Greetings Intensive Families and GV Supporters,
I am writing you from the cafeteria at the language school while the kids get their dose of one-on-one Spanish lessons. It’s another magical trip, or at least it seems that way as I experience Guatemala with fresh-eyed participants absorbing every detail like how in the cool of the mornings the clouds seem to linger at the tops of the volcanoes so that they look like they are spitting out smoke. Each time we walk to the office, we smile and greet the passersby while taking in the beauty of the town and trying to guess where all the street dogs are running off to.
By the time we arrive to Santiago Zamora, the town where we are building a school, the mist gives way to blue skies that make the green hills dotted with small plots of tilled earth seem even more lush and vibrant.
But I digress, lots has happened since I last wrote. Sunday was our trip to the Mayan Cultural Arts center where we learned a lot more about Mayan culture. The women showed us their hand-woven fabrics, tapestries, and traditional style of dress. Though there are faster ways to weave now, these families have chosen to preserve their way of life.
Jasper and Spencer were married in a traditional wedding ceremony. Declan and Laura gave away the groom while Bjorn and Sarah provided the translation. This was followed by dancing (Maddie led the way here), shopping, and a lesson in how to make tortillas. For lunch we had a local delicacy called pepian which is a brown, well seasoned soup with chicken and rice. Afterwards we had our first reflection and, per Alex’s suggestion, we spent a very long time playing “keep away.” Though Aurelio is the shortest member of our staff, he can also jump the highest. I am excited to have him as our secret weapon when we play the kids in basketball.
Monday was our first day with the Chapines, a group of about 20 Guatemalan teenage volunteers, who joined us for three days of construction. We first broke ground for the school in April during the Spring trip and have continued to build trip by trip. What was a fenced-in lot is now three rooms with walls made of rebar, concrete, and cinderblock, which will soon be two classrooms and a kitchen. After spending an afternoon getting to know some families in the area, participants seemed highly motivated to work hard. During the break everyone gathered in small groups of gringos and chapines to get to know one another better. We ate a snack while Brady entertained us by juggling extra oranges. We were all sweaty and covered in dust by the time the bus arrived to take us back to the office, but everyone was smiling and laughing.
After lunch with our host families, we met once more at the GV office then headed to Antigua for language school at La Union. I love La Union. Like many of the buildings in Guatemala, it is centered around a large courtyard. There are rows and rows of tables and chairs, but instead of feeling like a classroom, it’s more like a sidewalk café where people from all different countries come to learn languages one-on-one.
After class, we returned to our homestays for dinner. When I went into my room, I pulled back the covers on my bed and found a special surprise waiting for me: a giant tarantula. It turned out to be fake, but I screamed like it was real then promptly ran next door to strangle Jan. After a brief interrogation, I learned that Rebecca was to blame for the prank so I began plotting my revenge.
Tuesday we met with the Chapines once more and played a few games before getting down to the hard work of moving piles of rock, mixing cement and mortar, and adding cinderblocks to finish up the walls of each room. Then after lunch we came to school for class, followed by salsa lessons with Carmen (I took video because the whole thing was indescribably hilarious). Thomas surprised us all with his special dance moves, especially after vehemently avoiding all forms of dancing up to this point in the trip. And Claire realized that all that hip checking she does in roller derby makes her a natural at dancing merengue.
Today was our last morning of construction so we all worked extra hard. It was hot and we needed to use a hose to wet the mortar we were mixing. Somehow Rebecca and Jan found themselves on the other end of the hose. And then all too soon it was time for snack and for our goodbye speech to Don Omar, Don Ambroso, and Don Alex, the three workers who have will be continuing to build the school in our absence. We presented them with some cards, a small gift, and a speech, which Spencer gave beautifully.
Here is what the leaders of the day have had to say: “As leader of the day, I was forced to step outside my comfort zone more than usual. Things like volunteering to be toastmaster or volunteering to be dressed up in the Mayan Cultural Center were things that I would not usually do, so I feel that as leader of the day it really opened me up to trying even more experiences than before. The trip has been really eye-opening and great, and it has really been a lot of fun getting to know all the new people who I am now glad to call my friends.”
“Today we met the chapines for the first time. I was amazed at how similar teenage chapines and teenage gringos are. It seemed like even though we aren’t from the same place and our traditional culture is very different we are all just teenagers and we can all laugh together. The chapines that I
talked to today all liked sports and went to school and had to deal with studying for tests just like I do. I noticed that when everyone was working together on the construction site everything went better and it didn’t feel like we were working really hard even though we got a lot done.”
“At school, we all met our teachers and had our first lesson. The lesson was very different than what I imagined it to be. I think I learned more in one lesson than I learned in a month of school. The school building was an inside-outside building like many buildings in Guatemala. As a group I think we are all starting to come together and open up to each other.”