bbd

bbd
Location
Ridgway, Colorado
Birthday
May 15
Title
dilettante
Bio
A sometimes artist and photographer, sometimes I write too.  

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JANUARY 18, 2010 8:43AM

the amalgam of need

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Ag Sn Cu Zn Hg 

 

relleno y amor: a memoir

 

 

making friends in Chajul

 

 

 

Prelude 

Look closely at the image above. Does that little girl look like an animal to you? Not in the metaphysical sense—we are all animals after all. But the customs agent at the La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City had something else in mind.

 

We were aliens descending.

 

The plane descends. A steep banking base line turn reveals a runway swaybacked like an ancient horse. Gravity works. We land hard between gray green military planes and seem to speed up a little as we roll downhill. The uphill climb then checks our progress.

 

About 20 men shepherd the carts and dollies piled high with boxes and gear into a too small room in the customs area. A ranking officer approached us. I was appointed to speak since on this trip I was the only one with passable skills in Spanish. 

 

"¿Qué haces? ¿Qué es todo esto?"

 

"We're bringing in medical supplies and equipment for a dental clinic in San Gaspar Chajul." Keep it simple I thought to myself, there's no need to talk about building homes for widows, besides, this is about as complicated as I can get in Spanish. Tell the truth, but don't offer anything more than what is asked. 

 

"¿Por qué quieres hacer eso? 

 

"We're working for a charity medical group."

 

"No, no, quiero decir. ¿Por qué quieres hacer eso para los animales? Ni siquiera son humanos." [I'll translate this bit—"No, no, I mean...why would you want to do that for those animals? They're not even human."]

 

I didn't know what to say. I didn't say anything. The officer's face was red. I knew what he said and what he meant, I instinctively acted like I didn't understand.

 

"Lo siento...mi español es muy pobre…" I trailed off. He slammed the customs papers on his desk and signed his name with a flourish.

 

"¡Fuera!"

 

We were free to go. We gathered our stuff—duffle bags, boxes of medicines and supplies, a reclining dental chair, a water cooled diamond tipped high speed drill, knock-down cabinets I had made in my Dallas shop packed flat for the journey and countless other things. We made our way out to a waiting Canadian-built Bluebird school bus for the short trip to a posada for the night. 

 

 

Background

Our country has an ignoble history in its dealings with Guatemala. From arranging a CIA coup to overthrow the popularly elected president Jacobo Arbenz in the late 50s to supplying the machines of war to the military dictatorships in the 80s, we have a lot to regret as a nation. The training and matériel we supplied were used in a scorched earth policy in a war the government had with its own people. 

 

Guatemala has two major populations. The Ladinos hold most of the wealth and property. The indigenous Mayans, scattered and separated by geography and dialects comprise an equal number in population, but are desperately poor, then and now—currently most Mayan males earn less than a dollar a day. 

 

Our support of the right-wing military governments—ostensibly to prevent Guatemala from becoming a socialist democracy—resulted in the death of 200,000 in less than 10 years with another 50,000 "disappeared."

 

It's a terrible legacy.

 

One tragic and cascading result was a sea of widows and orphans. Our group traveled under the auspices of The Summer Institute of Linguistics, which was doing general translation work in the dialects and translating various books of the Old and New Testaments. Our work was not evangelical per se—we built homes for widows and built a dental and medical clinic. It's true that the work we did buttressed the work of SIL as it provided the needed component of social responsibility. The men on the trip generally didn't care as we went to do the work and demonstrate kindness in spite of borders or cultural differences.

 

 

We Were Aliens.

In a bit of irony, we were indeed across-the-border aliens, though we might just as well have been from another planet. It wasn't just the language that separated us, as impenetrable as Ixil was with its clicks and glottal stops. We were mostly pasty white oddly dressed aliens. (The one black man on the first trip was a curiosity to the highland Ixil—and embodied the bogey man stories that mothers told their kids when they misbehaved. Children ran screaming and giggling from him wherever he went.) The people in Chajul seemed taken with me though. While the rest of our crew was off building modest homes for widows, I was stuck in town putting together the clinics. I had lots of volunteer children for helpers. I spoke Spanish which many of the younger ones could as well, and I'm naturally tanned—so I seemed a bit less of a threat I guess. The children quickly gave me a nickname since there was no transliteration for Barry. I was known as Fresa, the word for strawberry.

 

Chajul kids

At the door to the dental clinic as we were getting started turning it from an empty room to something that was unlike anything else within 150 miles.

 

As mentioned, the indigenous peoples are separated by language dialects and terrain. Neighboring towns often have trouble communicating with one another. Even within the Ixil Triangle, where we were headed, the three towns that made up the points on the triangle had some trouble with language. San Gaspar Chajul, San Juan Cotzal and Santa Maria Nebaj all spoke Ixil, but with syntactical differences. A man from Chajul might say that a dog bit a man but one from Cotzal would hear it as the dog ate the man.

 

We were mostly professional men—doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, CPAs and the like—that descended into that place and time outside our own. Well, then there was me too. I was the anomaly—a stay at home dad by choice at a time in Dallas when those pursuing the mandate of greed couldn't understand that choice.

 

We eventually landed, our alien horde, in the remote highland village of Chajul, the apex point on the Ixil Triangle. It was easy enough to fly south across the Gulf of Mexico. The journey from Guatemala City to Chajul belies what seemed easy on the map. In fact it took fifteen hours in that recalibrated Canadian-built Bluebird school bus to travel the same distance as if going from Dallas to Waco. 

 

 

TrinitariaLos autobuses Trinitaria

A word to the wise—don't sit in the back of the bus in third world countries with bad roads. The last row of seats, to which I was assigned by default as the last one on the bus, is not optimal. I wasn't really levitating, it just seemed like there was constant daylight between my ass and the inadequately cushioned green naugahyde. One of the dentists sat across from me, arriving late with me to the bus. I don't know how he managed to fall asleep in a sitting mode. He looked for all the world like a bobble headed doll. We were a few hours into the journey when we hit that massive pothole. I think I pulled a muscle in my back. Buddy, the dentist, hit his forehead on the railing of the seat back in front of him. He was a budding unicorn for most of the rest of the week. I've never seen a goose egg as big as that.

 a friendBuddy, prior to the goose egg

pegado

Stuck—pegado

 

You can see one of the reasons the trip took so long in the image above and the ones below. We had to cross the Cordillera de los Cuchumatañes, a mountain range that separates the lowlands of Antigua and the capital with the indigenous highlands. Many of the turns on the often one-lane roads required a three-point turn on the switchbacks. Sometimes the drivers cut it too close and needed some help to extricate. A larger version of the photo above, which I love, can be found here

 

 

 

la puente y lavandaria

Another delay—the bridge over the Xalbal River in Sacapulas, about half way into our journey, was a trestle bridge—with missing sections of concrete that gave us a birds eye view of the water below. The overhead trestle structure was low, so we had to unload all our gear from the top of the buses, walk it across, and then reload. You can see one of the supports for the bridge on the right above.

 

la puente quebrada

The current bridge, sad as it was, replaced the previous one washed away. You can see the foundation on one side of the lost bridge.

 

Eventually, we got to a point where we could see our destination. It was a long and bumpy road, we were anxious to get off the bus and get to work.

 

the view to Chajul

A view to San Gaspar Chajul. A larger view is here.

 

main street

Main Steet in Chajul (It doesn't really have that name—it's known as Highway 3 on maps.) The road ends for practical purposes at the church, though there are some rough paths beyond. You can see what looks like a buttress on the side of the church, (larger version is here) which was built in the 16th century, as the roof had partially collapsed and the walls needed the roof or a buttress to remain standing.

 

A photo from the following year without the buttress as the roof had been repaired

 

Centro de Alfabetizacion

We stayed in the SIL compound above during our time in Chajul. The sign reads Centro de Alfabetizacion Ixil Chajul Instituto Linguistico de Verano.

 

Arrangements were made to take over a small room near the local bodega and install the dental clinic there. It took us about 3 days to get it cleaned up, the electrical done, and for me to put together the cabinets that American Airlines allowed us to take with us on the plane for free. We had about 1000 pounds of extra gear that they donated the freight costs for us. Times have changed, but we were so thankful for their generous spirit.

 

We were just about done, shown below. Word got out. People were lining up after walking for miles to Chajul.

 

 

After getting the clinic done and operational, we only had two full days left to see patients. There were other dentists scheduled to visit Chajul on medical trips, and we planned on returning the next year as well.

 

Since I was the one that had some Spanish, I was elected to be the dentist's assistant. I had to translate, and run the evacuation tube. I put my normal queasiness aside—although I'm not sure how—and helped as best I could. One problem was that many of the patients, and all of the older patients couldn't speak Spanish. The girl pictured next to me below was my translator. Buddy the dentist told me what he wanted to do, I told Maria, the local girl, in Spanish and she translated that into Ixil.

 

the clinic

 

You can see the connection made here—across language, across borders, across cultures, time, age and space. I'm holding the patient's hand, talking in a calm voice to ease the fear she has of these large and terrible aliens. The narrative in Ixil was constant in the background as well.

 

The Meaning

Here is where we get to the meaning of the title and subtitle of this retelling. Nearly everyone who came in had serious problems. Oral hygiene was an unknown concept for many in the remote highlands. We did instruct, we gave out toothbrushes and explained cause and effect to the best of our abilities.

 

They all came in wanting rellenos—fillings. They couldn't have them though. We did do a few, but in most cases, the teeth had to be extracted and the gums stitched closed. It was not easy to see, but the need was greater than my discomfort. There was nothing more important, in the things I've done in Guatemala, than to demonstrate love—love turned into something real—with a touch of the hand and a calm voice.

 

Buddy had the materials for fillings but they were mostly unused. 

 

Ag Sn Cu Zn Hg is the formula for an amalgam, the common filling used before we've changed in this country to something better, more attractive and less toxic. Ag is silver, Sn is tin, Cu is copper, Zn is zinc and Hg is mercury. That's what I have in my mouth, I'm glad my kids do not.

 

The metals represent what those in Chajul wanted. It's not what they got. Instead of the metals, they got some short-lived pain and discomfort. They had to get used to a mouth with fewer teeth. But what they got instead was a filling of love from all of those who participated in these medical and humanitarian trips.

 

It was not safe for us to be there. We saw burned out shells of buses on the journey up to Chajul, left charred by RPGs. There was an army base about a mile from where we slept. An army made up of Ladinos. I never saw an indigenous Mayan in a Guatemalan army uniform. One night the army decided to let us know what they thought about what we were doing. Long after we had gone to bed in our triple deck bunk beds, we heard the unmistakable thump and shriek of 105mm howitzers being fired over our compound, exploding beyond on the surrounding mountains. The story the next day was that they were targeting some rebels that were thought to be in the area, but everyone knew what the army was really saying.

 

 

Coda

I know it sounds as if this post is all about me, but forgive me for saying that would indicate a superficial reading. The themes and undercurrents to this story are easy to see. I don't think there's a more important lesson than to go to a place of abject poverty to realize what it is we take for granted—to see the frailty and vanity of objects and possessions and put them in their proper place. I will forever be grateful for the trips I made to the Ixil Triangle. It was a delight to hear the children who remembered, in our returns in subsequent years, that when the Trinitaria bus rolled into town, there were little chirps of recognition. "¡Fresa! ¡Fresa! ¡Fresa esta aqui!"

 

I'll leave this story now with a couple of uplifting images.

 

One of the most important holidays for the year is Mother's Day. There were no presents bought, there was no industry to provide a thing to purchase. The children went into the countryside and picked flowers. There was a parade with painfully tuned instruments. Everyone was happy, especially the moms.

 

 

coats of many colors

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and gear company, had a program in the early 90s, that if you were going to a third world country, and you promised to distribute them for free, they would send you a few boxes filled with synchilla jackets that were made from remnants of their regular retail jackets. They called it the Coat of Many Colors program. I was able to take 70 or so over several years to Guatemala. I don't know i f they're still doing it. It's why I still buy Patagonia stuff if I have a choice. I didn't actually distribute the jackets. We were careful not to give things away as individuals. We gave the jackets, and other donated items, to a consortium of local pastors. They were best able to determine the neediest recipients.

 

I wrote about another aspect of our trips to Guatemala a year and a half ago here on Open Salon. It centers around the building of homes for widows and the subsequent construction of the medical clinic. You can see that post here. Note that it was so early on in OS and didn't get read much, but it was an important piece for me.

 

Thanks so much for spending your time with me on this post. I appreciate your friendship—treasure would be a better word. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

A note on the images: this is one of the gifts from my oldest son this past Christmas—he took it upon himself to scan some negatives I had laying around. I have a lot of projects that are in various stages of thought and preparation, I'm grateful that he found meaning in this and am thankful I have such a thoughtful and giving son. He didn't need to go out and buy something for me. He gave me his time and his love.

 

I was still using a film camera during my trips to Guatemala. I noticed something right away in putting this together. Many images were not recorded, except what was imprinted in my now faulty memory. Film was time and money. Digital cameras are time and pixels. I rely less on my memory with digital, but I still miss film, even though I take many, many more shots with digital to increase the chances of a lucky shot.

 

Images taken on a Minolta SRT101 35mm SLR with a 50mm 1.4 lens. The film was Kodak Gold 100, and as you can see, the negatives show the effects of time rattling around in a shoebox. 

 

 

 

Update: My son, the one featured in this post, and the one I mentioned above who scanned the negatives, just sent me an e-mail:

 

great post, great writing, great photos, great story. it's nice to finally fill in some blanks between your annual departure and subsequent return as a tanned, bearded, and generally unrecognizable man knocking at the front door. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

all content and images copyright © 1990, 1991 and 2010 by barry b. doyle

• all rights reserved 

 

 

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A note on the timing of this blog: My post was a long time in making—from scanning the images, selecting the ones to use, thinking about what I wanted to say and then putting it all together—the genesis of the story began long before the horrific events and aftermath in Haiti.

The attention of the world is appropriately focused on Haiti and this memoir of mine has some interesting parallels between the two countries. Mine is a very personal narrative among a group of people who are desperately poor, then and now, who have been abused by people of power and wealth from within their own country. Even without the event and aftermath of the recent earthquake in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, the man-made human tragedy has been true for the desperately poor in Haiti and elsewhere across the world. Earthquakes, hurricanes or tsunamis affect rich and poor alike, but all too often those without power or money seem to comprise the larger part of the next chapter of the history of suffering. In Guatemala in the 80s and earlier, it was not a natural disaster that precipitated what should not have occurred, but the tsunami of those in power against those without.

I encourage those who don't know of Dr. Paul Farmer to read the Tracy Kidder 2003 book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. Farmer, along with other benefactors, co-founded Partners in Health and established a hospital in Cange in the Central Highlands of Haiti to provide free medical care to the poor and especially for those suffering from AIDS and tuberculosis. Farmer and his work have saved countless lives and provided hope to the desperately hopeless. What I did in Guatemala was the most miniscule of fractions of what Dr. Farmer has done with his life and work. However, the real story for me, and is the undercurrent in the blog, is the education that I received—and for those that traveled and worked with me. That is, that no amount of empathy gathered in from reading or watching television specials can compare with what happens to you in a face to face encounter with unbearable poverty.

We know there will be more Acts of God tragedies to come, regardless of what Pat Robertson and his kind think or say. The attempt to provide a divine amicus brief for God's wrath against his creation is simply a narrow minded justification for those that want to use their brand of religion to condemn others that don't believe as they do. People will suffer and die from natural events—that will continue. It is up to us as more privileged and fortunate by the accident of birth to help mitigate the suffering, now and in the tragedies that will inevitably visit us.

Oxfam and the American Red Cross are two of many organizations that are working to relieve the suffering of the survivors of the earthquake.
Barry, I know you want the focus on this situation, but I simply must say you are one of the finest men I've ever met.

The pictures are amazing. The faces are so full of curiosity, probably for you.

When I was a child, I thought everyone lived as I did. It was much later I discovered that everyone didn't even have running water or food to eat or doctors to go to in relatively clean places. I didn't know people in power did these things. Sometimes, I wish I could remain that innocent child.

But I'm glad I'm not. I needed to know. Natural disaster is probably not the primary killer of human beings. Human beings most likely are.
This is a wonderful post. Thank you for your time and dedication to this. I have been to Guatamala once and loved the country and its people very much. It has been years. Thank you, thank you for the reminder. xx A
I remember when you wrote about this amazing trip before, but this post brings a whole other aspect to it. I am so impressed with the generous work of volunteers like your group who see the humanity iin all of us, and who, at great personal expense, only want to make others' lives a little better. Thank you for your generosity, and for posting this precious slice of humanity.
Barry thank you and your son for the time and emotional investments. Without the generous nature and selfless work of you (and those who also go to remote places) to offer what seems at first glance to be a small gesture of kindness, this world would be in bigger trouble than it is.

R
This is amazing, Barry. My daughter is on her way to India in a few short weeks. I expect that she will come home with similar stories: of hope and beauty and poverty and life. Thank you for this.
Utterly amazing images - a feast for the eyes!
R.
A life-changing experience, both for you and those who were helped by you and your group. Thank you for this thoughtful and timely story.
"In action a great heart is the chief qualification. In work, a great head."

You, my sweet friend, have both.
xoxo~

(I don't remember who said that and unlike you - I'm too lazy to look it up)
Ann said it best. What a great heart and mind you have!

(thumbified)
Thank you for this remarkable post, and timely reminder.
I've been in Guatemala twice, and spent a little time in the more rural areas . . . such a beautiful country, so shredded by war - always, it seems. Guatemala, donde vive el color. Reading this brought back so many memories, so many emotions . . . those who experience such a place, if they have a heart, come back changed. This is a wonderful piece, Fresa - the images and the story. Thank you.
Wonderful in all ways.
Your heart and spirit continually amaze me. And the fact that you can capture heart and spirit of others on film does too. love you, friend.
The timing of this post is impeccable. Need has no time limit, nor does love.
This post alone was worth coming to OS today, for me. Thank you for the brave and generous work you're doing and for taking such care in presenting your story to us.
A post like a coat of many colors. I am reminded to give both time and talent.
translucent images on a transcendent post xx ni ealaiontoir thu ach saoi!
Barry - This post and it's messages left me rather speechless (unusual). It is stunning in it's realness, great need and the selfless dedication of people like you that make a difference in so many lives that would otherwise be forgotten. It hurts my heart to know how much suffering there is outside of our over-privileged country.
Your time and passion in presenting this post, the photos and the work accomplished by you and so many others, is of the highest order of goodness and humanity for the less fortunate.
bbd,
Thank you for a piece with so much heart, and empathy, and goodness and reality that I was more grateful than I can say for reading it.

There are facts and then there are facts related through compassionate, loving hearts; facts ruminated on so long with so much care that they touch and move hearts and minds.

Thank you for investing so much of your heart into this post. It is exactly what I needed to read.
Rated and appreciated.
What a remarkable post, Barry. And not only appropriate to the horrible events in Haiti, but also to the dream of Martin Luther King-- that no child be treated as if they were an "animal."
Barry: I wish I could put into words how moving this post is and how much I admire the author. You (and countless others like you) give me hope that we haven't lost our "common humanity". Thank you, my friend.
I never knew this about you, Barry.

It increases my admiration and love for you. This is about making a difference. Your compassion, your selflessness, made a huge difference, of that I have no doubt.

I'm so glad you posted this. Highly rated, of course.

You rock, my man. Sincerely.
A wonderful, meaningful story. However small you consider your contribution in comparision to Dr. Farmer, you made a difference.
Magnificent work, Barry. Truly. And of COURSE the children were drawn to you. It's your spirit, Fresa. Unmistakeably gentle and giving.

I am grateful to have had the privilege to read and see this.
I am touched by the comments here, for your expressions of friendship and support.

I was aware all through writing this, indeed, from the thoughts that led me to write it in the first place, that it would be impossible to separate myself from the story. Someone with more talent and ability could have crafted it in a way that made the narrator much less than what I wrote. That said, the images of the children mean so much to me, and I think there is a universal connection there—that in all the tragedy of people doing terrible things to each other and in the natural disasters that will continue—that children ought to be loved and fed and have a chance to live into their hopes and dreams—here in Guatemala and around the world.




Odette, you do get it. I'm humbled by your words, truly, but we do have an awakening in our lives that reveals what we have vs what we need vs what is in the rest of the world. Thanks.

Akopsa, I'm so glad you've been able to see firsthand the beauty there, not limited to the scenery, but to the beautiful people.

Steve, we go back a ways on OS. It's been a privilege for me to live through your stories, showing the same kind of humanity. I know you know how important that is.

Cat, I'm honored by your words, truly. (honoured)

Sheila, I agree, and you've hit on a key element...that all the little bits of help and kindness add up.

Lorraine, I wish your daughter well. And as it was for me, that it will be a life changing experience for her.

Judy, thanks so much for the comment on the images. I love the one of the children at the door to the clinic and the one of the stuck bus...I'm always surprised at the happy accidents my photography produces.

Smithery, you too hit on the key element--life changing. Thanks for that.

Anushka, thank you for being my friend.

Jodi, as always I love it when you stop by and comment. You and Ann are prejudiced though.

Owl, muchas gracias por tus pensamientos graciosa--it is so painfully pretty there, and much pain as well. I'm glad you've experienced it too.

Lea, thank you...xo

Liz, you and I also go way back on OS. It's a great pleasure for me to have you as a friend as well. thanks so much for your kindness.

Julie, precisely so, thanks

Clark, I know I mentioned a couple of times how much time and work and care went into constructing the post, but I really appreciate that you picked up on that too, and thanks for your generous comment too.

WAH, you hit on a critical element too. Though we didn't go down there with any thought at all about what we would get out of it, we all came back changed with the gift of being there and doing the work.

Scupper, I really love that comment, about the coat of many colors. It's one of my favorite stories about our time there.

psychomama, go raimh maith agat, a chroí

Cathy, in many ways you do similar work here in the States, and especially here on OS. You are a giver, bestowing your support and encouragement, always thinking of the other. An honor to know you as well.

Dennis, we've recently met here on OS, but I am amazed at your abilities to express truth through an economy of words with such artistry, a rare gift for all of us. Thanks for your uplifting comment.

Marsha, thank you very much. It's an honor to have you for a friend.

Bill, we also go way back. The friendship was there from the very start brother, thanks for your kind words here.

Stim, it is the accumulation of things done that sometimes makes the difference. It was an honor to be a part of this for many years, and it's great to see that you see the essence of it all too.

Denise, I know your heart...you're just like the good things in the post, always reaching out to others. It's in your nature.
oh, Barry, what a beautiful post. I was just wondering this morning if you had anything new (I know you've been busy of late) and I find that you've posted another wonderful thing. I think this is my favorite of your posts. And I didn't think for one moment that this was about you. I think that the nature of photography is to show things in a different light - to show us that we don't all see the same way, or perceive, I should say. Your favorite photo is mine too. When I first saw the image I thought, how wonderful that all those people are working together to move something that is larger than them and seems immovable and stuck.
An extraordinary story, enhanced by great images. Clearly you've left a lasting impression on the people, as they have left a lasting impression on you. It's sobering to realize that most of the world lives this way. We are the exception; they are the norm. This is a fine memoir -- one that should be revisited. Thank you for posting it. It is especially meaningful in the wake of the recent tragedy in Haiti.
The photos alone are worth the visit, but your words! There's so much love and compassion just bubbling up off the pages. Thank you for sharing this with us.
-ttfn, I'm really touched by the personal connection you've made to me and in this piece, thanks so much.

Dr Steve, I appreciate your words, your kindness very much.

M.M, I'm delighted you came by and this meant something to you.

Surly, no, you are.
What a lovely story and I am so thankful for people like you who have the resources and knowledge to provide real help. I've always wanted to go on a mission trip and to be able to help others in a tangible way. I really enjoyed the beautiful people in the photos too!
Anne, thank you for coming by and for your kind words.
I really enjoyed this. I spent about a month in Guatemala in the mid 90s. Part of it not too south of the Ixil triangle in a little village called Lanquin. My then boyfriend and I were living out of a re-modeled schoolbus. I remember it taking us almost three hours to go about 15 miles. And then discovering we had a flat. The road was so bad we hadn't noticed.

It was one of the most beautiful and most tragic place I've ever been to. We befriended a twelve year old boy, who had never been outside this little town, but was about as world weary as though he'd lived his entire life in Paris. He was charming, but I remember one point where we teased him about whether or not he had a girlfriend, and whether he'd ever been in love. "Love?" he said, as though we were the twelve year olds. "There is no love in Lanquin."

That's one incident that stands out in my mind. But there are so many others where we would visit these magical, picturesque villages, and then discover the haunting truth. The mass grave that contained what was once almost half the population. The burnt out hotel. The crazy doctor who clearly hadn't consulted a medical book in twenty years, and seemed to be just making stuff up as he was going along.

I don't think any experience will ever change me as much as the six months I spent in Central America. I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Thanks Juliet, that is so cool. I would have loved to have spent more time there, we only did 9 day stints, and it just was never enough for me. Thanks for sharing.
One of my core beliefs is that God blesses us always, and in all ways. You are proof Barry.

I know that in difficult times it is more challenging to see the blessings, but surely they do show up in the hands and feet of those who serve.
The trip of a lilfe time Barry. I hope to do something like this with my family when the kids are a little older.

If anyone is looking for a good Guatemalan based organization to support, I have friends who are associated with Safe Passage, which helps to provide support to children who work and sometimes live in the Guatemalan garbage dumps.
Just goes to show that my suspicions of you are correct - you are indeed a caring, giving man. The pictures of the children just make me melt.

Paul's Aunt and Uncle moved to Guatemala a few years ago and absolutely love it. Really beautiful, Barry - all of it.

I love Patagonia and I'm pretty sure they still have programs like that. Pricey, but well worth it for all the good they do. I mean, how can you make a plastic bottle feel so soft?
Wonderful writing and photographs, Barry!

I know my husband will be interested in reading this, as he is hoping to go to Transnistria (a tiny breakaway republic in Moldova) in a couple of months with a group that supplies beds and clean bedding to orphanages. He will be going both to participate in the group's work and to document it as their photographer.
Susanne, knowing a bit of your background, I know you understand some of the backstory that's understated here. Thanks too for going back to look at the first post I did about these people and the region. There was a reason I didn't get too much into the underlying social dysfunctional dynamic in the first post, and a bit more here. Through it all it is as you say--hand and feet. Thank you.

Melissa, there are many organizations that try to make a difference. The one you mentioned is one of the best. It's interesting about the kids we leave at home when doing something like this. We had two then, and Eve pregnant with the third. They were very young and I think it was the first time that I was away from them for any length of time. It added to the sense of all the things that I took for granted, and made the suffering of the kids, especially the orphans, especially difficult.

Julie, thanks so much for those kind words. It's nice to hear it from someone I admire so much. What part of Guatemala are Paul's Aunt and Uncle in? Antigua, the former capital, seems a very lovely livable place.

Jeanette, I will be very interested in reading about your husband's trip to Transnistria if he's able to go. Perhaps you can blog on it, or he can do a proxy blog in your space here? I'd love to know how it goes. Thanks too for your lovely compliments.





Everyone: I added a small update at the end of the post...an e-mail I just received from our oldest son.
Wow. This is a lot to process. I'll have to come back and reread this.

The photos are beautiful. You're one of the heroes. Thanks for writing and sharing this story with us.
Magical! Every bit of it--the mission, the love, the children, the valley, the colors, the tale--and you! Wonderful, wonderful illustration of Love in action!
People like you who go on these trips are true heroes.

I would love to hear more stories about the people you met on this trip. I love the photos and I see so many stories in the faces.

Thank you so much for sharing.
This is a beautiful post Barry. Though I do have to admit that I was hoping relleno y amor was a pepper recipe.
It is Deven, if you read Like Water for Chocolate.
That would be a good movie for the ladies.
Gwen, thanks for the wonderful comment, but I'd have to disagree...no heroics, just doing a little bit. I think it's all about using what talents we have, what talents we develop, to help other people. Almost all of us can't do it all the time, few of us even very often...but doing little bits here and there help both sides. Again, thanks for your lovely sentiments.

Julie, in retrospect the guys who went on the trip might see it as love in action, but it wasn't so much like that in the lead up to each trip. We just looked on it as something cool to do together...there was a lot of comraderie on the trips. And some irreverence, given the circumstances. One year we were putting the finishing touches on a community center, putting stucco up on cinder block walls. There was some friendly rivalry among the two or three teams of men. Each team had to have a name too. One famous and well to do real estate magnate from Dallas, who was from west Texas, and only spoke out of the side of his mouth in a drawl christened our team "The Mortar Forkers."
What an inspiring post, Barry! I have been in similar situations and can read between your lines. It *is* about you, in very large part, and bless you for doing it!

I would vote for you, but I've already promised my support to the foil dog! Can I make it up to you somehow?
HL, that we are friends is all I need.

And I know you know, because that's where your heart is.
That is awesome! Love is very cool, ya know, & personality's required! I'd call you by your team name, for old times' sake, but I don't want to swear here! (Dontcha love it when you're doing great things all under the guise of not really knowing it?! )

This post, and all that goes with it, is a gift that is going to keep on giving! Hope there's more to come!
I am finally reading this. When I first saw the title the Amalgam of Need I knew I would have to take time to read deeply and absorb Your words and pictures say so much.

I believe this phrase near the end to be so crucial and so ring true
"the tsunami of those in power against those without." Thank You.
Fresa - This piece is I finally took the time to read has left me feeling full -- of a history of unaccounted accountability on our nation's part, of the unseen image of you in your shop... making something useful and lasting, of curious little faces, and language that transcends, and the idea that a community is it's own best eye for signs of need, and the truth that touch is comfort at it's most basic, and the experience of connection and care can evolve and translate to the latest pressing need, and that a son can learn about his father through his father's images... and learn about the world in the process.

All that is why this post is not only beautiful, but important to me. I learned from you. That's my favorite thing, learning.
This was beautiful, I could see everything you spoke of. You took me with you! I greatly admire you and your dedication, just wonderful.
L&P, I knew you would understand, thanks

Julie, thanks for coming back...it's better when we have a sense of humor and have fun.

Janie, it means so much to me to read your words (I typed "hear your words" and I like to think I can do that, though I've never "heard" your voice, I "hear" your voice.) Thank you.

Scarlett, I think you found your way here after reading Cat's piece on Argentina, and the connective thread in the two posts are the children and the impact they have on making us better adults. The tsunamis of power usually crush the children, not necessarily intentionally, but nevertheless... thanks for your words.

CK, there's more connection that what you let on...you're own artistry, and what your husband does in his art and life...you see it, maybe more than most, what the extension is.

LL2, it doesn't get better for me than that I was able to take you along. Thank you
Barry, this is beautiful. It's been on my mind to come back since you posted it. I'm sorry it took me so long to read it, but I could tell when I saw it that it needed my full attention.

I am also sorry it took me so long to read it because it means ten fewer days of my life with this story in it. My loss.

PS: In those days, we had the same hair cut. You rocked it better than I did, though.
Barry, I´ve come here a bit late, but -all the same- I wanted to tell you this is one of the best posts I´ve read in some time. I know exactly what realities you are describing here. The hatred towards the poorer, the aboriginal groups, the discrimination, the desperate poverty and isolation... it´s the same hell in all Central and South America, my country included, which is a terrible shame and a crime in my view.
Thanks for those courgeous trips to the mountains to save some teeth and many dignities. You healed deeply with your medical office.
All my admiration.
Kisses,
Marcela
Frank, I'm honored by your presence here, I don't mind the time it took to get here. Thanks for your lovely words and for your connection and care about this piece.

Marcela, I was hoping you'd come by. Your words confirms what I've expected about your heart and spirit--not that I needed confirmation, but I know you indeed understand. Thank you.
I'm coming to your post late, but I'm glad I stumbled on to it! Thanks you so much for sharing your story and photos. What I'm reading in "real life" (vs on OS) is "Stones into School" Greg Mortenson's second book about building schools in remote sections of Central Asia. His first book is "Three Cups of Tea". If you have not yet read them, I highly recommend them - you are kindred spirits!
Barry, so sorry I missed this awhile ago but so happy to have found this. It is clear that this was a long time in the making. Beautiful words and images of a country I know so little about, but now know much more about. You are a gifted and huge hearted man and I thank you for sharing your gifts with others and with us.
Barry,
I finally got over here. I found a wonderfully compassionate story, and examples of the extrordinary man who has given aid to others...You.
You are right, we take so much for granted in our privilaged lives.
Stories like yours motivates others to do good works, not merely to make ourselves feel better, but out of the needs in the world to help the innocent, and to love ones fellows as a community of individuals. To hold respect and compassion in one's heart to move closer to the center of real altruism. A lovely, enlightening, and compassionate post Barry...Thank you.
At last! A writer who has captured the essence of Guatamala, which in many ways represents the entire spectrum of problems in Latin America. And I am a semi-permanent resident of Mexico. faved and rated.
Barry, sorry I got to the party late - but I still wanted to take a second and say thank you for taking us on this stunning journey with you. It is a welcome reminder, a necessary reminder, that there are people and groups who are pragmatically compassionate (which is redundant since there is no such thing as compassion that is NOT pragmatic, but I wanted to emphasize the DOING of the thing and not just the FEELING of the thing!). Your post is beautiful, in more ways than I know how to count. ~r for exceptional photography, for caring, for giving
Late here, but how heartrending. Not intentionally, I don't think, but still so moving, both photos and narrative. Glad I found your site.
I love the tonality of these old pictures and the adventures one could have way back then. These are always cherished memories so many years later and your part in the whole affair is quite fine. Thanks...Did I mention my first really good camera was the Minolta SRT 101B.
What a beautiful, beautiful piece, Barry! I first read it a couple of weeks ago but had to read it quickly. Only today did I have time to go back and read it again and absorb it completely. Thanks so much for writing and sharing this story! I will certainly be passing it on to friends who are hoping to do humanitarian work in developing countries. Best wishes to you!
What a lovely post! Jennifer from Human Rights Warrior passed it my way as I have done some volunteer work in Costa Rica and morocco and am headed to Guatemala this March. I agree one hundred percent that there is something life-changing in visiting these poor countries and seeing the beauty of the people. We are so incredibly spoiled in the western world and have way too much "stuff" that doesn't always buy happiness. I found this out in nepal as well as in other places I've been. I can't wait to go to Guatemela and help out! Thanks for sharing! :)
This is a wonderful piece, Fresa. Thank you for steering me this way because I would not have wanted to miss this.
We were in Guatemala about the same time, you and I...well, I think at least in the same 5 years or so. I stayed down in Xela and only thought about going up to the triangle. The other people I was around told me it was still (at the time) pretty sketchy, if not politically, sanitation-wise, for the lone gringa to chance it. I guess I was already taking enough chances at that point. Anyway, next time, let's meet up?

I love to see the two worn stars at the knees of your jeans in that first photo...and to read and think about everything else you bring up in this post.

My best wishes to you and your beloved, there on your lovely perch.

My the sun on your face tell you what time it is so you can keep your eye closed for now.

siempre,