Our time here in Guatemala is almost over. And I honestly am struggling to believe it. It seems as though just yesterday I was nervously anticipating meeting my family, struggling to understand anything anyone said to me, and marveling at the different new world I had found myself a part of. The past 7 weeks have absolutely flown by as we´ve experienced the first part of this incredible cross-cultural experience.
Now we are all preparing for a week of free travel, followed by a month in Puebla, Mexico. With this comes a mixture of both excitement and sadness. We get to travel to another country, learn a new culture, and see even more incredible sites! But at the same time, we are leaving behind so many friends and memories. My host family, with whom I have smiled, laughed, and shared daily life. The CASAS staff, from whom I have learned so much about Guatemala´s beautiful culture and tragic history. My Spanish teacher, from whom I have not only learned grammar, but also how to take life with laughter, even when the challenges one faces seem insurmountable. These are all people who have come to be a part of my life and have taught me so much about myself. Thus the prospect of leaving them behind is difficult to process.
I find myself wondering how Puebla can remotely live up to all the amazing things we saw and learned in the past 7 weeks. But yet the excitement of the unknown leaves me hopeful that we can continue growing and learning and being changed by the new cultures we find ourselves in.
Reflections on Guatemala
7 March 2012
Summing up eight weeks in Guatemala, learning at CASAS, and investment in the weekend trips, to name a few things from these past eight weeks, is hard. I will try my best to paint a picture that wraps up our time in Guatemala.
This past week has brought together loose ends. My host family continued to surprise me with their generosity and welcoming hospitality. Sunday, my host family, my host dad, mom, two brothers, and my cousin, sat down for lunch. My host mom quickly mentioned after the prayer concluded that this Sunday lunch was special because it was my last Sunday lunch with them. My host parents ordered Pollo Campero. I had not tried this Guatemaltecan fast food during my stay here, and according to my host mom, who said jokingly, I now have visited Guatemala because I ate Pollo Campero. Everyone relished the special meal.
As a parting thank-you and fun activity together, my host mom and I made a granola recipe from Virginia. We set out the ingredients as my host mom asked quantities and wrote down the recipe. When mixing the ingredients together, I stirred some, and then asked if my host mom wanted a turn. She eagerly replied yes. The next morning, we shared a breakfast of granola with milk and plantains. This taste of home was strange, yet comforting. Yet, the enthusiasm my host mom had when learning a piece of my home struck me.
Lastly, the conversation my host mom and I had yesterday afternoon is one worth recounting. We exchanged pleasantries when I returned home, and we talked in the kitchen as she prepared dinner. Her work was the subject. With sincerity, she told me she does not like what she does, which includes preparing meals, cleaning, and mostly, staying at home. She continues, though, because she wants to see her two sons through college. Her parents did not give her this same support, and she dropped out of college because of it. From her sacrifice, I discovered how important community is because without a surrounding community, one will not make it as far. A community, a family or a group of friends, benefits everyone involved.
From these three stories occurring within the last week, I will take how to celebrate well, an approach to life, and that my education matters. First, my host family ordered the best, Pollo Campero. I want to return with this same attitude of serving the best for each occasion. Second, my host mom eagerly scribbled the recipe and incorporated a piece of my culture into her life. Her step to learn about my culture was like a hug from home. I want to remember that making small gestures to learn about another’s culture goes a long way to bridging divides and building relationships, particularly as our group travels on free travel and into Mexico. Lastly, I cherish my host mom’s sacrifice for her children. Not everyone has the opportunity to attend college, let alone travel to Guatemala & Mexico for fifteen weeks. During this trip, I have crumbled stereotypes, built relationships, and discovered another culture. I want to make the most of this opportunity that all EMU students have, savoring each millisecond.
– Nels Åkerson
We called ourselves “Los Ochos Taquitos” (Eight Little Tacos). We traveled many hours and saw many sights. We were eight U.S. Americans, on our own, embarking on an adventure of a lifetime.
Our free travel adventure began on Thursday morning at 5:00am. Our group of eight traveled by two separate taxis to the Litegua bus station of Guatemala City. Our trip started out a little bumpy when one of the taxis didn’t show up on time to the bus station. Four out of the eight persons waited for 45 minutes without hearing a response from the other group. Luckily, about 1 hour later than planned, the rest of the four showed up and we loaded onto the bus. The bus was headed for Puerto Barrios, a small port town located on the eastern coast of Guatemala. The planned bus ride of 5 hours slowly turned into a 9 hour bus ride through traffic. We spent our time on the bus watching two Jackie Chan films and Puss n’ Boots. After a long bus ride, we finally arrived in Puerto Barrios.
Two days were spent relaxing in and getting to know the small town of Puerto Barrios. On Sunday, our group left by ferry to Punta Gorda, Belize. It was the ferry ride of a lifetime with our ferry master, Walter. We all got soaked with sea water and our skin was crusted with salt. Although uncomfortable, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. We arrived in Punta Gorda after an hour and a half. Once in Punta Gorda we caught a bus to Placencia. We arrived in Placencia as it was starting to get dark. We still had to find a hotel, so we made reservations at the first place we saw, located about 3 miles outside of town. A hotel named SEAKUNGA. We spent a night in this hotel which was located on the beach. Our plans changed due to the less than desirable conditions and we decided to stay closer to town. The next day we made new reservations at a nicer beach front hotel. We spent four days in Belize and had a wonderful time relaxing, playing spades, meeting new people, and eating traditional Garifuna food.
After Belize we traveled back by ferry, with Walter the ferry master, to a port town in Guatemala named Livingston. Livingston is a very small town located on the mouth of Rio Dulce (Sweet River). In Livingston, we took a wonderful river tour. On the tour we saw an island of birds, mangroves, and a castle. We also swam in a natural hot spring. We spent some time at an indigenous school and women’s co-op.
We traveled back to Guatemala City and met up with the rest of the group. It was wonderful to hear funny and scary stories about the other trips. We ended the free travel week by setting off fireworks outside of CASAS. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I am so glad to have gotten the chance to spend a week with 7 wonderful people who made the trip interesting and fun.
Let the good times roll
Our theme for the week was “just roll with it” and at times that was all we could do. My group consisted of 6 other people besides myself and we were headed for the beautiful beach of Tela, Honduras. The day before we left for free travel, the internet at the school didn’t work, so we could not look up the final directions we needed to get to our hotel from the bus station. All I knew was we needed to walk east once we got off the bus. Needless to say, God was watching over us and we got to our hotel safely and everything worked out! We spent most of the mornings soaking up the sun and relaxing on the beach. The water was perfect and the temperatures were very hot! The afternoons usually consisted of exploring the small town of Tela or hanging out in the hotel.
We took one excursion in kayaks through mangroves to see wildlife, but unfortunately the kids who came with us were too noisy and scared everything away. We also got to experience the Garifuna culture as we spent a few hours in the village after our kayaking trip. This was an interesting experience because we saw the traditional dancing of the natives and ate at an authentic restaurant.
Every evening we would make our own dinners because we had a hotel room with a kitchen. The last full day the five girls went out to the beach in the morning and Alex and John stayed back at the hotel to prepare lunch. Our expectations for lunch were not high but when we returned four hours later we were delighted to see chicken fajitas on the table and the smell of heaven surrounding us! What a great way to end the week! Our bus ride home was another interesting story because we didn’t have a plan once we got back to Guatemala City but when we arrived and walked into the terminal one of the staff members from our school was there to pick someone else up from the same bus and he offered to take us too. Yet again we all felt God’s presence and we know that he was watching over us and protecting us throughout this trip.
On March 17th, our free travel groups made their way back to CASAS in Guatemala City. My group got back around 10 p.m. and celebrated our last moments of free travel with a bang… literally. We set off some firecrackers outside of CASAS since we had some leftover from celebrating Steph’s birthday during free travel. It was difficult coming back to CASAS after a week of free travel, but it was nice to have a free day there for packing and doing our laundry. We met with Don to prepare ourselves for heading to Mexico the next day and also to find out the news we had all been anxiously waiting for: who we would be living with in Mexico. We also had group bonding while watching Bridesmaids.
The next morning we woke up at the lovely hour of 4 a.m. to head for the airport. We only had one minor problem in the airport when they couldn’t find our reservations, but fortunately it was all figured out and we made it to San Salvador and then to Mexico safely and without any more problems. After leaving the airport, we took a bus to meet our families. I was kind of nervous, but it all went well and Emily Hedrick and I were the first to be called to meet our family. We went to their house where we will be living, and spent that weekend adjusting to life in Puebla, Mexico. It’s been an interesting transition from Guatemala City to Puebla, since there are many differences, like being able to walk around at night and having one-on-one, two-hour walking conversations (all in Spanish) with “guias” (guides) every day.
While some parts of the transitions have been hard, so far I have enjoyed being in Puebla, since it has a lot of history and fun things to do like going horseback riding and to a VIP movie where you get to sit in a recliner and people bring you food. Although I miss CASAS, I think the institute we are at now will really help me with my Spanish, and I am looking forward to all the Wednesday excursions we will make to places like Cholula and Tlaxcala and Holy Week, which we will spend in Mexico City. In a short five weeks we will be back in the US, but during our time here I hope we will have great experiences and learn a lot.