Our last day in Chitepey

There is something about the eyes of the people we’ve been with in the community of Chitepay. They don’t look away. Even though we could hardly come from more different worlds, I find a mutual searching in the depths of each other’s gaze that transcends our many differences. At breakfast, our team reflected together on our Vision, “As People of Providence, we answer the call of every person we serve: Know me, Care for me, ease my way.” We asked ourselves, “who is the ‘me’ in this vision?”, and wondered if it didn’t point us toward something sacred, hidden in “the least of these”, but shining so brightly in the eyes of the people in Chitepay.

We piled in the van and headed off for our last day in the village. Four stoves remained, so we divided into four teams and marched off in the cool rain to finish our project here. I found myself in the home of a young couple, only 18 years old, with a 5 month old daughter. The home was simpler and smaller than most and the low ceiling of the small kitchen area hit me at about shoulder height. The fire on the cooking table filled the area with smoke and the value the new stove would bring was apparent.The last of 35 stoves to be installed was in the home of Domingo, the “mayor” of Chitepay, who had identified the families in greatest need of stoves and organized the men of the village in work parties to assist. He put himself last on the list, knowing there might not be time for his stove to be installed by the group.

We braved steep and muddy trails to return to the school where the entire community was gathering for a farewell celebration. I will never forget playing soccer with the kids, splashing in the mud and rain, laughing and smiling from ear to ear.

The celebration began with Gladis and Jorge provided translation between English, Spanish and Q’eqchi’. Again and again, the community thanked us for coming from so far away. They were grateful for the stoves, but also for the personal interest in their community. Listening to the Q’eqchi’, one word jumped out again and again: “B’antiox”, “Thank you”.

We all pitched in for school supplies, soccer balls and a jump rope, which we presented to Domingo for the use of the school. To our surprise, the community invited each of us up individually to receive a gift, presented by people we had each connected with. Each gift had been made by hand in Chitepay.

The community asked us to sing a song. We scrambled and Scott led us in a verse of “Amazing Grace”. As I looked out at the community watching in delight and listening to our own words, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see”, something in my heart cracked.

The rest is a blur. We made bright pipe cleaner bracelets for the kids who mobbed us, reaching out their hands, pressing in, so eager for these simple gifts.

Then it was time to leave. “Adios”, “B’antiox”, we heard again and again. It was especially difficult to say goodbye to the children. We each has felt an attachment to a few favorites—usually those kids who “picked” us and followed us from house to house, laughing at our terrible Q’eqchi’.

My tears came easily and my heart ached as we left Chitepay. Even now, it’s difficult to understand why this experience touched me so deeply. It’s extremely unlikely that I would ever see any of these people in Chitepay again, but that’s not it. I have a strong sense of how vulnerable they are—especially the children—and it’s overwhelming to begin to recognize the many forces that put their future at risk. But my tears are about something beyond even this.

We shared with each other the feeling of heaviness in our hearts. The weight of this feeling is from both a sadness and a fullness. We transcended many differences to discover real human beings, people we could love and relate to. People we felt attracted to. People we started to care about in real ways. And while I’m sure Chitepay is a very special village, it’s almost more than my heart can bear to recognize that these same human hearts beat in us all. What hurts, is to realize how invisible the people of Chitepay are to the world and to the powers that be. “Why do these gringos think of us? Even the government doesn’t think of us”, one person asked of our hosts.

We were reflecting on this with our team and Matt reminded us that the people of Chitepay may be invisible to the government or to the rest of the world, but they aren’t invisible to each other. They aren’t invisible to Medical Teams International and they aren’t invisible to us, in Providence now either.

There is responsibility that comes with knowing some of their story, with looking into their eyes, with tasking their corn and laughing with their children. We who have so much power, influence, education and money now face the challenge of sorting out what we do with our heavy hearts.

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