The One Where I Used a Machete

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to join my school on one of its social missions: to build safe stoves for the families of rural Guatemala. In many homes, families are cooking over open fires, which is problematic for a multitude of reasons. There’s the obvious fire hazard, along with the threat of respiratory disease due to smoke inhalation, and also the less obvious fact that an open fire doesn’t allow control of the heat, so much of it is lost, requiring more wood or other fuel to cook the same amount of food.

My school channels much of its tuition into buying the supplies for these stoves, and the students volunteer to provide the labor once per week.

The day began with my first chicken bus ride!


I have yet to take a good picture of a chicken bus myself, so here’s a stock photo!

Basically, a chicken bus is a school bus clad in colorful designs or cartoon characters jam-packed with native Guatemalans in local dress. I was kind of bummed because the one that we took was unfortunately just plain yellow, but I have to admit I never thought I’d be riding a school bus again!

As the bus headed farther and farther outside of the city, the change in socioeconomic status was visible. The scenery transformed from colorful storefronts and houses to dilapidated sheds without doors in fields of dust:DSCN1208 DSCN1209

Our group of four arrived at a small little home barely larger than my bedroom in the US, which was home to a couple and their three sons, ranging in age from 1-6 years old. There were stacks of concrete bricks, sand, and concrete mix waiting for us, but we almost immediately ran into a problem: the family did not have a water source in their home.

Upon venturing across the neighborhood a few times to refill buckets of water at a neighbor’s house, we got to work: soaking the bricks so they would adhere to the cement. Mixing cement. Stacking the bricks in a precisely measured and leveled rectangle.

And my favorite job: chopping apart concrete bricks with a machete.

My handiwork!

My handiwork!

In the end, we’d made this:

Our stage 1 stove! There are two more stages to be completed in weeks to come!

Our stage 1 stove! There are two more stages to be completed in weeks to come!

There’s no doubt that the extreme poverty of this family was striking, but what stood out even more is their generosity. While six year olds in America have no qualms asking for a laundry list of items for Christmas, the six year old in this house divided his single cookie into five parts: one for himself and each of four volunteers.

Why is it that people with nothing share so willingly, while people with everything hold on tight?