Today was our last day at the Miguel Magone orphanage which was definitely bittersweet. Finishing a second half of the concrete slab job was satisfying, especially to see all the work we put in during our past few days which has since dried. We labored hard all morning mixing dirt, concrete mix, and gravel by using only tools and our backs and then dumping it into the concrete site to make sure that the girls get a really nice, flat area to play. Personally, I felt like the first half of the day was extremely accomplishing seeing all the work we helped complete.
After lunch, a few of us went to the music room to listen to Pablo sing and play the guitar for us one last time. Pablo has been at the orphanage for much of his 17 years. The rest of my time was spent playing soccer with a few of the older boys and saying my goodbyes to all the children we met this week and to Karen and Estuardo for their extraordinary kindness and love that they have for Hogar Miguel.
It was sad to say goodbye because it has truly hit me that these are the last few hours that we will be spending in Guatemala together and as our time slowly comes to an end, I keep thinking back to the past two weeks here in Guatemala that have been so impactful and meaningful.
After lunch, a small number of us opted to visit the Choco Museo in Antigua. We left the orphanage shortly after finishing the morning labor and lunch and drove back to our hotel to shower and get ready then walked 15 minutes to get to the museum. Even before we entered, we could smell the museum a few feet out the door. When we entered the shop, cast before us was an ocean of chocolate products ranging from the generi bars to creative confection with pecans, oranges, spices and other assorted ingredients. Chocolate shampoo, lotions, and beauty products lined one wall and a case full of gourmet treats such as truffles with coconuts, pecans and strawberries dominated the center of the floor. We met our guide Edwin and were issued brown aprons embroidered with the Choco Museo logo. Edwin began by walking us around a room packed with exhibits displaying the various processes of the chocolate making. First, giant seeds are scissored from trees and cut open to reveal the beans inside. Those beans are then fermented in large wood boxes covered with banana leaves. The chocolate beans, called “Cacao” by Guatemalans, are then laid out and sun dried before being roasted and removed of their outside layer. The remaining bits, called nibs, are then ground into a paste using either a mortar and bowl, or a large stone rolling pin called a “mano” and a flat slab called a “mataste”.
In traditional Mayan drinks, the cocoa paste is then added to water, corn, chile and honey, then mixed by sloshing the concoction between two vessels. We had an opportunity to experiance this mix after Edwin prepared it for us. After visiting the room of displays, we returned to the main room with a kitchen and table and were able to choose from a viriety of molds to make our own chocolate. We chose either light or dark chocolate then were given a bowl of molten chocolate. We had a variety of ingredients to put in our chocolate pieces: almonds, macadamia nuts, pepper, chili, mint, cinnamon, peanuts, coconut, oranges and ginger just to name a few. After creating individual masterpieces, we continued the tour by getting some hands on experience with the chocolate making process, getting to see the beans roast before our very eyes, then peel them, grind them.
Edwin created a variety of delicious drinks from the paste, such as the traditional Mayan drink with honey and chili powder (spicy and fairly bitter), a tea made from the scrapped skins from the beans and a little sugar (sweet, but still a little bitter) and finally, the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted, hands down, with hot milk, chocolate paste, a bit of pepper, anise, and cinnamon.
We continued the tour in another room that briefly touched on the more mechanical aspects of making chocolate such as the tempering of chocolate using temperature manipulation to make it suitable for bar form, and the development of a machine that separates the cocoa butter from the powder.
The tour mostly concluded after that, but we returned to the kitchen to retrieve our chocolate from the fridge and bag it to take home. Many of us also opted to peruse the shop and acquire unheard of amounts of chocolate products. While most of the group headed back, Erik and I remained behind for a little bit, and then hit the streets in hope of scoring a tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel. A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled vehicle with motorcycle like handle bars for steering and a small space in the back for passengers. We saw one almost immediately in the street and attempted to flag it down, only to realize it was a police tuk-tuk with two Guatemalan officers inside. We continued meandering through the town finding ourselves in the main square asking locals where we could locate the elusive vehicles. We received several responses and direction before finding a street frequented by tuk-tuks, and even then, the first three or so we tried to flag were occupied (one of which was another police vehicle). Finally, we attracted a tuk-tuk which veered over to the side of the street, and we enthusiastically hopped in. The tuk-tuk accelerated down the cobblestone streets, every bump and crack keeenly felt as we jumbled through traffic and around Antigua. We had some directional difficulties at first before finally pulling up to the gate of the community our hotel was in and making the most stylish possbile entrance, rolling in smoothly just in time for dinner.
We ate, then met upstairs for what we anticipated to be our final meeting as tommorow will be our busiest day yet and we thought we would be too worn out to have a meeting. We discussed highlights and challenges of the trip and then shared a special thought for each member of the group. The meeting ended in emotion, tears and a group hug, as we retuned to our rooms to get to bed early as we have a fairly early departure tommorow morning. Many of us expressed our personal growth and strides made over the trip as well as the deep connection we have formed while in Guatemala with children who never fail to inspre us with their enduring positivity and resilience despite having been in situations that brought some of our group members to tears when the backgrounds of these children were revealed. Abuse, physical and emotional, has been a way of life for many of the children at the orphanage, and several groups members have seen the past of these children permenantly emblazoned on their skin in the form of scars. It is with great sadnesss, but equally hope, that we recognized our experiances in both La Limonada and Hogar Miguel Malone, and hope that we have given these children at least a small portion of love, care and compassion that is often lacking in their lives.
We look forward to our special day tomorrow, consisting of a boat trip that will allow us to vist four different Guatemalan towns, but we will never forget the primary mission of our trip was service, and not only the service we have begun in these communities, but also the service that the children have done for us by welcoming us into thier communities and hearts and leaving memories that will surely impact our thinking as global citizens and perhaps motivate us to continue sevice in our everyday lives.
A number of group members have already committed to sponsor children at the Hogar Miguel Malone and will keep in contact with these children in the coming months despite being worlds apart once again. I am sure I speak for every one here when I say I would also like to briefly thank the parents and families of our group members for making each of our journeys possible and for facilitating and supporting our growth, in terms of knowlege and emotion, in this incredible trip. We will see you all soon, as our trip slowly begins to wind down, preparing for a day of activities then the long trip home.
It is possible this may be our last blog post before retuning, depending on our feelings tommorow, and if it is in fact to be our last Guatemalan post, we would like one message to be overarching. We have learned so much during our seemingly brief time in Guatemala, and if emotions are like skin, then we all must have stretch marks. We have learned about the power of love, and the essential human necessity of being loved and we have had to opportunity to see a small act of kindness go a long way. We have forged connections and friendships in some of the harshest environments many of us have experienced. We have laughed, we have cried and we have perhaps scratched the surface of problems that cannot simply be fixed with a single hug, act or trip. Guatemala and its people hold new meaning for each individual, and we are writing new definitions for words we may have thought we knew the meaning of already. It has been a wild ride, but I believe that we will leave truly the better for each day we have spent pushing and working, serving and touring. It has, in the words of Lisa Scarry, really been “an honor and a privilege” every step of the way.