Bob Rees' Trip to Guatemala Part 3

Friday, June 27

After driving so many hours to get to Cobán on Thursday, our translator had difficulty finding a hotel. Apparently, one doesn’t make reservations. Anyway, he and his wife set out on foot and returned half an hour later with the news that we, apparently, had rooms in the last hotel in town. Not exactly the Hyatt, but after a long day on the road, anything soft and horizontal is inviting.

As I mentioned previously, we screened 75 kids in Cobán and interviewed a number of mothers of these kids. Stacey and Brianna ask them about the source of their water, whether they boil it and for how long; how many meals the kids eat a day and how big the portions are; how often they eat fruit and vegetables; how frequently they eat meat and eggs; etc. Mostly their diet consists of beans, rice and corn, although they do get some fruit and vegetables.

Clean water is a problem throughout the country. We drink only bottled water and soda. Hygiene is also a problem everywhere. One has to be cautious eating out except in the more established looking restaurants and even the one can’t be sure. I needed to change some dollars into quezales so in the evening (after a lovely dinner at an inviting McDonalds!) Estaban (our translator) took me to a bank. Actually, it took us three banks to find one that would accept my credit card. As Estaban was explaining to the clerk what we were doing in Cobán, she said that she was a member of the Church and had a daughter who had stopped eating and wondered if we would be willing to talk to her, so on our way out of town we visited the family and met the girl. As we were asking questions about eating habits, etc., the girl asked if she could be interviewed alone, so the translator and the two interns took her into another room to find out why she wasn’t eating. It turned out to be complicated (as many such things are) by the fact that she is emotionally upset about her parents’ fighting (and likely many other things) and has withdrawn emotionally. Obviously, mental health services are not high on the list of priorities when there are so many other pressing needs. Stacy and Brianna were able to give some comfort to the girl and her mother, but it is something one continues to worry about—and to be aware that there must be many thousands of people without adequate mental health services or emotional support in a country as poor as Guatemala.

We left Cobán around 11:00 am and drove for over six hours over very rough mountain dirt roads, up over large mountain passes, down into rich farm area, called lac (sugar cane, pineapples, corn and other fruit and vegetables), up onto another high mountain area to a small village where we are to evaluate over a hundred children on Saturday. A long, hot, tiring day. We stopped for lunch at a roadside eating place, but none of us Americans felt it was safe enough to eat the local food so we ate some protein bars and some packaged things we bought in a service station (Pringles taste good!)

We arrived at the local church building around 7:00 p.m. and met the local coordinator and the branch president (as well as the district president who was conducting a meeting). Several of us walked down the road to the home of the coordinator (photo).

An extended family lives in a sort of compound consisting of three buildings made of bamboo, red dirt floors, an open area covered with tarps and corrugated metal, and an open fireplace/oven where they do all of the cooking. Dogs, ducks and geese run about hoping for scraps, which, to look at them, suggests they are not very successful. In spite of the fact that they have little, these people seem very happy and immensely resourceful. Many of the men are out of work but they hunt, plant some crops (Mandarin, cardamom, tomatoes), and try to find other ways to make a living.

We are sleeping in the church tonight since there are no other options. Two padded pews pushed together make a suitable bed—and it’s not like I haven’t slept in Church before!

Lots of kids to evaluate tomorrow.