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Quarantine on Phuket

Posted 14 September 2021

Today, we arrived in Phuket, and I write this as I hungrily wait for dinner. I am looking forward to sleeping in a bed because we had about 38 hours of travel. Driving through Phuket felt surreal. There were pineapple stands and little shops and so many people on motorcycles. I could not have possibly taken it all in at once. I noticed that there are many shrines for the king and the queen. Is there a princess? There’s also a lot of architecture and decoration relating to Buddhism. It is interesting to see how different cultural structures differ depending on the religion of the area. Quite frankly, I am exhausted and I write in this journal with the intent of keeping myself awake. I could easily fall asleep in this chair. It is hard to believe any of this is real, and I’m looking forward to the more academic side of this trip.

– Hannah Leaman, Senior

I can’t believe we made it! I will admit that getting here was so much fun; navigating the airport and long flights, staying up late, and covid tests (all negative). The Novotel is so beautiful. We are right on the beach, with spectacular views of the ocean and mountains. About a 20-minute walk is Kamala City where we have done our shopping, eaten delicious food, and explored the sights of life here. 

We have done a lot of fun things here while also taking Thai language classes and a History of China class. We have gotten to go around the island of Phuket to an elephant sanctuary, downtown Phuket, a shopping mall, seeing Big Buddha, and a private yacht for going to different islands and swimming in the ocean. Our classes are also so much fun. We are all interacting, learning Thai in the classroom, and then going out in the town implementing what we have learned. For example, we are learning how to get around the city, order food, and go shopping. 

I am definitely coming out of my comfort zone from trying different foods to trying activities. I am definitely enjoying myself with people and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. 

– Partha Roy, Senior

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On Leaving Guatemala

3.31.20

“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

1/30/20

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


 

Europe: A final thought

I haven’t really been able to process everything I’ve just seen and experienced and done over the past three and a half months, and I think it is going to take me some time to do so. I’ve learned so many things. But one thing that sticks out to me as of this moment that I feel is important to mention, is that if anything, I’ve learned how much I don’t know. This cross-cultural experience has taught me that I have so much to learn and so much more growing to do. I think

before coming on this trip I knew there were other cultures, religions, opinions, and ideas than my own but it wasn’t until now that I recognized and understood that.

I’ve been learning about other cultures and religions to understand. Why do practicing Muslims perform ritualistic prayers five times a day? What does it mean to them? Why do those living in the Czech Republic cling to the theatre to help them communicate about politics and their government? What does that say about their history? Why are there so many extravagant churches in Central Europe built to glorify God? What does that say about Catholicism and religious influence? My mind has expanded to understand how truly big our world is. I’ve gained more skills in collaborating with others, and I’m more ready than ever to continue traveling and learning about other cultures to understand. To listen. It pushes me to evaluate my own values and beliefs and why I think the way that I do. And I think a step forward would be for us to continue learning to understand, so that we can better work together. We need to do that now more than ever.

-Anna Smith

On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us

Europe: Immigration in Austria

24 October 2019*

On September 27th, I had the privilege of playing soccer alongside refugees in a tournament that was part of “Langer Tag der Flucht” (long day of the escape), a full day event devoted to the stories of refugees in Vienna, Austria.  As I was enjoying the sport I love and practicing my amateur German, I had to face a difficult truth:  all but one of my teammates are going to be sent back to the country they fled from in one week. Their applications for asylum were rejected.

For the past seven weeks I have been living in Vienna as part of the Europe and Morocco Cross-Cultural.  While I am here I am volunteering with Caritas, a Non-Government Organization (NGO) with roots in the Catholic Church.  Part of Caritas’ mission is refugee aid, and I was fortunate to spend every Monday working alongside staff at Haus Erdberg, a refugee complex housing around 250 refugees.

The residents here are either single men or families, and they come from all different walks of life.  I helped with organizing the line for their weekly allowance, and shadowed staff as they replaced residents’ light bulbs, furniture and bedding etc..

Immigration is one of Austria’s most pressing and controversial issues.  In 2015, there was a surge of migrants from the Middle East, flowing into many European countries, including Austria. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s main slogan regarding migration at the time was “wir schaffen das”, or “we can do it”, and as a result, between 2015 and 2016, one million migrants entered Europe through the gateway of Austria, an eighth of the nation’s population.  Only around 100,000 immigrants stayed in Austria; the remainder migrated to other European countries or went overseas.  The influx of immigration has since decreased since 2015, but migration statistics show that it could be on the rise again.

For the average refugee coming to Vienna, the journey to safety and freedom is a long and grueling one.  People coming to Vienna must apply for asylum upon entry.  Those seeking asylum must live in a refugee center, where they cannot work or travel, until they are notified about that status of their application.  This waiting period can be as short as six months, although it is on average around 16 months, according to the Austrian Ministry of Domestic Affairs.  Those seeking asylum at Haus Erdberg wait three years on average.

Through volunteering at Caritas, I saw Vienna through a different lens.  The building is not an old beautiful Catholic cathedral, nor is it a world-class performance venue. There are around 250 residents in the center, all of whom are waiting to see if they will be invited in, or if they will be sent back to their home country from whence they fled.  While they are at the center, these asylum seekers must learn German, so that if they are granted asylum and are allowed to work, they are able to find a job.  Most jobs in Austria require at least a B2 German level, which is attainable through an exam, which tests reading, writing, speaking, and listening in German.  Even after asylum is granted, there are still a lot of obstacles.  For example, a refugee’s education is not always recognized by the authorities, thus making their resume unattractive to employers.

Despite these challenges, there are ways for refugees to integrate into Austrian society.  As a group, we got the opportunity to visit and tour the Magdas Hotel, a social organization specifically employing refugees to work as receptionists, chefs, and other positions.  As a whole, the Magdas (meaning “like that” in German) employees represent 14 different nations and 23 languages.  As a refugee, this job is an excellent way to get a foot in the working world and gain experiences that can lead to a steady job in Austria.

My father was a refugee.  He fled Vietnam in 1981 and came to the US speaking little to no English with virtually no money on him.  He was fortunate to have missionaries sponsor him in Florida.  Without them he could not have found a home in this country, and he would not have met my mom (an EMU alum), and my brothers and I would not exist.  I acknowledge that immigration is a complex issue, however, Austria is endearing to me not in spite of its refugees, but because of them, and the gifts they bring to the nation. I want refugees to be seen as human, just as my dad was, and I want others to experience the Vienna I have loved during my time here.

My time in this country has been extremely positive.  Vienna city life is exciting and addicting. It has a beautiful café culture, an incredibly efficient public transportation system, one of the world’s best theater scenes, and is visually stunning at every corner.  Learning about the politics and issues here does not make me like this place less, it makes me care about it more.

After reading EMU’s Common Read Exit West [Mohsin Hamid] this summer, I have resonated with it immensely while learning about European history during my time abroad.  One line continues to stick out for me: “We are all migrants of time.”

-Avery Trinh

*This article originally published by The WeatherVane  Nov. 7, 2019

On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us

Europe: insights to the Holocaust

4 November 2019

When we started learning about the Holocaust in Europe, specifically in Vienna, I felt like being American, being so far removed from these tragedies, had made it difficult to understand them until I was there in the countries where they took place.  It impacted me greatly to be standing in the plaza where Adolf Hitler gave speeches to cheering crowds or at the hotel he stayed in.  On Thursday, we visited Terezin, a former military fortress that following Nazi occupation of [Czechoslovakia] during World War II was turned into a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp.  After that experience, I think that being from across an ocean was not the only thing stopping me from really understanding the Holocaust.  You could be from the Czech Republic, or Austria, or even Germany, but it’s not until you stand in the dark empty cells that held so many people they were forced to sleep standing up, that the gravity and the terrifying reality of the Holocaust really sinks in.

While Terezin was operating as a concentration camp and ghetto, it took on more than 150,000 Jewish prisoners.  Of these 150,000 people, over 33,000 died because of the conditions such as hypothermia, starvation, untreated health problems, and physical abuse.  Eighty-eight thousand were sent on to Auschwitz or other death camps to be killed.  Even though it wasn’t labeled an extermination camp, there were only 17,247 survivors of Terezin by the end of WW II.

I could talk about the awful stories of torture and abuse from inside the concentration camp, but what affected me the most was the children’s memorial in the accompanying museum.  15,000 children spent time in Terezin, living life as best they could amid the most unimaginable conditions.  For children, this means drawing.  In the museum were displayed hundreds of drawings found after WW II made by the children.  They ranged from idyllic family pictures and drawings of home, to conditions in the ghetto, even to depictions of the abuses they and their parents were suffering at the hands of the guards.  And under each one, there was a name and either the word survived or a death date with the camp they were killed at.  On the walls of the display were printed the names of every child killed from Terezin, most under the age of 13.

Only 130 children out of 13,000 made it out of Terezin alive, a 1% survival rate.  It is hard for me to process the dehumanization that must happen for a grown adult to look a child in the eyes and throw away their life.  I can’t help but think about how this process starts, what the seed of distaste looks like that eventually grows into hatred so strong it blinds you to humanity.

The root cause of travesties like the Holocaust is elusive.  Maybe it is complacency, people doing what they’re told to avoid rocking the boat.  Maybe it is fear of the unknown and deciding it is safer to eliminate differences rather than try to get to know them.  Maybe all it takes is a charismatic leader whose promises of a greater tomorrow are just promising enough to give desperate people enough hope they’ll do anything to get there. Whatever it is, it is worth acknowledging that the potential for hatred is inside all of us.  While I desperately hope this hatred will never again take on a form like Holocaust, the instinct to exclude, isolate, and dehumanize people different from us is volatile if gone unchecked.  And, maybe you don’t have to go to a concentration camp to realize that, but it makes it a lot more obvious.

-Kate Stutzman

On the Mönchsberg with the city of Salzburg behind us