Greetings from Guatemala: Intensive Trip Update

Greetings Intensive Trip Families and GV Supporters:

It’s a lovely Sunday in San Miguel. I awoke to the combination of church bells ringing and fireworks crackling. Somewhere there is a birthday celebration going on, and what better way to announce it than lighting off fireworks at 6AM. I think I’m used to it now…it’s actually the same sound I fell asleep to last night, though those fireworks belong to Declan. His homestay family (my next door neighbors) threw him a surprise belated birthday party with lots of laughter and cake.

Declan Becomes a Legend for Eating Four Chili Peppers in Santiago Zamora

This morning I am here with the entire group at the GV office. They are finishing up a traditional breakfast of omelets, black beans,plantains, and orange juice before we head out on our next adventure: the Mayan Cultural Arts Center. So far we’ve visited the Guatemala City Dump, toured Antigua, changed money, danced in the park to the sounds of Ecuadorian pan flutes playing Guatemalan folk songs, and visited Santiago Zamora, the town where we will be helping to build the school started on the Spring Trip. There we met some families in the community and learned more about their lives. In Santiago Zamora, the big industry is cloth weaving, so we learned more about how the “trajes” or traditional Mayan suits are made as well as how the weather has impacted the corn crop and made it very difficult for people in the community to be able to afford to send their kids to school. Bjorn did an excellent job of translating. And in general everyone has been doing their part to contribute to the group.

Jasper and Spencer "Get Married" in Traditional Mayan Wedding Ceremony

But rather than see it through my eyes, here are some excerpts from the Leader of the Day Journals:

“Today started on an airplane, continued with an airplane and another airplane. We talked and slept on the airplanes, shopped and played cards at the airport. Declan turned 15. We all passed through security and got on our bus without a problem. I think it hit us all at different times that we were actually going to (or in) Guatemala. After that, for me at least, until we got to the Dump, all I did was take in everything I could, the smell, the Spanish, the sidewalks in the middle of the street and the plants and people on them; the buildings, the posters, the street markets….when we got to the cemetery, I was still trying to look at everything: the tombs lined up like Mayan pyramids, the one like small mountains covered in wild plants, others with well cared for shrubbery, and everything in between, but all above ground. The first glance I got of the dump stopped being just a view to take in. There were people down there-there were people living down there: on top of toxic garbage and under hundreds of vultures. At first I felt like it would be rude to take pictures as though it was just some view, almost inhumane to reduce what was going on into pixels, but then I realized this was something I didn’t want to let myself forget. I hope I never look at a garbage can the same way again.”

Touring the Cemetery

“After another delicious meal with our host families, the group headed out for our first full day in Guatemala. We rode in buses to the beautiful city of Antigua. We had driven through once before, but walking around truly gave you a feel for the culture and how different it is. The buildings are brightly colored and the streets are all made of cobblestones. While we waited outside the bank there were quite a few chapines trying to sell their textiles for a couple of Quetzales. If I wasn’t here with GV I think I probably would have been the classic tourist and bought something from the first Chapin who offered a good deal. We saw many other tourists walking around Antigua and I kept reminding myself to never take cues from tourists. In the Central Parque there was a duo of singers/musicians who we listened to for about five songs. Molly, Meru, and Jan started dancing in front of everyone and the tourists started turning their cameras away from the singers and towards our junior leaders. I hope the rest of our group will start to embrace the culture like that by the end of this trip.”

Junior Leaders Dancing in the Park

“We came back home for el almuerzo (lunch) with the host families. I feel like even if I am not positive of what I am eating I always enjoy the food here. The second half of our day was a little more intense and extremely eye opening. We traveled to a town probably twenty minutes out of Antigua called Santiago Zamora. This is the place where we will be doing construction and building a school for the next couple of days. Once we arrive we split into two groups and each group visited a house. In my group we were led up the street by a lady and her son to a small house where we got to know the different families living in that tiny house, and that there were up to six people per bedroom. As they explained the way they lived I couldn’t believe how drastically different it was from the way we live in America. I mean I have always heard of people living that way but this was the first time I have actually seen that kind of poverty first hand. One of the boys in the casa had been sick for two years and he couldn’t go to school or anything because he was so sick. His father worked in el campo (the field) twelve hours a day for the equivilant of 6 or 7 US dollars (in Quetzales) per week. The mother had to stay home, but she showed us what she did for work. She had this scrolled up material that was a weaving of plants. She said it took about four months to make a weaving that she sold for only 1,000 Quetzales. I am so happy we met them because maybe I will be able to see the difference that the work we are going to do will make in people’s lives. It’s a rare thing that you see it first hand. It’s getting more noticeable how even though the people here have so little they still seem to be able to laugh and are extremely happy. Maybe just as happy if not more than us in America.”

Take care,

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