NEW CASTLE —
(Second of two parts)
Education always was a priority for Markus Naugle and his fiancée.
Naugle, the valedictorian of the New Castle High class of 1986, went on to earn a degree in microbiology from MIT. Laura Wheelock, his fiancée, studied at Harvard and Stanford.
The two, though, have never limited learning to the classroom. They’ve traveled the globe, not as tourists, but more like empty vessels looking to be filled with life as it is lived by other cultures.
Naugle spent time working on a boat in Australia — he calls Jacque Cousteau one of his childhood idols — and lived in New Zealand, where he helped to regenerate a rainforest and volunteered with a school.
He and Wheelock lived in Costa Rica, volunteering to protect leatherback turtles and helping with a local recycling initiative.
Together, they’ve explored more than 50 countries. And in all that time, perhaps their greatest discovery was learning that they wanted to be able to share the same kind of experiences with others.
Thus, for about three years now, the couple has lived in a Mayan village on a mountain lake in Guatemala, running a program they established called Magic Carpet Rides. Originally, they offered a gap-year experience that placed students with local families for long-term stays. Now, though, they are offering such home stays for shorter durations to travelers of all ages.
“Magic Carpet Rides,” Naugle said, “grew out of an extension of our individual lives and when we came together to share the world rostrum and encourage Americans, who don’t travel quite as much as some European or Australian or other cultures.
“We really just wanted to encourage people to get out into the world classroom and do volunteer work and do homestays and really see a different kind of way of living.”
According to brittanica.com, Guatemala’s population is divided into two primary ethnic groups, Ladinos and Mayas.
The former, the website says, are those of mixed Hispanic-Mayan origin. The latter “account for slightly less than half of the country’s total population (but) they make up about three-fourths of the population in the western highland provinces.”
That cultural duality was a key reason why Naugle and Wheelock chose the Central American nation for their work.
“Laura and I live among the Tz’utujil Maya up here at Lake Atitlan, and that’s who we do most of our work with,” he said. “It’s a super lovely, elegantly simple agrarian people who, on average, make somewhere between $2 and $4 a day. They’re growing corn and growing beans and cooking over a fire-based stove.
“Many of them don’t have refrigeration, and live either in a cinder block or adobe block house. So there’s a lot of potential to help them appreciate a better standard of living, yet at the same time, there is still infrastructure in Guatemala that you might not find in parts of Africa and parts of Asia, too.”
The latter can be found in the nearby town of Antigua, where visitors who require schooling in Spanish can stay first with Ladino families, “kind of middle-class Guatemalans who own cars and have kids who are going to school or college.
“It’s a nice little town, the type of place you can see a little boy with several goats walk by, then a Hummer or BMW right after.”
Naugle called the town a nice “step down” from the United States, a buffer between “coming down from a super, well-developed country and the experience of going into a village and living in a mud hut.”
Guatelmala, Naugle added, also is better choice for American visitors than some other countries because — depending on Daylight Saving Time — its day coincides with either Central or Mountain time in the U.S. It’s also a direct flight from many major airports, “so it’s reasonably easy to get to, and reasonably inexpensive as well.”
For anyone planning a Magic Carpet Ride, Naugle noted, “the key travel skill you need is to be able to speak a different language.”
Spanish will do. If you’re fluent in any of the nearly two dozen Mayan dialects spoken in Guatemala, that works, too.
Still, Spanish gets the main focus, and travelers who are not already fluent will get an immersion in Antigua — one-on-one training for up to four or five hours a day.
“You just kind of get in there and scramble up your brain with Spanish and at some point, a couple of weeks into it, it really starts to click and you’re able to communicate.”
From there, it’s up to the lake and a stay with a Mayan family in either a cinder block or adobe block house. While many of these homes have only cold water, or no running water at all, those in the placement program “have at least warm to somewhat hot running water.”
In many cases, children move into their parents’ room in order to free up space for the traveler.
A visitor’s day may start at 5:30 a.m., when the women of the village begin to make corn tortillas.
“They eat tortillas at every meal here, they eat corn at every meal here,” Naugle said. “In the Mayan belief structure, they believe that people are made from corn and if they don’t eat corn, that’s kind of a bad thing.”
Depending on how eager and open the visitor is, the stay and the relationships can grow in various directions.
“We’ve had the families invite them to weddings, to funerals and soccer matches, take them out fishing and make tortillas and let them help cook the meals,” Naugle said. “The kids in particular are always eager to learn a little bit of English, so sometimes they’ll teach the kids some English and the kids will teach them more Spanish or Mayan.
“They’ll really just integrate you into the family and through the community service work.”
For the Mayans, the process is an opportunity not only to be exposed to Western ideas and new ways of thinking, it’s also a validation of their lifestyle, “because all these Western people want to come down and live like I live.”
Americans, meanwhile, gain an appreciation of a developing culture far removed from their own and can measure themselves against their ability to integrate into it.
“It’s a real kind of validation in both directions,” Naugle said.
And for Naugle and Wheelock as well, who have sacrificed being near their loved ones in order to pursue their dream.
“We all make sacrifices, it’s just whether we choose to look at them as sacrifices or not,” Naugle said. “I love my parents (Bob and Judy Naugle of Young Street) dearly, and I would like to see them more often. But they have their mission up there in New Castle, and I have mine down here.
“And living in a developing country, you draw developing country wages, so you make a financial sacrifice as well. It’s just following your heart and seeing where it takes you. And sometimes, what appear to be sacrifices to other people is really you doing what you love and, in your own small way, making a difference.”
NEW CASTLE —
(Second of two parts)
- Closer Look
John K. Manna: Party labels shouldn’t matter in local contests
Anything is possible in elections, but often improbable when it comes to school board races in Pennsylvania. In the Nov. 5 election, voters went to the polls in six of the eight school districts in Lawrence County and were faced with little choice.
Our Opinion: Purchase of city house raises policy issues
Having the city buy a house on East Hillcrest Avenue because of neighbor complaints is bad public policy. The house in question was the scene of a shooting in October, in which three people were injured.
Revised county tax abatement targets downtowns
Lawrence County’s revised tax abatement program is intended to promote development by providing more tax breaks over a longer period.
On the Record: Today’s births, police items and district judge reports
On the Record is a periodic update of public information coming out of the Lawrence County Government Center. Today, look inside for the latest births, police items, and district judge reports.
Our Opinion: Wilmington district avoids trouble with tuition vote
The Wilmington Area School Board’s decision against giving non-resident teachers free student tuition was the right one.
Lawmakers eye package of voter bills
Conflicts caused by the state’s last attempt to improve the integrity of elections was the biggest source of complaints logged by a watchdog group during the 2012 presidential race.
State lawmakers want greater abortion oversight
As doctors who perform abortions in Texas must now get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals in order to practice, a pair of Pennsylvania lawmakers are marshaling support for a similar law.
Sandusky prosecution review continues
Ten months later, the state attorney general’s office is still reviewing how prosecutors handled the Jerry Sandusky investigation at Penn State and whether delays allowed the former assistant football coach to continue molesting children.
Proposed city budget includes pay hikes
New Castle city employees will receive pay increases in 2014 in a budget proposed by Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo. The $18.4 million budget, which does not require a tax increase, was unveiled to city council this week.
Mother finds ways to honor daughter’s memory
Following the death of her daughter, Shirley “Sam” Phillips admits she contemplated suicide. But remembering that Danielle Lee Kennedy decried the act of taking one’s own life chased away those desperate thoughts.
Instead, she found a way to honor her daughter’s memory.
- More Closer Look Headlines
- John K. Manna: Party labels shouldn’t matter in local contests