Stories From Guatemala
Feeling Like Royalty
by Leslie Hall, 17
"Even though I'm not there I feel like I have walked away with a little piece of the village of El Cedro... it feels like a deep unconditionalness and understanding."
It was going to be our first day in the village. I was ecstatic and anxious to start the day. However, as we were loading up the boat at our posada (inn) for the trip down the river, I slipped and fell and twisted my ankle pretty badly. Although it was quite sore I didn't realize how painful it was until we arrived at the Proyecto Ak'Tenamit.
Ak'Tenamit is a health clinic that was established just a few years ago. Their purpose is to help the Indians learn to help themselves. The project consists of one of the most modern schools, a medical laboratory, and examination rooms. All of the people who work at the clinic are volunteers. Most of them are nurse-practitioners and medical students. They provide health care, including vaccinations, and education for health and family planning. They also employ some of the local Mayans at the facility.
As we got out of the boat and I began walking at the project, I suddenly felt this sharp, throbbing pain in my ankle. That was when I got to be a patient at the clinic. The nurse-practitioner wrapped up my ankle, gave me four prescription strength Motrin, and a pair of crutches, advising me to be careful for a few days.
I was pretty hysterical, crying and all, not only from the pain, but because I felt self-conscious and disconcerted. I felt like I was going to miss out on a lot of the experience in Guatemala and El Cedro because of this injury. Little did I know however, that I would encounter more--or at least something extra--than anyone else in our group would be able to.
When our boat arrived at El Cedro's dock, all of the men and boys from the village were there waiting. They greeted us with big smiles. As we got out of our boat and said hello in Spanish and English, they grabbed our backpacks, eager to start out for the village, which was 3 km back through the forest. I was nervous, not knowing how I was going to hike to the village with my ankle. Even though I had crutches, the trail went straight up a hill, over many slippery rocks.
But as soon as they saw me limping around, the men started chopping down a couple of tree branches. In no time, without any discussion, they made a stretcher out of the branches, some tree bark and one of our nylon hammocks.
I started crying with embarrassment and all the attention I was getting. This confused the Mayans, who take crying as a sign of anger. When someone explained to them that I wasn't angry, but just overwhelmed with their help, one of them responded by telling me that it was a great honor for them to be able to help me, since I had come such a long way just to help their village.
The men picked me up and took turns, One in front and one in back, supporting most of my weight with straps around their heads made from tree bark. It seemed as if I were royalty, as I was carried as a special guest in my hand-made stretcher through the beautiful rain forest all the way to El Cedro.
After about two days of hobbling around on my crutches, my ankle felt pretty normal and I was glad to be able to do everything the others were doing. But my injury was really a blessing, because I will never forget feeling so cared for and appreciated as I did that day the men of El Cedro carried me to their village.