We left for Tikal, Peten, at five in the morning. Most of us were dead on our feet until we received our brown bag breakfasts consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and yogurt. As of lately, peanut butter has become a hot commodity in our group. You could bribe someone with just a jar of peanut butter. We took a small plane that arrived in the densely forested Peten around eight in the morning. And surprisingly, it was not hot. Apparently, a cold front was going through the area, which proved quite nice as we hiked through the jungle that surrounded the ruins at Tikal. The Mayan ruins were beautiful and inconceivably old (proving that there is something older than Profe Donaldo). To reach the top of the tallest pyramid, we had to climb wooden stairs, which might as well have been a ladder. There above the trees, we could see the tips of the other pyramids and the mountains far off in the distance. How strange it must have been for the Mayans to see this world, a vast expanse of trees that seemingly ended where the mountains began. In Mayan tradition, they tell a story about ancestors who could see everything in the world. Nothing was hidden from them. Had the Mayans been able to see the whole world like their ancestors, perhaps they could have seen beyond the mountains that bordered the valley. But as it was, it seemed that everything ended with the mountains.
After lunch, we headed to our hotel, El Gringo Perdido (in other words, the lost white guy). The hotel was snuggled against Lake Peten Itza. Our little rooms, covered with a thatched roof, opened onto a beautiful view of the clear lake, which provided some excellent swimming all weekend. There were also coconut trees, which Cody shimmied up and retrieved an unripened coconut from. We ate our meals at the hotel, which disappointingly did not include tortillas, but the homemade bread was very good. And for supper, we even got dessert, quite a commodity seeing as dessert is not a norm in Guatemala. The geckos, monkeys, and brightly colored birds were the only things that called us back to the reality that we were, in fact, in Guatemala.
On Sunday afternoon we left for the airport, making it back to Guatemala City in an hour, and the general consensus was that we never should have left Peten…..and used more sunscreen.
This past week, Jessica and I stayed in Coban for an extra day, because my Compassion child, Blanca, lives in town called Tamahù which is just south of there. A man named Ivan from the Guatemala City Compassion International office was supposed to pick us up at 9 a.m. Unfortunately, there was a teacher’s strike which blockaded the highway and didn’t move until noon. And when Guatemalans are stuck in traffic, they just drive in the opposing lane, which, of course, creates a massive traffic jam. Poor Ivan spent 5 hours in traffic, and finally arrived at our hotel around 3 p.m. Fortunately, Blanca and her family live within walking distance of our hotel, and the director of the Compassion project where Blanca goes to school had brought them to our hotel earlier in the afternoon.
The visit in itself was not terribly exciting. The hotel had a playground, so we stayed there and played for a while and talked. Blanca is very shy and quiet, so her brother Henri and her dad Filoberto did most of the talking. Jessica took lots of pictures. On the surface, it was rather platonic, but it’s something that has continued to be on my mind and heart for the last week. For the last almost 5 years, I have received letters and pictures from this little girl, and I’ve spent the last 6 weeks learning about her country. Somehow this meeting was more of a culmination point, and it was incredibly humbling. Filoberto thanked me multiple times for helping his daughter. Yet, I feel as if I am somehow the one who has been blessed. It’s an overwhelming honor to be able to give this gift to this family. Even as I sit here, it’s a struggle to express how much this one simple thing meant.
For the last several weeks, I’ve had a difficult time seeing the poverty and brokenness of Guatemala and being unable to do anything helpful. It’s so easy to be completely overwhelmed by the violence, both past and present, and by the number of people who are barely surviving. Meeting Blanca has made me realize that though I can’t change the world or Guatemala, I can change the world of one little girl in tiny Kek’chi village. And it’s made me realize how big God is; that He can bring together two random people – a college student from Pennsylvania and a little girl from Tamahù. I feel incredibly privileged to be part of what God is doing in Guatemala.
As a slightly humorous after thought, we left Tamahù around 4:15 to make the 4 hour trip back to Guatemala City. There was an accident, and Jessica and I had the pleasure of experiencing a Guatemalan traffic jam. And poor Ivan got to spend two more hours in traffic.