On Friday, February 14th we travelled to Tikal for our second weekend trip in Guatemala. We had a really early start to the day – we needed to be up and ready to leave CASAS at 4:30 a.m. so we could catch our flight to Tikal at 6:00 a.m. The flight to Tikal took us about 45 minutes and we arrived safely in our 30 passenger propeller plane. From there we went straight to the Tikal National Park where we toured the Mayan ruins. We hiked to five different sites and our tour guide gave us some background history about the ruins along the way. It was really fascinating to see these ruins and to learn about the Mayan culture in such an interesting place.
Later on Friday afternoon we made our way to the Hotel Gringo Perdido, which was where we stayed for the weekend. Hotel Gringo Perdido sat along a beautiful, large lake and the entire hotel was open. It truly felt like paradise to all of us. The hotel was located in the country about a 45 minute walk outside of town. So if we wanted to go into town at any point it was quite a bit of a walk as there were no buses. It was really nice to have the whole weekend free to relax and hang out after a very long and busy week of Spanish classes and Spanish exams. This trip was something that all of us needed to help us clear our minds and take a break from schoolwork. There were a variety of activities for us to do during the weekend such as swimming in the lake, kayaking, hiking, and horseback riding.
On Saturday morning eight people from the group decided to go horseback riding while everyone else stayed back at the hotel to hang out. Then on Sunday morning most of our group woke up early to see the sunrise over the lake. It is easy to say that this was one of the most beautiful things we saw on the trip. Seeing the sunrise reminded most of us how beautiful and peaceful a place Tikal really is. The food on this trip was amazing and I think everyone would agree that the food we had in Tikal was some of the best so far.
Going back to Guatemala City was very hard for many of us because we missed the quiet peacefulness and sun of Tikal. Going back to the city meant it was time for us to go back to our daily routines, host families, and Spanish class. Overall our trip to Tikal was very successful for everyone and it was a weekend full of friends, laughter, sun, relaxation, and delicious food!
The end of our first term of Spanish brought a new class for Becca and I, and Kiersten will be joining us sometimes as well. We finished our Latin American Literature class and are now beginning a second course on Violence, Peace, and Justice. This class will study these themes in the history of Central America and especially Guatemala, and we will focus on themes such as women’s rights, the identity of the Maya, the 36-year armed conflict, and theology of peace and justice. Our teacher is a seminary professor here at CASAS-Semilla, and we are really enjoying interacting with him in class and learning from his vast knowledge about this subject. This heavy subject matter has given me much to reflect on, so I will share an excerpt from a journal entry that I wrote on February 18.
“Our teacher is so knowledgeable, and I hope he tells us some more of his own story. He had to flee the country during the war and go to the U.S. because he was accused of communist activities. All it took then was an accusation to end up in jail, but he told us that usually the accused were tortured and killed rather than jailed. When he told the police that he wasn’t a communist but a pastor who preached the gospel, they told him that preaching the gospel was a communist activity. Awful things happened during that time. Only recently, one of his students asked him to talk to her dying father, who had something that he wanted to confess. He went to talk to him and learned that this man had been in the army during the war. The man confessed to throwing live people out of helicopters into the jungle, the ocean, or the craters of active volcanoes. He wanted to be told truthfully if God would forgive him for what he had done. Our teacher told him, “Sí, Dios te ama (Yes, God loves you).” If our professor hadn’t had the opportunity to go to the US, he would probably have been killed too. He pointed at the whiteboard where he’d written “250,000 dead, 1,000,000 homeless, 50,000 disappeared” and said, “the people who couldn’t leave, here they are.” It was an odd feeling to look at him standing there in our classroom and realize how easily he could have been one of those statistics. I think I’ll have a lot to journal about as this class goes on.”
This class material relates to an experience we recently had visiting a forensic anthropology lab that works to identify the remains of persons found in mass graves from the time of the war. Their organization is trying to find and return the 50,000 disappeared people to their families, the vast majority of whom are villagers from the Mayan highlands who were wiped out by the Guatemalan army so that they couldn’t assist the guerrillas. They also keep all of their records so that they can be used as evidence in future trials if need be. As I stood in their lab beside a table holding the bones of a child who was maybe four or five years old at the time of death, I was reminded of a different trip where I along with other members of my high school’s touring choir visited the Auschwitz death camp in Poland and saw hair that had been cut from the heads of prisoners. The feeling I had in these two places was the same. The Auschwitz prisoners were executed for being Jewish, and these Guatemalans were killed for being Mayan. Both were incidences of genocide.
As all of these heavy thoughts and experiences have been mulling around in my mind, words of encouragement have also come to me. A few weeks ago, I decided to open my Bible to a random passage to see what I would find, and I happened to turn to Psalm 37. It is too long to post the whole thing here, so I’ll just pull out the passages that meant the most to me. I especially connected with verse 9, which says that “those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land,” and verse 37 most of all, which says, “there is a future for the man of peace.” The future for the man of peace has been so hard to see in the history of Guatemala, but these promises are full of hope.