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Friday, 08 June 2007

Building a House in Xela, Guatemala - Page 2

Written by Eun Jung Cahill Decker
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So, let me get this straight. We take the number 5 bus to the end of the route, switch to the number 14, and then get off near the fountain. Then we walk uphill until we get to a path in the cornfield. At every crossroads in the cornfield, turn left until we find the building site? Do I have that right?

Noe, Leon, and Williams, our fellow builders, were Quiche Mayan and spoke Quiche. Only Williams spoke Spanish fluently, so we muddled through with my basic Spanish. At five foot five, I stood a head taller than Noe and a good few inches taller than Williams and Leon. Our first conversations were tentative and careful. We weren’t sure what to say. But, eventually, while working on this house together for long days, we began to talk – who is your family, what do you want to do in life, teach us some words in Quiche, teach us some words in English. On a particularly hot day, Williams got a straw hat from his grandmother to shield me from the sun. Another day, when we had to go inside because of rain, Leon’s wife wrapped me in a Mayan skirt that was supposed to reach me feet but only hit my calves.

Our house slowly grew. Our tasks were simple. I spent hours and hours pushing a ½ inch thick piece of rounded metal into the wet cement between cinderblocks. I think it was meant to round the cement off and make it look better. I didn’t ask and just did as I was told. We kept at our little jobs, knowing they contributed to the bigger job, making a home for someone who needed it.

building houseOn our last day in Xela, we stopped at a local bakery bought a tres leches cake to share with the family: the smartest thing we could have done. We built that day as usual, teaching each other words and thinking of what the house would mean for Ruth’s family. When the time came for us to go, the women came. All the women and children that would keep their distance throughout the week came to share the cake and bring us food. I finally met Williams’ grandmother (whose hat I had borrowed on the hot day), and had a chance to play with the children.

The cornfields were almost gaudy in their display that day, as they were everyday. The stalks grew well above our heads, showing every conceivable color of green. Looking up, we could see the green stalks hit the ever-changing blue sky in sharp contrast. As we would walk the paths each day, we would marvel at the life we were lucky enough to experience. We said goodbye with the sweetness of cake in our mouths and with a home for Williams’ sister in these cornfields.

© Eun Jung Cahill Decker

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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