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First Post from Guatemala first post from Guatemala..
Well, it was a truly amazing expereince getting to my current location, Xela.
I had a very long wait in the airport since I was very early. This ended up being a real blessing, because I met the most interesting Guatemalans in the airport, all heading home. Additionally, somehow I got upgraded to first class for every flight-and therefore got to sit next to the most imteresting man on the plane. He was in the process of translating the entire Mayan language into a dictionary..just absolutely fascinating conversation.
When I arrived in Guatemala City, there was supposed to be a person from the school to meet me-but there was no one. My friend from the flight came to my rescue, and loaned me his cell phone, and I called the school to see what was happening. About 15 minutes later, someone showed up and after waiting for one more student to arrive, off we went. We ended up at the bus station, where we boarded the bus.
The bus itself was not a chicken bus-it was pretty upscale. We then started off on our journey thru Guatemala City to our eventual destination of Xela.
I was really exhausted from the all night flight, but perked up immediately at teh amazing scenes outside my window. Guatemala City seemed to be everything all at once-some areas were beautiful, some areas were full of trash..the traffic was insane, the air polluted, there were people everywhere-yet at the same time I did glimpse some areas that were very pretty.
It seemed like a very dangerous p’lace to spend time in.
Once we left the city itself, the scenery became more and more beautiful. It took about 5 hours to get to Xela, and the entire time I just took in the scenery outside my window.
The landscape actually looked like some parts of California/west coast of the USA. There were people walking along the road, people selling food along the road, people collecting firewood in big bundles on their heads..the women were espceially beautiful in their very colorful clothing, carrying baskets on their heads. Their clothing was absolutely spectacular-the variation in patterns,designs, and colors was amazing. Just looking out the window, I breathed a sigh of relief-Guatemala truly was the perfect country to begin this journey.
There were also many things I was not used to seeing: poverty, lots of trash everywhere, and although I could idealize the simplicity of the lives of the people I was seeing, it was obviously a very difficult life.
The bus itself was a bit crazy. Loud music went in and out of the loudspeakers, also what sounded like a sportscaster/announcer for a fight turned out to be advertisements for the national elections that were about to happen. People came onto the bus to sell all kinds of things-food, newspapers,drinks..each seller had a different style of selling. The most sucessful seller was selling some sort of vitamin to benefit one´s health-which apparently solved all health problems for young and old. He lectured us for about an hour, standing at the fron t of the moving bus, and when he was done many people bought his product. The driver of the bus drove the bus very slowly, so it seemed to me there was plenty of time for salepeople to hop on and off the bus. It seemed like we always had someone standing up there talking and selling the entire trip.
We finally arrived in Xela and were met by a representative from the school, and from there they took each of us to our homestays. It was very odd walking into a strangers house and barely speaking a word of the language. Nonetheless I was relieved to have finally arrived somewhere! I was famished and exhausted, so I ate something and went to sleep until the next morning.
The next day, the students met at the school and walked over to the cemetery, where the Day of the Saints was being celebrated. This holiday is kind of like the Day of the Dead in Mexico, but different. People weed, clean, and paint the graves of their ancestors, put special flowers, maize, and decorations on the graves. They also eat a special meal on the grave, and spend the entire day there. The most interesting thing they did was fly kites all day long. Everywhere I looked, there were children flying kites from the toips of the graves-a very interesting scene. Some adults also flew enormous kites, which seemed to take several people to manage even getting them up in the air. They were simply spectacular once up, and the whole thing seemed very joyful and exuberant. They also had many white balloons which people wrote the names of the dead on and then everyone let the balloons go into the sky.
At a certain point, I decided to walk off on my own instead of staying with the group. This is when things got the most interesting, and I had the pleasure of asctually trying to communicate with people in Spanish. I was surprised when pressed to actually speak the language, how much Spanish I actually knew. I spent most of the day wandering around by myself, trying to get my bearings and getting lost several times. However, I never felt unsafe. Xela is a very safe place to walk around in during the day.
The next few days I spent just acclimating myself to Xela itself, and the idea that I was at the start of a very long journey. I had real moments of terrible homesickness, but mostly I have been happy and excited to be here.
My host family is ladino- a blend of Spaniard and indigenous people. They are middle class by the ecomomic standards here. The house I live in in very long and narrow, with multiple generations living there. Everyone is very kind and I am very happy living there. It has been very good for my Spanish and nice to have people to come home to.
My room is very small, with only simple plywood walls to separate me form the living room and front door. Except after lunchtime, the house is quite noisy, with many people and relatives in and out;loud music; and the television on. This was a little hard to get used to, but I have come to see it-the constant noise-as a way of creating privacy for people. Quarters are very close, and if there was no background noise you would hear everything.
The meals are very simple and traditional. The first few days I was here we had special meals for the Day of the Saints, since then it has been more typical fare of rice, beans, tortillas, etc.
I told my family I was vegetarian (of which I was very glad I did after going to the meat market several days later!) so my diet has been rather plain.
Unfortunately after only a few days here I was extremely ill with stomach problems. I think this is when I was most homesick. It was probably something I ate, I´m still not sure. Perhaps just travel stress. I was actually relieved to get sick so soon, as I am hoping my stomach will toughen up faster!
The school/place I am volunteering is El Nahaul. They run several volunteer programs for children in the community. My first day there at the school was a little overwhelming for a variety of reasons, but by the time of my next day there, I felt alot more comfortable. They have an amazing program, and it is easy to see the wonderful results they have in the community.
My first day at Spanish school they gave me an instructor who didn´t quite work for me-since I spoke basically zero Spanish! However by the next time I had class, I had a new teacher who is simply wonderful. Her name is Alma, and by Guatemalan standards she is a very modern woman. With her I have drastically increased my conversation skills in just 2 days.
Today she took me to the Mercado Minerva, which is this huge market that takes place in the streets around this enormous temple to Minerva. The temple itself is rather astonishing, and just sort of rises up in the midst of a great deal of chaos. The temple was built by one of the previous presidents of Guatemala, who had the strange idea that Xela would be the next Athens!! It looks very out of place here, but it is very beautiful.
More impressive was the Mercado itself, where everything you can imagine is availible, from fruits and vegetables to clothes. Visually it was quite overwhelming, with all the women in their indigenous clothing and the enormous plies of everything you can think of.
Alma also took me to a supermercado, where I gratefully found and joyfully purchased real coffee! My host family drinks only Nescafe, which is…not my first choice. So I told them I would buy real coffee for the family every week I am here. It doesn´t cost me much, but for them, it is alot. I also decided to buy fresh vegetables every week, otherwise I end up esting alot of boiled potatoes and carrots. When I brought all the vegies and coffee home this afternoon, my host family was very happy!
Ah yes, back to the school: the volunteer program is really wonderful. My current volunteer job is to help teach English to two groups of kids with another teacher/volunteer named Monica from Norway. We have two classes to teach in the afternoon, one to kids who are quite young, the other to kids who are around 12 years old. Apparently, although the education in Guatemala in free-it isn´t really free. Kids cannot attend without uniforms, books, etc, which all must be bought seperately. Classes in subjects like English cost extra, so most people don´t take English,etc. Most children are lucky to finish even the 3rd grade here. So, the programs of El Nahual are very important to the community, and the classes are all full. It was amazing teaching the class with Monica, who has come up with some creative ways to teach English to these challenged children.
I am also impressed with the director of the school, who has a real earnestness and great compassion for his community. The school is only 3 years old, and is very sucessful-you can see that the money you pay for Spanish lessons really does go back into the community.
Other things about Xela: most noticably, there are loads of dogs. Hundreds of them, they are everywhere. For the most part they seem friendly enough, but I´ve already had a few run ins with afew dogs(note to self: DO NOT walk down street with bread in your hand!). Many of the dogs seem very hungry, look starving, are going thru the trash…I have been giving some food to those dogs that look like they are nursing puppies and seem desperate for´s hard for an animal lover to see hungry animals. But for the most part, they seem loved and happy-just hungry.
There is much poverty here, and everyday I see something that is difficult to see-I want to help, but cannot. One can feel sorry for the animals, but truthfully there is not even enough food for many children. Many of the children come to the school hungry. People here work constantly and yet have little. There is an interesting love of things American, and American culture in general-clothing, music, and television-yet life is very family based and uncomplicated in some ways.
I don´t really have the time to miss ¨home¨because I am so busy studying and just taking the amazing expereince of being here. It´s only been 6 days so far, and I am amazed every morning to wake up in my little bed in Xela, get up, and walk out into the streets…the buildings are so colorful, the enormous metal and wooden doors on the houses,the colors…
Until next time, Adios!


15 responses to “First Post from Guatemala”

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