Much of the construction work we did in Guatemala involved plaster and mortar and stucco. In the United States we would likely go to the local hardware store to purchase these items. In Guatemala, we made these supplies onsite. One of the consequences was that we needed a constant supply of fine sand for each of these mixtures. Using a sifter, one of our members would take a shovel full of fine rocks and shake it through a mesh screen allowing the fine sand to fall into a wheel barrow and discarding the remaining rocks.
On one of the afternoons, after the students had returned to their homes, I went to the work area where my wife Diane was sifting the sand. We took turns filling the wheel barrow when one of the children returned to watched. Using the limited Spanish, we learned that her name was Belinda. She was seis anos (six years old). She pointed down the street, indicating this was where she lived. After that, we ran out of common phrases with which to speak.
For a while I had her hold the sifter while we shook it together. She was an eager assistant. But then we came upon other ways to communicate. We played in the sand. We built casas (houses) in the sand that had accumulated in the wheel barrow. We smoothed it out and made smiley faces and laughed at the creations. With our fingers, we traced the image of a dog as Belinda said, “Perro.” Other images followed as we bridged the language differences.
Through it all, we made a new amiga (friend) by playing in the sand together. Belinda would look for us the next day during recess and stopped by again that afternoon to help us sift sand. And we looked for her to. We looked for her on our last day to say adios to our newfound friend.
It is one of the things I came to appreciate about Mission Guatemala. They are involved in some great work to bring health and wellness to the communities they serve. But the most important thing they do is build relationships. They encouraged this within our work team and we grew close to the staff, the co-workers, the students, the teachers and even to one another.
Perhaps it can serve as a reminder in our busy lives. For all the things that are on your “to-do” list, always leave room to play in the sand, to smile and laugh with someone and to make a new friend. These are the memories that you will treasure in the years to come.
Rev. Howard Boles