Reagan Jackson, GV Program Manager, Sends Third Update from 2011 Spring Trip to Guatemala
Saludos desde Guatemala!
Greetings Parents and GV Supporters,
Today was Good Friday, the holiest day of the Catholic calendar. The crucifixion of Christ was commemorated all over the world, but especially in Guatemala. Antigua hosted the largest celebration in the country and GV participants were right in the heart of it.
This was the first day we’ve had without the Chapines, our Guatemalan youth counterparts who have been joining us for our work teams. While there is some time each day for whole group activities, we spend a great deal of time in our work teams (Hospital, Construction and Coffee respectively), so today we broke into smaller mixed groups to better navigate the processions and to allow the participants to spends some time with different people.
It was lovely to take a break from cutting re-bar and digging trenches to just wander around and soak up the sights and sounds of the cobblestone streets of Antigua. Alfombras (beautiful rugs made from colored saw dust or sometimes pine needles, berries, or flowers) spread out around the city awaiting the procession. The processions consist of hundreds of people in purple and black robes walking through the city carrying huge elaborate floats on their shoulders. There were floats with Christ on the cross and others with the Virgin Mary, all colorful and intricately decorated. Some are so large it takes 60 people to lift them and they march all day and into the night followed by large marching bands playing traditional tunes.
As we neared the procession, the air became heavy laden with incense and filled
with bells from the roving ice cream carts. We watched the procession from as close as we could manage to get, given the massive crowd.
In the evening we returned to San Miguel to see the procession there, which was much more intimate. On our walk we met many people from the town. Some students even got to help their host families create their alfombras.
While the alfombras of San Miguel were slightly more understated that the ones in Antigua, and some had been smudged or washed away by the afternoon rain, there was a sacred hush that settled in around us as we stood close to one another waiting for the procession to pass. This time we were in the front row and it made the experience that much more real.
In the afternoon, in between processions, we had lunch with our home-stay families and then reconvened at the GV office for a whole group reflection. Every few days we’ve come together in our work teams to reflect on our experiences here.
Participants have shared both their good and challenging moments, their small triumphs in their efforts to communicate in Spanish and to make connections with their host families and the Chapines on their work team. While these have consistently been rich and satisfying conversations, being all together proved to be a much more powerful experience.
It’s day nine of our trip, which means there has been just enough time for the newness to wear off and for the exhaustion of all the work and travel to sink in. Some seem immune to it all and are able to approach each day with an inexhaustible optimism and thirst to see and do more, but others are a bit homesick and overwhelmed by what this trip has been for them.
For some, Guatemala is their first time away from their families. For others, it is their first time away from the comforts of a first world nation. Despite months of preparation, there is still no way to truly prepare to be immersed in another culture. There is a certain amount of discomfort that is inherent in this type of experience, but it is when participants are less comfortable that the deepest learning and transformation occurs.
Out of respect for the group’s privacy, I won’t go into detail about our discussion other than to say that it was one of the moments I have felt the most clarity on exactly what it is we do in GV and why it is so very valuable. It was an honor to share in the reflections of our participants and to know that I was a part of the team that helped create this opportunity.
Backing up to the last few days, the Construction and Coffee teams both had two
special visitors, Mark and Diane McDermott, two diplomats for peace based in Washington State. Mark is also the brother of Jim McDermott, one of our state representatives. They briefly shared a bit about their travels and acknowledge the excellent work our participants are doing here. They look forward to meeting more of the GV community at our auction next month.
So much happens every day, I can hardly do it justice. The kids will have plenty to share when they get home. Here are some reflections from our leaders of the day:
“Today was a very good day. As a whole group, I think we for sure created bonds. At the beginning of the day I think everyone was excited and as we made our way to Antigua, the excitement grew. We all had such a great time watching the processions and getting ice cream and building carpets (alfombras).”
“After lunch, we had our all group discussion. It was another one of those discussions that most of us will never forget. It was hard for me to control my crying. We all became one today. You could feel the love everywhere, as stupid as that sounds. All group discussions are a must. We have to do it again. It brings us together in ways nothing else can. And its nice to know that others are going through similar situations.”
“Today has been one of those days where you really feel as though you really found out what life is all about. Now that may be an exaggeration, though that is how I feel. Before I went on this trip, I came across a quote which said: ‘You only know what you were born for when you find out what you would die for.’ This trip has been the most opening experience of my life so far, and every bit of it will stick with me forever. Words can’t explain it and no one will understand it until they go through it themselves and step in other people’s shoes around the circle and hear their stories.”