DATELINE: Saturday, March 26, 2005

Saturday morning brought yet another late rise for most of the camp, but not for me. I still wasn’t able to do much power sleeping. So I got up, and headed back to the showers for yet another attempt at washing my clothes. This time things went much better. I’d left the clothes from my second cleaning attempt soaking in the real Woolite all night, so they were quite willing to suds up that morning. I washed out every last dirty item I’d brought and spent a fine few minutes laying everything out on the concrete steps. The steps might not have been OSHA-approved, but their concrete railing turned out to be a terribly effective clothes dryer. And with the wind blowing as much as it was that morning, you always knew when your clothes were dry because the wind would whip them over the edge of the rail and into the red dirt. *BING*

After breakfast and our morning devotional with Butch, Marcello took those of us who wanted to go on a tour of the camp itself. We started by climbing back up the big hill right to the zip-line area where we could get a look at the camp in its entirety. It was extremely hot atop the hill. In fact, while considerably less humid, the day seemed far hotter than just about any day of the trip thus far. I was glad I’d worn a hat and sunscreen to keep from being burnt to a crisp.

Marcello explained that almost exactly one year before, all of the land that we could see was simply farmland—however, it was farmland up for sale. Marcello had been looking for a place that Word of Life could build a permanent camp structure that could be used year-round. After much searching and prayer, he learned of the farmland and came out to see it. He had no money whatsoever with which to even make a down-payment and no real means to secure any kind of loans, but he could see how ideal the land was for such a camp. The only other thing he had was faith.

During one of their previous visits, Marcello brought Rick Brooks and some other Nehemiah Network missionaries to the site and explained his plan. He showed them where he wanted to put the first buildings, the cabins, the bano-houses and everything else. They didn’t know quite what to say at first, for Nehemiah Network doesn’t have that kind of money on its own. However, they too have faith and know that God can make the necessary arrangements when it comes to helping his people accomplish his work. Within weeks of beginning the project, individuals and organizations came forward asking how they could help. The land was soon purchased. Within a short time later, a work team came in and began building the first kitchen building. More prayers were made and more money came in. They soon had cabins and shower-houses and with the help of more work-teams the foundations and beginning structure for the pavilion. The zip-line was also added as was a climbing-wall and basketball court. And the week before we arrived, the men’s cabins were completed.

We’d seen some of this construction ourselves throughout the week, with work continuing on the pavilion’s facade and the completion of the rock road and a sidewalk. The basketball court was next to their sites. He explained that he’d had no money to start the basketball court so he had traded his car to a local hardware store for the materials needed. After they got the court finished, his car stopped working and the hardware store owner demanded a refund. About that time, more money came in so he was able to do so.

An amazing amount of work had been accomplished in just a year and every bit of it had been fully paid for.

Marcello isn’t finished, though. He has a great plan for expanding the camp even further. However, Marcello’s goal is not to simply raise buildings for the sake of doing so. Sure, he might appear insane to the average Joe who has to ride with him, but he is not. there is much method to his perceived madness. He loves the Lord and has made it his life’s mission to serve by witnessing. He intends to fill the camp with people as often as possible, so that they can have ongoing weekly summer camps as well as mission housing for groups such as ours. There are also plans to possibly expand the camground itself onto some adjacent property. He asked us all to be in prayer about this matter, so I pass the request on to you here.

After Marcello spoke to us, one of the missionaries, Douglas, came up and began setting up the zip-line. We all watched as he strapped himself into the zip-line harness, clipped it to the pulley that he’d installed on the line itself, double-checked his rigging and then ran off the short running platform built onto the side of the hill. Douglas flew down the line, hanging probably 40 feet off the ground at the lowest point of the valley between tall hills. Before he was even a quarter of the way into his journey, though, he leaned back and flipped upside down, waving to us as he continued across. That’s when we noticed he was barefoot. He flew, barefoot and upside down across the valley, then, just before he reached the other side of the hill, he righted himself and came to a landing. We all clapped and were terribly impressed at this show. Douglas unclipped himself from the pulley, un-clipped the pulley from the wire and then charged back up the rocky face of the hill, still barefooted, to where we stood on the top. You could not get more macho than that and I think we all felt a bit of disappointment that this guy had been so good, not to mention tough of foot, so soon out of the gate. Didn’t leave a lot of room for us tender-footed Gringos to be impressive on this thing.

After this, we began to take turns with the zip-line. The only drawback to this was that while we had three sets of harnesses, meaning two people could be getting harnessed up while one zipped down the line, we only had one pulley with which to zip. So the person who went down the line had to run back up before the next person could go. I’d say most of the team members who went down the line were ready and willing to do it. For a few, though, it was a tough choice to go. We had more than one person who had to conquer their fear of heights in order to go and one of them—I don’t want to say her name so as not to embarrass her, but it was Michelle—turned around mid-way down and mouthed “NEVER AGAIN!” at us. She was still proud she had done it and we of her.

As for me, I wasn’t really concerned about falling off the wire on the way across—I was more concerned with what I was going to do once I got off the ramp. I’d been watching most of the other folks go and most of them were turning upside down and doing similar things on the way. I wanted to do something different, yet memorable with my turn, but was unsure what might qualify. I didn’t want to turn upside down—not that I was afraid to, but it had so been DONE, already. The only thing that really jumped out at me was to go down the zip-line with the harness on backwards, so that I would be stomach to the ground instead of butt to the ground. I envisioned running off the end of the ramp, thrusting my arm out and bending one leg in classic super-hero flight pose and singing “I Am Superman” all the way over. The staff had even mentioned such a move was possible. But was it wise?

The thing I had to seriously consider was that this zip line had not been designed to accommodate Gringos. See your average Guatemalan is much smaller than your average American. I don’t mean that Americans are all big and fat by comparison, (though that would probably be a valid observation), I mean that Guatemalans are simply smaller people who therefore don’t weigh as much as we do. This zip-line was constructed with their average weight in mind and I noticed that when some of the guys went off the ramp they came dangerously close to hitting the rocks just beyond the ramp. And these were guys much smaller than my fat butt. The two people who came closest to my weight were Dwan, a former professional football player, and Tom, a muscular guy who’s about half a foot taller than me. Dwan came within centimeters of losing his butt on a rock as he went off the ramp. And Tom had to lift himself up by the bungee cord pulley connector to avoid hitting. I was afraid that I might hit going off normally, let alone the pain and humiliation of scraping off my entire front by attempting a Superman. I decided that it was definitely an unwise move on my part and should be left to a light-weight girl. I needed to come up with something else.

At last, after about 12 of the team had gone, it was my turn and I was given a harness. I gave Butch my camera and asked him to take some video footage of my trip.

“Oh, you don’t want to take footage on the way down?” Butch asked. He’d done precisely that on his way and said that it was easy to do.

“Nope. I’m gonna need my hands for other things,” I said. My new plan was to leap off the ramp, lift my legs to get beyond the rocks, then lie back in the air with my hands wrapped behind my head in Relaxation Pose and zip down like that. Seemed distinctive and funny enough to work and would save me grievous injury. After I got harnessed up, Sandra Waddell asked me if I would like to borrow her sandals for the trip. I was in flip-flops, which I didn’t think were great footwear for a run back up the rocky hill, but I wasn’t going to complain either since Douglas had taken it barefooted. I decided to take Sandra up on her offer, though.

Soon my harness was clipped to the pulley and Marcello Hounko gave me one last harness test and said I was ready. Without hesitation, I grabbed my bungee and ran off the edge of the ramp. My weight immediately pulled down on the high-tension wire and I dropped a bit. I had been trying to remember to pull my legs up to avoid the rocks, but I evidently didn’t pull them up enough because I smacked the top of my right foot hard on a rock and screamed a mighty “Ow!!!” I’m rather proud that “Ow” was all I screamed. I was then presented with a choice: A) I could tend to my wounded foot and see if it was broken; or B) I could not waste my trip down and go ahead with my Relaxation Pose despite the pain and worry about my foot later. I chose B. It worked splendidly too. I spun in the air on the way down, lay back in relaxed pose and grinned for the camera. The trip lasted less than 40 seconds.

On the other side, I landed on my good foot and then helped Douglas unhook me from the line. My injured foot did hurt, but not all that bad. I figured it would hurt worse later on, but I probably had a few minutes to get up the hill with it without too much problem. I grabbed up the pulley and started running.

About mid-way up the hill, my limp became more pronounced, but I made it up fine. Once I got Sandr

a’s sandals off, I could see that my foot was scraped on the top, but not horribly. It was already turning a little blue, though. After returning Sandra’s shoes, I decided I’d had enough of the sun and adventure for the moment and needed to take my foot to the nearest reputable doctor and/or near-doctor wife.

She pronounced, “Eh, keep an eye on it.”

I hobbled up the hill to the coolness of the men’s cabin. It felt so nice inside. My fellow team-mate Aman was putting up the hammock he’d purchased in Antigua, stringing it between two ends of a cross-beam and debating whether or not he would sleep in it that evening. I sat on my bunk, looked my foot over a bit and chatted with the guys.

Someone had brought a digital thermometer and David H. had put it in the sun at the edge of the cliff outside our door. He would then check it every five minutes to see how hot it read. When I came in, the temperature was 130 degrees. Within 20 minutes, it was up to 135, officially the hottest weather I’d ever been in. We had trouble believing this reading, though, so Butch stuck his own digital thermometer out beside it for a second opinion. It made it all the way to 132 and then stopped working altogether. I’ve no doubt these devices were probably picking up reflected heat from the surrounding ground, but that was still amazingly hot and made me look forward to our trip to the beach later in the afternoon.

I would later question the wisdom of that longing.

Around 3 we began loading up to go to the beach. I put on my swimming trunks and grabbed my backpack with camera, towel and water bottle and once again went up to sit on the bus in the blistering heat with all the rest of the beach-going team. We didn’t all go to the beach either. Many opted out in favor of staying back at the camp to ride on the camp’s personal water craft, or, like Ash and Dr. Allen, to stay behind and work on getting some meds counted for our El Salvador mission the following week.

I didn’t really know what to expect from a Guatemalan beach. The information I’d read about the beaches here suggested they were composed of volcanic black sand, which was something I never thought I’d see outside of the Hawaiian Islands. I’ve been to plenty of white sand beaches, but I was up for seeing some black sand.

Oswald drove and half an hour later we arrived. We weren’t actually at the beach yet, but were just at the pre-beach area. This consisted of an enormous dirt field used for a parking area. We left the bus there and followed Oswald, Alex and Astrid back to the road and down toward a harbory-looking area. The road itself was crowded with people, most of whom were leaving for the day. There were plenty of other folks standing around, though, and we seemed to be of interest to many of them. Not surprising, I suppose, as we were the only Gringos in sight and pretty much stood out from the crowd.

After our adventures in Antigua yesterday, I found myself wondering what the pickpocket population was like around here. Or even the guys who beat you up and take your stuff population. I was already feeling foolish for having brought my backpack when all I really needed was a towel, some water and maybe my camera. I was just imagining the problems having brought this thing was going to cause once we got to the beach itself. Someone would have to stay behind to guard all our stuff while the rest of us went in the water.

We weren’t even to the beach yet, though. In fact, you couldn’t really get to the beach by foot. We found that out when we arrived at a small muddy dock area where a number of small green and red ferry boats waited. Here you could pay the ferrymen to take you across a small inlet of the sea to a barrier island where the beach actually was. We had just enough room to get our entire party onto one of the ferry boats and we then set off across the inlet. My inner environmentalist was distressed to see that the water of the inlet was filled with floating plastic bottles and other garbage, much of which had washed up on the shoreline. It was just another reminder that we weren’t in Kansas any more.

On the other side of the inlet we still had a ways to go before reaching the beach. A path lead from the shore of the inlet and became a covered aisle between a cluster of low buildings crowded with more people. Most of these buildings were nothing more than roofed off sections of dirt where people had set up cocinas selling food and some with tables selling goods such as clothing, towels, trinkets and souvenirs. These all had a roadside stand unofficial feel to them that I don’t think most Americans are accustomed to. (I, like most Gringos, am suspicious of anything that doesn’t come with a factory-sealed wrapper and colorful label. I’m not saying this is right, I’m just saying it is the case.)

As we made our way through the aisle, it became increasingly difficult to keep up with one another. I was still limping from my earlier injury, but I was trying my best to keep up with Andrew and Alex who were just ahead of me. At the same time, there were several young ladies in our group who were behind me and who I felt responsible for keeping an eye on as well. We may have been in no danger whatsoever, but I didn’t like the looks we were getting from some of the kids and men standing on the edges of this narrow aisle and I wanted to make sure we made it to the beach and back with all of our group.

About mid-way through this crowded aisle was a dance club. I say dance club, because that’s the nearest description I can come up with. What it really was was another roofed off area with a dirt floor, very loud dance music and, I think, a glitter ball. The music was extremely loud, though and I suddenly realized I was very very hot. How could people dance in this weather? The aisle also seemed to narrow near the entrance to the club, forcing us all to squish together a bit tighter with the strangers around us.

Then, as I watched, one of the men standing on the sides detached himself from his position and squeezed up beside Andrew, just ahead of me. The man reached out his right arm and slipped it around Andrew’s waist. At first I thought he was going for Andrew’s wallet, but he made no such move for any pocket. Instead, his arm just rested there on Andrew’s back. Now, the thing you have to know about Andrew is that he’s in the Air Force and is not a weak or small individual. He’s not a person who’s prone to fighting, but I have no doubt he could handle himself in one. As Andrew explained to me later, though, at that moment he wasn’t so much concerned about the man with his arm around him as he was about how many friends that man might have nearby. Not a bad thing to be wondering about, considering our circumstances. He therefore didn’t really want to piss this guy off but at the same time he wasn’t putting up with unwelcome personal contact. So Andrew gave him a hard shoulder, avoided eye contact and continued walking. I saw this and became immediately concerned that maybe we shouldn’t have come to the beach after all. I mean, how many movies set in foreign lands have scenes like this occur just before the ninja’s show up and kill everyone?

The next thing I knew, Alex was at Andrew’s other side and put his own arm around Andrew, pulling him away from the stranger while at the same time giving the stranger a serious stink-eye. The stranger fell back and we all passed beyond the dance club and on to the beach.

I’m not precisely sure what I expected from the beach, but the sea of garbage we found wasn’t quite it. I don’t suppose I should have been surprised at the amount of trash present, because we’d certainly seen a lot already on our way there, in the inlet water and in the aisle. The beach itself was far worse. There were empty bottles, both plastic and glass, old Styrofoam cups, sunscreen bottles and food wrappers simply everywhere atop and beneath the black sand beach. My inner environmentalist was screaming in terror as I took in this sight. And while there were several trash receptacles to be found, they were not spilling over with trash. In fact, no one seemed to have noticed them at all.

I stood there, feeling bewildered. I’m sure you can find filthy beaches in America too, but I’ve never been to one where the trash was so completely out of control. I just kept thinking “How?” over and over. I felt overwhelmed by it all, not only the trash but also the fear I’d experienced in the aisle on our way in. I think Andrew felt this way too because he asked me if I’d seen the strange man who had put his arm around Andrew back in the aisle. I told him I had. Andrew said it was an experience that had raised his hackles that his fight or flight instinct had been definitely activated by it. We had no idea what the guy wanted or why he had done that, but we couldn’t conceive of it being an innocent move.

At that point, our beach-going experience didn’t seem like it was panning out to be a good one. Then Astrid came over to us and told everyone to follow her. She led us over to a restaurant/bar that fronted a kind of beach-side motel. In the courtyard of this motel, there was a set of curving concrete steps, with more dangerously exposed rebar and no rail, that led up to the second floor area for the bar. It was a palm-frond roofed structure with lots of bamboo and more plastic tables and chairs. There were a few customers hanging out at the tables there, but mostly the place was empty enough that we could use it as a base of operations. It did offer a fantastic view of the Pacific and a less fantastic one of the filthy beach below. From our new perch, the scene below now looked far more like any typical American beach at Spring Break. We could then see some of the usual beach-scene items, like giant inflatable beer bottles and portable canopies and umbrellas. It no longer seemed quite as sinister as it had when we were down in it earlier, shaking off the tremors from our experience in the aisle. Now it just looked like a filthy beach full of people who were there to have a good time. Since a few of our crew said they would stay behind and guard everyone’s stuff, we figured we’d join the beach-goers and head for the water too.

We walked along the shore, moving down the beach away from the crowds, who were mostly gathered near the aisle to the ferries, and eventually we walked out of the fields of garbage and onto a far less crowded stretch of black sand beach. From there we hit the water proper.

I’d not been in the Pacific in a very long time. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time, I was so young. However, I figure that having been born in California and having spent a year in Guam, it’s pretty likely that at some point my parents plunked me in the Pacific drink. We’d been warned before coming here that the water would be rough and it certainly was. I’m far more used to the Atlantic beaches along the North Carolina coast, but this one had waves that didn’t play around. They weren’t exactly huge waves but they packed a wallop that could surprise you. One of my favorite things to do is to try and stand still and let a wave wash over me, remaining as steady as I can against it. Not with these waves, I didn’t. These waves would smash into you, dunk you under, rub your face in the sand a bit and then spit on you. It’s kind of a rush, though, to be at the mercy of nature in that way, though.

At one point, I got a bit further out than was probably wise and found myself treading water. Not usually a big concern for me, but I was having difficulty returning to the shore, and I’m a pretty good swimmer. I was expending a great deal more energy in trying to return to the shore than I was getting good results from. I was afraid I might be caught in a rip current and if so I knew I would need to swim along the shoreline until I broke free of it. (Watching the geek channels pays off, kids!) If I was in a rip-current, I don’t think it was a very one, at least only as far out as I was. It didn’t take very long at all for me to come out of it and get closer to shore.

We stayed in the water body surfing and having a great time. I was glad the beach had turned out to be a not entirely scary experience. After about 45 minutes, Astrid called us all out to leave. Once we were out on the beach, we saw that Jenna was still in the water and was farther out than looked safe, caught in the riptide. Andrew rushed in to help her while the rest of us prayed. I think it turned out, though, that she wasn’t so much caught in a riptide as she just hadn’t heard Astrid calling.

Back at the beachside motel, we showered the black sand off of us, as best we could, and gathered up our things to leave. I had brought a bottle of water in my backpack, so I took it over to the edge of the second story and leaned on the bamboo railing while I drank. I looked out on the water for what I figured would be the final time. Then, just as I’d finished almost all of my water, the bottle slipped through my fingers, bounced of the railing and disappeared over the side. My immediate impulse was to go down and get it and throw it away, but as I looked over the side to see where it fell I found I couldn’t tell which of the 100 odd bottles already on the beach below was mine. I was amused and horrified at the same time.

Instead of going directly back to the aisle’s entrance to make our exit, we took an alternate route through the back “courtyard” of the motel. There were families grilling out there, very much in vacation mode. Our route came out onto a back avenue that eventually intersected with the aisle. Once on the aisle we tried to keep in much closer contact with one another, particularly while passing the dance club again. The strange man from before didn’t approach us a second time.

As we cast off in our ferry to go back across the inlet, I noticed that the gentleman seated next to me, a fellow Gringo by the looks of him, was NOT a part of our mission team. I think he had just snuck aboard, realizing that the ride was paid for and that he would at least not stand out to local eyes among us. I didn’t speak to him, but he looked a bit nervous about the whole thing.

Once on the other side, we continued to try and stick together as we passed back along the street and toward the parking lot. As I walked, two of the girls in our group dashed up and took hold of my backpack and asked if it was okay if they followed along with me. They said that two young men from the crowd near the ferries had shouted something at them in Spanish and then had begun following them. I told them they should walk in front of me, if they wanted. When they looked back the men had dropped their pursuit.

That night, after supper, we held a benefit auction for future Word of Life campers. As Marcello explained to us, it costs around $35 American money to send a child to camp for a week at Word of Life. So the items we were auctioning would go toward that goal. We had been told in advance of the trip that this would occur, so some of the team members had actually brought items to auction, such as was the case with a number of items of jewelry—some specifically made for this auction. Other team members just took advantage of what we had on hand to auction. For instance, Ashley had brought a barely used tube of body lotion, which she auctioneered herself and raised $35. The rest of the time Rick Brooks was our auctioneer.

As you can imagine, with an oral surgeon and a number of doctors as bidders, some of the items went for quite a bit of money. In most cases, the items weren’t worth nearly the amount paid for them, but that wasn’t the point of the auction in the first place.

I wound up buying a bar of Irish Spring soap for $35. I’d actually had my eye on it already and was willing to pay the $35 for it before the bidding even began. When it came up for auction, Alex, Oswald and some of the other missionaries began screaming “Eriiic, Eriiiic!” and then holding up their water bottles to represent the fake Woolite bottle from my story the night before, indicating that I really needed some soap. I went along with it and made the winning bid for $35. Unfortunately, I was not paying attention to what Rick was doing and looked away in Alex and Oswald’s direction for a moment, so I didn’t see Rick hurl the box of soap at me. Just as I turned back around, the box hit me in the side of the face, actually glancing off the bone just to the side of my eye socket. To everyone else, it looked like the box had hit me right in the eye. I played it up, wobbling my head and saying, “Hey, I didn’t need that eye.” Rick was mortified that he might have injured me, but I told him I was fine. Still, it was another close call in what felt like a day of close call wounds.

The auction wound up raising $1686, which will send a total of 48 kids to camp there.

We wrapped up our evening around 10 p.m., as we knew we would all need to be up early in the morning to head out to the airport. Most of the team would be flying back to the United States, leaving Dr. Allen, Mary Ann, Andrew, Flo, Butch, Ashley and I to head over to El Salvador the following week. We knew Sunday was going to be a long day.

We had no clue just difficult Sunday would prove to be for us.

 

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