I remember flying a kite with my dad when I was a kid. My parents bought me a 4-foot-tall Darth Vader kite and dad took me down to the field by Percy Priest Dam. I don’t remember it being particularly windy and I hadn’t expected anything spectacular to happen that day, but as soon as we offered Darth Vader to the sky, he flew. That kite flew until it reached the clouds- we literally couldn’t see him anymore. I imagine it went as far as the Death Star, but I have no proof to support my suspicions. All we knew was that our spool kept spinning and the string kept climbing. It took us an hour to fight Darth Vader back down to Nashville.
Guatemala takes kites to another level. We took the motorcycle to the town of Sumpango to take part in my choice for the world’s coolest festival. Teams of locals work the whole year round to build beautiful Barriletes Gigantes, or Giant Kites, that stand for one day as exquisite monuments to their country and what the imagination can do with extensive amounts of paper and bamboo. Some standing as high as 100-feet-tall, each tells of the destruction of Guatemala’s natural resources, the horrors of the civil war, the strength of indigenous Maya, the warrior spirit of their people, etc. As teams of fathers fought together on the soccer field to raise their masterpieces by conquering impressive systems of ropes and pullies, on the neighboring field their children depended on the winds to give flight to hundreds of kites. The mosaic of kites against the clouds was as beautiful as the Barrilete masterpieces, and Hilary and I were honored to have a kite of our own in the flock.
The day after the festival, I took a kite up the hill to the family farm to relive some of the fun from Sumpango. I had plenty of room to run on the field where the cows graze, but I was presented with some obstables non-existent the day before. If you’ve never tried it, flying kites in cowpies is a bit of a meticulous exercise. As the winds were unpredictable, I had to move around a lot to manipulate my toy into the sky, all the while I chose my steps very carefully. Sometimes I fought the wind, and sometimes I partnered with it, doing whatever necessary to go a little bit higher with each gust. Very often the kite would veer to the side, tilting almost to the point that would bring it crashing down among the cattle. However, its long tail would whip it back to form and it climbed a little higher still. There is a point above the earth, I imagine scientists have named it the “Kite Zone,” where you are freed from the struggle and as long as you have rope to give, the kite will continue to fly. By the time I reached that zone, having achieved the honor of the highest flyer in Chimaltenango, I was sunburnt, my hands were aching, and my boots were caked in what I prayed was mud. I returned to the house without a kite, as it had gotten stuck in a tree during its descent, but I was proud to have achieved what I did after facing so many challenges.
I reflect on my experience at the farm every day. I think about how easy things were back in the States. Each time I let go of Darth Vader, he flew. I worked hard, but for me things usually just seemed to work out. In Guatemala, things aren’t always so chipper. Monte Cristo’s tourism business has lost two travel buses- worth over a combined $40,000- after being robbed at gunpoint two different times. It is crippling to work so hard to bring economic opportunities to others only to have it stolen away for yourself. The Groundskeeper at Monte Cristo has lived a sorrowful life- he was abducted by the army and tortured for weeks after they decided he was a communist subversive. A few years later he lost his wife and sister to a landslide. His story is grave, but his smile can brighten the darkest day. Last Saturday, our friend Mario Jose graduated as a Doctor in Medicine, and he limped across the stage to accept his degree, still recovering from a Motorcycle accident that was supposed to take his life. Hilary and I thank God for his strength and resolve to keep pushing forward, leading a beautiful family and working each week to teach women in Monte Cristo health skills that have saved countless lives. Each day brings a new struggle in Guatemala, but their will to overcome is an unstoppable force. I learn more from them each day, and I apply these lessons to overcome obstacles of my own. When you find yourself in a field of cowpies and the winds above are unsure, choose your steps carefully and keep climbing. With enough patience, kites fly.