Guatemala #2

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On Monday we began as we do each day with breakfast at a local restaurant with fresh squeezed orange juice, eggs, beans, plantains and homemade bread and jelly. The coffee is also really good! We also do our morning reflection  there.   At the beginning each pilgrim chooses a small rock, puts it in a bowl and says a word or two about what they hope for the week. I am hoping for openness and connection.

We travel then by bus for about an hour and a half to a clinic where we meet health promoter practioners. We learn about how they are trained, we spend time in each room of the clinic.  They study 1 week every other month for three years.

After lunch, one of the health promoters brings some pictures of a tough case. Two of the physicians provide a “consult” for the diagnosis and treatment of a patient with some dermatological problems. The physician tells the promoter they have done all the right things for the diagnosis with a biopsy and the treatment was correct as well. The health promoter practioners, having completed a three year course have demonstrated their clinical skills of both diagnosis and treatment which impresses all of us, including American trained physicians. With such few resources, they maximize their learning through connections with others and provide primary care to the people of this rural region.

We meet a physician from El Salvador who is here to learn the model of training health promoters. She connects with one of our women physicians who will provide support for consults when this physician goes to Columbia. Technology makes connections, support and solidarity possible in new ways. The pathologist in our group, who is a founding member of Pathologists Oversees thinks he can locate the portable microscopes. These are simple ways we can support healthcare in the Peten.

We travel back to our comfortable hotel and a restaurant on the island for dinner. All are inspired by the competence and confidence of the health promoter practitioners who are the primary care providers in the Peten. This is just the beginning.

There are so many things we take for granted. Like bathrooms with toilets that flush. I wonder when I go home if I will want to put the t.p. in the waste basket or I will realize I am back in the U.S. and put it in the toilet bowl?? Small things.

Life for the people of northern Guatemala is difficult at best. This first day we hear of a health promoter practioner that works his fields, works the communal assignment for the cooperative (community / common) field and delivers care for his community as well. I do not understand why the community does not see his health promoter practitioner work as his communal assignment. But they do not. He is not bitter or angered by this, it is how life is in the Peten. People work a lot and work hard here. The work in the fields with the heat must be very hard. I cannot even imagine, as the heat and humidity tire me each day and I am not working.

My Spanish improved dramatically in this setting. In the morning I understand a lot when my brain is fresh, by the end of the day I am worn out and can hardly understand anything.

Tuesday, our second day we go to visit a hospital. Although impressed by the care they are able to deliver, we realize resources are sparse. Last year we saw the pharmacy, this year we do not as there are no drugs available. Patients or families have to go buy the drugs at the pharmacy and bring them to the hospital. Budgets are short here for healthcare. Doctors only see patients in the morning at the hospital and then go to their private offices to see patients who must pay in the afternoon. People come long distances from the rural areas and may not be seen. Many would rather be seen in a clinic or by a promoter in their community because they are uncertain about access to care at hospitals. The numbers of physicians in the Peten is staggering. There is one physician for 28,500 people. There are so few, many will never see a physician.

In the afternoon we go to meet the “Spoon Makers”. These are 10 families who make spoons and other utensils. Their business model astounds the group. The profit is divided evenly by the group. They assign two different people each month to do quality inspections. If a spoon isn’t perfect, it is thrown out. If someone introduces a new design, the whole group must approve it. Those who come up with new designs are given a bit more for their creativity. The group has a website and proper export processes as of last year. Their business is increasing and they are filling some larger orders. The women make spoons as well. They get up, cook breakfast and in between daily chores and running the household they make spoons.

Wednesday we travel a very long distance, in an uncomfortable van to visit another clinic. People to not often travel this far. The health promoter practioners tell us over and over how pleased they are that we came to listen to their stories and hear about their work. They say we are in solidarity with them because we support them. People in the group, including me are touched. Our simple presence and listening is a support to these people.

I talk with one of the practioners over lunch in Spanish. They do not speak any English. When we prepare to leave she gives me a hug, tells me how happy she is we came, how much support she feels from us. It is so sincere I am almost in tears. She tells me they are growing crops for export. When a family loses their land they have no way to feed themselves or to make a living. The land and the crops both feed the family and make a little extra to buy essentials for the family. I have heard this in several settings in central America. People risk their lives to keep their land. This is completely foreign to me. I have a home, a job and plenty to live on. I never think about where the next meal is coming from. I do not know people who have family members who die from malnutrition. This is common in developing countries. It has been a long day, we left at 6 a.m. and returned at 6:30 p.m. I am worn out.

Thursday we meet with people from the Catholic Church. They explain the pastoral plan. They try to address issues in six areas.




Human Mobility (immigration)


Human Rights and Mental Health

There is a poster with the Good Samaritan — universal Gospel of caring for others. The plan is impressive. I wonder about the plan in my diocese. As we are leaving I say to the priest in Spanish that the plan and commitment of the people is very inspiring. He replies, “as long as we have God.” They are very grounded in God, and welcome all, believers and non believers alike. Even the promoters say they are rooted in God. I am proud of the work of the Catholic Church. Throughout the world we stand with the poor, those who struggle for mere existence. We bring hope to hopeless situations and with the promoters there is health. The number of malnourished and complications in childbirth have decreased significantly since the promoters have been trained.

That afternoon we heard about the Mayan Cosmovision.

Through all the presentations we deepen our understanding of this region of Guatemala. We begin to see the culture context. In many instances the feedback is that our group is attentive and interested. We listen to the stories of lives and places that are so different than our own. Each person pauses to consider what we have heard and what it means to us. We have a whole new way to experience solidarity. I sense that it is our solidarity with those we visit and their solidarity with us.  It is mutuals, they appreciate us as much we appreciate them. 

I feel connection and openness to our new friends in the Peten.


Guatemala 2012

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Today we begin a journey to Guatemala. It will take a day and a half to get to the destination. For me, the long journey is symbolic of how far away from home we will be in so many ways. Today we are flying to Houston, tomorrow morning to Guatemala City and then WATCH THE SUPER BOWL in the airport while waiting for the connection to Flores.

Flores is an island and a simple tourist destination for people traveling to Tikal. It is in the middle of a big lake, a serene environment. Each day we will travel off the island to experience a number of different communities and works.

I am with a group of 12 people from St. Joseph Health System southern California ministries. Why are we going? This is an immersion experience to northern Guatemala. People living in this area are without many resources, food, water, work, health care. Northern Guatemala can be described as a developing country. We will be present to the people and this reality while meeting a number of people who are involved in the Catholic church and its ministries, health promoter practitioners who deliver primary health care in the villages and communities, people who build water tanks, and a group who make spoons by hand that are both useful and beautiful.

The purpose of this immersion pilgrimage is to deepen our understanding of the Catholic Social Teachings of dignity, solidarity and common good. Reflecting on the experience we will look for ways to integrate and connect these principles more explicitly in our daily work. One of the hallmarks of Catholic health care is our commitment to the poor and vulnerable. This week provides a time to step out of the day to day, walk into a very different environment and allow that experience to speak to one’s mind and heart. Although we will be together the entire week, the time will speak to each person in their own unique way. We have morning reflections and evening debriefings when we talk together about the day, our insights and observations.

As I write I will be vague about exact locations and people we are meeting. I have been asked to do so in order to respect the people, their customs and in some instances security issues for the locals.

I traveled here a year ago. I was very inspired by the people I met. I was moved by the simplicity of the lifestyle and the commitment of people to each other and to the community in which they live. There is a clarity about how need each other in Guatemala. The health promoter practioners deliver babies, suture machete wounds, etc with amazing competence. Our healthcare professionals were really impressed with the excellent quality in their delivery of care.

I am looking forward to coming here again. The opportunity to deepen my experience here is a gift. Over the last decade, I have learned how much I like returning to places so that I can go deeper into the culture, the people, the food and the economic and political situations. Ultimately we are one human family, with many more similarities than differences. People love their families, they want to work in order to support their families, send their children to school, make a contribution to their communities and make the world a better place. We struggle with the same things, lack of work and opportunities, health issues, aging and sickness, loss. Suffering is part of every person’s human experience. When I see joyful people who have very few resources it gives me a perspective of life that I don’t get any other way.

Stay tuned

Seeing Lara, Flavio and Mattis in Long Beach

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Last Sunday night, January 15 was a real treat for Coyla and me…..

After three amazing, grace-filled months living in Tuscany, coming home is both wonderful and challenging.  There are so many things to catch up on, mail, bills, sifting and sorting the stuff of life and getting back into a routine.  The routine includes getting up at 6 a.m. and going to work of course.  The realization that Italy was time away and time here is different takes some getting used to.

Work is a very full reality, Italy was a very full reality – different from one another.  As we transition back to our lives in the US, we had a special treat.  Lara, Flavio and their son Mattis came to Long Beach for a wine tasting at a nearby Italian restaurant, Michael’s on Naples.  The chance to re connect with them helped me connect again with the friendships and experience of Tuscany.

Although there is lots to do, KEEP HOPE ALIVE for the olive oil business, while at the same time, blog about international work assignments and travel.  Guatemala in the beginning of February, France for two weeks mid April.  These are my two work assignments that are international.  I will also visit Mazatlan the end of February. 

I gave Michael, from the retaurant a tin of “my” oil.  We will see what he thinks.  Due to my schedule and then his schedule I don’t have his feedback.  Another Italian restaurant that we dined at turned out not to be a candidate, too Americanized to fit with my vision.  I hope to connect vendors / people who appreciate Italy and the products that come from Italy.  When we have products that remind us of another part of the world, we can be more globally aware, in our thinking and how we stand in the world. 

How can different experiences join together to make each day have a rhythm that that includes a global awareness?  We need habits that inspire our minds and experiences and connect us to the larger world.  I hope to do that through my blogging.  Stay tuned….

February 4 – 13 Guatemala

February 25 – March 4 Mazatlan

April 15 – 29 France

Ciao Cecilia, Ciao Vitiano, Ciao Tuscany

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The last days were filled with packing, so much stuff, saying goodbye, walking through the neighborhood on familiar routes and having one last cappuccino at Emilio and Rosella’s Sandy Bar. Saturday, December 31 we are having our last cappuccino and Rosella tells us that Mirella came by and she is treating us to our drinks. Coyla says she thinks it is Rosella paying, I go to the counter to check with my now “functional Italian” and in fact it is Mirella. We are asking ourselves, how did she know we would come? Rosella tells me she came by earlier and said she was treating us. We are moved. There are lots of people coming in and out of the bar. I hear Rosella telling them we are Americans, we’ve been there three months and we are leaving tomorrow. She then looks at us and says that we have made them happy. We are moved again. Coyla asks Mary what she has enjoyed about her time in Tuscany? Mary says the people and then starts to cry. That is enough for me and I start to cry. All the people are looking at us. We are taking everyone’s photo and people we know and don’t know are coming to great us and wish us boun viaggie, good journey. That Saturday is like no other New Year’s eve….my dream of living for three months in Tuscany is coming to an end and we all realize it is more than we could have asked for or imagined.

We celebrated New Year’s eve at La Limonaia with our friends Mary, John and Penny. We gathered for cocktails and hors d’ouvres to begin the evening. As we began, a knock at the door. It was Rosella and Enzo (her husband) with a bottle of champagne and wishes of happy new year. They were on their way to a big party. How special for them to come by, one last time hugs and kisses and beautiful champagne for our celebration. And lots of photos. Lara and Flavio who own the vineyard near Pienza gave us a 2009 magnum of their super Tuscan for the evening. So we were set. These are the most gracious people I have ever known, open and friendly to two people who are just there for a short time, and all wanting us to return and asking when that will be.

Since we were leaving, we asked Mirella, the neighbor across the street to cook us a typical Tuscan dinner. We ordered the same menu we had when we were invited to her home for a family dinner. Rabbit, duck, potatoes, fried bread, a typical antipasti plate of garlic and spinach, pomodoro and pate all served on small bread slices with a side of asparagus. It was all delicious. Mirella and Alviero showed up with the food about 30 minutes early. Lots of hugs and kisses on both cheeks as well as “buon anno” (happy new year) and thank yous. We took several photos of Mirella and Alviero in his hunting fatigues. He goes hunting almost every day it seems. I realized once again how fond I am of the two of them as they stood proudly in the kitchen delivering our dinner. Alviero most likely hunted the duck and Mirella “prepared” both the rabbit and the duck, we are spared this reality of hunting for our food with easy access at the supermarket.

John and Penny left before midnight, I headed for bed too until I heard the fireworks. I leapt up and out we went to look at some great displays of fireworks. Three different locations that we could see from the house. It was exciting and we brought in 2012, our last night in Tuscany. The Italians know how to celebrate.

The next morning, Sunday we stayed to go to our church one more Sunday at 11 a.m. Mass. It was a very special Eucharistic celebration and we were able to sing all the songs. Adeste fidelis, Low How a Rose er Blooming, a song I hummed along with in Italian and Salve Regina at the end. We hung around to say our goodbyes to the priest to the people and most specially to Cecilia and Claudia. Unfortunately, Maria Grazia was home sick. After some chit chat, Cecilia and Claudia took us out to their car, one more present from Maria Grazia, according to Cecilia, “chocolate for us to eat in America and remember our Toscano friends.” Coyla snapped lots of pictures, leaving was difficult. We want Claudia and Cecilia to come to America. Cecilia keeps saying it is impossible, we have offered plane tickets. Talking with Carlos, (the priest) I say nothing is impossible with God and he supports this as he repeats it again to Cecilia in lovely Italian. We get the “Cecilia look.” That look where the chin goes up and she looks right at you, with a message that this is just too difficult and we do not get it. Coyla and I are on a mission, they simply must come. And one day they will – hold the vision and it will happen. I have learned this over and over again. Things do not always happen in my time, but they do happen.

Out in the parking lot I am crying, Cecilia is crying, we are all teary and this leaving and emotion is overwhelming. We say the final goodbye and Coyla, Mary and I exit the Church grounds to walk down the street home for the last time. We turn around and Cecilia is standing, watching us. We go about 300 meters and we hear a shout, Ciao! We yell Ciao back tears streaming down my face. These Italians, hospitable and emotional, connected for ever.


St. Frances territory – Tuscany and Umbria

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This central part of Italy could be described as St. Frances territory.  And we have covered many of the major sights.  At the beginning of our time we spent a short afternoon and evening in Assisi on the eve of the 800th anniversary of Frances, October 3rd.  We visited La Verna way up in the mountains in northern Tuscany.  This was St. Francis retreat, the place he received the stimata.  The grounds, chapels, and exact spot where he received the stigmata are sacred.  You can feel it in the air.  The della Robbias are exceptional in the various chapels and the big Chruch. 

In November we travelled to Gubbio for the truffle festival and to visit the city where St. Frances tamed the wolf.  The legend is that a wolf was terrorizing the city eating all of the food and livestock.  The townspeople called on Frances to solve the problem.  Frances had a great reverence for all created things and particularly loved the animals.  He met with the wolf and had a conversation with him.  He asked the wolf how the problem could be resolved for the wolf and the citizens of Gubbio.  The wolf said, “I’m hungry and had to eat.”  Frances returned to the citizens with this proposal.  YOu put out food for the wold each night and he will no longer consume your livestock.  The wolf, the citizens and Frances resolved the problem for all concerned.  A win win resolution.

Last week we went to a place very near Cortona called St. Frances’ cell.  Much to our surprise, it is a huge monastery in a similar style to La Verna.  This was the place Frances gathered with early followers in the order.  It was very quiet and peaceful with several levels, actually huge.  We wandered around noticing the signs requesting that we keep silence as these were the places Frances walked.  We practically had the whole place to ourselves.  We found Frances’ cell and spent time praying there and soaking in the presence of Frances.  His spirit still lives here.  An unexpected grace as we wanted to visit,  it was near but we had not travelled down the narrow road to spend time here. 

Tuesday we went to Assisi again to spend the day.  Approaching the hilltown, which you can see in the distance across open land is thrilling.  There it is we exclaimed!  Our trusty Maria (GPS) guided us into the town.  We found parking near the church and made our way UP to see both the lower and upper churches.  As I remembered from 11 years ago, there is a scratchy intercom system that comes on, SILENCIO.  There are always tourists in Assisi.  And that day was no exception.  We wandered through the lower church and stopped to pray at Frances’ tomb.  In the small area, his tomb is surrounded by four of his first companions.  Everyone was quiet in the space, no need for the intercom. 

After the lower church we went searching for a lunch spot.  We have learned our lesson.  If you don’t find lunch before 1:30 you will not get lunch.  Assisi is an Umbrian hilltown and so we went up, up, up in search of a restaurant and found one.  We got the last table of the day.  The meal was so, so.  The olive oil was very good.  (I am now seriously paying attention to olive oil and carefully tasting it at every opportunity.)  Mary, Coyla and I all agreed, good olive oil!

After lunch we threaded our way through the narrow streets down, down, down to the upper church to see the Giotto frescos that describe Frances’ life.  They have been restored since an earthquake in the late 1990s and are fantastic.  There are nativity scenes in the churches and outside.  Italy is BIG on nativity scenes, much like Mexico.   They are the only photos allowed in the churches. 

We, like the others there, are pilgrims.  There are lots of religious, both men and women, young and old,  in habits, collars, and street clothes.  There are monks and nuns running around in birkenstocks with no socks – although it is a beautiful day, about 55 degrees, in the narrow streets with the high buildings there is no sun and the stones hold the cold.  I wonder if they can feel their feet?   When the sun goes down it is even COLDER.

Assisi draws many people all times of the year.  It is a quaint hilltown in Umbria imbued with the spirit of Frances.  There are Americans from the U.S., Asians and many others.  There are tour groups, small groups, individuals, all coming to the birthplace and resting  place of Frances.  He changed the world, supported the rebuilding of the Catholic faith and continues to inspire people from all over the world, 800 years later.  It is easy to understand pilgrimage as I observe people in prayer in the churches, and young people stopping to take photos on iphones as they approach the church.  People take their pictures in front of the church, its gleeming white, shining with the sun on this unusually warm December day.

Tony came to the party too……

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The Christmas holiday has been very full with Church, dinners, and company.  And our time here is winding down, the days are passing quickly.  In the midst of this we planned a party, an open house, which is an unknown phenomenon in Italy.  We invited all our new friends in Vitiano, the wonderful people who have opened their hearts and their homes to us.  These are all people I have written about.  Emilio and Rosella from the Sandy Bar, the place where we have cappuccinos and stop after Mass every Sunday.  They make the best cappucinos in the world.  Of course we invited Cecilia, Claudia and Maria Grazia our friends from Church who reveal the face of God to us at each encounter.  Anna and Olinto who have Il Molino, the old olive oil mill/ museum, bed and breakfast.  Mirella and Alviero the  neighbors across the street who we have grown closer to week by week.  Paula and Mario from the Emporio store with whom we have shared several meals.  Paula is from Romania and her story is very inspiring to me leaving her communist country for freedom and then moving her family to Italy with her being a chef and then opening her own business. 

We prepared “American” antipasta, my niece Kellie’s stuffed mushrooms, ham and cheese toasted sandwiches with cheddar cheese from the U.S., nachos, tuna sandwiches, olives and Sees candy.  Mirella came with a plate of typical Tuscan antipasti.  Some showed up early, others drifted in.  The party was from 12 – 2.  At 3 we said goodbye as I had to run for my olive oil pick up. 

To our surprise everyone knew each other!  I was going to introduce Rosella, she said, I know everyone.  Rosella and Emilio took turns working at the bar so they could both come.  We had google translate up and running so we could communicate better.  Of course they all speak Italian and we tried to keep up with the conversation.  I am getting more and more adept at stringing words together that I know.  My grammar is bad now in all languages.    I noticed how close people are to one another when they were talking, literally 4 – 5 inches.  The sense of personal space and annimation was fun to watch.  

Early into the party, the door was ajar and in came Tony (the cat).  Of course the neighbors all know Tony.  Mirella was running after him trying to get him out of the house.  I picked him up and put him outside.  As one of our best friends, he came back again.  We are busted!  Although we did not invite him, he was welcome!

I feel incredibly blessed to know these people.  Each has welcomed us into their lives in their own way.  I never expected to meet people and get so attached to them especially when you don’t really speak the language.  We all exchanged emails.   How does one give thanks for such an amazing gift and grace?

This was Cecilia’s message to me and Coyla on Google translate. 

Thank you for stopping at the end of the Mass in the church, otherwise there would not be a connection. Grazie for your testimony cristiana. Grazie for your company, which shows that God responds to the heart of every person. We will never forget you even if we are away. We remember with great affection for ever, because nothing is lost but in God remains forever. With so much love Claudia Cecilia and Mary Grace.

That sums it all up.

Joseph and Jesus in the Duomo in Gubbio


Joseph and Jesus in the Duomo in Gubbio

It is not so often you see only Joseph and Jesus. This one is dear. I think more about Joseph and his quiet response to God’s call since i work for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.

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