Braedon Kwiecien

 

STORYTELLING FOR SOCIAL CHANGE IN GUATEMALA

Braedon Kwiecien's Journal

Braedon Kwiecien's Journal

Braedon Kwiecien's Journal


Back on campus, waking up Monday mornings comes with a lethargic sigh, a haphazard choice of clothes and a slow saunter to class.

But in Antigua, the former de facto capitol of Central America, the warm Monday morning air greeted me and my 15 companions with welcome.

What I appreciated about our cross-border adventure was how close I became with my neighbors from Eugene. I bunked with a 20-year-old named Boran Israel-Megerssa and I can honestly say that waking up next to this goof ball was the perfect start to my morning. My new best friend took a shower while I lounged in bed for another 10 minutes, listening to birds chirp from the other side of our bedroom door.

When it was my turn to wash myself with the soaps made of berries and natural ingredients in the shower, I stared out the window of the bathroom, watching the sun rise through the morning haze and over the distant mountains.

Realizing I had coffee and friends to enjoy on the roof of our hotel, I tore myself from the window's vista, threw on work pants, a t-shirt and some old running shoes and ascended the stairs to the roof.

I greeted my friends and took in the panorama of colonial buildings and geological sublimity.

Surrounding Antigua are three volcanoes named Agua, Fuego and Aquatenango, one of which plumed smoke Monday morning (are you kidding! I got to see an active volcano before 7 a.m.!)

We shared groggy morning-hellos on the roof-top garden, yet everyone seemed slightly more enthused than I imagined they might have been the Monday prior.

When everyone was ready to go, we walked down the cobblestone street to Fernando's Cafe, a local coffee, pastry and breakfast shop that also happened to supply the natural soap that we all washed with back at the hotel.

I sat in the open-air courtyard with my new friends, sipping an Americano and learning about everyone's highlights from the day before.

With the option of fruit salad, crepes or a typical Guatemalan breakfast, I opted for the "típico."

When my plate of black beans, fried plantains, over-easy eggs and tortillas arrived, I could not have felt more blessed. Surrounded by good food, good drink, good weather and great people, this service trip was looking a lot more like a service to me.

We dined and dashed, after paying of course, and jumped into one of two vans driven by men who knew the streets of Antigua like the back of their hands.

A young man barely older than myself named Emilio showed us the sites and escorted us through the centuries-old town. Our destination: Ecocomal stove factory.

For some reason, I was nervous for our first visit to the factory. The yellow walls greeted us from outside and Hector, the factory's security personnel opened the gate to let us in. We gringos quickly smeared sunscreen and squirted bug spray over our bare skin and moments later met the factory owner and founder, Marco Tulio.

The 16 of us huddled in Marco's small circular office to get to know the man and understand his passion.

With the help of a translator, Marco regaled us with a history of blessing and noblesse oblige.

Marco was 10 or 11 before he knew what a car was and had only known to ride horses growing up. He remembers cooking over an open fire and living a typical life of an indigenous Guatemalan.

He went to high school and college, earning a degree in engineering, but what makes his story profound is his passion to help that he confessed next.

The husband and father of two (I THINK) wanted to build stoves because the indefinido population of Guatemala was going through an epidemic of respiratory problems. Women and children tend open fires for much of every day, constantly inhaling smoke and debris.

Marco was passionate about helping preserve the lives of his community and the culture of his own upbringing.

His passion filled the room as he said that with a bank account containing 500 quetzales (roughly $70 USD) and a wife and kids to support, Marco chose to start a company based on hope and righteousness.

As Marco recalled, God sent a saint to his doorstep when the owner of Eugenian non-profit Nancy (last name) came to Guatemala to invest in his company. (FACTS ARE ROUGH IN THIS SECTION!)

After seeing his passion and listening to his stories, the 16 of us were eager to help and set out to work outside.

The group split in two, with some working to build the stoves we would deliver to clean community members in the following days, and other creating a patio to present stoves to investors in the future. I opted for the patio work.

I met a man named Lib Ovidio, a man who came up to my shoulder and sported forearms the girth of tree trunks.

Communicating via my broken Spanish and hand signals, we worked to haul 12 wheelbarrows full of dirt to where the patio was destined to be constructed and blended 20-pound bags of cement mix in with the dirt and water.

The process of churning cement by hand is, by standards set by my American sensibilities, annoying. We piled the mixture of powders into a mountain using shovels and hoes. We deconstructed the mound, built it into a mountain again and then did that once more. We heaved material with our tools to slowly form a patio, speaking Spanish all the time between heavy breaths and choking coughs from the dusty air.

The early afternoon was filled with great conversation, laughter and a lot of sweat. We found ourselves covered in cement and grime and sporting blistered hands, yet with unshakeable grins from the fun and reward we found in the day's work.

When we broke for lunch, the authentic Guatemalan cuisine cooked by several of the women at the factory took our breath. Every day at the factory, it was cruel that they served us such food, forsaking us to lives of misery back in Eugene having to dream of the meals plated before us in Guatemala; needless to say, the meals were nothing short of divine.

Monday afternoon brought Chile relleno, rice and beans, homemade tortillas, tamarind juice and coffee to finish off the meal. Sharing stories from the day was difficult with mouths constantly full of heavenly cuisine, but we managed.

We set back to work after lunch, musing more cement, preparing more stoves and doing a variety of other jobs to improve the factory.

We spoke with many of the factory workers throughout the day, sharing personal stories and connecting with one another. Not only was this a great way to get to know each other's cultures, but it was inspiring to see how quickly individuals from vastly different lives and cultures could grow to appreciate and enjoy the other's company.

Knowing we would return to our new friends tomorrow, the spectacular 16 hopped back in the vans and returned to the hotel.

Many took some time to explore the local shops; I took some time to scrape the hardening cement off my skin and out of my hair.

Dinner was a highlight every night, and I'm sure Monday's was no exception. My memory doesn't serve me well enough to remember which meal we devoured, whether it was any of the jaw-dropping Guatemalan dishes we shared or the eggplant dish from an Italian hole-in-the-wall we stumbled upon one of the evenings.

Every meal meant a time to share stories from the day with those who were becoming some of my closest friends. We would laugh and laugh, enjoying the night that would flee from us all too quickly.

By the time 8 o' clock rolled around, it was time for a formal reflection on the day back at the hotel.

We divulged any news we had for the coming day, offered words of appreciation for one another and the fruits of our experience throughout the day. We talked about concerns, reviewed our high points and low points of the whole day and laughed about any obscurities we witnessed.

What came next every night and particularly as the sun set on Monday was a time for deep reflection.

I asked the group why we thought we were engaging in this work and what effect it was having on the indigenous culture.

Were we helping the people we came to serve or stomping in and proclaiming the best way of life just as the conquistadors had? Moreover, I asked what culture meant to each of us including myself, and we came to the startling consensus that culture was too difficult to define for it to seem meaningful and relate to every one of us.

For some in the group, they realized the importance their heritage holds for them, despite the discrimination they deal with in Eugene. For me, the opportunity to listen to the perspectives of a diverse group of my peers as they discussed the value of their cultures and the impact it has on their everyday lives was an invaluable experience.

I grew so much as a community member, a friend and a human by engaging in such rich conversation with such a close community.

And best of all, that was just Monday.

As we retired from the hour and half long conversation, that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the night, some moved to the rooftop to continue discussing under the stars, while others wandered to windows to take on the views of an Antiguan night.

Borin and I swiftly made our way to the comfort of our room, thinking some R and R is exactly what we deserved after both a physically and mentally rigorous day.

For the first time in a while, I got to hunker down with a novel, something I find myself far too preoccupied to consider back home.

Feeling the weight of my eye lids tug and tug until the luxury of reading couldn't restrain me from sleep, I had no choice but to dream of the wonderful day I had lived and await another glorious one to come.

Can you imagine a better Monday?

The trip was rewarding, rejuvenating, enlightening and fun, perhaps the greatest way I could have possibly spent my spring break.

 


Back on campus, waking up Monday mornings comes with a lethargic sigh, a haphazard choice of clothes and a slow saunter to class.

But in Antigua, the former de facto capitol of Central America, the warm Monday morning air greeted me and my 15 companions with welcome.

What I appreciated about our cross-border adventure was how close I became with my neighbors from Eugene. I bunked with a 20-year-old named Boran Israel-Megerssa and I can honestly say that waking up next to this goof ball was the perfect start to my morning. My new best friend took a shower while I lounged in bed for another 10 minutes, listening to birds chirp from the other side of our bedroom door.

When it was my turn to wash myself with the soaps made of berries and natural ingredients in the shower, I stared out the window of the bathroom, watching the sun rise through the morning haze and over the distant mountains.

Realizing I had coffee and friends to enjoy on the roof of our hotel, I tore myself from the window's vista, threw on work pants, a t-shirt and some old running shoes and ascended the stairs to the roof.

I greeted my friends and took in the panorama of colonial buildings and geological sublimity.

Surrounding Antigua are three volcanoes named Agua, Fuego and Aquatenango, one of which plumed smoke Monday morning (are you kidding! I got to see an active volcano before 7 a.m.!)

We shared groggy morning-hellos on the roof-top garden, yet everyone seemed slightly more enthused than I imagined they might have been the Monday prior.

When everyone was ready to go, we walked down the cobblestone street to Fernando's Cafe, a local coffee, pastry and breakfast shop that also happened to supply the natural soap that we all washed with back at the hotel.

I sat in the open-air courtyard with my new friends, sipping an Americano and learning about everyone's highlights from the day before.

With the option of fruit salad, crepes or a typical Guatemalan breakfast, I opted for the "típico."

When my plate of black beans, fried plantains, over-easy eggs and tortillas arrived, I could not have felt more blessed. Surrounded by good food, good drink, good weather and great people, this service trip was looking a lot more like a service to me.

We dined and dashed, after paying of course, and jumped into one of two vans driven by men who knew the streets of Antigua like the back of their hands.

A young man barely older than myself named Emilio showed us the sites and escorted us through the centuries-old town. Our destination: Ecocomal stove factory.

For some reason, I was nervous for our first visit to the factory. The yellow walls greeted us from outside and Hector, the factory's security personnel opened the gate to let us in. We gringos quickly smeared sunscreen and squirted bug spray over our bare skin and moments later met the factory owner and founder, Marco Tulio.

The 16 of us huddled in Marco's small circular office to get to know the man and understand his passion.

With the help of a translator, Marco regaled us with a history of blessing and noblesse oblige.

Marco was 10 or 11 before he knew what a car was and had only known to ride horses growing up. He remembers cooking over an open fire and living a typical life of an indigenous Guatemalan.

He went to high school and college, earning a degree in engineering, but what makes his story profound is his passion to help that he confessed next.

The husband and father of two (I THINK) wanted to build stoves because the indefinido population of Guatemala was going through an epidemic of respiratory problems. Women and children tend open fires for much of every day, constantly inhaling smoke and debris.

Marco was passionate about helping preserve the lives of his community and the culture of his own upbringing.

His passion filled the room as he said that with a bank account containing 500 quetzales (roughly $70 USD) and a wife and kids to support, Marco chose to start a company based on hope and righteousness.

As Marco recalled, God sent a saint to his doorstep when the owner of Eugenian non-profit Nancy (last name) came to Guatemala to invest in his company. (FACTS ARE ROUGH IN THIS SECTION!)

After seeing his passion and listening to his stories, the 16 of us were eager to help and set out to work outside.

The group split in two, with some working to build the stoves we would deliver to clean community members in the following days, and other creating a patio to present stoves to investors in the future. I opted for the patio work.

I met a man named Lib Ovidio, a man who came up to my shoulder and sported forearms the girth of tree trunks.

Communicating via my broken Spanish and hand signals, we worked to haul 12 wheelbarrows full of dirt to where the patio was destined to be constructed and blended 20-pound bags of cement mix in with the dirt and water.

The process of churning cement by hand is, by standards set by my American sensibilities, annoying. We piled the mixture of powders into a mountain using shovels and hoes. We deconstructed the mound, built it into a mountain again and then did that once more. We heaved material with our tools to slowly form a patio, speaking Spanish all the time between heavy breaths and choking coughs from the dusty air.

The early afternoon was filled with great conversation, laughter and a lot of sweat. We found ourselves covered in cement and grime and sporting blistered hands, yet with unshakeable grins from the fun and reward we found in the day's work.

When we broke for lunch, the authentic Guatemalan cuisine cooked by several of the women at the factory took our breath. Every day at the factory, it was cruel that they served us such food, forsaking us to lives of misery back in Eugene having to dream of the meals plated before us in Guatemala; needless to say, the meals were nothing short of divine.

Monday afternoon brought Chile relleno, rice and beans, homemade tortillas, tamarind juice and coffee to finish off the meal. Sharing stories from the day was difficult with mouths constantly full of heavenly cuisine, but we managed.

We set back to work after lunch, musing more cement, preparing more stoves and doing a variety of other jobs to improve the factory.

We spoke with many of the factory workers throughout the day, sharing personal stories and connecting with one another. Not only was this a great way to get to know each other's cultures, but it was inspiring to see how quickly individuals from vastly different lives and cultures could grow to appreciate and enjoy the other's company.

Knowing we would return to our new friends tomorrow, the spectacular 16 hopped back in the vans and returned to the hotel.

Many took some time to explore the local shops; I took some time to scrape the hardening cement off my skin and out of my hair.

Dinner was a highlight every night, and I'm sure Monday's was no exception. My memory doesn't serve me well enough to remember which meal we devoured, whether it was any of the jaw-dropping Guatemalan dishes we shared or the eggplant dish from an Italian hole-in-the-wall we stumbled upon one of the evenings.

Every meal meant a time to share stories from the day with those who were becoming some of my closest friends. We would laugh and laugh, enjoying the night that would flee from us all too quickly.

By the time 8 o' clock rolled around, it was time for a formal reflection on the day back at the hotel.

We divulged any news we had for the coming day, offered words of appreciation for one another and the fruits of our experience throughout the day. We talked about concerns, reviewed our high points and low points of the whole day and laughed about any obscurities we witnessed.

What came next every night and particularly as the sun set on Monday was a time for deep reflection.

I asked the group why we thought we were engaging in this work and what effect it was having on the indigenous culture.

Were we helping the people we came to serve or stomping in and proclaiming the best way of life just as the conquistadors had? Moreover, I asked what culture meant to each of us including myself, and we came to the startling consensus that culture was too difficult to define for it to seem meaningful and relate to every one of us.

For some in the group, they realized the importance their heritage holds for them, despite the discrimination they deal with in Eugene. For me, the opportunity to listen to the perspectives of a diverse group of my peers as they discussed the value of their cultures and the impact it has on their everyday lives was an invaluable experience.

I grew so much as a community member, a friend and a human by engaging in such rich conversation with such a close community.

And best of all, that was just Monday.

As we retired from the hour and half long conversation, that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the night, some moved to the rooftop to continue discussing under the stars, while others wandered to windows to take on the views of an Antiguan night.

Borin and I swiftly made our way to the comfort of our room, thinking some R and R is exactly what we deserved after both a physically and mentally rigorous day.

For the first time in a while, I got to hunker down with a novel, something I find myself far too preoccupied to consider back home.

Feeling the weight of my eye lids tug and tug until the luxury of reading couldn't restrain me from sleep, I had no choice but to dream of the wonderful day I had lived and await another glorious one to come.

Can you imagine a better Monday?

The trip was rewarding, rejuvenating, enlightening and fun, perhaps the greatest way I could have possibly spent my spring break.