It’s my last day in Guatemala and my last blog. So I guess this should be an invitation to the world to come to Nashville this weekend to PARTY! I haven’t had BBQ, Chipotle, Mexican Nachos, Chick-fil-a, Cap’n Crunch, or a decent burger in an entire year..... So let’s mix it all in a bowl and catch up for lost time. I need an overload of Top 40 EDM mixes, fried okra, and live music. If you’re anywhere near me in the next two weeks, come show some love!
Maybe a lot of you saw Hilary’s picture on Facebook. I guess I haven’t talked about it a lot. We have exactly three weeks left with the Lumos program, but Hilary and I are already making plans to return back to Guatemala in October. So I guess it’s not too much longer until much, much longer.
The past year has been an unbelievable experience- all made possible by the funds we received from Belmont’s Lumos grant. The plan was to come down for a year to study Monte Cristo’s perfect development model, but we discovered pretty early on that they were far from perfect and needed a lot of help to realize their dream to become self-sustainable. Hilary and I have been working seven days a weeks for the past year to help them start an array of small businesses, and the progress we have made as a team in incredible.
The truth is that a year just isn’t long enough to make a sustainable change in this type of development environment, and we have found a place on Earth where we wake up passionate every day to work until sundown. Simple enough- we’re not ready to leave. So we are coming back in October to continue our work with Monte Cristo indefinitely. If we haven’t seen you in the last year, we hope to see you in September. Otherwise, we’ll catch up when you come to visit us in Chimaltenango!
I think Hilary and I expected to find a lot of things in Guatemala. Most definitely the beauty of the countryside, and even more certainly adventure. I think we expected a freewheeling love, an easy and windswept affection for each other and marriage. All of these things we found. What we didn’t expect, at least not to the measure it has been given, was to find a family. The members of the Zamora-Cardenas family have integrated us fully into their family from day one and have never asked a single thing from us. They show us an unconditional outpouring of friendship and care with no expectation of anything in return. They are a new and irrevocable part of our lives. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in the world.
Last Thursday our company Queen Bee launched its IndieGoGo campaign to raise $11,500. To us, it seems like an impossible goal. How could we ever raise that much money? But it’s an honest budget- we need that much to build a laboratory and import raw materials. So I guess $11,500 represents a dream. That number represents how we could start our social enterprise with everything it needs to flourish, to achieve everything it wants immediately. In reality, we probably won’t raise that much, but we get to keep the amount we raise so we’ll make a difference with whatever comes our way.
But I challenge everyone to create their own goal. Can you raise $100 for Queen Bee? Can you raise $500? Can you find enough people to give $10, $20, $50 that you can create your own network of giving? If so, Queen Bee is ready to make a huge difference in our part of Guatemala, but we need help from people who believe in our work and want to see a real change in the future of these children.
I hope you give and I hope you spread the word. Find us at igg.me/at/queenbee.
A few months back I remember posting something about how much we read and how we were running out of books to fill our extra time. That’s really not the case anymore. Now are nights are filled with work- Queen Bee, the English Academy, and more Queen Bee. I’m in love with it. I’ve never been more passionate about my work at any time in my life and I work into the night because I want to. I still read when I can. I find a few hours every now and again to follow Hemingway around the mountains of Spain in wartime, but not like I used to. I enjoyed that time that we had, 2-3 hours every night to rest, read, and reflect on the day. I think it’s something we needed for the time it lasted. That, however, is a season that passed. Now it is time to move forward. After Monte Cristo lost its funding in 2008, it has been struggling to stay alive. It is donor-backed again, but it’s like a tree cut down to its roots, only just now leaving the soil a second time. It’s a turning point for Monte Cristo, and it’s thrilling to be on the ride as we create a vision for the future of our center. It’s more exciting to know that Queen Bee is a part of that future, and that Hilary and I can be behind the reigns, at least for a time. Maybe the day will come again when I have 2-3 hours every night to read. I expect that day is far away and will be well-deserved when it comes. For now, I look forward to my days full of work and dream for Monte Cristo.
Sometimes I regret choosing Social Entrepreneurship as a college major. As I work with Hilary and the Monte Cristo team to start Queen Bee from scratch, I often wish I would have gone to school for engineering, chemistry, or computer programming. No doubt those things would have prepared me better for the more technical parts of starting a business. To tell the truth, I’m under-equipped for most of the challenges I face and it’s a day-to-day effort to keep my head above water. Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the money to do college again, so I put on my boots every morning and give it my very best.
There are many engineers, chemists, musicians, and craftsmen that have already mastered their trade and are starting their business miles ahead of where I find myself now. As for me and the rest of my kind- entrepreneurship majors that lack technical expertise- our most essential responsibility is not that of design, calculation, or formulas. It is the constant process of learning.
An autodidact is an individual that teaches himself what he needs to know. Whether he reads books, scours the Internet, or acquires a mentor, he constantly seeks out information, not satisfied by waiting for standard methods of education to catch him up to speed. My generation of entrepreneurs, those heavy with degrees but light of know-how, are by necessity autodidacts.
Queen Bee found its inspiration in two places. 1) Thistle Farms, a Nashville-based body care company that employs women that used to live on the street to make boutique lotions and body butters. 2) Burt’s Bees, a chapstick company that has gained popularity for its natural appearance, but that has fallen in favor now that it belongs to Clorox Bleach. Aside from that inspiration, Hilary and I have taught ourselves everything- creating cosmetic formulas, running a laboratory, sales techniques, and distribution logistics. We are currently juggling international shipping methods, Health Department certification, raw goods sourcing, and how to improve production efficiency. We’re learning something new every day. The majority of this information comes to us in Spanish, so that’s another daily learning process. Our most helpful resource is the Internet, but we’re always careful of the mountains of misinformation that exist, and it takes a lot of scouring to find the gems that really help the process.
Belmont gave us a great education in how to set up and run a business, and those engineers and chemists that never sat in a business class have their own self-taught journey ahead of them if they want to be entrepreneurs. We find ourselves thankful for the many people we have found along the way that take the time to teach us, provide us things to read, or just offer a word of encouragement. For our friends that are trying to start a business, we encourage you to continue on. There are a lot of people that have more knowledge than us but never took their ideas to the world. Just build a lab and make a mess, then clean it up and do it again. Eventually something good will happen.
For those that have advice, criticism, or encouragement, we’re always open to suggestions. If you have useful contact or stories to tell, we’d love to hear it. Meanwhile, we keep reading, searching, and learning. We don’t have time to wait and neither does Monte Cristo. Keep your eyes open in July. Queen Bee will be very busy.
The end of May is an exciting time in Guatemala; I’ve been looking forward to it since we arrived. A mysterious thing happens after the first big rain comes, and it was really cool to be a part of it. Those with weak stomachs may not want to read. May is the month of the Sompopo.
The Queen Sompopo is a giant ant that looks like a wasp- a long, black body with thin, frail wings- and a swarm of queens leave the colony once a year. It’s kind of like the cicadas we have in Tennessee, but more frequent and they don’t stay around as long. Before the Queen Sompopo leaves, the worker ants prepare holes at the surface of the colony about a day before the swarm arrives.
Around one in the morning, the Sompopo ant colonies begin to vibrate the ground, and thousands of queens shoot out from the holes like balls from a cannon. Locals who know where to find the ant colonies, or “Sompoperos,” wait above ground with bags, buckets, and usually a fire to keep warm. When the queens shoot out, they catch as many as they can, usually until about 3 in the morning. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen them leaving the ground myself. I’ve only seen what the look like once they reach the market.
Those that are lucky enough to catch them will take them to the market early the next day for their once-a-year reward. These giant ants sell for $10 a pound, compared to other market goods that sell for between 15 cents to $2. If you want some, you have to get to the market early or they’ll sell out until the next day. In the local Chimaltenango market, Hilary and I bought a pound to share with the family- they’re huge fans- but we did find that riding on a motorcycle holding a pound of giant ant queens is a bit unnerving. We were happy to get them home.
On Monday, after waiting 9 months for this experience, we finally ate Sompopos! Miky watched over my shoulder and masterfully instructed me as I cooked them. First you have to toast them enough so that the wings and legs fall off (most of them anyway.) Once you strain the wings out, they go back in the skillet to fry a little longer. The second time over the fire, you throw a few handfuls of lime and salt in with them. Without condiments, they don’t taste like much. Miky plucked them out of the pan to taste them until she was satisfied.
When they first told me about Sompopos, back in September, I thought it was a trick they played on the Gringos. I was skeptical that they actually ate giant ants until the moment I actually saw them piled up in the market. To be honest, they’re super good- pretty much like peanuts- and I have eaten my fair share of the bounty over the past couple of days. I’m also proud to be married to a woman that wasn’t afraid to dig in; Hilary’s a fan now too.
I’ll admit, I do prefer to pluck off the legs. They get stuck in your teeth too easy.
If you’d like to make your own, here’s the recipe we used:
1.5 lbs of giant ants from your backyard
5 limes, squeezed well
3 handfuls of salt, or until preferred taste is achieved
1 strong stomach
1 big helping of love
1 happy family to share
Guatemala changes to winter in May
and then cold the rain comes.
Storm clouds gather in council on the mountains
to beat warm their thunder drums.
The roses return to full bloom in the garden
and their thorns love like razors.
Drops fall heavy on adobe ground
to hide weary undulators.
Who calls anxious to the river
but the water
Who calls worried to the dirt road
but the mud
And who calls angry at the winter
but sompopos at dinner
Who calls quickly to their children
but a mother who knows the flood
Where will the flood take the hillside
but to the river where water returns
And sompopos in May,
what right they have dismay
When they had all summer to run
The mudstomp is at 5:30 tonight
All the mudstompers will be there
Even the ones who don’t stomp too good
Be stomping at the mud affair.
Paty’s a good stomper
She stomps with her brother
And the rain don’t bother
Gustavo’s the best
He stomps better than the rest
He was born a good boy
With a mudstompin touch.
We’ll stomp for an hour
before mother yells for showers
And when the stomping ends
We’ll part for the night
With the mud stomped just right
Stomped good by me and my kin.
As we arrive at this year’s Mother’s Day, I’m inclined to ask myself “How will I manage to apologize?”
My mother’s birthday is May 8, always only a few days apart from where Mother’s Day falls during the year. Both of my parents are very special people to me, so this is naturally the time to most strongly express my love and gratitude for everything my mom is and has done in my life. Unfortunately, I will be doing so once again from a great distance.
In 2011, when Mom’s birthday came around, I was finishing up my semester in South Africa. I’m sure we skyped to commemorate, but regrettably I was absent in person. The next year I shot off on an airplane right before the big day so I could visit Hilary in France to see her for the first time in four months. With my mind occupied so heavily on my girlfriend, I doubt I paid much attention to the time of year. I was actually in the country in 2013, but cannot even vaguely remember how we celebrated or in what way I attempted to make Mom feel special. I’m not sure I tried. Now we come to May 8 once again, with Mother’s Day looming, and I’m typing this from rural Guatemala. I’m far from where a loving son should be found.
It’s all weighing very heavy on me now. A story comes to mind. My church does a VBS every summer, but when I was 12 I thought all of them were too cheesy so I came up with my own. I put off doing anything about it until I was 14, and when I was 15 our church presented its first self-written Vacation Bible School- Calvary Rocks. At the time, Thomas Nelson Publishers was trying to get in on the VBS game, and through a connection Mom had, our curriculum became a contender. My best friend Richard and I missed a day of school to show up at the top floor of Thomas Nelson Headquarters to present our ideas to the corporate office. Our PowerPoint was pretty good, but it didn’t mention any of the late nights my mom stayed with us to plan the classes. It didn’t mention that my mom filled in for us when there was work to do but we wanted to skateboard instead. It didn’t mention all the money my parents my parents poured into costumes, printing, set production, etc. Of course, we didn’t need to mention any of that. It just seems like someone should know. Parents make big sacrifices for the smallest experiences.
My mom stuck by my side through countless projects in my life, and continued to see many of them through when I was too lazy to fulfill my commitments. She’s still writing VBS, but I left the scene after three years. It drives her crazy but she still does it because she sees how much more the kids enjoy a sincere effort as opposed to an out-of-the-box, pop-up experience. Sometimes there’s no one to help, and the work comes with very little gratitude. Despite it all, she continues for the sake of the children. By the way, Thomas Nelson never did anything with Calvary Rocks, which is not surprising since our only competition was a little business called “Veggie Tales.”
I suppose it’s all weighing heavy now because I come to another birthday/Mother’s Day with no way to be with my mother, and I just want a good way to say thank you. I want to apologize for missing another special day. But I guess that just isn’t coming. So I’ll try this.
Mom, I love you and I miss you. Happy Birthday and happy Mother’s Day. I hope all your wishes come true. Thank you for everything you have been, done, and represented in my life. You gave me my creativity, my humor, and my empathy. You have sacrificed yourself every day for the entirety of my life to provide well and to raise a good Christian man. I try with everything to make you proud, to let you know you succeeded. Pieces of you are left all over because I can’t touch anything without leaving a trace of your goodness. It is a testament to the ministry you gave to your children, knowing some day we might carry the same ministry to the world. I pray for you, that God bring you peace and satisfaction, so that you know you are a daughter with very proud parents as well- one on Earth and two in Heaven. I’m sorry I can’t be there this year. I might miss next year too. But I’m thinking of you and doing the work you prepared me to do- the work of the Father. For that, I do hope you forgive me.
I love you Mom and Dad. September will be here soon enough.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a very special time in Guatemala. For us it was even more special because my parents came to visit. Above you can see them at Monte Cristo’s “Lover’s Point” overlooking the beautiful valleys that stretch into the countryside. Below they are visiting the local Elementary School.
After a few days in Monte Cristo, we went to Iximche, a site of Ancient Mayan ruins.
After the ruins we had dinner with our Guatemalan family at the house, which was a treat for everyone. We were so happy to have our two worlds coming together.
The next day we went with my parents to Antigua, where the real Semana Santa activities were about to begin. We always eat well in Antigua, and here are my parents flirting in one of our favorite restaurants- Saberico.
During one of our days in Antigua, we took my parents up to this famous cross. Since it was right before Easter, our hike up and our time there gave us a great reflection of the hill where Jesus carried a cross of his own.
During Semana Santa, Antigua is filled with processions and parades dedicated to Easter. Antiguenos, or the people that live there, still follow a centuries-old tradition of making carpets to honor God by making the roads beautiful to walk through. Carpets are made of sawdust, pine needles, or flowers, and last only for a few hours until the parades walk through and destroy them. while they last, they are incredible.
Below is the procession of “La Merced,” a famous church in Antigua. Each platform is decorated and carried by people. This procession probably uses around 50 people to carry it at a time. The processions can last almost a whole day.
We made sure to stop by the beautiful ruins of Antigua’s famous Spanish cathedrals.
One of the last things we did before my parents left was climb Volcano Pacaya, central America’s most active volcano. We were entrenched in a cloud the whole time, but we loved getting to hike and roast marshmallows over pools of lava. In the picture below is Luna, a friend Hilary made during the hike up.
We hated to see them go, but we treasured the time they had here with us during Guatemala’s most important and festive week of the year.