In just one week, the Appalachian State University volunteers built the foundations of a library, cleaned and painted seven houses throughout San Mateo, and experienced Guatemala like true Chapínes.
From the first day, I could tell that this group of volunteers had great chemistry, big hearts, and a good sense of humor—all useful characteristics in combatting the daunting work that lay ahead.
To get to know each other and Antigua, we went to Frida’s for some Mexican flavor on Sunday night. Not quite typical Guatemalan food, but all the staples were there—tortillas, black beans, chicken and rice. Plus, Frida’s fajitas are divine.
Before we started
Early Monday morning, everyone greeted the first day of hard labor with the good spirits and positive energy that I would come to expect. The week’s primary goal was to lay the foundation for a library on the second story of the orphanage. The construction area, however, was closer to a junk yard than a library. When the volunteers got there, the upstairs was littered with toys, donated books, trash, and an unused mattress.
Photo, Kristin Johnson
The mess didn’t phase the volunteers though. They were ready for any and every task Juan assigned: a guerrilla war against arañas (spiders), or naranjas!! (oranges), if your spanish is rusty; two hours to carry 555 cinder blocks into the orphanage; or, an overhaul of the trash collection that had become the backyard. In groups of five, the fifteen volunteers attacked every corner of the orphanage, including the dance floor.
The volunteers completely reconfigured the back yard, itemized and organized the existing makeshift library, and prepared the construction area for its cement foundation.
Photo, Kristin Johnson
Although there were two strapping young men in the group, not one of the thirteen girls shied away from the dirty work. Las chicas took turns sieving sand, mixing cement, and plastering the walls.
New Blue Walls—Photo, Kristin Johnson
Library walls afterwards—Photo, Amy Johnson
While a group of five was constantly working hard on the library, the other two groups helped the rest of San Mateo by cleaning and painting seven homes of children who attend the orphanage. By the end of the week, the the locals recognized and greeted the volunteers. And the kids, well, they had fifteen new best friends to play with.
One of the most memorable events of the week was Thursday’s lunch. To show their appreciation for the work that Appalachian State did in the orphanage and throughout the community, local women prepared Pepian de Pollo, a Guatemalteca specialty. The women prepared enough for all of the volunteers and 46 children. Although half of the group was incapacitated by stomach cramps, the volunteers did their best to digest the generous gesture.
Pepian de Pollo Recipe
3 Pounds Chicken — in large pieces
4 Cups Water
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Large Tomatoes — chopped
5 Medium Tomatillos — chopped
1 Large Pasilla Chile — chopped
1 Large Guajillo Chile — chopped
1/2 Cup Sesame Seeds
1 Tablespoon Squash Seeds — optional
1 Stick Cinnamon
2 Teaspoons Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Cup French Bread Crumbs — moistened with broth
1/4 Teaspoon Achiote
1 Tablespoon Flour
Directions: Cook chicken in 3 cups water with salt for 30 minutes. Cook tomatoes, tomatillos, both chiles in 1 cup water for 10 minutes. Toast sesame and squash seeds, cinnamon stick and hot chile flakes in a dry skillet over low heat for about 10 minutes. Careful not to burn them. Process toasted ingredients to a powder, then add to tomato mixture. Process this mixture to a smooth paste. Add bread, achiote, 2 cups chicken broth and flour. Process this to a smooth paste. Add this sauce to the chicken. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes or until sauce is a thick red paste. Serve with tortillas or rice.
Despite the long, hot, and duro days, the volunteers were always ready for the afternoon activities. Every evening we experienced a different element of Guatemala—tours of a coffee plantation, macadamia farm, and jade factory; salsa and meringue lessons; and lots of artisan markets.
“Top Quality” Beans Drying
Jade Mask at Carlos’s One-Man Fábrica- Photo, Samantha Lane
Fun, if not effective, salsa lessons- Photo, Kristin Johnson
In just a week, each App Stater became part of a family in San Miguel and part of the community in San Mateo. At the going away dinner on Friday night, the host families provided dinner, the coordinators offered speeches and the volunteers supplied saucy dance moves.
App State’s many quirks and personalities made it hard to say good bye on Saturday, but as a consolation, we started planning my visit to Boone, North Carolina this summer. I hope that the HUG projects continue to be this successful, but the open minds and open hearts of App State will be hard to beat.