We all flew in to Guatemala city on June 13th, 2015 but arrived at Palacio Chico Hotel in Antigua at various times throughout the day. The earliest of the flights brought one of us into the airport at 5:45AM and she spent the day getting acquainted with the GLA staff, the city of Antigua and awaiting her 22 other GLA peers. As people began to arrive, we spent time getting to know everyone’s name, age and hometown, bonding quickly and sharing common interests. We were greeted with colorful buildings, cobblestone streets framed by a scenic green backdrop complete with volcanoes. The rooms at our hotel were well decorated and unique, surrounding a small tropical type courtyard with a hammock and the occasional visit from a friendly parakeet. Everyone was excited to arrive in such a beautiful location and was enthusiastic about getting to know their GLA group. From experiencing the Guatemalan culture for the first time to sharing embarrassing stories all the way down to comparing the way we pronounce words, everyone found some common ground to comfortably slide into familiarity and enjoy their first day together.
Today was, in one word, simply amazing. We started the day in Antigua, found ourselves in Lxmeche, and ended the day in Xela. We woke up to enjoy a tasty breakfast consisting of eggs, beans, plantains, and freshly baked bread. As soon as we finished we hurried to hit the road for the long drive to Xela. Along the way we stopped in a little village at the store of five local families. These families believe in preserving their culture, and in doing so, teach others and make many items by hand including all clothes and items to sell such as wallets, scarves, skirts, and purses. We had the privilege to learn how they weave and about the traditional Mayan wedding. To weave, the women sit on their knees for 6-8 hours everyday! It is moving to see such dedication towards preserving their heritage. Before a Mayan wedding ceremony, the mother of the groom is given a gift from the bride that she must wear for the entire ceremony and party or it is a sign that she dislikes her son’s bride. The mother-in law also bestows a gift on the bride for her future family. During a Mayan wedding ceremony the couple is covered in smoke to to cleanse their spirit in order to begin a new life together as a married couple. They are also covered in flower petals. After the ceremony, everyone dances for twelve hours! The grooms parents pay for the wedding, and in return the couple is expected to bear 16-17 children! Everyone in the community was welcoming which made the experience even better.
Afterwards, we headed to Lxmeche wear we got to tour the Mayan ruins. The architecture was stunning and the history is unbelievable. There was once 4 royal families that lived their, so the ruins are split into 4 sections for each family. In these sections they could praise their gods. The most commonly praised were the god of rain and the god of war. Today many people still practice the ceremonies of sacrificing animals to their gods. Finally we finished the drive with a windy 3 hour car ride to Xela. Everyone was given Dramamine and slept through the windy roads. The home base is a beautiful place to call our home away from home for the next two weeks. The staff is amazing, and everyone can agree this trip will be too!
On day three, we woke up to a delicious breakfast served by the very sweet women who made our “home base” our home. They served us fried plantains, beans (of course), eggs, cereal, toast, yogurt and fruit, and then we were off to our first service project. We drove right down the road to the school, Pacaja, and were greeted by beautiful smiling faces, all excited to meet the strange Americans. We split into groups: some of us doing construction, and some of us spending time with the kids. At the construction site, we started the “skeleton”, drilling metal canals into the ground and measuring the location of the windows. In the classrooms, we decided to do a drawing contest with the kids, a contest where the winner would get their drawing painted in a mural on the side of the school. The theme of the contest required answering the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. We will choose a winner from every grade, drawing six different people with different occupations holding hands. The kids were so fun to be around; they were fascinated by English, asking us to say their name in English and giggling at how funny we sounded. When recess began, all of the kids rushed outside to play with us, but thankfully we weren’t bombarded with 600 kids; only two of the classrooms were actually full that day. They loved taking pictures with us and playing with chalk- their favorite was tic-tac-toe and hopscotch. We also played “pata, pata, ganzo”, or duck, duck, goose, and basketball. It was remarkable how much fun everyone was having despite a language barrier; because everyone smiles in the same language… as cheesy as that sounds.
After recess was over, we went into a classroom to listen to the incredibly inspirational Doña Fabi, who told us how rewarding her life has been as a teacher. The kids showed so much respect for her, while she was overflowing with love for them. She shared with us stories about some of the children she has taught who have came from poverty, abusive homes, or even in one specific case, prostitution. Her words were heartbreaking but also showed the strength that people living in Guatemala need to have in order to carry on. Her message revealed that through all of the ugly in the world, small acts of kindness can have the greatest impact on so many people; that by merely loving others, bad situations can take a turn for the better. We left the school with positive attitudes- at that point in time it was evident as to why we are doing what we’re doing. Being here in Guatemala isn’t just about embracing culture or learning about the country itself, but impacting those who live in it and making life here a little bit easier.
Today we woke up and had a really good breakfast that consisted of fried eggs, oatmeal, watermelon, toast, and etc. After breakfast we headed to the school again and worked with the kids and took tons of pictures. We also worked on constucting the outline of the library which is moving along really fast. A teacher gave us a tour of the school for us to look at the classrooms and to see what the kids were learning. You could really tell how engaged the kids were to learn and it makes you realize how more people should be more grateful for their education like the guatemalans. After the tour we headed to lunch for a traditional guatemalan lunch which was chicken and beef with a side of vegetables and rice. After lunch we headed to a chocolate factory and there was a fondue fountain with tons of fruit for us to dip in which tasted amazing. You could really tell how passionate the factory owner was about making chocolate, she even told us her dream of creating a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory which was really interesting. After the factory we headed to salsa class and learned a traditional salsa dance. For dinner we had lasagna, salad, and bread. To wrap up the day we had a game to learn a little more about our personalities.
On Wednesday the group had their third service project day. The morning started the day with breakfast consisting of pancakes, fruit and toast. Once the group was working at the school the split up into 3 groups- one group working on construction, one group worked on painting and the third group worked in the class rooms. In the construction site, the group worked on creating beams- that will later be used to hold the walls of a library. At 10:30 it was recess time, and all 600 students loved to take pictures. Many people were giving piggy back rides and played tag with the students. After recess, GLA got back to work. In the class rooms the 1st grade class worked on their balance skills. By using recycled cans, the students were able to create balancing skills while learning how to recycle. The first grade students later worked on father’s day cards (since father’s day in Guatemala was on Wednesday). GLA groups helped draw letters for the first graders by using dashed lines to also draw hearts. Once the school day was over, at one GLA had lunch and went to a grave yard. This wasn’t any ordinary grave yard, this grave yard held a gyspie named Vanushka. Legend says that she was in a circus and visited Guatemala and fell in love with a local. This locals parents didn’t want the gyspie with him, so they sent him off to Spain for college. Vanushka died loving and waiting for the local, so every year he comes back and places roses on her tomb stone. Legend also says that if you lay roses on her tomb stone and wished for good luck in a healthy relationship. Once you find someone you love, you come back to put roses on her tomb to thank her. The GLA group the left notes written on her tomb.
GLA not only provides us with a wonderful opportunity to travel and make a difference in the world, but they emphasize the importance of young people developing through education. Throughout this trip we’ve been learning about the misery and brutality of the Guatemalan civil war. I am a firm believer of history shaping the present and that’s why we must discuss what’s happened in the past. To further our knowledge of the war, GLA brought in a speaker to talk about his time as a guerrilla fighter. His detail and passion left us in awe. I can’t even begin to explain the tragedies he described. As hard as it was to listen to the man talk about the complete terror the military served, we also will be able to hear a speaker who was a member of the military. I am eager to hear how he will justify such cruelty, but it’s just another way this trip is making us into well-rounded and educated human beings.
Each day there are three of us kids designated to be leaders of the day. Most days we have one of us doing construction, one doing the mural, and another running the classrooms. We remind the others of the schedule, to drink water, wear sunscreen, etc. On Friday (June 19th) I was the leader of the day in the classrooms. That day I was in charge of a 1st grade classroom and a 2nd grade classroom. When we first arrived to the classrooms we noticed one of the classrooms was missing a teacher. The students were full of energy, making it hard to settle them down to work on the drawing contest. Being the leader for that day I was slightly stressed but luckily I had some fluent Spanish speakers in my group with me. Once we settled them down and had them draw, there was some extra time we had to kill. I had the idea of teaching them the alphabet in English. All of us in the classroom worked together to get the kids excited about learning English. Hearing them recite the alphabet in another language than they normally speak was so rewarding, especially since we were the ones who taught it to them! I am very impressed with our group for turning a hectic classroom into a great learning experience for the kids!
Almost every night , we have a GLA Family Meeting. At these meetings, we discuss important current issues that are happening in Guatemala and different leadership strategies we can utilize here as well as at home. On Friday night during our Family Meeting, we watched a Ted Talk called “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Adichie. She explained how easily society assumes certain things about other individuals who they are unfamiliar with. For example, Adichie explained how years prior, the single story she assumed applied to her as an aspiring author was that “writers were expected to have had really unhappy childhoods” so she “began thinking of terrible things [her] parents could have done to [her]”. Yet in reality, she had a really happy chilhood, “full of laughter and love, in a close knit family”. As a group, we agreed that it is hard to avoid turning to the single stories of all types of occupations or people in general. Many of us shared how back at home, we are sometimes expected to be, or labeled as, something we’re not solely because of our appearances.
When we first arrived in Guatemala, I was shocked by the cultural differences from my small town in California. Looking at my surroundings, at first I really focused on the differences between the culture here, and the culture from my home. Women who are just about 4′ tall walk with huge bags on their heads and a baby strapped on their backs. The architecture is so different than most buildings at home. Dogs are all over the streets, and are treated so differently than the dogs back at home. Yet, while debreifing the Ted Talk, I realized that there are also a lot of similarities between our cultures. This meeting allowed me and the rest of the group to idenitfy the fact that we created a single story for Guatemala. We brought up the fact that not everyone in Guatemala is 4′ tall, or wears the traditional dresses. Rather, as we saw in the mall earlier that day, there are people dressed just like an average American. This dicussion was extremely enlightenging to myself as well as my peers, and I’m so glad we were able to explore the different aspects of Guatemala rather than what we had initially percieved.
– Grace Tankersley
Today was a day full of exploration and adventure. As we began our day we piled into the bus and made the windy trip to the largest market in Central America, Chichicastenango. Although we all had an idea of what to expect, no one fully understood how extraordinary this market would be. Upon arrival I felt overwhelmed just by the high energy atmosphere and never-ending chaos. Everything embodied vibrancy, from the people, to the noises, to the smells, it was as if I was submerged in a sea of colors and radiation. The narrow streets felt as confusing as a maze, and were each lined top to bottom with various venders. The venders sold everything from simple trinkets to massive bedspreads. While we made our journey through the tricky streets we saw that each booth seemed similar at the surface, but once we looked closer we began to realize how different each seller was, and how they each had something special to offer. Another discovery today included a new skill that none of us realized we had, haggling. Although some of us were more skilled bargainers than others, we all did our best and felt extremely accomplished when we were able to lower a price and get a better deal. By the end of the day we were all stacked with exotic gifts and souvenirs to bring home to our friends and families. Overall I felt I experienced a new side of Guatemala, one more commonly walked, but still as amazing as any other.
– Rafaela Stewart
Photos from 6/23 & 6/24: