Having taken the plane to Guatemala City to celebrate the opening of a soup kitchen, I was leaving the airport and sitting in “the car” to go to my e-mail buddy’s home in Antigua. My ill feeling started to settle down; instead of the frightful fear that had engulfed my tummy, it was now fluttering with excitement. Just watching the countryside as we drove was a monumental event; most of the Indigenous people still wore traditional clothing; the women wore colorful, hand woven skirts with a blouse of some type, and a belt. Men wore the traditional colorful pants, also with a shirt and colorful belt. I was told that you could tell from which community the individual lived by the colors in their clothing, but to me it was all an incredible, colorful blur of rainbow clothes. The countryside was rural with many trees and hills, small farms and a twisty, windy road. My virtual friend had graciously invited me to stay in her home; a beautiful, typical Guatemalan residence in Antigua, and the ride there was thoroughly enjoyable.
Her home was a building of brown, flat cement, with a door as the only opening, (that is, no windows.) Upon entering, there was a formal seating area surrounded by only three walls which opened onto an amazing courtyard of multi-color, tropical flowers, trees and birds. It was like in a movie, when the beginning is stark and the door opens, and beautiful visions await; dreamy colors, birds chirping, trees sporting amazingly large red flowers; an area of peace and happiness. The entire center of the abode was garden-like with no roof to prevent maximum sunlight, and the result was a wonderment of a typical casa. The bedrooms surrounded the courtyard, with individual doors similar to a squared motel. My quaint bedroom with a twin bed, shared a bathroom with a similar room the other side. Naïve, I wasn’t sure what to expect in a Guatemalan home, (perhaps an outhouse?) but was thrilled that there was a toilet, hot water and shower so readily available.
The aromatic kitchen was open to the courtyard, and a large pot of soup was cooking on the stove. Several assistants were cutting up pieces of homemade bread. It appeared that I had arrived just in time for the weekly soup kitchen coordinated by the owner of the home. I stood at the front door to pass out food with the other helpers. People lined up in a somber, orderly manner and received their bowls of soup and bread. Each one thanked the giver with a “God Bless You” or other form of appreciation, and then sat farther on the curb to eat. The entire street was lined with curbside eaters, (something the soup kitchen was soon to replace.) They were obviously indigent; most lacked shoes or had shoes that were about to fall apart. Judging from how quickly they downed their meals, they were also very hungry! I took this as a chance to distribute the many shirts brought over from the United States. It was a great pleasure to pass out a shirt to each of the men. Astonishment filled their eyes, as though they were given something very precious. A few grabbed my hands and kissed them, and several uttered tearful thank yous. Had I realized how great the need was, I would have purchase ten times that amount of clothing.
The official opening of the daily soup kitchen, roof and all, was scheduled for the next day. Wanting to help, I was tasked with going to the village marketplace and get flowers to decorate the altar for the mass that would be served to commemorate the facility. The beautiful, spring-like weather and gentle breeze tousled my hair as I headed in the direction of the very busy but bountiful marketplace. Choosing flowers to fill four large vases was very difficult as there were so many vendors, all anxiously offering their blooms. I had no choice but to buy a few flowers from each stall. A few huge red flowers at one, yellow at another, white at another where two small, barefoot children sat at their mom’s feet, and pink flowers from a young vendor, hardly old enough to stand taller than the table. A florist I am not, so a mismatch of blooms overflowed from my arms. Instead of walking back to the house, I bravely chose to take a “putt putt,” sort of a three-wheeled taxi. It was so small that flowers hung out the windows and I laughed as we drove along, narrowly missing bopping pedestrians with the flowers. I could not be sure, but suspected that the driver purposely chose the bumpiest stretches of the road and got some excitement of his own swerving close to people. The ride proved a wonderful adventure, and I arrived safe and sound at the soup kitchen with nary a petal out of place, although my hair was in quite disarray. The opening of the soup kitchen would prove to be another exciting adventure.