Our Kind of Field Trip
Tom Hornyak is our newest Guatemalan Field Worker. He is our third Field Worker there, and represents the second generation of work in Guatemala. This is his first blog from the field. You can find out more about him here. For us, he is Tom and a whole lot more. He represents both what has come before and what is yet to come; he is a real piece of work and we love him!
So I’m the newest member to FTF. You’ll be hearing from me a lot mostly because it’s part of my job now. Where to begin….
I left the luxuries of life in the U.S.A. to embark on another adventure to become extremely uncomfortable and to learn a thing or two about myself. There was little warning or preparation, it was a quick call from the director asking if I’d consider an earlier deployment to Guatemala, and not to Sierra Leone in December. He called in August. Just a few days later the gears were in motion.
There was no kepi, no celebration, and no announcements. I’m convinced I have joined a secret brotherhood of monks who work underground and unnoticed. John handed me a money belt and with a confident smile of a shady 70s car salesman, wished me good luck. Within a couple hours I met Andrew, the current field worker and mentor. He’s been here for 2 years and sleeps on the floor with no mattresses. He works out every day, constantly pounding protein shakes, and is relentlessly punching buttons on his laptop up through the night. His Spanish is impeccable. He’s constantly shouting at me to go to the front lines and reminds me to breathe. Intimidating to say the least.
So here is what happened this first week:
We visited a Russian hospital out in some village I can’t even pronounce yet, full of beautiful and persistent doctors doing amazing clinical work. I fixed their toilet handle.
I met the beloved host family of Anna and Louis, and get dragged into playing GTA 5 with their son, Roderigo, and immediately learned the word “Muerto.”
I sit in on seven or more meetings with Andrew and our FTF Impresarios, trying to act like I know what was being said. All the profiles can be found on the FTF website, ranging from water pumps, to bakery vans, to roofs for schools. Everyone loves joking and sharing with Andrew. I felt like a limp fish at those gatherings; once when I was asked how old I was I replied confidently in Spanish, “I have two anuses.”
I was thrown into a classroom and somehow amused a class of 20 Guatemalan kids for four hours in English. This will be the norm for the next 6 months as part of my immersionship. This is no ordinary class by the way, this is Abraham’s school and he is one of our impresarios. Our work with him is varied, but right now he is intent on finishing roof repairs for his school. He offers education to the local children who can’t afford it.
Amazingly, they were able to fundraise a field trip to a place called smoke champagne in which I was invited to chaperon.
Before leaving at 2:30am in the rain, Andrew mumbles “Don’t be afraid to throw rocks at the dogs.” And then on was on a sweet renovated school bus for 16 hours, tumbling through Guatemala. Nationwide protests in the capital? You bet! And that’s where we are heading!
We arrive somewhere close to our destination at night and pick up two kids. Now I don’t know much Spanish but I’m pretty sure Abraham told our guests that I had pistol and that they shouldn’t scam us. Nothing like instilling a healthy dose of fear into our young guides.
As night fell, I noticed kids were getting ready for bed… on the bus. They asked me if I wanted to get a hotel room. You should have seen their faces light up when I insisted I sleep on that bus with them. No, I’m not a tourist and I don’t want any special treatment. This point was highlighted the next day as Abraham and students cheered as they managed to get me into the park at the Guatemalan rate. The local rate! Mind you, I look nothing like a Guatemalan. As students and parents shared fruits and water with me throughout the day I couldn’t help but feel extremely blessed to be adopted by this community.
After walking around the jungle and swimming in the pool, the girls decided to teach me some K’iche words, their native Mayan tongue. Soon thereafter a driver comes up to our group because he heard me stumbling on this language. He then takes pleasure in sharing a few words of Kaqchiquel, his native tongue (there are lots of mother tongues here). A few minutes later three police officers join our group to hear the gringo speak their mother tongue. Now I thought to myself I’ll never use these words again since their unique to this region only. However, a couple hours later I spew a few Kaqchiquel greetings in a smoky wooden shack restaurant and the whole room exploded in hoots and hollers. Abraham looks at me pleasingly and afterwards tells me the guys said I am a crazy gringo who likes to speak.
It’s easy to wander through this culture and feel out of place, it can be a little scary. I didn’t realize I just ordered 4 dollars’ worth of fried pig fat. How many times have I thought to myself, “Where am I?” At the end of the day we are all going through life accepting whatever comes to us. We can open our mouths and resist the moment or we can silently abide in faith and enjoy the ride. It is amazing where life will take you when completely surrender and let go of limiting beliefs.
Gotta go, but as my friend Joan would say, “hasty bananas” (hasta manana).