EMU Cross-Cultural

Discovering Beauty in Simplicity

Guatemala/Mexico 6This weekend’s trip to the Cobán area was, for me, a chance to discover beauty in simplicity.  On Friday night we ate supper with missionaries Galen and Phyllis Groff.  They had simply ordered pizza, but it was delicious and we had a wonderful time learning from them about the culture of the indigenous Kekchi people.  That night we went to the Bezaleel Kekchi Mennonite School.  We stayed in simple beds in simple rooms above the simple auditorium, the place for the guests.  We absolutely loved it.  In the female’s room, fifteen of us shared our clothes, our combs, our stories, and our laughs and became even closer to one another within our group.

The meals at Bezaleel are a very simple affair.  They were simply beans and tortillas, sometimes an egg, but for us they provided the opportunity to sit with the boys of the school and get a glimpse into their lives.  We saw the vocational arts program for the middle school students.  There were only the simplest of supplies, but these classes provide the opportunity to greatly enrich the lives of the students.

A Saturday afternoon soccer game against the boys of the school was played on a simple dirt field with four large mud puddles.  For us, it was a chance to run around, get filthy, laugh a lot, be with the students, and lose the game (even with the help of one of their sympathetic students on our team!).  The talent show in the evening was nothing elaborate – few decorations, few props.  The talent, however, was amazing.  We heard beautiful songs, listened to a moving reflection on life, laughed at some hilarious skits, and shared our own talents, which paled in comparison.

After a Kekchi Mennonite church service on Sunday, we ate with local families.  The meal was simple soup.  However, this caldo – the region’s dish for special occasions – was delicious and contained the best-tasting meat I’ve ever eaten in my life.  We felt so blessed when we heard that the family had taken three days to prepare this meal for us.

The cloud forest of the Alta Verapaz region was beautiful, and the towns quite nice, but the truly beautiful things we found were the simple experiences with the students of the school.  Depending on the way we choose to look at things, we can see beans and tortillas (not again!), mud puddles that ruin a soccer game, and a lack of technology at the school…or we can see relationships, laughter that means the same thing in English, Spanish, or Kekchi, and the hand of God in our time there during which we were allowed to learn about beauty from simplicity.

– Katie Jantzen

Life in Guatemala – bridal shower and bartering

Guatemala/Mexico 5My time so far in Guatemala has been enjoyable and I am experiencing a lot. My host family is really wonderful! My host brother is actually getting married next weekend and I was invited to his fiancee’s bridal shower. This was a new experience for me because I have never been to a bridal shower in the United States let alone one in Guatemala. I wasn’t sure what to wear but I saw how my host family was dressed and just wore church clothes. I was glad that I did because the bridal shower was more like a formal dinner party. It took place in the really fancy hotel and it was set up like we were at a conference. This was not what I was expecting when I was told that I was invited; I was expecting us to sit around someone’s living room and talk about the wedding and give gifts.

The first thing that happened was a few people got up and gave short speeches about love in and with Christ and love within a relationship. I didn’t quite understand what they were talking about because it was all in Spanish, but I got the main idea. We then played a game where you match up the description of the person with the person’s name, like for example your aunt’s brother and your answer would be your uncle; certain prizes were handed out for the right answers. We then were given a sheet of paper and you were supposed to give advice to the bride and the best advice got a prize. The prize thing was different for me because I thought that at a bridal shower you gave gifts that were supposed to go to the bride. We then had a fancy dinner that was delicious and during our meal the bride handed out most of her invitations. This was something I wasn’t expecting because in the United States most people I know have sent their invitations in the mail. The future bride got around to every table to say hello and chat with everyone throughout the evening, which was something I enjoyed because she really wanted everyone to be comfortable.

Even though I couldn’t understand what was going on most of the time I enjoyed myself. And no, I am not going to be able to make it to the wedding, but I had a wonderful experience at the bridal shower.

-Erin Huddleston

Lake Atitlan - Erin Huddleston and Hannah Artz Weekend trips are an oasis that we look forward to each week; a break from the routine of morning Spanish classes and Spanish immersion within our host families.  They mean shortened Friday Spanish classes, long bus rides full of “get to know you questions” (usually courtesy of Brent), plenty of exciting photo ops, and more opportunities to practice our bartering skills.  This weekend we all piled in a big van and headed out to Santiago de Atitlan.  On the way we stopped at a coffee cooperative where they produce fair trade coffee that smells absolutely amazing.  We were a little disappointed that we didn’t get to sample the coffee, but that didn’t stop us from purchasing a bunch of it to bring back to the U.S.  In Santiago de Atitlan we stayed in a cute, little, semi-sketchy hotel with two levels and a little open air courtyard in the middle, complete with hammock and shrubbery.
On Saturday we visited the Cathedral in Atitlan and got a personal tour of the surrounding towns by a local man, Antonio, who explained to us the problems faced there during the civil war, as well as the negative impact of a massive mudslide that was caused by hurricane Katrina.  After the tour we had lunch at the ANADESA cooperative where we had the opportunity to purchase beautiful beaded jewelry made by the indigenous women there.  Then, in the afternoon we had free time, which basically means we got to explore Santiago de Atitlan, shop for souvenirs, take pictures and generally goof off.

The group I was with decided to shop, since by now we are basically pros at bartering. We found beautiful handmade duffel bags for a whopping Q300each, and were able to barter the price down to Q100 per bag. The first time most of us had to barter was in Chichicastenango and we were basically terrified.  The thought of refusing to pay the price someone told us for their products was so foreign that we had a hard time wrapping our heads around it.  Now however, most of us think we will want to barter at the shopping malls back in the states as well… “What do you mean I have to pay $30 for that pair of jeans?  I’ll give you $10 for them…”  We’re thinking that probably won’t go over too well.  However, just in case you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to barter here are some tips from the experts.

1. Don’t be timid.  If you seem unsure of yourself they’ll pick up on it right away and you’ll end up paying more.  Be confident.
2. Start by offering to pay about 50% LOWER than their asking price.  You can’t start too low.  The lower you start the lower the final price is likely to be.
3. Don’t appear to be too interested. Increase the dollar amount in small increments; this makes you seem more hesitant which is good if you want a low price.
4.  Don’t be afraid to walk away if you aren’t loving the price they are saying!  Sometimes walking away means getting the best deal.  If not, you will probably find a better deal somewhere else.

Follow these four easy steps and you may be lucky enough to score a great deal like decreasing the price of a Q300 hammock to Q180, or a Q220 jacket to Q100. You will also feel a wonderful surge of pride at your ability to snag a great deal, because who doesn’t love saving money?

Now, back to Atitlan for a second.  After a day of tours, walking, and shopping we relaxed before our Sunday trip across the lake to Panajachel where we got to shop some more before the long ride back to Guatemala City.  In case there was any doubt in your mind, Lake Atitlan is stunning.  We all loved our lancha ride across the sparkling lake surrounded by majestic volcanoes.  It was the perfect end to our weekend trip in Santiago de Atitlan.

-Jessica Hedrick

Reports from Palestine

Marhaba, everyone! Hello from Beit Sahour, Palestine, where the group will be staying for the next two and a half weeks.  Our time in Beit Sahour will be spent touring Palestine, studying Arabic, listening to lectures from professors at Bethlehem University College, and interacting with our host families.  Lucas and I are staying with Adeeb, our host-father, host-mother Hyfah, and brothers Elias and Hosam.  The hospitality that we have experienced in just the past few days has been incredible.  Everyday after classes we are excitedly greeted by Adeeb who asks us all about our day as we enjoy a feast prepared by Hyfah, usually consisting of pita, rice, tea, homemade lemonade, and some sort of chicken dish.  Needless to say, we are by no means going to bed hungry at night!

Today we spent most of the day at Bethlehem University College where we listened to a lecture about Palestinian literature, got a tour of the University campus, and had the chance to interact with students.  The students spoke to us about the difficulties they sometimes have just getting to school, mainly due to the Israeli checkpoints.  What should be fifteen to twenty minutes drive sometimes takes hours longer and students are often late to class or miss class completely because of these delays.  Many students choose to live in Bethlehem away from their families instead of commuting to avoid the hassle of the checkpoints.  I have been hearing other stories of how peoples’ everyday lives are affected by the way and the checkpoints, but the students’ stories hit even closer to home.  These students have to daily live with the reality of the wall and the Israeli occupation, and to see how the lives of people my own age are impacted made the situation all the more real to me.

Though much of the conversation with these students left me feeling confused and frustrated about their realities, one encouraging sign that I saw was in the relationships between the Christian and Muslim students.  I was always under the impression that relations between Christians and Muslims were tense, but what I saw at Bethlehem University proved that impression wrong.  The students not only coexist with one another but they accept and form friendships across religious lines.  Though this my not be the case everywhere, I saw it as a sign of hope for the peaceful existence between all peoples regardless of race or, as in this case, religion.

– Aaron Clemmer

One theme that seems to be floating on the surface of my mind, here in Palestine is ‘taking thing for granted’. By this, I do not mean the stereotypical cross-cultural inconveniences that one expects from this sort of trip (i.e. unpredictable showers, lack of toilet paper, and perpetually sandy socks).  What I’m talking about is simpler than that; at home, I take for granted a level of security that many people simple can’t achieve.

I take for granted that my college campus won’t be set upon by tanks during class.  I take for granted that no one will bulldoze my home and steal my family’s land.  I take for granted that military officials won’t make me late for school on a weekly basis.  Most importantly, I take for granted that, should any of these things occur, there will be dire consequences for the perpetrators.  I take for granted that my voice will be heard.  In Palestine, however, none of these things can be taken for granted.

My host family has a gorgeous house, two laptop computers, two cars, and three flat-screen televisions.  They are clearly well-off and well-educated.  Despite all these advantages, they are still under the thumb of the Israeli government.  Even though they have worked hard to succeed and establish some sense of permanence, their security is anything but assured.

At any moment, their home and land might be seized by Israeli soldiers.  They are not free to leave the country or even their hometown to visit relatives without obtaining a special permit from the Israeli government.  They could be attached by Zionist settlers, and no one would raise a hand to save them.

No matter how hard they work, they will never achieve security through their success.  Because they are Palestinian, they are second class citizens facing constant uncertainty and vulnerability.  Because of their ethnic background, their voices are not heard.

-Brooke Snyder

Silent anticipation built as we left Jordan and entered Israel.  We curved and climbed and went through a tunnel and then there it was, the old city of Jerusalem.  We stopped near the Mt. of Olives and overlooked the land.  Olive trees, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock, palm trees, sheep, the garden of Gethsemane, and in the distance beyond Bethlehem was Beit Sahour.  This would be our home for the next few weeks.  We loaded the bus again to travel the 4 miles from Jerusalem into Palestine.  As we crested a hill our eyes met the wall, a 26 ft high, grey, concrete wall separating states, religions, and cultures.  We had a rather effortless entry due to a push for international tourism.  But we watched on as the adjacent checkpoint was lined with Palestinians attempting to enter back to their homes by foot.

We arrived and were met with open arms into our host families.  I am living in Beit Sahour with a wonderful family that gives a whole new meaning to hospitality.   They have 5 girls and life goes on here as usual: homework, sports, laughter, whining, sibling rivalry, meals, bedtimes… I feel so privileged to get a glimpse into something Americans often hold so private.  These people would open their house to all of EMU if we could fit.

It’s been less than a week since we’ve arrived, and Beit Sahour has quickly become to me a place of paradox. This land is full of questions and answers, pain and joy, belief and struggle.

Among lectures and Arabic lessons we made a trip to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.  Speaking of paradox; the creator of the world came to us as a baby!  My view on the character of Christ continues to expand.  There is something special about this land and there are no easy answers to the conflict that saturates it.  The more we learn the more complicated it seems.  But I’m reminded of Isaiah 55:8   “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  My trust is in the Lord and His ability to reconcile all things.

-Sarah Demaree

Trusting God in Guatemala

Guatemala/Mexico 4During my time in Guatemala, I certainly have felt the presence of God. I feel so vulnerable living in a large city where I don’t know the language,  and living in a country that has more violence and danger than I knew before coming. Yet God has given me a sense of peace and protection, and as I ride the public bus daily, I am able to relax and pray. The 2 buses I ride are old US school buses- sometimes they even have the old license plate mounted inside. Why were these buses not good enough for US schoolchildren anymore, but they’re fine for the Guatemalan public bus system? I’m glad the buses are being used, but maybe we’re used to things too nice in the United States.

Another reason I need God’s presence so much here is the confusion the language barrier creates. I feel like a stupid child when I speak to my host family, and I just wish they knew that I was the valedictorian in high school and I’m a gifted writer. The experience really gives you an identity crisis, and you get used to feeling awkward and not knowing “why” when something happens.

-Anna Engle

Tourism – Consumerism

Guatemala/Mexico 3Chichicastenango: a tourist trap, but a necessary trap.  On Friday night a group of us, Brent, Allison, Stacy, and me, just to name a few were walking down the streets of Chichi when an indigenous woman, Manuela, and her daughter, Elena, invited us to her house.  So being the ignorant people we were we went to their house assuming that they wanted to talk to us and just establish a relationship type thing.  It turns out she wanted us to buy from her, but despite the insistence that we buy from her, we got to play with a few of her nine kids.  My favorite moment was when we were leaving and the smallest kid, 2 yrs. old?, ran after me trying to hug my legs good bye.  I picked him up and he clung to me.  I was amazed with how much trust, how much joy this kid had in me, a stranger, an alien who he had only known for a few minutes.

On Saturday we went to the women’s co-op and we passed shack after shack after shack.  Our tourist bus was probably bigger than a shack or two put together.  Who was I to roll down the pot-holed dirt road in a bright blue bus with comfortable cushioned seats and air-conditioning?  At the women’s co-op I was amazed at this particularly older woman.  Her face was wrinkled and creased with painful stories, resilient solutions, and proud heritage.  She reminded me of my grandma, a hard-working widow who stood strong still.

Yesterday, Sunday, we went to mass that combined Mayan rituals and Catholicism.  A group of blatant tourists came in; they wore their cameras, khaki shorts, and safari hats.  They took pictures, despite the no taking pictures sign.  They interrupted the Mayan prayers and candle lighting. One of the woman tourists even came up and starting talking to an indigenous man who was trying to worship!  I was a little ashamed at that moment about being a tourist. It was also hard to say no to the little dirty kids who came up to you pleading for you to buy some trinket or some stuffed animal.  To live they needed to sell.  To live I needed to be a tourist and buy, but in the US I try living more simply and less consumerism like.  Tourism.  A little bit of consumerism.  Is it necessary?

-Sara Beachy

Chichicastenango Market--Jackie Bohanan and Hannah Artz I have been on foreign soil now for a little over two weeks, and it seems as just yesterday I was stepping off the plane diving into a new experience full of unknowns.  For the little time I’ve been here, Guatemala makes me appreciate all God has blessed me with back home.

Living in this amazing country has made me realize the diversity of individuals in the United States.  It is not uncommon for you to see someone of a different race walking past you in a supermarket.  But here in Guatemala it’s the total opposite.  Whenever you walk down the street there is always a pair of eyes watching every move you make.  It’s not an uncomfortable feeling, it just puts into perspective what minorities go through not just in the United States, but all around the world.

Already Guatemala has taught me things about the language, its people, my group, and even myself.  I have learned and grown so much already, and I will only continue to see the world from a different viewpoint.

-Jackie Bohannon

First reports from Egypt and Jordan

Middle East 1It’s not too often that in the span of 12 hours one is blessed with the opportunity to watch the sunrise and sunset on top of the roofs at Anafora Retreat Center in Egypt! Meals lit by candle light, learning sessions lead by a Bishop of the Coptic Church, evening prayer illuminated by candle light, and the voices of those from across the globe are all memories that will remind me of the peace that is Anafora.

Aside from the free time that was spent playing cards, dancing across the roofs of our bedroom, shopping, and of course, the many times eating fantastic food, the group was able to have three separate sessions with Bishop Thomas. One session focused on humbling oneself before the Lord, the next on shedding the mask(s) that incorrectly defines oneself, and thirdly, he talked about the foundational teachings of the three Abrahamic faiths and how they relate to the conflict over Jerusalem today. Although this conversation was informative, what remained most shocking was the way in which he defined Christianity. As Christians many of us excel to model Jesus. What is often forgotten within my own faith and those from other faiths is that above all physical possessions (land, money, food, water) is the sacredness of human beings.

With this said, many of us on the trip have already begun to question our role as Christians in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Should we take sides? How are we to help resolve this conflict? Is simply listening enough? What Bishop Thomas helped me realize is that if we share with others the value of the human soul that Christ teaches we can open the door for the Holy Spirit to take control. My prayer for this conflict is that those on the battlefield and those in the board room will recognize the humanity they are fighting against. Control over one of the Holiest (if not THE Holiest) piece of land is not worth destroying the sacredness of human lives.

I’m richer from Bishop Thomas’ wisdom and faith. As we go from this peaceful place may we be peacemakers to those we meet along this journey. May the whole world be reminded that many conflicts are being fought over the claim to land, yet Jesus taught us that love and peace have no borders! (Read 1 John 3: 11-24 or 23-24)

Well, today we head back to Cairo by train. On a lighter note, now seems like an appropriate time to discuss crossing the streets in Cairo. As David said at orientation ‘crossing the streets in Cairo is an adventure in itself and our first class assignment’. Although I passed, it did not come without fear of losing my life. There are no crosswalks or lighted signs informing you that it’s safe to cross. Rather, before one steps out they have to be determined and firm about reaching their destination safely! Making eye-contact and keeping an even keel pace is important, and when necessary RUN! In a matter of five to ten seconds one is safely walking on the other side of the street…and if you are anything like me you’re heading towards the nearest coffee shop!

Janelle Freed

I find Egypt like many other countries to be like the body of a…. of its parts that couldn’t function with only a small part. Egypt needs all its people, the rich and the poor, the Egyptians and the tourist. It needs the Nile and the Sahara, the cities and the countryside, Muslims and Coptics. All of these things make up a strong Egyptian culture unlike any place I have ever experienced.

As we traveled around the Egyptian cities of Cairo and Luxor, and the countryside of Anafora and the Sinai, we experienced the different area based on their religions. Cairo and Luxor are filled with the Muslim religion and culture; every morning, five times a day, we could hear the Call to Prayer wailing in the echoes across the city and in the streets. Women with their colorful hejab and men do not interact with each other. As a large group of white Americans we found ourselves under constant scrutiny no matter how much we tried to conceal ourselves. But as we came to the Coptic (Egyptian Christian) monasteries and communities of Anafora and the Sinai, we still stood out and yet were treated the same as any other visitor.

The Egyptians greatly value their history as it relates to the development of the current culture and religion. Because Biblical studies are a large part of our time here we went through the earliest Egyptian archeology and historical events in relation to the early Biblical stories. We went to Coptic Cairo where Joseph would have come to Egypt and where the Holy Family stayed for three years after leaving Bethlehem. We then followed the Israelites’ travels with Moses in the Sinai and crossing the Red Sea. I was able to see the Israelites’ position differently after spending a great deal of time in the desert. Their complaining in the wilderness seems much more justified when you’re experiencing the dryness, heat, and emptiness first hand. As unpleasant as the desert is at times, I looked out at the sunset from the summit of Mt. Sinai and saw the awesomeness of God in the beautiful rugged mountains. I truly appreciate everything about the desert, even seeing it from the perspective of a traveler.

Ruth-Ellen Dandurand

Two of the highlights for me since leaving Egypt have been visiting Mount Sinai and Petra. We can’t say with certainty that it is the exact same Mount Sinai that Moses climbed for the Ten Commandments, but it is at least close. After a lunch of pita and cheese, we started out behind our 64 year old guide along a wide gently sloped dirt path. On almost every side large, rocky mountains loomed over us. The sun was starting to set and the climb was estimated to take about 1.5 to 2 hours. A group of about six to ten of us set the pace. It didn’t take long for the trail to narrow, become more rocky and steep. Once it started to have switchbacks, Bedouin huts became a more common occurrence. For the first half hour or so there were camels along the path with owners that were quick to offer rides up the mountain. Other than that, we had the trail mostly to ourselves. On the first part of the trail we would stop frequently for the group to rejoin, but after a while we were given the go ahead to charge up the mountain at our own pace. About two thirds of the way up, the dirt path disappeared and steep, uneven steps made of rocks wound around the mountain. As a person that processes best on my feet, it felt simply wonderful to be active in the barren yet beautiful landscape. The path was deceiving as it fooled me into thinking that the end was in sight or just around the corner. The urgency to reach the top only increased as the sun quickly dropped in the sky. Upon gazing out on the surrounding mountains of rock, everything touched by the dying sun appeared golden. My muscles burned from scrambling up the treacherous rocky stairs, but I held the promise of the experience at the top. A small church came into view and before long about seven of us shared congratulations with each other on the summit. Words fall short when attempting to express the beauty of the panoramic view of the mountains and wilderness under the brilliant colors that proceeded to develop from the setting sun.

Slowly the rest of the group appeared in groups of two or more, cheered on by everyone else. Cameras were everywhere as we tried to capture the awesomeness of the moment. A song arose from the expert singers in the group and all joined in to produce beautiful music that expressed the feelings better than words. Linford gathered everyone and shared a reflection on the Ten Commandments before everyone escaped from the group picture pose. Darkness crept in rapidly so it became important to hurry down. I choose to head down a little bit ahead of the group so that I could reflect and process all that has been on my mind. Even if it wasn’t the Mount Sinai of the Bible, the mountain top experience and the struggles that come between the valley and mountain gave new insights into the Bible and how God has interacted with me in my life.

Like its shadow, memories of Mount Sinai followed us as we left Egypt and traveled into Jordan. While I have seen many pictures of the famous treasury at Petra, the sheer grandeur of the ancient Nabatian city was unbelievable. Our tour guide never ceased to have some tidbit of information or a joke to share as we found our way through the most well known area. The rocks that surrounded us came in all colors including red, green, white, and black. Much of the stone displayed Nabatian or Roman influence in the form of carvings or design. After singing in a church from 447 AD that had been carved in the rock and seeing a few other sites, we were turned loose to explore on our own or in small groups. My favorite part came after a forty minute hike up another mountain to a monastery with other group members. After recovering from the shock of finding the grand building carved in rock we spotted a lookout up another peak and set out. It was a perfect place to rest and gain an appreciation for the vast wilderness that so many different people groups have traveled through and lived on. Once we realized the limited time that was left until we were supposed to be back on the bus, we eagerly returned to the monastery to explore. After about ten of us crawled over the five foot high stone entrance and recognized the incredible acoustics, Ben lead us in a few songs that caused the music to vibrate through my body. These times of group singing have quickly become one of my favorite parts of the experiences and often express what words and pictures alone can not accomplish. Even though much of the land is barren and rocky upon first appearance; beauty, identity and strength have a way of developing from these unexpected places. The mountain experiences of each location has been a good reminder of the superiority of God’s wisdom and power in challenging times and places throughout the course of history.

Chrissy Kreider

Guatemala – an amazing experience

Guatemala/Mexico 2

It’s crazy to think that I have been in Guatemala for a week. For it seems like just yesterday I was saying goodbye to all my friends and family, boarding the bus and getting on the plane to spend my semester in Guatemala and Mexico. My time here has definitely been a different experience, but an amazing one.

I live with a family that is extremely extroverted, they love to sing, dance, and do so many different things. I tend to be more shy and an introvert, so at times it can be overwhelming, but I wouldn’t change it in a heartbeat!

This week we had a guest speaker who came to talk to us about Guatemala’s history. It was really interesting to learn about. We learned that 10% of the population owns 86% of the land, and that they only ended their civil war in 1996. We also visited the National Cemetery and the landfill. Learning about the landfill was really something. I could picture the landfill in my mind but to actually see it in person was truly amazing.  And to think that people actually pay to go into the landfill so they can look for material to make money.  After seeing people in the landfill looking for things, it really made me appreciate what I have at home.

On Wednesday this week was my birthday, so I’m not going to lie, I was a little homesick.  It was hard not being able to call and talk to my family but my family here definitely made up for that.  They didn’t even know me for a week and they had a party for me.  I was truly blessed and touched to have them.  I am really looking forward to the rest of my time here. Learning about this culture and actually being a part of it is going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Hannah Artz

First report from Guatemala

Guatemala/Mexico 1Oh my goodness, I’m in Guatemala.  CRAZY.  I don’t know where to begin.  Get a hold of yourself, Brent.  Okay, here we go.

We spent our first night in Guatemala at CASAS, the school where we’ll be studying. The next day (Friday the 15th) we met our host families.  It was probably one of the scariest moments of my life.  I was extremely anxious all day.  I was about to pass out when they called my name and introduced me to my host father.  Let me tell you a little about my family!  My parents are Luis Roberto and Elsa Recinos Illescas.  I have three siblings: Andrea (20), Pablo (18), and Ilse (15).  And they’re all really nice!  Andrea works at CASAS, so I go with her to school every morning — we have to take three buses to get there. Pablo and I share a room, and we’ve talked about everything from driving to movies to Guatemalan history to our plans for the future.  Ilse has been pretty shy but she’s a Glee fan like me, so what’s not to love?

Here are some random thoughts about my time with my family so far: There is no hot water, so cold showers are quickly becoming my friends.  I have eggs for breakfast every morning, sometime with beans, always with bread.  My suitcase takes up half of the floor space in my brother’s bedroom.  I have about a zillion aunts, uncles, and cousins, and all of my little cousins are adorable (one tried to talk to me in German, which is not the same as English).  I feel like an idiot every time I speak — I say “si” and “bueno” all the time. We went to church and I may have lost my hearing but it was the best church service I’ve ever been to — so exciting and passionate even though I didn’t catch many of the words.

On Saturday, we took a group trip to La Plaza Central with Don, Esther, and two women from CASAS.  We had to go on a scavenger hunt of sorts that required us to read a map (not one of my strong points) and ask questions to Guatemalans (also not one of my strong points).  But it was actually a really good experience!  Most of the people we talked to were incredibly friendly, and we didn’t even get lost all that badly.  The market is intense and slightly terrifying.  I tried to barter but this little girl shot me down and made me pay the full price.  Fail number one in Guatemala.  I’m sure there are many more fails to come.

So far I’m exhausted but exhilarated.  I’m not homesick in the least, which kind of surprises me.  There’s so much to do and see and learn!  I feel extremely out of my element, more so than I ever have before.  But in a way it’s a good thing.  It’s incredible.

-Brent Anders

Safe arrival in Guatemala

Yesterday we arrived safely in Guatemala. We are tired, but in great spirits.

We are enjoying the warm weather!

Reports from Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa 7The excitement and array of things to do in Cape Town has kept the 27 of us busy exploring and enjoying every minute of these past few weeks in South Africa. We’ve ventured out into open air markets, traveled along the coastal peninsula to beaches and a penguin colony, hiked the overlooking Table Mountain, met Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and much more. The local rail line has been a great resource for us to explore so a few friends and I spent one of our days off soaking up the local beach in the town of Fishoek.

This past Friday morning our group traveled into downtown Cape Town to St. George’s Cathedral for a 7:15 am service where Archbishop Desmond Tutu presided over the service. It was an amazing opportunity to meet a man who took part in speaking out against apartheid and who is also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. A few students and I had heard him speak at James Madison University 2 years ago but I think it is safe to say we have so much more interest and appreciation for his efforts now that we have our hearts in the country of South Africa.

The ladies hiking up Table Mountain Saturday morning a group of 15 of us students were led on a hike up Table Mountain by my host parents. We began our climb at 6 am to get a head start from the heat and appreciated those few hours when the sun began beating down. When we reached the top and captured the whole city of Cape Town, the 9 hour day of hiking was worth it. After a good night of rest, we had another fun filled day on Sunday. We spent the morning at our host family’s church service and followed with the South African tradition of a braai. It was a great time for us to spend outside in the beautiful weather and connect with our host family. In the evening we ventured out to the gardens of Kirstenbosch for an outdoor concert with a performance by South African native, Johnny Clegg. The amazing music and beautiful outdoor atmosphere put a great close to a fun filled weekend here in Cape Town.

-Kelsey Yoder

University of Cape Town Since arriving in Cape Town, we have had the privilege of taking lectures at the University of Cape Town. The lectures occur every Monday and Wednesday morning from about 10:00 until noon. So far, we have been taught on the topics of Apartheid, the history of Islam in the Western Cape, cape slavery, and the history and settlement of the cape by Shahid Mathee, Nigel Worden, and Zwelethu Jolobe. All of these speakers are professors at the university, but are also very involved in book writing and political speaking. In fact, earlier in the trip we studied a book written by Nigel Worden. As a result, we have found the lectures to be very detailed and quite informative. Personally, the most valuable part of these classes has been the question and answer periods that follow the lectures. The professors are very willing to take on any and all the questions that we have in order to clarify and give context to what they have just spoken about. It is also a good way to better grasp the complex issues and difficulties that South Africa has struggled with throughout its history. Believe it or not, it has been nice getting back into the classroom setting! After the lectures, our group stays to discuss the book we are studying, a bible passage that has been assigned by Harlan, or simply our schedule for the days ahead.  Around 2:00 we hop on trains, buses, taxis, and cars and make our way back to our homes in the suburbs.

– Justin Reesor

Meeting Desmond Tutu We had to get up early this past Friday, that was if we were to take advantage of an opportunity to meet Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who played an important part in the ending of Apartheid.  So we got up early finding our way to the Cathedral downtown in any way we could.  Those of us who were lucky were given rides from our host parents while others took the trains and taxis.  Now, we knew there was going to be a service of some kind and were pretty sure that he would be presiding over it, but nobody knew quite what to expect.

We filed into the cathedral arriving in small groups.  The church appeared empty at first. Then we noticed some activity in the front and to the side in a smaller sanctuary.  We learned that this was where the service would be held.  There were only 20-30 people there besides our group of 27, but we didn’t see Desmond Tutu anywhere and began to wonder if we were in the right place after all.  All these thoughts subsided when the service began at 7:15 and the man we were waiting for came striding to the front.  It was a beautiful service, simple and intimate.  Afterwards, he shook everyone’s hand and let people take pictures.  Then, he changed his clothes and headed down the street to have coffee with his friends.

– Philip Tieszen