Hope for the human spirit grew everywhere

Eleven 65-pound bags, 12 adventurers with backpacks and
carry-ons, one driver and one Familias de Esperanza staff person
boarded a single van that accommodated us because all the bags
filled the roof racks.
Eleven 65-pound bags, 12 adventurers with backpacks and carry-ons, one driver and one Familias de Esperanza staff person boarded a single van that accommodated us because all the bags filled the roof racks.

Wide-eyed, we departed Guatemala City Airport to encounter the bustle of the city.

we dodged men headed to work packed into diesel-belching buses grinding forward and autos and trucks weaving around uniformed children with boos, women with bundles in their arms and children on their backs, teen-agers in jeans and cross traffic.

The absence of white lines favored this orderly free-for-all.

The views from my passenger window serenely distracted me. Thick elephant ear size green leaves, thick greenery of bushes and trees, deep pink hibiscus, orange, yellow, magenta and orchid Bougainvillaea curtained down to the roadway.

Spiraling through mountain passes a backward glance revealed the panoramic white sprawl of Guatemala City.

Antigua, the first capital of Guatemala, was our destination. I did not know then that Antigua, nestled among volcanoes, had been destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The classical Spanish architecture is now gradually being restored to historic splendor. Vulcan de Agua and Vulcan Fuego, enormous in their proximity, seemed unbelievably protective and hospitable.

The van driver skillfully maneuvered along narrow cobble stone streets, pulled up to a high stucco wall whose locked gate opened and we had arrived.

Inside, we knew grew hope for the human spirit, but what we could immediately see were machete trimmed lawns, bordered by bird-of-paradise, bougainvillaea, hibiscus, lilies, mango and graveleya trees.

Later, I learned that the families work at the project maintaining the lawns and gardens accumulating hours that will earn them a “house.”

Other women accumulating “house” hours cooked for us. We lunched on chicken mole, rice, chayote squash and wonderful hand-patted corn tortillas, all washed down by our choice of lime juice, horchata or tamarind drink.

Childhood banter and laughter resounded inside those high walls. A group of children searching in used paper bins for “toys” like plastic bags and bubble packs caught my attention.

The boys’ T-shirts bulged with guava-like edibles that they nibbled. They obviously picked them from some tree they could climb.

Gleeful pre-schoolers discovering the disadvantages of sack racing laughed at jump and fall accomplishments. Inside a door, the library hummed with checker players, puzzle makers and readers.

The heart of the project beat with young and old, men, women and children waiting under the patio dome for their turn at the medical clinic and then at the dental clinic. Invariably, that journey terminated at the Farmacia.

Under the work sheds progressed more activity to earn “houses.” Women ground lumpy soil into powder that would be made into clay ovens with chimneys. Men created wire cages intended to raise chickens. Others put together tables and chairs fashioned from wood carefully cut from pine.

Later, I was told that locks and gates protect from the marauding ex-guerrillas, now unemployed, hungry and without skills. I wondered how these marauders could change habits and become participating families in the project?

Mary Zanger was part of a group made up of county residents who traveled to Guatemala with Common Hope to assist villagers in building homes. This is the first part of her diary of the trip.

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