  It was for many years a flourishing center of the Mayan empire.  The site measures some 16 sq/km and has over 3,000 structures many of which are still covered.  There are 6 large temples the tallest of which is 70 meters high (230 feet). 
We were able to climb two of these temples.  Temple 2 was an interesting climb because the stairs we very steep.  Temple 4 which is the highest one was a much easier and gradual climb.  It was very neat to be at the top of temple 4 and be able to look out over the jungle vegetation.  From there you could make out just the tops of the other temples.  Apparently when the Spanish entered Guatemala they passed close to Tikal but did not see it because it was hidden by the jungle.  You definitely would not want to get lost out there.  
In the later afternoon we returned to Guatemala City again while the Westeringh`s stayed behind and spent a night at a hotel in the park. It was truly a great privilege to be in Tikal and experience its grandeur.  It is amazing how a civilization like the Mayas where able to construct such buildings and a society equal to other ancient civilizations like the Incas and the Egyptians. 

On top of Temple IV
Very steep climb up and down.
For more information on Tikal look it up on the internet.  The history of the place is fascinating.

Visit of the Postma's and the Westeringh's

Rick and Diane Postma along with Dick and Mary Anne Westeringh and their two sons Nick and Nigel and Kaitlyn (Nick's girlfriend) came down to Guatemala for the inauguration of a new school in Monjas, Jalapa and to tour some of the other projects and to see other parts of the country.  Word and Deed Canada through the generous donations of a number of people in Canada provided the funds for the building of this school.  The community of Monjas also helped by donating land and by waiving the taxes that one would normally have to pay.  The local church was also very involved and came up with a substantial amount of money to help off set some of the building cost as did the parents of the children who attend the school.  This was a joint effort and it was truly a model as to a better way in which to do development work.  
Visiting an old Monastery turned into a Hotel

Lake Atitlan- Panajachel
In the coffee shop in Panajachel
The Westeringh's and the Postma's saw a lot of Guatemala during the next week.  Rick and Dianne arrived on Friday night.  Lia and I together with Brian and Mary Dennett (AMG missionaries) and the Postma's spent most of the day in Antigua on Saturday.  In the evening the Westeringh's arrived. On Sunday we went to the Central Presbyterian church were we worship as a family.  This is the oldest evangelical church in Guatemala.  On Monday we left early and drove 3 hours to Monjas for the inauguration of the school (sorry I have no pictures of the school at the moment).  After the ceremony we spent the rest of the day visiting a few homes of some of the sponsor kids and the bridge that Word and Deed helped fund.  In the later afternoon we drove to Cubulco a drive which normally takes around 4 hours.  It ended up taking much longer due to the heavy fog that we encountered along a high mountain stretch of the road.  We could only crawl along since we could barely see a thing.  We spent the night in Cubulco and the following Tuesday spent the day touring town and the projects of AMG and the Free Reformed Mission.  We also went and saw what was left of the bridge.  Dick of course had an interest in seeing the bridge since he helped build it.  On Tuesday afternoon we drove the back road to the city which was a very steep and winding dirt road for part of the way, but definitely with a breathtaking view.  This road climbs from 3000 feet to over 7200 feet in a matter of 30-40 minutes.
Downtown Xela

On Wednesday we had the privilege of being invited to go along to see Tikal which lies in the jungle in the north of Guatemala.  (I will write more about Tikal in another entry)  Lia and I along with Rick and Dianne Postma just went up for the day while the Westeringh's spent two days there.  It definitely was one of the highlights.  After coming back on Wednesday evening I dropped the Postma's off in Antigua so that they could spend the night there and the following day touring this old historic town.  I picked them up later on in the afternoon after which I also went to the airport to pick up the Westeringh's as they returned from their trip to Tikal.
In Xela with Ken and Nigel Herfst
On Friday I dropped the Postma's off early at the airport for their flight back to Canada.  I picked the Westeringh's up after that and we drove 3.5 hours to Quetzaltenango (or Xela) where Ken Herfst lives.  On the way to Xela we stopped in Panajachel to see the lake and to visit a local coffee shop run by a missionary family who use it as a way to reach out to the many tourists that visit the lake. After Panajachel we drove the rest of the way Xela.  This road to Xela goes through a pass call "Alaska" which is the highest road in Central America at over 3,000 meters or around 10,000 feet.  We spent a night in Xela visiting with Ken Herfst.  The following day we drove back to the city but instead of taking the highland road we drove the coastal highway which takes you through huge sugar cane plantations.  On our way down we stopped at a place that does zip lining which was a lot of fun.  There were a total of 11-12 lines some short of some 75 meter while others we around 250 meter long.  This was the first time I had ever zip lined and it definitely was worth the $20.  After a 3 hour drive through the heat of the coast and burning sugar cane field we arrived back in the city in the early evening.
Truck carrying sugar cane.
The following Monday the Westeringh's flew back early to Canada and life for me returned to normal.  It was a busy trip with a lot of driving, but it was great.  I could not have asked for nicer people to be with and people who are so interested in the country and supporting the work here.  The Westeringh's of course have a close tie with Guatemala not only because of the projects they support but because one of their adopted children Nigel is Guatemalan.