January 29, 2008
¡Hola de Guatemala!
Arrival in Guatemala last Monday felt very surreal as we coasted down the runway. We were quite fatigued since our plane had been delayed an hour and a half due to the captain's broken head rest. Feelings of excitement and apprehension overwhelmed the group as we scanned the city lights from the plane.
Guatemala is known as the land of eternal springtime. Everything is lush and green, temperatures rising to the mid 70´s during the day and cool, yet comfortable temperatures in the evenings. Tans will not be long in coming.
Our first night was spent in CASAS, a four story, white building with balconies on each floor overlooking the courtyard below. We woke up early the next morning ready for a full day's worth of orientation. Family stays began Tuesday evening with half of our group taking the hour long bus ride to La Brigada and the rest to Zone 6.
Buses, also known as "chicken buses" are like old school buses painted all different colors with poles drilled in throughout the ceiling. The buses are crowded to the most extensive use of the word. Imagine packing a dorm room past its full capacity with more people shoving their way in and some hanging their bodies out the door. Amy Boshart couldn't find a place to stand or sit and thus settled for the dashboard. This "moshpit" situation provides ample opportunity for pick-pocketing. Erica's back pocket was slit open, but fortunately it was a false pocket sewn onto her jeans and no money was taken. These buses seem to have a mind of their own; crossing medians, stopping to get gas, slamming on the brakes instantaneously, or managing to get a few feet of air off a hill.
As for life here in Guatemala, we have learned so much in the past few days. We have four hours of intense Spanish class in the mornings and cultural exploration in the afternoons. Yesterday we took a trip to the city dump and cemetery. Unlike the States, Guatemalan culture includes burying their dead above ground in tombs. There is a vast contrast between those families that have obtained much wealth and those that have little. The Castillo family, who own the major beverage corporations, literally built themselves an Egyptian pyramid. To the right of this is the "filing cabinet" system where the poor can bury their dead if they are able to pay rent every few years. If a tomb cannot be purchased, the body is then thrown into the city dump.
Acknowledging the reality of the city dump was quite sobering. Among the trash and decomposition of waste there were families with small children wading through looking for food to eat or plastic to recycle in exchange for money. Paying no mind to these people, city workers pushed the trash off the deep ravines with a bulldozer. Because there is so much trash, the city workers can't see the families and therefore, death is also part of this reality. It was said that there used to be thousands of families digging through the garbage. Now, however, because of organizations raising money to put kids in school there are less families needing to search through each bag in order to survive. It was good to feel that there is still hope.
It has been an adjustment to accommodate ourselves to this culture with cold showers in the morning, the necessity to be home before dark, two mile walks to and from the bus stop, and interesting food combinations we've never experienced before. Variations of sickness have been circulating around the group ranging from bronchitis, fevers, to homesickness. Many have reported that it has been especially lonely in the evenings while at their host families and English has simply not been an option.
However, we are thoroughly enjoying our time here, both through the challenges and the immediate arrival of spring! Continue to pray with us as we struggle and grow through this journey.
Benditas de Dios,
Erica & Jess