Deep Cuts Guatemala

What’s In A Name? A lot When it’s Herbert.

April 7, 2016

Inspiration is not a scarce resource when you’re traveling. It’s everywhere and I think it’s one of the primary things that makes traveling so intoxicating.

And what does it mean to be inspired? It’s different than being excited by something. Being excited is enough in that moment, but to be inspired means that you’re pushed into action to the point that you can’t even help yourself. There’s a tangible result from inspiration. While traveling I eat food I dream of making in my own kitchen, I climb mountains that lead me to climb another (bigger) mountain, I meet people and have conversations that influence my outlook, beliefs, and preferences. And, of course, all of these things make me write. It’s not just that I want to write – I HAVE to write. That’s what I feel like when I’m inspired.

But while in Antigua, during the monotony of a routine, I felt I’d lost my inspiration. That’s not to say I haven’t loved it here. It’s been reenergizing for me in many other wonderful ways. In all reality it’s exhausting to be constantly stimulated to the point of being inspired into action. And sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the life to act on everything that inspires you. But I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t feeling my heart pumping… and I’d gotten so used to intoxicating feeling.

However, the other night I met a few Americans out for drinks at the very popular expat bar in town called Cafe No Se. They were also meeting up with some missionary-types from the USA, and not long after joining them all for a beer at a very dark table near the back mezcal bar, two locals came up. They were friends of the missionaries, but couldn’t have looked further from people who would be the friends of gringo Bible bangers. They were stocky, with big heaving chests. Their arms were covered in tattoos and their faces where bearded. Had it not been for their hardy laughs and bright, honest eyes I think I would have been afraid of them. Crouching over the table, avoiding the flame of the candle that kept threatening my hair, I asked one his name. To which he replied, “Herbert.”

“Herbert?! You’ve got to be kidding me?”

“Actually the story of how I got my name is pretty great. Wanna hear it?”

“Claro que si!”

Herbert was born in Guatemala to a man who finished 6th grade and a woman who had no formal education whatsoever, but was a master weaver. A German-American woman working for the Peace Corps in Guate was also interested in learning the trade of weaving while in country. When she asked around she was pointed in the direction of Herbert’s mother as she was the undisputed champ of weaving in the area. And so, the German woman came to live with Herbert’s parents. His mother was pregnant and while the gringa woman was living with them, she gave birth to a baby boy (in their home of course). They had not landed on a name and when they asked their gringa guest what she thought she offered up the name “Herbert.” His mother loved it right away, and thus it was decided.

That’s a nice story,” I said after he paused.

“Well do you wanna hear it of not,” he asked.

Sorry, Herb – didn’t realize it wasn’t over. So he continued…

After helping to name Herbert and staying with him and his family through his infancy, the gringa felt connected to the family and wanted to help. She offered to pay for Herbert’s education and five years later, true to her word, she called Herbert’s mother to inform her it was time for him to start his formal education.

Not only did Herbert finish high school, he also received a scholarship to attend college in Guatemala City. Today he runs his own not-for-profit organization that focuses on community development, but provides a wide range of services: clean water, proper sanitation, schools for at-risk boys. You name it. He has grown his organization by making very strong, personal relationships. He personally travels to America regularly to partner with universities, churches and rotaries. Pretty amazing stuff.

One day, after completing his education Herbert wondered to himself, “Why would this gringa woman help me? It’s really cool, but what made her do this?” So he called her. She was living at a nursing home in Minnesota at the time. When asked “why,” she responded by asking him what he’d done with his education. He listed all of his accomplishments, the programs he’d founded and the projects he was currently working on. And she said, “Because of that.” But that didn’t satisfy him. “You couldn’t possibly have known what I would do with my education. WHY did you help me?” And what she said next changed Herbert’s life forever.

She told him: “I try to live my life by this philosophy: do for one what you want for all. You were my one.”

Herbert told me (more passionately than anyone has spoken to me ever) that he wants clean water and proper sanitation for all Guatemalans, but is only able to choose a few towns. He wants fair pay for everyone so that they can support their families and live a full, happy life, but he only has the power to pay his employees fairly. But by the gringa woman’s philosophy this is enough. More than enough. By her supporting Herbert’s education, she has indirectly helped literally thousands of people receive the basic needs they so deserve. And now it’s continuing with the people Herbert helps. It’s the “Pay It Forward” method and it’s alive and well.

Well Christ Herbert… don’t make me cry in a bar. If I was lacking for inspiration before it’s not the case anymore. I’ve only heard a handful of people speak with the passion that Herbert did and that (long with the mezcal) was enough inspiration to intoxicate me again – drunk in love with travel and the chance conversations I have out in this beautiful world of ours.

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  • Reply The Weller April 8, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    That story is so beautiful, Margaret – and inspiring!

  • Reply Paul Nanda April 19, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Yes! What a great, inspirational story. Every time I travel – I think that I would have NEVER met those subset of people had I not been there at that place in that moment. Can’t wait to spend some time with you in person to hear about more of these stories!

  • Reply Brittany June 3, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Finally catching up on your blog, and now I’m hiding tears at my desk!

    • Reply margarethenney July 5, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      Herbert had me tearing up, too! 🙂

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