Category Archives: Guatemala & Mexico 2010

Final reports from Mexico II

Guatemala/Mexico 11Family

The part of cross-cultural that I was most nervous about was being so far away from family without any real contact with them. I should’ve known that my fear was silly. Early in our time in Guatemala Sara asked a missionary couple we were visiting, how they can be away from their family for so long, and the answer is something that will stick with me for a long time. She said that of course it’s hard to be away from them but that you make more connections and your family grows. In that simple statement she taught us that family isn’t limited to family trees and blood relations, and every home stay that I’ve experienced since then has backed up her words. I don’t really understand it, but in the last three and a half months my family has become four times bigger than it was when we left January 14. And I’m not just talking good friends – I mean honest-to-goodness family. From my free travel family hugging me and saying “Te quiero, hermana” and hearing those words echoed from my Semana Santa family in Mexico City to movie night with and reassurances that “nuestra casa es tu casa” from my mom and sisters in Guatemala City and hugs and “no llores” from my mom and brothers in Puebla, I know that we’re family.

– Amy Layman

Universidad de las Américas Puebla - Allison Sherer and Karla Mumaw with host family Impacts

Wow, the semester is almost over. Tomorrow we get on a plane and fly home, okay EMU, but it’s close to home. We have learned a lot, seen a lot, and talked a lot. I have grown in so many different ways because of this, some of which I still can’t explain and don’t know if I will ever be able to. One thing that will stick with me is the impacts. This is a quote of what I said one time, “There is some reason I need to be here, I might find it out or I might not, but God wants me here.” I continued to use this idea to explain many more things on this trip and why I made the choices I made along the way. There is some reason God chose us to be where we are. We may find out now or in the future with our life paths or we may have had an affect on others we met, not knowing in what ways we affected them. I have met many different people, some I know their names and others I just pass on the way. All these people, including myself, could have had some impact. I know some things I learned from the people I met will change my actions in the future: being more grateful, conserving resources, using my Spanish, sharing their stories. How did I affect them? Is it the smile I shared, the interest I had, the relationship I made. It could be all of these, but this is the side that I will have the least interaction with, the side I will most likely never see. This is okay; we are not supposed to know everything. What I learned during these three and a half months will challenge my interactions in the states. To know that what I do is bigger than myself.

– Karla Mumaw

Final reports from Mexico I

Guatemala/Mexico10This week has been full of lots of different activities as well as end of year wrap-up activities. Each of us has been working very hard on writing a paper on a cultural theme about Mexico. Although the paper is not a huge stretch many of us have been nervous about the presentation over our topic in Spanish. Need less to say there has been a mix of emotions from happy to scared and nervousness throughout the group. Aside from the regular activities at the university we have been on a couple of excursions throughout the area.

On Friday we went and visited a bull ranch nearby. It was really interesting to see where the bulls are raised after seeing a bull fight; which is the end of the bull’s life. The ranch was decorated with lots of bull heads on the walls giving the name of the matador, where the fight was and how many ears the matador received after the killing. Each room was decorated to make you feel like you were in the rustic Wild West. Each ranch has its’ own chapel and they even hold their own services on Sundays.

After a delicious breakfast at the ranch we went out on a tour of the outside of the ranch. Each bull is classified by weight and breed and kept separate in different pens. We learned a lot about the bulls; one thing in particular that was interesting to me was that bulls are never attracted to the color red it’s actually a myth. The bulls are attracted to movement because they are color blind, so the color of the cloth has little to no importance to the bull.

We ended the tour by going to the practice ring on the ranch. Here we saw a two year old calf being tested for breeding qualities. The ranch hands took turns taking passes at the cow. The cow was quite young but she sure did have a lot of energy and knew exactly what she was supposed to do in that ring. Some of our group members even had the chance to go into the ring and try their hand at being a matador. A tradition on this particular bull ranch was to have their guests play dominoes in the bull ring. Each person would in turn run into the center of the ring and lay their domino on the ground and run back out; all the while the ranch hands are enticing the cow to charge and run around the ring. It would have been way more dangerous and scary had the cow been bigger!

As my time here in Mexico is coming to a close I am sad to be leaving my host family. All throughout this trip I have been met with such generosity and hospitality being a complete stranger to the country as well as each family and their homes. I have learned a very important lesson about hospitality and just how far people are willing to go out of their way for those they do not even know. Here I am in the middle of a country I do not know, with a foreign culture and language; yet here is a family that is willing to open up their home to me and to give me everything I need and more. I have made a very meaningful relationship with my host family and as a result have learned a lot about their culture and gotten to know my family in unique and wonderful ways. I can only hope that back in my own culture in the United States I can extend the same hospitality to those that come my way trying to adapt to a new and foreign language and culture.

-Nicole Yoder

Mexico City

Guatemala/Mexico 9It is hard to describe in full what we did on our weekend in the Federal District, which is more commonly known as Mexico City, but I will try briefly to describe to you some of the places we visited.

For many of us, who are not city people by any means, the idea of going to one of the largest cities in the world seemed more daunting than exciting. However, my presumptions proved wrong for I had multiple rewarding experiences on this weekend trip in the city. We visited many places including Teotihuacan, the Basilica de Guadalupe, and the National Palace among some of the destinations, but none were more fascinating to me than the Ballet Folklorico. Now don’t let the name ballet fool you. The Ballet Folklorico is for both men and women alike and is not intended for the aristocracy. Instead, the Ballet Folklorico was truly an amazing and unique cultural experience that I am very pleased to have experienced. The show’s purpose is to preserve the many unique styles of dances found across Mexico and to present them to the general public. This performance is usually held in the Bellas Artes theater house, but due to renovations, the dance was held in the Museum of Anthropology’s theater. Although it was held in a different location it was still a breathtaking experience none the less.

Mexico City -- Ballet Folklorico One cannot simply sit down and describe to you the performance with words alone. Indeed I hope not to do the show injustice for attempting to explain through words alone for one can only truly appreciate and understand the show if you see it with your own eyes.

Every region of Mexico has a different style of dance, music, and type of clothing so that everyone was intrigued with the performances. Each dance was unique in itself and the variety of colorful clothing and styles of music was truly pleasing to the senses. We sat in the front row and were so close to the dancers that one was able to feel the movement of air as a dancer passed by and one could even smell the different perfumes or colognes of the dancers.  And, if one was fortunate enough, one could even make eye contact and exchange smiles with the dancers.

Most of the dances centered around one of the following themes: love, hunting, and/or conflict. There were around ten different acts, each from a different part of Mexico. My personal favorite was the dance entitled Danza del Venado or ‘The Deer Dance’ in English. This dance is from the Yaqui people who still live apart from modern society and continue to hunt with bows and arrows. The Yaqui dance celebrates the life of a deer by portraying the final minutes of a majestic stag’s life, which is represented by a man wearing a hat with a deer’s head. The deer pranced around the stage for some time to the tribal drums beating in the background. Eventually, two Yaqui hunters came onto the stage and proceeded to shoot the majestic deer. As the stag began to die the drums started to slow down and one would realize the drums are supposed to represent the deer’s heartbeat. When the drums stopped beating, the deer finally died. This moving act was truly a unique experience that I was thrilled to have witnessed.

– Austin Shenk

Bull fight -- Puebla On Friday March 26, the only thing on anyone’s mind was the bull fight that we were going to watch that night. I was particularly excited to go to the bull fight. After reading “Mexico” by James A. Michener, I felt like I knew everything I needed to know for the bull fight. Once we got to the stadium, I quickly realized how wrong I was. There were so many things going on at once that I had to keep asking Sonnie and Amy what was going on. Despite the confusion, I felt like I was able to appreciate the whole experience more. The book “Mexico” made me realize just how dangerous this sport really is.

The matadors were everything I was expecting them to be. Their bright colored costumes were fun to watch as they sparkled in the light when the bulls ran past them. Each Matador went one at a time and they all got two bulls each. The second Matador is a famous matador from Spain, so he got a third bull at the end. He was my favorite matador out of the three. We left before he finished his third bull, but we were able to see the most exciting part of the whole performance. The last bull jumped the fence and started running around in the audience. The staff workers were able to quickly get the bull back in to the arena before anyone got hurt. It was the thrill that I had been waiting to see. After this I didn’t want to leave, but it was already 11 pm and everyone was tired. If I had another chance to go again, I would. The smoke and the crowds were well worth the experience. If you have a weak stomach for animals then I would not recommend this for you. For everyone else, if you get a chance to see a matador go up against an angry bull, then I recommend you go. And take me with you.

– Jerica Martin

Iglesia Evangelica Anabautista Fraternidad Cristiana -- Allison Sherer, Katie Jantzen, Brent Anders, and Sara Beachy This past week was Holy Week, and we spent the week with a Mennonite church in Mexico City. We did a variety of things around the city, like visiting one of the largest universities in the world, and going to Chapultepec and spending some time at a zoo, castle, or just wondering around. We painted the church, which was an all day project. In the evenings we spent time with our host families, talking with them or going to various places.

The church had services almost every day because it was Holy Week, and we participated, singing in some of them. On Thursday night we had the Last Supper and footwashing. I really enjoyed this part, and seeing the interactions between two very different groups of people. It was amazing to see how we could cross cultural barriers and connect with each other by the simple act of washing someone else’s feet. On Friday we went into town to watch re-enactments of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. This was very different from what we’ve ever experienced on GoodIglesia Evangelica Anabautista Fraternidad Cristiana -- Don Clymer and Sara Beachy Friday, because we saw in real life what actually happened. Saturday we went to a water park where we had baptisms, including Sara from our group. Following this we went to Tula, some ruins. One thing that stuck out to me this week was how we affected the people in the church. We had gone to serve them, especially by painting their church, but at the same time they were there to serve us. Since this was Holy Week, most of them had off from work, and they basically spent the whole week with us. Almost all of our meals were at the church, so they had to prepare large amounts of food. Anytime we went out into the city a group of them would accompany us. Many of them opened their homes so we would have a place to stay for the week. It was a blessing for them to be able to spend time with us, and build friendships. We had gone expecting to serve them and take part in their Holy Week celebrations, but I think that they served us more, and were very glad to do so.

Overall it was an excellent week, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it all. By the end none of us wanted to leave, because we had made such strong connections with the people in the church. The last day we were sad as we were taking pictures and saying goodbye.

– Allison Sherer

Mexico City -- Catholic reenactment of Christ's death Semana Santa – Holy Week. The time of year when we celebrate one man’s death. Pretty exciting, right? Heck yes it is! At least when that man happens to be the Son of God. And especially when He doesn’t stay dead. No, indeed He is risen.

The past week happened to be no less than amazing. Many things could be said about it. But the reenactment of the moments leading up to and culminating in Jesus’ death stand out clearly as one of the highlights of the week. So let me ask you something before I continue. How many times have you read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion? Probably too many. Why? It’s easy to forget what really happened and read with indifference the words “Pilate handed him over to be flogged” and “They crucified Him.” Do you realize what Jesus had to go through to save the world from their sin? DEATH! And not just death, PAIN! Pain so painful He was literally sweating blood before it all really even started, not to mention the nails piercing the nerves in His hands and virtually no more skin left on His back after the floggings. Surely we must not forget SO GREAT A SALVATION! Indeed He is risen.

One thing’s for sure – the Mexicans here sure know how to do a reenactment. Ya ain’t gonna see this in North Dakota! Complete with a “real” crown of thorns and “real” blood. The Roman soldiers actually flogged Jesus in the reenactment. Though it was with whips that were just made of rope, it still had to hurt. The soldiers yanked Jesus around like he was a dog, spat on him, and kicked one of his followers off of the stage. In the procession that followed Jesus’ sentencing, where Jesus and the two other prisoners carried their crosses to “Golgotha,” the Roman soldiers continually whipped the cross-bearers (though they stopped to rest a few times and make sure the people were actually okay). I have never seen a more accurate account of what actually happened to Jesus (at least concerning the violence) other than “The Passion.” I think the scariest part of the reenactment, however, had to be when the Romans put the crown of thorns on Jesus. The crown looked extremely real, and when they shoved it down on his head, blood dripped down his face. Thankfully, we found out later that it was indeed fake blood.

So was Jesus’ death in real life this bad? No, it was much worse. They didn’t care to stop on the way to Golgatha to make sure Jesus had enough water, and they didn’t care to use fake blood. Jesus actually died, and you can rest assured it was painful beyond what any of us have felt. But what happened three days later makes Jesus’ death a wonderful, joyful thing. Praise God! INDEED HE IS RISEN!

-Cody Stutzman

Free Time Reports from Guatemala

Guatemala/Mexico 8Las Gringas Perdidas
We went to Antigua, where we spent loads of money on gifts (feel loved). We dined on cheesecake and cappuccino slushies. A random shoeshine boy offered Sara some weed. (Don’t worry. She declined.) We raced around in tuk-tuks, and Amy lap-hopped around a chicken bus. When we left, we hopped the wrong bus. Fortunately, Karla is smart and we´re good at robbing ayudantes. When we got back to CASAS, we took a taxi to the bus station and enjoyed stadium seating in the bus to Carcha, where the adventures really began.

Las Faldas Confundidas
Sunday began early, as we left Carcha with Galen and Phyllis Groff, EMM missionaries, at 5 am. We picked up a random hitchhiker (OK, not so random. He was the MCC SALTer, Luke, who we hung out with all week). We rode 3 hours into the jungle in the back of a jeep, and then hiked another hour into a village. Sara was thrilled out of her mind. Sara and Amy were wearing traditional Q´eqchi garb borrowed from Phyllis, and were very glad on multiple occasions that they had worn pants underneath them. Our Q´eqchi hermanos and hermanas graciously fed us two delicious meals. After church and playing with the little ones, we hiked back to the jeep, where all skirts were promptly ditched. We drove another hour to Laguna Lechua National Park, where we hiked 45 minutes to a cabin on the lake. We spent the evening swimming, eating PBJ, staring at the most beautiful array of stars we’d ever seen, and talking about God around a campfire.

Las Nietas Quemadas
We got up early to see the sunrise. Sara went for a trek through the jungle by herself. Sonnie, Amy and Karla saw a crocodile in the lake. It was then when we understood why the sign said not to swim past 50 meter. (Amy and Sonnie did their best to ignore said sign… and were successful on multiple occasions, and everyone returned in one piece.) We feasted on bread-what-whats and were lazy in the sun for the rest of the day, until journeying back to the home of Galen and Phyllis in Carcha.

Las Patitas Amusadas
This was our first day volunteering at the Bezaleel school. We taught an English class, met the students and learned Q´eqchi words and phrases, most of which we promptly forgot. We followed Luke around all day like ducklings, and there was much laughter mostly caused by Luke. That evening, we moved in with our Q´eqchi families. Karla and Sara had an impromptu sewing lesson with one of their sisters. Sonnie and Amy were killed via “slingshot” more than 20 times, thanks to their 3-year-old nephew. All 4 paritas began to develop our tortilla making skills, to the amusement of our families.

Las Jugadoras y La Enfermerita

Upon our arrival at Bezaleel, we began our day with an impromptu music class on the soccer field. Then, we divided up to teach English classes. Amy is fairly certain the only word her class will remember is “kiss”. As part of English classes, we took some of the kids on nature walks. After English classes, Amy left with Phyllis to volunteer at the clinic and tour the hospital. Luke, Karla, and Sonnie taught the younger kids to play Capture the Flag, while Sara played soccer with the older ones.

The Dream Team
Our project of the day was to paint the library red and bright yellow. We got high on paint fumes and accomplished our task. For English class we taught American slang, including “What´s up?” and “ditto”. We sat and talked with kids for hours, exchanging Q´echi and English words and phrases. It was extremely hard to leave at the end of the day. When we got back to our homes, we had the delightful pleasure of taking bucket baths. (Seriously, we loved it!) After baths, Amy and Sonnie played Dutch Blitz with 2 of their siblings.

Semuc Champan- Karla Mumaw Las Aventureras Traviesas
We dawned early and took a micro bus to the town of Lanquin. Then we rode in the back of truck to Semuc Champey (thereby fulfilling all of our transportational desires). Semuc Champey is a gorgeous waterfall that Luke told us about. We spent the day swimming and climbing. And as we remembered sunscreen, we did not repeat the experience of Monday. We returned to Carcha to enjoy our last evening with our families. Amy and Sonnie attempted to balance water jugs on their Heads. Epic Fail! Karla and Sara played the ultimate Mennonite game… and won!

The Brokenhearted Girls
We´re sitting here in the park in Coban, dreading returning to Guatemala City. It’s been a day of goodbyes to new families and friends. And our hardest goodbye is yet to come, as we leave Guatemala tomorrow.

-Amy Layman, Karla Mumaw, Sara Beachy, and Sonnie Seigfried

Finca Ixobel, Tree House Cabin- Bethany Johnson, Allison Sherer Friday – we left as soon as we finished our classes at CASAS in order to get an early start
Saturday – we saw 2 quetzal birds
Sunday – we slept in tree houses
Monday – we slept in hammocks
Tuseday – we hiked/hacked through the jungle for 7 hours and visited 5 caves
Wednesday – we rode horses back from the jungle
Thursday – we spent 8.5 hours on buses and had peanut butter/Nutella sandwiches for lunch
Friday – we spent the day swimming through caves by candlelight, tubing down a river, and swimming in the pools of Semuc Champey
Saturday – we explored the incredible market in Coban

-Katie Jantzen, Allison Sherer, and Bethany Johnson

Exploration in Guatemala

Guatemala/Mexico 7We 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 Tikal -- Don Clymer and Stacy Kinkaida 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.

-Stacy Kinkaid

Tikal -- Bethany Johnson 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.

-Sondra Siegfried

Bringing peace, burying bones

One of our sessions included a field-trip to the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG).  Our entire time here everything we learn seems to connect in some way to the years of violence Guatemala has experienced.  Over 200,000 people have died or disappeared in the conflict and despite the signing of the peace accords in 1996, peace is still a hope more than a reality.

One way that peace is being pursued in this country is by shedding light on what has passed during the violence.  Stories are being told and lives shared.  The FAFG is working to help families discover and bury their dead loved ones.  A family can come to the FAFG and say that they think their relative was killed and buried in a certain spot.  The FAFG will use their technology to discover if there is a body there.  Then once they get a court order they can exhume the body, identify it, discover how the person died, and return it to the family to be laid to rest.  This gives the family the opportunity to properly mourn their dead, as many of them did not have the chance at the time.

We took a tour of FAFG’s facilities and saw their storage rooms.  The room was filled from floor to ceiling with boxes, each containing a skeleton and evidence, representing a person with a history and a family and a life lost in a pointless violence.  Despite, these seemingly hopeless boxes that filled the place, there is hope!  These people are being remembered and that alone can bring peace and relief from sorrow to the communities they left behind.  As a biology major interested in bringing peace and healing, this was a touching place, I hope to be able to use my knowledge to bless others as the FAFG does.

-Bethany Johnson

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

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