Category Archives: Guatemala-Colombia 2020

On Leaving Guatemala


“What does it mean to pack up your bags and go somewhere new? To leave family, friends, school, your way of living… and just restart in a new place, a new country perhaps? Well, these were my thoughts when we first left the United States in January, and I had similar feelings as we left Guatemala for Colombia this week.”

I started planning this blog post entry at the beginning of March.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

So, let’s restart.

What does it mean to be stuck in quarantine during a global pandemic? Not being able to see family and friends, an empty EMU campus, a quiet city, and confusion and worry throughout the world?

We are currently in unmarked territory, and of course, our cross-cultural group was in Guatemala when this all went down.

As of March 15, we officially knew our Colombia plans were cancelled because of COVID-19. The organizations thought it would be unsafe to have foreigners in the national capital, so we decided to change our plans and stay in Guatemala for the remainder of the semester. It was around this time that my free travel group changed our anticipated plans from Belize to Lake Atitlán within Guatemala because we feared that the borders would close within the week we were gone for Community Learning (March 17-21).

March 17 was a tough day. I said goodbye to my host family for the last time and arrived at CASAS sort of ready for a week of community learning. We were supposed to be joining Canadian Mennoite University for the service week, but their group decided to end their trip early and travel back to Canada due to COVID-19. Our EMU group decided to continue in the community learning week and we split into smaller groups and departed our separate ways Monday morning. I personally was travelling to Lake Atitlán. I was thrilled to get out of the busy cityand have some personal space from the group until Saturday.

Oh, how the tables turned yet again.

On our way to Lake Atitlán, our driver pulled over along the road and the CASAS leaders were talking quietly in the front. The rest of us in the van were confused about the unexpected stop.

“What’s going on?” someone asked. A few minutes later, we heard a response.

“President Giammattei had a national announcement this morning. The Guatemalan government closed its borders and the organizations at the lake do not want you guys coming out, so we are turning back around to CASAS” said one of the leaders.

“Oh.” That was all I could think of.

I just said goodbye to my host family, and now I’m not going to Lake Atitlán for the week? What’s next? There were a lot of emotions in the van on the way back. For me, I got that terrible feeling and that I denied the whole ride back to the city.

“We’re not going home. There’s not that many COVID-19 cases in Guatemala. We can still do other things for the next six weeks. This is my cross-cultural experience. I don’t want to leave now.” I kept telling myself.

We learned that afternoon that we were departing back to the states as soon as we could get a flight.

But I didn’t want to leave Guatemala. Not. one. bit.

Now, I feel heart broken. I keep asking, “God, why was my cross-cultural experience cut short?” or “Was this REALLY in your plan for me?”

Today is March 31. It’s the day we should have left for Colombia, but instead, we had our first cross-cultural Zoom meeting in our individual American homes. I was so happy to see my group friends and catch up with their re-entry experiences, but it didn’t feel completely right. I’m used to having meetings in the Guatemalan atmosphere. Are we really taking cultural learning classes through the computer for the upcoming weeks? When I first thought about writing this post, I thought we would be in Colombia now. I was not thinking THIS would be my reality.

“What does it mean to pack up your bags and go somewhere new?”

Change. A LOT of change. And I pray that God will be with us throughout this unknown journey and that he will guide our feet towards his light.”

-Andrea Troyer

Chichicastenango vendors

Guatemala: Joy in the Highlands

Feb. 24, 2020

We are told there is bad in the world. We are told of war, malnutrition, poverty, starvation. But to what extent do we truly understand how these bad things look in the everyday lives of people who are no different from ourselves? This weekend we got the amazing opportunity to live in the homes of an indigenous family in the Alta Verapaz which in turn allowed us to see a new way of life.

Eighteen white people standing in the back of a pick-up truck, driving through the mountains to arrive at tiny villages to be dropped off with complete strangers who knew little to no Spanish. Sitting at a table surrounded by people gawking at you and kids begging to hear you say the names of items around the room in English. Adults asking question after question, kids giggling at the word “puppy”, people requesting to take a picture with you. A whole swirl of emotions as you try to gain an understanding of the things around you. Dirt floors, no soap to wash your hands, bathrooms that are a hole in the ground, beds that are just wooden boards. And yet, there isn’t a single person to be seen that is not smiling or laughing.

We learn of the bad things, and then we assume that living in those bad things means you live a sad life. But I learned that people find joy in any and all situations. Happiness is universal and doesn’t have limitations. Everyone has the ability to smile or laugh no matter how they live or what challenges they face.

-Julie Crouse

Chichicastenango vendors

Guatemala: Faith Expressions

Feb. 17, 2020

Thirty days here
Lots of new experiences
So many questions…
Crowded buses but
The sweetest people you’ll meet.
Greeted with hugs and kisses
Yet divided through language.
Hot weather makes a beautiful day
long walks to and from school.
New people in your life
means long lasting friendships.
Volcán de Pacaya. Antigua.
Cerró de la Cruz. Markets.
Just a few places that encompass
the vast beauty of Guatemala.
Culture shock gets everyone
Sadness of missing home.
But with God’s love and those
around us, we will get through.
Five weeks gone
Eleven more to go
What is coming next?
Time will only show…

Well this is week 5 of 16… Crazy how fast time is flying here in the City of Guatemala! This week we have transitioned into learning more about religious expressions. Sunday we visited a church called Casa de Dios. It seated 11,000 people. Wow. 11,000 people all with the same mindset, to worship God!!

This whole week we were blessed with speakers who took time out of their day to come share their knowledge with us. Monday we learned about Pentecostalism and Neopentecostalism. Tuesday we learned more about Anabaptist Mennonites in Central America. And lastly, Thursday we learned about Liberation Theology in relation to Catholicism. Thursday we also took our final exam for our current Spanish classes!

Now that it is Friday, we are all packing, getting our minds and hearts ready for our trip to the Community Cloud Forest, Flores, and Tikal. This week overall has been one filled with learning new things. I am excited to see what the rest of the trip entails for our group. Despite the hardships, experiences and questions, I remember that “with His love, He will calm all our fears.” -Zephaniah 3:17

-Jodi Jones


Chichicastenango vendors

Guatemala: Expectations


I like to know what’s going on. Unfortunately, I don’t always in my host family. I have a couple of instances of this that come to mind. The first is with my host brother Jacob. He is in the army but comes home for weekends. Two weekends ago, I went along to take him back to the army and was told (I thought) that he was going to be gone for a month to take some courses. Then we came back from Antigua and Chichicastenango. I found out that he had been home that weekend, but now has left for a month. At least I am fairly certain, but I could have misunderstood.

The second was again when we got back from Antigua and Chichi. My host parents picked Caroline and me up from Semilla, and after we dropped Caroline off, I assumed we were going home. But then we stopped at a convenience store to pick some stuff up, after which again I assumed we were going home. But then we stopped somewhere else to buy bread before finally going home. Usually, I enjoy going along to run errands and don’t mind making unexpected stops, but that night I was tired and just wished they would tell me where we were going.

I am used to being an at least semi-independent adult in college, and not knowing what’s going on makes me feel like I’m a little kid. I don’t know if these experiences were caused by different cultures, different families, or just the challenge of communicating in a different language. But in any case, I’m learning that I expect to be told what’s happening but also that I won’t always be told. Hopefully, I’ll get used to it eventually and maybe even start to enjoy having a few more unexpected detours.

And here is a summary of the week’s events:

Monday 27th: free afternoon – some of the group checked out “Guatepaca,” a nearby thrift store.
Tuesday 28th: guest speaker Ronaldo Similox, a professor at the Mayan University, taught us about Mayan history, culture, and spirituality.
Wednesday 29th: EMU classes – celebrating October/November birthdays
Thursday 30th: visited Mayan ruins at Kaminaljuyu
Friday 31st: went to the ethnology and archaeology museum *banner photo of the group on the museum steps
Saturday: spent with host families
Sunday: visited Casa de Dios megachurch

-Verda Zook

Chichicastenango vendors

Guatemala: Observations on a Roof in Zona 7 de Mixco

The sun makes a halo in the air pollution as it falls behind the mountains.
A slight breeze plays with the leaves, my hair, and the laundry line.
My brother’s Honda jacket still hangs there. How many days has it been now?
Several dogs engage in territory disputes, paws and head visible over brightly-painted roof-edge walls. Barking.
Grackles soar over with their flap-glide flight, silent for a moment out of the day.
Chickens, however, are alive and well in La Brigada and make it known.
A distant siren could be a tardy policeman.
Swifts pass over, buzzing the rooftops with vibrating wings in their search for insects. There aren’t too many here.
If only I could move like these, chattering as I wheel over traffic on the Calzada Roosevelt. I’d be home in 15 minutes.
The parakeets, noisy in their furious flight, have crossed the city to their roosts. Until tomorrow.

The past weekend we traveled to Antigua Guatemala, originally known as Santiago, and once the capital. There are many beautiful churches in the town, including several massive cathedrals in brilliant yellows and oranges. There are also many shops with all sorts of touristy items. Antigua is a city that seems to have embraced its role as a historical destination. Overlooking the city, there is a forested hill called Cerro de la Cruz, which has a beautiful view of the city and the majestic Volcán de Agua, whose eruption and the subsequent water damage to the city caused the movement of the capital. Some of us explored the market a bit, including eating in the comedor there, for which I have no close comparison in the states. There are twenty or so small restaurants with their own sitting areas. Each restaurant is run by what appeared to me like a single family. It was good, cheap food, about $2 for a filling meal. Overall, Antigua was cool but confusing in contrast between “authentic” and “tourist” interactions.

We left Antigua Saturday for Chichicastenango to see the city and specifically the Sunday market. It was a beautiful market, but I had trouble with the consumerism and capitalism that permeated our time there. I learned to bargain, or regatear, walking around the market. And while it proved helpful in getting a better price for myself and others, it also made me feel guilty. Yeah, these people are trying to get more from us, obvious visitors, than they would ask from locals, but isn’t that the point of capitalism? To maximize profits? It is the exact same system that we (US companies) inflicted on people in Central America that allows us to get cheap food and goods. Also these prices are relatively high, but they are insanely cheap in dollars. Would paying a higher price help increase the standard of living in the area? Would it affect the sourcing of goods? Would it lower the environmental impacts? Am I even paying the value of an item at $10 including materials, labor, and shipping? Tourism tends to reject relationships between tourist and host and the responsibilities that come with relationships: of the tourist to learn about the host in a meaningful way; of the vendors to sell quality products; of the tourist to care about conditions for the vendors, manufacturers, and environment.
You might not be able to tell, but I enjoyed Chichicastenango. There is a majestic church, I had fun learning to barter, and the streets were full of colorful objects, interesting smells, and beautiful people. And I still have questions and reservations.

To wrap this up, I want to share a little about the birds here. It’s amazing the level of avian connectivity in the Americas. I have seen a warbler here on our compost pile that I have seen near my compost pile in Ohio. I also have seen birds found along the West Coast of the US from the roof. National borders literally mean nothing to these travelers. So far I have seen 39 species and the highlights include black-and-white warbler, Grace’s warbler, grayish saltator, white-eared hummingbird, and acorn woodpecker.

Que tengan un buen día,

-Jacobo Myers


Chichicastenango vendors

Guatemala: An introduction

La Primera Semana (The First Week)

We arrived on Jan. 9, and now it’s Jan. 19.  10 days feel more like 30 days.  Highlights and low-lights have included me coming down with tonsillitis for the 3rd time in 2 months, quickly getting antibiotics thanks to Peyton’s “host” cousin who is a doctor, hiking Pacaya Volcano (about an hour south of Guatemala City), students going to host families (they were mostly terrified, but the family-student matches were very well-made, which helped a lot), my kids and EMU students beginning Spanish classes last Monday, a guest speaker, Israel Ortiz, who gave a fantastic introductory overview of Guatemalan Culture and Context, field trip to Zone 1 (City Central Plaza, Palacio National – el Guacemelon, National Cathedral, Central Market, 6th Avenue pedestrian zone) on Wednesday, to El Mercado La Terminal in Zone 4 on Thursday, and to Cayala on Friday.

The contrasts between La Terminal and Cayala were overwhelming.  In La Terminal, people live in one-room “apartments” with 7-10 people.  They pay to use the restroom and more to shower.  We all felt extremely conspicuous walking through there, but our guides (from Puerta de Esperanza) wanted us to meet the families they work with, and the families smiled and welcomed us.  They were proud to have us visit.  I was moved to tears while walking down a dark hallway to reach one of their “homes.”  The stench of urine and trash was overwhelming.  The walls felt too close together.  How can people live in a place like this?  How can they thrive?  The answer is, they have no other choice, but they are not really thriving — they are only surviving.  Their smiles melted my heart.  I felt honored to be able to get a tiny glimpse into their lives — but I also felt anger, shame, horror, at their living conditions.  Empathy and sympathy combined.  We need both to make this world a better place.  Empathy to understand the other and sympathy to motivate us to take action where we can.

Many students and I felt overwhelmed.  How can anyone or anything make a difference here?  How can anyone or anything help? — The Good News was apparent through the work of volunteers and staff of Puerta de Esperanza, an organization that provides education for kids growing up at La Terminal as well as training on prevention of drug use/abuse, prostitution, domestic/relationship violence, and human trafficking.

What a week. I’m grateful for every moment.

-Laura Glick Yoder