All students have headed home after an amazing 10 days!
From Markets to Mountains
Monday, the first day back from Lake Atitlan, was definitely a lot slower than we’d become accustomed to. Everyone was feeling the effects of a weekend of exploring and roaming the street markets. However, there was still energy going into service at the school. It is sad to know that tomorrow will be the last day of service, but at the same time, I think everyone feels proud of the newly painted courts, emptied landfill, and new wall for the classroom. After service, lunch was a time for most people to recuperate and rest before going off to the Marimba workshop. The workshop itself was very interesting and cool because of the various styles and adaptations of the instrument. Unfortunately, after the workshop, the speaker from the guerrilla was unable to show up. However, this opened the door for exploration of the central park and underground market of the Xela. Finally, Maria treated us all to ice cream, which was the perfect ending to a long day.
Wednesday was a strenuous day. We started off the morning with a 2-hour hike to Laguna Chicabal, a volcanic crater lake. This mountain was originally a volcano, but then it con-caved into a beautiful lake that is almost unbelievable to see in person. The hike itself was a struggle for some of us, but we overcame it because of the stunning views and the outcome of our accomplishment.
Another highlight of the day was listening to a Guerilla speak to us about his experience about the revolution in Guatemala. We learned about how the struggle began and evolved because of human rights. He enriched us with the history of Guatemala and stated that, “It is an awful and painful story, and I would tell you more, but I wouldn’t want to leave you vomiting.” he explained to us the fear the people were in and the problems they had with the military, but as he said, “We are all Guatemalan brothers in the end.”
Salsa & Ceramics
Upon the morning of day seven of our journey with GLA we used three and a half hours to our advantage and got a generous sum of work in the school done.
When the final minute of service dawned upon us, we packed up our things and headed to salsa lessons, which consisted of complicated rhythms, awesome dancing, and a whole lot of laughter.
As salsa came to an end, ceramics was just beginning. A wonderful gentleman who worked with pottery let us watch and learn how to spin and sculpt a plate, bowl, and pitcher. Afterwards we were able to examine his works and learned that he makes at least 200 plates or bowls a day!
Being the teenagers we are, the majority of us craved some good ole’ junk food, and lucky enough our next stop was at an internet cafe located in a mall! As some of us called friends and family, the rest of us ran to buy any chips, sweets, and soda we could get our hands on.
Overall, today was awesome and we had a blast. We all look forward to the days to come with GLA and remind everyone to follow their dreams, and number 1, make it so.
Today was the last day we saw the kids. They held a ceremony to express their gratitude. They performed folk dances and one student sang us a song in English. At the end of the ceremony we were presented with dolls and certificates. In the afternoon we were welcomed into the home of an average Guatemalan family. Through question and answer we were able to catch a glimpse of daily life in Guatemala. Later we swapped viewpoints in an activity where we took on atypical roles in cultural negotiation. Today was bittersweet due to the fact we said goodbye to the children, but we now there are many more marvelous memories to come.
Day 5 started off with a hearty breakfast of French toast and fruits. We headed off first for our morning of service at the local Mayan school—which consisted of construction, painting, clean-up etc., as per previous days. The recess was the highlight of our morning, because that was the precious time when we could interact fully, for an hour, with the kids. We enjoyed giving them piggy-back rides, speaking to them in Spanish, and (surprisingly!) going without technology— allowing us to simply live in the moment and relish the emotional connections we established – connections that transcended language barriers, age and nationalities.
After lunch, we went for a tour at San Andres Xecul, a beautiful town on the outskirts of Xela, where Catholicism and Mayan culture interweaves seamlessly. This combination of religion was reflected in the architecture, which we witnessed when we visited a church, altars of local gods, and an abode which housed a Mayan weaver. We received a warm welcome with hot chocolate and bread. The day ended off with all of us back at the home base, with a good dinner and a night of bonding activities.
Today, just like every other day, was very eventful. It was Father’s Day at school, and we were privileged enough to see the celebration the school had while we worked. We also had the opportunity to visit a chocolate shop in Xela, where we learned the properties of the cacao bean and were able to test the medicinal value ourselves through a chocolate fountain. After a beautiful drive through the city, we were visited by a former Major in the Army who served during the Guatemalan Civil War and were able to listen to the Army’s side of the story. Overall, the day was filled with excitement, and we were able to delve even further into the history of Guatemala.
Welcome to Service
Day three was extremely unifying and thought provoking. It was the first day of service, which entailed new perceptions of Guatemalan culture and the purpose of the trip. At the school we separated into three different groups to tackle the different aspects of the service.
While we were at the site, we had the lovely opportunity to meet the kids for the first time and although the language barrier was a struggle for some, the kids were still very welcoming! Camera rolls were filled with unforgettable memories that we shared with the kids. After service, we came home and had a delicious lunch cooked by the ladies of the house.
After we rested, we headed to Salcaja for a textile workshop presentation. Once we got the basis of the procedure, some kids had the opportunity to give the weaving a shot. We then visited the beautiful first Central American church and got a brief history on it.
On our way back to home base we stopped at a supermarket to indulge our cravings. Once home, we watched an informative documentary called When the Mountains Tremble, which helped us open our eyes to the reality of Guatemalan injustice. Afterwards the leaders of the day (Carly Zaladonis and Juliette Chero) got to lead a discussion and hear everyone’s opinion on the movie.
Dinner came right after that, followed by showers and watching a Ted Talk. Right after watching the Ted Talk, we met with small groups and came up with questions that would bring up provoking discussions about stereotypes and the effect of media. The discussion was extremely deep as we all had the chance to consider the effects media has on the way we perceive things and how to take action.
Mentor groups followed the talk and we had the chance to reflect on the wonderful day.
Crash Course in Culture
We only arrived for our Children of the Maya program yesterday, but it feels like we’ve been together for weeks! After walking around and exploring colonial Antigua, Guatemala, we left early this morning for a nearby traditional pueblo. In San Antonio Aguas Calientes, we learned about traditional Mayan weddings, how to make tortillas, how to prepare coffee with a mortar and pestle, and some of us even had the opportunity to try on traditional dress.
After our visit in San Antonio, we headed to Iximche, the old capital of the Kaqchikeles, a Mayan ethnic group. At the Mayan ruins we were able to view and participate in a traditional ceremony. We walked around the grounds and saw where great temples, palaces, and astronomy observatories once prospered.
We arrived in Xela later today and have already created a team flag based on our values as a group. The Mayan ceremony today influenced our flag as well. All in all, we’re off to a great start!