On February 28, our group left our Spanish classes early to get a head start on our weekend trip to Lake Atitlán. After a warm and humid bus ride, we stopped at a cooperative called Campesino Committee of the Highlands. While walking to the storehouse, Rebecca was happy to see a group of children playing soccer in an open building with a sign saying, “Se prohibe jugar fútbol.”
Once inside, many of us were surprised to see the logo of the cooperative superimposed onto chalkboard-sized, professionally printed tarps with Hugo Chavez’s face and the phrase “Continuemos la lucha!”
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.
Last week we heard from two speakers, the first speech was focused on Neo-Pentecostals and this movement involves a new Pentecostal form as opposed to the old. Neo-Pentecostalism originated after the strong earthquake in 1976 when destruction occurred in Guatemala City, and churches and communities came together as they saw hope in the Neo-Pentecostals. During this time the country became more conscious of God, and the Neo-Pentecostal churches grew from 2% of the population to nearly 40% today. The second speaker was Rafael Escobar, who is the Dean of the Anabaptist seminary, Semilla, where we are studying Spanish. He discussed the Mennonites in Guatemala. The discussion revolved around the distinctives of Anabaptists including peace and non-violence, which is different than the Dispensationalist theology of many other Guatemalan churches. Throughout his speech he encouraged us to explore how we express our faith, where we come from and how we should apply this to our calling here.
What does oppression feel like? What happens if we label the relationship between Israel and Palestine as apartheid, and how does that title change our experience and perception of the region, and America’s own involvement? Are our host families, generous to a fault in welcoming a complete stranger into their homes and filling our plates past protests of complete satiation, silently suffering past their means under inflated prices and lost opportunities? During our lectures and field trips around the West Bank, passionate and convicted Palestinians share their stories and effortlessly evoke our deepest sympathies.
As responsible stewards in an EMU Cross-Cultural, we have been reminded of the importance of a balanced understanding; we cannot fully understand even one side if we neglect to understand both. But when our host families and speakers relay stories of suffering or injustice, how will we walk into a settlement, or an encroaching and internationally illegal community of Israelis on Palestinian land, and empathize with the imposing doctrines of Zionism, of Colonialism?
On our first adventure outside of Guatemala City, we took a three hour bus ride that was split in half. Our first stop where we ate lunch was the Mayan ruins of Iximche. This was an interesting place to see because prior to this we have been learning about the Mayan people. During the week we had visited a Mayan museum close to CASAS where we were able to see and hold artifacts that were 1,500 years old! We also learned about the Mayan cosmovision which embraces the balance of nature, and their precise calendars which accurately correspond with astronomy. While we took a walk around the ruins we were able to see people practicing their Mayan prayer ritual. In the ruins we saw the ancient Mayan soccer field where people played using their elbows and chest to hit the ball. This game was the deciding factor of who would be sacrificed to the gods at the end of the game.
We then took a winding road through the beautiful Guatemalan mountains to arrive at our destination, Chichicastenango. In this town we focused our learning on Mayan culture, markets, and Catholicism. We were able to meet with a women’s widow co-operative that helps them sustain themselves and their families by creating textiles as their sole income. This opportunity allows them to work with an organization specifically like Ten Thousand Villages who are able to buy their products and allocate fair prices. In this co-operative there are twelve women from the K’iche village. This was a fascinating experience to be able to buy items from this co-operative and meet with the women who made them. We also had the opportunity to visit another co-operative called Ruth and Naomi. It was amazing to see that there is hope for people in small villages to make a living for themselves. Continue reading →
So here we are after our first several days in Guatemala sitting in t-shirts in the middle of winter, enjoying the gorgeous view from our school, CASAS. It has been nice to start settling into a routine here as we get up each morning around 7 and begin Spanish class here at 8:30. The classes are very small – with two to three students for every teacher. Class is difficult but we can definitely tell that our Spanish is already improving. We have class until 12:30 and then it is lunchtime. The food here (at school and Guatemala in general) is AMAZING. We had mentally prepared ourselves for rice and beans all day everyday so now that we are having chicken, papaya, pineapple, plantains, and salads, we are ecstatic. Unfortunately, the change in diet, schedule, and water has been hard on many of our bodies. Many of us have felt quite under the weather this week, but we’re remaining optimistic because we know that our bodies will adjust and we will quickly feel fine again.
After lunch, from 1:30 to 4:30, we do something as a group. Yesterday we went to the Central Plaza and the market (both are gorgeous) and today we are having a siesta and time of rest. We have already discovered a shopping center within walking distance of the school and after lunch several of us like to walk there and purchase pastries at Isopan (a wonderful bakery) and explore the city. Around 4:30 we return to our host families and it is there that we do our homework, talk with our host families, sometimes pretend to understand them, but overall enjoy experiencing Guatemalan culture and life with them. The two of us are extremely grateful that our families typically eat dinner around 7 instead of 9 or 10 like some families.
So far the things we like the most about Guatemala are the pretty flowers, the different sounds of the birds, plantains, the view that we have at CASAS of the mountains and the volcanos, the bright colors, and the willingness of people to open their hearts and homes to newcomers such as ourselves.
We thank God often for the caring people who have taken us in as their own. Although we are all having different experiences, it is meaningful to see God working in each family and student. Each morning we look forward to getting to CASAS to share and hear stories from everyone’s evenings with their host families. Many of our families attend church on Sunday. Andrea had an interesting experience at her first Mass, where the priest asked her (in Spanish) to collect the offering. She accidently agreed and found herself a part of the service. Cluelessly she attempted to follow the example of the other collectors but completely missed the part where the collectors kneel before the collection baskets and bless themselves. She felt relieved when it was over and could return to her seat. Each experience is an opportunity to learn and grow and we are thankful for the ways in which we have been able to connect with the people living in Guatemala, our host families, and each other as a group.
Overall, the last several days have been busy but have been full of promise. We are excited to be here and are thankful to God for health and peace. We are so grateful for your continued prayers and we look forward to sharing more stories soon.
On our first morning in Giza, only a few hours after our 30 hours of travel to Egypt ended, our bus shoved its way through the dusty streets. Everyone with a window seat stifled gasps, fearing first that we would ram into truck full of oranges, then that we would kill the family of goats led by a young Egyptian, or any number of other possibilities leading to a traffic jam across seven unofficial lanes of vehicles. Our panic quieted only after three huge triangles loomed out of the dusty, fogged sky. Our first morning in Egypt, and we had already encountered the Great Pyramids! Many mornings and amazing sights have followed, like the Sphinx in Giza, King Tut’s golden mask in Cairo, the Nile in Luxor, the gorgeous sandstone walls of the Siq in Petra, and the salt crystals edging the green-blue waters of the Dead Sea.
Each site is also part of a story – the pyramids were there when Joseph gained power in Egypt, St. Catherine’s contains the well at which Moses may have met Zipporah, and in the Cairo Museum we looked at the same Pharaoh that Moses pled with to “let his people go.” Another part of what makes each day exciting is the deepening relationships within the group. It’s amazing how close people grow through shared stories of inconvenient diarrhea and Chaco blisters. As we follow footsteps of various travelers in the Old Testament, we have become travelers ourselves, joining in the story in some ways.
Evenings, which are generally less structured, have become a time for tea or soccer games with friendly locals, as well as a time to shop, nap, journal, explore, or play cards. Organic interaction and recovery from long hikes are important components of our evening time.
Despite these amazing experiences, not everything has been easy, as all cross-cultural groups surely could attest to. We have had to maintain awareness of safety concerns, especially through Cairo and the Sinai as violence, protests, and extremist actions continue to boil up in some areas. Our privilege as Americans and tourists is made especially clear by our preferential treatment in customs, by the ‘tourism police’ that accompany us, and by the poverty we see around us which contrasts sharply with our nice cameras, clothes, and hotel rooms.
If there were any one experience I could share with my friends and family back home, it would be the moment while climbing down Mt. Sinai, that I looked up and saw the night sky draped over the endless red desert, and I recognized that the same stars that shone down on me shone down on Moses as he made the same climb thousands of years ago. This moment symbolizes our story connecting with the biblical story in a striking way, and is a feeling I wish everyone could experience.
All of us here are grateful for the continued thoughts and prayers from our various communities, and we look forward to being in Palestine tomorrow and more exciting adventures in the coming weeks and months.