Category Archives: Guatemala & Spain 2019

Asturias, Spain & the Camino de Santiago

23 April 2019

It’s a place that reminds me of home, but feels utterly alien. We are constantly surrounded by green mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, with only a strip of land in between. Yet it is not my way, my camino, that draws my eyes as it may have in the US. It is the absolute contrast that I find in sweeping my eyes from left to right, rather than the dirt under my feet. Everyone calls Ireland the “Emerald Isle”, and thus from what I’ve seen, Asturias should be called the “Emerald Shore”. It is here, through conversations, through interacting with nature that God has opened my eyes and helped me to see. I see that, despite all my worrying, things turn out well. I see that, despite all my work, all my knowledge, I am insignificant to the world, yet I can do so much. I see that, despite my strengths, God can work through my weaknesses, but only if I can let myself be vulnerable and trust him. Trust him to guide my feet as I follow his way; trust him when the path curves and doesn’t make sense; trust him to put me exactly where he needs me, when he needs me, especially when I think I know better. God’s way is like the Camino de Santiago. It twists and turns, is muddy, has crossroads, and is cluttered with whatever is blocking the way. But the blue and yellow shell signs pointing the way always appear. The mud eventually turns to dirt and to grass, and there is always a path through the obstructions. Following God isn’t always clear, but if we follow the way of Jesus, we’ll find a warm place at our journey’s end.

-Austin Engle


Spain: Cadíz

From markets filled with fish, fruits, and fresh breads
To watching the sunset each night on the beach surrounded by friends
Host families, street music, living with a partner, and plenty of new food
When in Spain there’s no reason to worry, never a day seemed blue
Doing good takes not much, if the heart is feeling giving
Some apples, oranges, and crackers may mean an extra day of living
It’s not often you see so many stray cats, scattered along your walk to school
Yet we see plenty of the fancy pet dogs, in their sweaters looking cool
Learning is fun, with classes taught by those who love to teach
Classes four days and no homework, who wouldn’t want to spend Fridays at the beach?
Cadíz is the place to be, to study, to explore

But the adventure won’t stop here, there are still two weeks more

~Kellie Serrell

A text to my parents

Still studying, this is the last week of school though. We have an exam and final presentation on Wednesday and Thursday this week and we leave at noon on Friday to go to Córdoba for a few days and then to Llanes on the north coast for 4 days, and then after that we have free travel and returning to the US. Learning Spanish is harder here, since we’re all in one group together, and I have the worst Spanish out of everyone, but I still feel like I’ve been learning. Last Saturday and Sunday we were in Ceuta, which is a Spanish city on the north coast of Africa (surrounded by Morocco), learning about immigration. The Spanish border is appalling similar to the US border with Mexico, minus the guns. People desperately try to make it into Spain and a few do successfully, but the vast majority don’t make it and either get deported or held by Spanish border control. Some people who make it into Spain destroy their passports and official documents so the border patrol doesn’t know where to deport them to, when they are caught.

~Andrew Nord

Guatemala: A day in my life

Reflections on a day in my life in Guatemala

Every morning I feel a small tug from sleep by my sister at 4 am. Phone flashlight, towels thrown, and makeup to be applied in the light of the hall. When she shuts the door to leave for her long commute, I am left to sleep for 2 more hours…

6:30 alarm sounds accompanied by pit bull puppy growls, dishes being washed outside and Spanish worship songs. My sister yells through the window “¿estás viva?!” She’s surprised every day I didn’t die in my sleep.

Dad is always full of animation to see me in the morning. Even with tired eyes and sleepless nights, he makes a bomb breakfast. My favorites are eggs with una salsa, tortillas, and beans, Nescafé and pan dulce if I’m lucky.

I break conversation or silence to brush my teeth with the door open so my sister can continue to tease her “hermana gringa.” “Con cuidado” says my dad and sister, and I’m off with a prayer/blessing.

I walk to Andrew’s house (other EMU student), there is a rhythm to my walk orchestrated by my neighbors. First comes the dogs on the roof who come out to greet or growl. Then comes the older couple walking their dog, then that man wearing too much reflective gear on his bike; it ends with the older man at the corner grinning, “bye bye” he says. No it wasn’t creepy, just eccentric. The sun, the wind. I rap on the door of Andrew and his mother invites me in. I greet the daughters and son in that classy, bohemian, houseplant paradise until Andrew shuffles in with his sandals and massive sombrero: We walk to the bus station and cram into that hot, crowded bus pumping rageton. “Pasaje en mano, dale, dale” says the money collector. He rapidly spews nice sentiments, not wanting to be a bother, tells us we’re all very nice as he pushes more and more people into that bus. I sway in the bus, shifting, move on my tiptoes, ducking as people enter and leave. We jump off the bus, quick to get off before they close the door, quick to get past the back of that bus and the black soot sure to follow.

We arrive at school CASAS. I fill a cold mug with coffee, sit in the sun, switch to shade and greet my friends. I watch my teacher Albertina strut in with her head held high and all the confidence and command of womanhood. I mean that, she has a presence. The gardener and Reina, who makes our lunches, greets us.  Alfredo who also works there, but is closer to our age greets us. He’s an incredible painter by the way. I cram in homework I didn’t have the motivation to do the night before and drag myself up to the third floor where our classes are held.

In class we study grammar, intermixing the subject with real conversation, debates and stories about boys, the bus, questions, beliefs. Our class is often rightly accused of laughing, yelling and talking too loud. Albertina is patient with our sass, exaggerated complaints and growing Spanish. She plays music, she tells us to get up and dance and lets us get up at any time to refill our coffee cups. Somehow, I learned more about life and Spanish in that class than in any class before.

When I finally return home it’s about 5:00. Andrew and I walk the highway talking about faith or lack thereof, silly ideas and relationships. We greet who we pass. The boys sitting outside the mechanical shop giggle and practice their English on us, a mother, her husband and baby have a little snack stand where I regrettably never bought anything. We cross the streets, me running faster than Andrew. We turn corners and walk under the tarp creating a makeshift restaurant with plastic stools on the sidewalk, an open grill, scraps of food shoved to the side. Trash, buses, and motorcycles cover the streets. We wait to cram into the microbús. Smiles, curious looks, and random conversation may start with our fellow passengers. We yell for our stop and we’re finally to our neighborhood. We greet the people outside the local tienda. They recognize us by now and make sure to greet us. I reach my house and rap on the door. Eventually my brother or father comes. They’ll hind behind the door and slowly show their face as if they don’t know me or throw open door with a hug and kiss. We recount our days around coffee or tea and pan dulce. Henry talks extensively about his day in the hospital, Julian is accused of not eating enough and then there’s the joke of needing exercise which only Henry and Lorena partake in. Maybe there’s a telenovela on tv, the news or animal channel until it comes time to eat. I put out the vasos, set the table. “Cuantos personas somos?” asks my sister or mother because I can’t count. Mitz nails me in the side and we accuse each other of being too crazy, singing or dancing badly or talking too loud. After dinner we read a chapter of the Bible. It’s horrendously boring. We are in Leviticus. Everyone fights to keep their eyes open, winking and slapping each other to stay awake. Discussion follows mostly between my dad and brother, my sisters (whom are typically more insightful) may share a bit too.


I wish I could share the total richness, push, grime, fullness, belly laughing, warm days, but you’d have to be here for that.

-Maya Dula


Guatemala: Living in the moment

Imagine this: riding a boat on Lago Atitlan, a lake so blue and beautiful, you can hardly believe the toxins and pollution it contains. A lake surrounded by tall green volcanoes covered in green trees, coffee plants, colorful, touristy markets, and people’s homes. Imagine wandering the streets, sun on your face, admiring and buying the beautiful textiles (which you can’t help but wonder who made them, and for what price), making (somewhat) feeble attempts at bargaining. Feeling somewhat out of your element, yet feeling oddly welcomed into a place that is know by some as “gringo-tenango”. Indigenous people walking the streets in traditional Mayan dress, as you drive past in a tuk-tuk or standing in the back of a pickup, laughing at the tears streaming down your faces from the wind. The warm hospitality you feel from being welcomed into a stranger’s home, eating the meals that they’ve prepared for you, and sleeping in the bed they’ve made for you. Breathing in the dust as you play soccer with the local children, your heart filling with joy as they gather around you, excitedly sharing all of the words that they know in English, chatting enthusiastically with you in Spanish, and attempting to teach you some words in their native tongue, tz’utujil. Trying to live in the moment, taking in all of the sights and sounds, watching all of the people you pass by, a spectator in their everyday lives.

-Ruth Reimer-Berg

My weekend in Coban was a beautiful experience. It opened my eyes … staying with a family that did not have much, and realizing these people are still happy and grateful for what they have. I kept looking at my life and their life, and thought about how much of a privilege it is to be able to go to school, it’s also a privilege to be able to travel, have a car etc. It was beautiful to see my host mom and her kids gathered around the fire interacting with each other.

-Akiel Baker


Do No Harm

After reading an article titled “Do No Harm”

This article really struck me and pleased me at the same time.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I have this negative connotation towards mission groups.  I loved hearing [the article’s author] Dennis Smith’s sharp critique on this subject. I can’t quite pin where this judgment for mission trips stems from for me, but as I have grown and have expanded my views on religion, the thought of going on a church-based trip – with the belief that it is a “God-given right” to help people in Central America – with a group who, most likely, is mostly white, does not seem very enlightening to me.  While I was reading Smith’s article, I couldn’t help but think about all of the week-long mission groups that have passed through CASAS; most of them white, most of them with the same sized luggage that I brought for an entire semester, and most of them with little to no Spanish skills. This article, while it brought more views and a great critique to the table about week-long mission trips, did not make me feel uncomfortable. I maybe felt embarrassed for the culture that we Americans bring to others, like Guatemala’s hospitable culture.  I think that’s one of the biggest setbacks I have as a student being here in Guatemala. It’s hard for anyone to set their culture aside and embrace the culture surrounding them, but I’ve truly tried to make a conscious choice to be aware of the culture around me and be respectful of it.

I’m not sure if I’m correct, but the biggest “lesson” that I take away from this reading is, if you aren’t willing to take the time to appreciate and learn about other cultures, a mission trip trying to “help” the “poor third world country” is really doing more harm than anything else.  To me, it only reiterates the subconscious dominance we feel with our American culture.

-Lori Armstrong


Guatemala: To be Mayan


There are many things I’ve learned about the Maya, many things I’ve seen and felt and read. To be Mayan is to carry weight. Literally, Mayans carry weight all the time — baskets on their heads, bundles on their backs. But, in another sense, there is a greater more permanent weight that Mayans carry. This is a historical weight. This is a weight of rich culture, of back-bending harms done, of stories told and not told, of traditions lost to modernization.

In some ways, the Mayans I have seen carry this metaphorical weight more visibly than the baskets or the bundles. It is in their stature, in the way they walk, in the way they avert their eyes and choose their words. It is the physical legacy of societal harm done and continued

And where is the beauty of this culture? They carry that too. And too many times it’s the only thing we see.



Cacao to Chocolate

Cacao to Chocolate

I am a colony of cacao beans,

sitting in my shell nobody to disturb me

A loud crack heard,

the shell that I call home is being broken into.

Five long fleshy weird things from the bright blue abyss,

reach out and grab me from the only place I know

I’m then wrapped in a blanket of green

for days upon days.

My new home starts to grow on me

though I’m then exposed to a very intense light from above

that strips me of all my moisture.

The five long fleshy weird things return

Only to toss me on a flat surface surrounded by fire,

A heavenly scent soon reaches me

I then realize it’s coming from me.

Once the fire dissipates I”m thrown into

Some sort of half sphere,

Where an oval-y rock comes out of nowhere and beats me.

After hours of torture I discovered that

I’ve taken on a new form,

One similar to liquid but rather sticky.

I’m suddenly pushed into a silver cylinder

Along with white sprinkles, a yellow rectangle

white powder, and clear liquid

where we are then spun around and around

until we become one.

The giant being from above shouts,

“Chocolate con leche” with so much joy

They then devoured me until nothing of me was left

But I’ll gladly die knowing I made them happy.

-Skyy Brinkley


Guatemala: Welcome

“I feel tall,” said Maya as we were talking about what we noticed in Guatemala after a week. I couldn’t help but laugh at her comment because I couldn’t relate and I thought it was comical. I actually feel like I am an average size here in a funny way. In the United States I am shorter [than most], but here I am not the shortest one. I have seen various people of different color, size, height, and languages.

The one difference that I admire and love about this country is the open society it is. Strangers just come up to talk to you and acknowledge your presence. People are so welcoming and friendly. I sometimes wonder if America could ever be that way. While walking around, I see and feel the liveliness this country has. The streets are filled with people, the kids are filling up the playground, the traffic is full of cars and buses filled with people, and there is not a place where people are not gathering.


Despite the corrupt government, tragic history and living conditions, the people in Guatemala open their arms and homes to newcomers. I have experienced that during my stay with my host family and CASAS. They welcomed us as well as encouraged us to learn and understand their country to deepen our connection with them. They also want us to try to learn the language, even if we mispronounce words or speak in Spanglish. I have learned so much about this country already, but there is more to know. I am eager to see what all I’ll learn and see in this beautiful, welcoming country as we continue our travel.

-Liz Huffman


Guatemala: The Border

From our first week in Xela, Guatemala and Tapachula, Mexico where we learned about migration throughout Central America into Mexico.

Response to the Border

From the moment we all walked up the steps that over looked the border, I was rendered speechless. I saw sand and graffiti on the buildings and walls and my interest was piqued. As we walked along the wide path into the local community, I noticed people staring at our small group of diverse students. Some of the people in the local community blatantly walked up to members of our group and asked for things such as money or the technology that we had on us, and from that moment forward I had my guard up. As we walked further into the community, I kept noticing the locals checking us and I wondered what ran through their heads and what their impressions of us “Americans” were.

Another thing I noticed was our tour guide (journalist from Mexico who covers the border) checking his surroundings and checking on his camera and personal items. I wondered what it must be like for him, showing us foreigners around the border as people were crossing along the river. I noticed people within our own group getting antsy and wanting to leave. Being there at the border made me think about the hundreds of people that have crossed it or tried to cross it, and in that moment I felt sad for the people who have no choice but to leave their homes and country. I feel anger at the fact that people have to live like this and at the governments/countries at fault.

One of the last things I remember from the border is seeing a woman crossing the river that borders Mexico and Guatemala. It made me think of the stories my mother told me of her time growing up in South Sudan, walking miles along dirt roads with a bucket of water on her head. I thought how different my life could have been. As we parted ways with the journalist I thanked him for being vulnerable enough to show us the border and to be seen with us, regardless of what it might look like to the locals and what their thoughts of him were. His response to me was he feels like “it is his job to show people around the world what is going on in his country, in hope of spreading the word so that people who need it can get help.”

-Rebecca Yugga


Today we visited the border, near the city of Tapachula. Last night when we crossed into Mexico, it was dark, so we couldn’t actually see anything other than the official border crossing.

In the daylight, the stark contrast between the official, legal crossing and the unofficial crossing became much more apparent. At the official crossing, all our bags were checked twice, once for fruits and once for guns. We had to fill out cards with personal information, and we would be fined upon exit if we didn’t have a part of them (the cards). We had to wait in line for 30 minutes to get a stamp in our passports. At an unofficial crossing, it is possible to wade across the river in 15 minutes, or pay a raft 10 Quetzales for a trip across. Even more striking, however was the approximately equal police presence at the legal and the illegal police crossing. The police officer checking my bag for guns could have been strolling down the beach the next day, watching thousands of dollars of goods and hundreds of people cross the river.

It is certainly frustrating watching the governments’ indifference. We were searched twice waited more than an hour total, when we could have crossed the river on a raft like thousands of other people who don’t have the privilege of a powerful passport. To be clear, I’m not complaining about the small inconvenience my group experienced, but rather the arbitrariness of the border and how it is used to stratify people into those with enough money, power, or the right birthplace, and those who have none of those. And the authorities couldn’t care less?

I would cross the border on a raft to send a message. Not that the unofficial crossings should be shut down, but that the official border crossings should be shut down. They serve no purpose other than delegitimizing the economic necessity (of crossing the border daily) for thousands of people, Guatemalans and Mexicans alike.

-Andrew Nord



Guatemala: the highlands

On the road yet again. We’re in the highlands, the north. As we climb higher, the trees begin to look like home. Everything else is different, but the rolling hills, the mountains, and the pine trees echo home. There is not ten feet of straight road. The car wash signs on the side of the road are inexplicable in English. I see Mayan women in traditional dress walking with young children. There is graffiti on the cliff sides, worn away, but still present. We pass old school buses traveling up the mountains and they pass us back traveling down.

There is almost no piece of land that is not in use. Even the steep slopes are marked by the lines where corn and other foods meet. Groups of bikers brave the long climb punctuated at either end by cars or motorcycles for protection. From here the cities look like toy villages, the kind I used to play with as a child. Still there are signs and billboards that break my enchantment, gas prices and tire repairs, fast food and pain relievers, mattresses and resorts, reminds of everything human everything broken and beautiful, pass us by on the road to the border.

-Olivia Dalke