The Spanish, Service and Mayan Culture program in Guatemala has officially begun! After long flights and equally long layovers everyone has arrived safe and sound and spirits are high. We are now settled into our home base in Quetzaltenango (aka Xela) and are looking forward to a summer full of excitement, learning and adventure. Updates to come soon!
Written By: Maria Scovel and Madeline Mark
Hola everyone!! It´s Maria and Maddi checking in, although there were slight delays everyone landed safely. The first full day in Guatemala we started our drive to our home in Xela. On the way we stopped at a traditional Mayan textile shop. The shop is run by five families who are all trying to preserve the Mayan culture. They showed us how to create the cloths and after explaining actually let a few of us try; it was harder then it seemed. They then showed us how these cloths would be used by having a mock wedding for us where Maddi and Babs (Michael) were married and had a child as well. Then, while giving us time to shop they showed us how to traditionally make tortillas. Then we continued our drive to the home base.
Day 2 we woke up and began our first day of community service at a local school in Xela where we plan to paint the yard areas of the school. We met the principal and saw a few of the classrooms. We began by washing the walls to later paint it. We have been waiting to bring cameras when the children are more comfortable with us, so pictures of that will come later. In the afternoon we headed to our first Spanish class where we split into advanced and beginner level classes and did some review based on what we needed to work on most. Then we headed out to the park to do interviews with some natives to practice our Spanish. We then headed home and then watched a movie together.
Day 3 we began painting the school in two shades of blue. We still have been waiting to bring cameras to school, so expect photos later. We then headed to a famous potters workshop where the artist spoke some about his Mayan technique on pottery making. After the pottery lesson we were able to try and make plates with his help. He was amazing and very helpful and after we went to his gallery and looked around at his finished products.
Day 4 we finished painting about half of the school, but still no cameras. After service we then headed to Spanish class and continued review for the first half of class and then went to a gypsy grave that is associated with a Guatemalan fairytale very similar to Romeo and Juliet. This is basically the only grave where it is acceptable to write on a grave, here we wrote a wish we have with the hope that the gypsy will grant it.
So tonight is night 5 and someone new will write up the latest update sometime later be prepared for a new update.
Here is a treasure trove of photos to show you all what we’ve been up to!
Written By: Madeline Mark
Hola Everyone!! First week done!! We´ll be home before you know it!! Its been a pretty packed weekend and so much has happened since we last blogged!! When we left off it had been night 5 so starting day six we woke up and got ready for school. It was our first day with cameras allowed and the children really enjoyed seeing the pictures and even learning to take the pictures themselves. The school is about half painted at this point and the children are getting used to us being there. In the beginning the older boys wouldn’t talk or even look at us and now they´re jumping rope and thoroughly enjoying having us there. Many of the children have taken an interest in standing behind Maria while she paints and pointing out certain objects and asking what the names are in English. Many of the children know phrases such as hello, goodbye, and even thank you, but now some of them have even learned how to say ¨Thank you for painting our school.¨ It´s amazing to see the progression that the kids have gone through getting to know us.
After school everyday we go home and enjoy a delicious meal made for us by the absolutely ¨increible¨ cooks, they are always open to letting those of us who don’t speak Spanish into the kitchen to help them prepare and set us the meals. It’s a great way to not only learn new vocabulary but also to become closer friends with the locals and to learn parts of their culture. We all come to the breakfast table tired and some of us are not, shall we say, morning people, but they are always there with amazing food and a smile on their face. Every little bit just adds to this amazing experience.
After lunch we usually go to a different activity around two and before that have free time. Day five we took a drive down to a traditional Guatemalan chocolate shop. The shop is run by a family and they apparently make the ¨best¨ chocolates around. Let´s just say that I can testify to the fact they have some pretty amazing chocolate. We were provided a chocolate fountain to start off the speech and then watched a short film ¨in english¨ about the history of chocolate. The video was followed us by one of the actual owners coming in and talking about why they chose to study chocolate and also about how chocolate has changed over the years. Beware; she said that by the year 2020 chocolate could become as rare and expensive as caviar. After our chocolate class we went to a salsa dancing class to burn some calories that we got by eating and sampling all of the chocolates. We met up with the ¨mother¨ of the houses son named, Andres, who joined us for dance class. Because we had eight people, Jen sat out because of stomach pains, we were paired in groups of two and so some girls were paired together. We were taught the steps bit by bit. Finally we pieced it all together and most of us were twirling around like pros. We were allowed to have about an hour to just walk around. Most of us went to a nearby internet café and then we all met at a church through a park.
Day seven was our first weekend in Guatemala and it was amazing. It was such a different experience then the small town of Xela. We started driving to the town of Atitlan. In Atitlan there is a huge lake surrounded by mountains that seem like they go on forever. There are many little towns around the outside of the lake and you drive using the mountains. As you wind around the sides of the mountains you see so many different views and angles of this truly beautiful natural thing. Most of us were up in that point (it had been a 2 hour drive) and there was silence in the car as we marveled the beauty. When we reached the hotel we quickly checked in and then made our way down to a dock where we caught a boat ride that took us across the lake. It was about a 20 minute ride and as we got to the middle it was just such a strange feeling of something so incredibly different. It was really the fact that we were in the middle of nature and we were with people who we had grown so close with. At that moment I felt small in such a large body of water but also the size of a mountain, figuratively. The water was so blue that it was practically clear and you could see the algae growing just under the surface. The mountains seemed to go on forever and overlapped with the sky and the clouds. Finally after we reached the other side and docked we were once more swarmed by people trying to sell us little trinkets and ¨mementos¨ of our time in their town. It was our first time actually bartering or having the chance to try and talk people down and out of their price. It was really interesting to see that people tried different strategies. Some would start at a price ridiculously high so that you would talk them down to about half the price. Others would start at a reasonable price and wouldn’t be able to be talked down as much. At this point there were some shops but it was mostly just children and woman going around and selling little trinkets. After that we got back on the boat and went back to the town where we were staying.
The next day (Day 8) we left the small town and started on our way to the market. The market was a completely different experience from what we have in America. We were dropped off in front of the hotel where we would all be meeting later and from there on we entered a maze. There were many little booths set us with and without covering and everywhere there were just people. The owners would come over as soon as they saw you stop and start pointing out their goods and saying prices. The shops ranged from selling cloths or bags to an entire part just for food. There were carts selling fruits and breads. A few had open slabs of meat; people sat up stalls to eat at and would serve soup or oatmeal from a large pot. There were children everywhere and ranging from about six up they would watch stores and just generally go around trying to sell things out of their baskets and backpacks. The one thing I admired from the market was persistence. I was able to learn quickly that when a person reached their lowest price they wouldn’t really budge until you walked away, at which point they would summon you back and accept your price. It was overall a very different experience which was challenging but at the same time very fun.
After finishing up at the market we began our hour and a half drive back to Xela. This morning (day 9) we woke up and started once more continuing to paint the school. At this point we should be done painting by Wednesday and then we can start going into classes to gather ideas for the mural. After school today we went to Spanish class where we went out to a market and bought different fruits using our new Spanish vocabulary. Which leads us to the end of this blog. Check back later this week for more updates!!
-Maddi Mark (Unaccompanied Minor)
Written by: Madeline Mark
Monday morning we woke up and after an amazing breakfast and started on our way to school. At the school it was a matter of just finishing up the last bits of painting the main courtyard area. The children have gotten very comfortable with us and in fact the moment we walk into the school we are immediately mobbed by all of the children that are out of the classrooms and waiting for us. At recess there are so many different things to do and the children and incredibly interested in everything and anything we want to do. The love to watch us paint, have us teach them English, let them teach us Spanish. Babs (aka Michael) loves playing tag with the children, Antonio rescues the children who try to climb the steps, Maria enjoys teaching them the alphabet and everyone has made what seems to be their own little group of friends.
After school and lunch we have different activities. On Monday we had Spanish class number 3 where we learned the different types of fruits. We then went to a market and ordered the different types of fruits from local vendors. After walking back to the school we cut up different types of fruits like papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, and banana. We made a huge bowl of fruit salad and tried the Guatemalan way by putting cream and sugar on top, most people went back for seconds.
On Tuesday we had a guest speaker from the Civil War of Guatemala. He was on the side of the military and his story was not only incredibly interesting but it was also completely eye opening to the ways of how the movie we had watched to prepare and give background could have been biased to the ways of the Guerilla fighters. He was very open with his experiences and explained how he had felt while fighting in the war and also how it had changed his life. He even went as far to explain why he had been in the army and why he had finally retired. We are incredibly excited for Friday when we will have a speaker from the Guerilla side. Also Tuesday morning we skipped community service and took a ride to ancient Mayan ruins. We learned more about the way they lived and got to see some amazing statues which are still around.
On Wednesday we had another Spanish class where during the second half we were able to go to an orphanage. It was a truly eye opening experience for all of us because it turned out to be an orphanage where a lot of girls our age and younger went in order to have children. We were divided into groups of two and then placed with a group of children. The children there were from the ages of baby´s had by some of the girls to 17. The story´s they told were heart wrenching and truly just gave us another view of the world and of the people here. It was a truly humbling experience to see how lucky we are compared to others.
Wednesday night we met up for our team meeting and just went over how what we´ve seen has truly changed our view of the world. How we are lucky to have homes, and even the money to buy toothpaste and a toothbrush. The fact that we don’t have to beg people for money, or for food, or to buy bracelets for 1 quetzals apiece in order to stay alive. This experience will truly change all of our views of the world and how we live forever.
Hey guys! It´s Maddi and Maria checking in, sorry for the big delay, but we have had just about the craziest week since we last wrote; in a good way of course. So to pick up where we last left off, on Thursday, we began the day as normal and headed to the school to finish up painting the last walls of the school. We then rushed off to lunch and ate quickly so that we could head over to the Natural hot springs as soon as possible. We arrived after about 30 minutes (a trip that normally would take an hour, but our fabulous driver, Freddy, knows his way around) and began the short hike to the natural hot springs (Fuentes Georginas). We stayed until the springs closed and spent about a total of 4 hours there. It was extremely beautiful.
On Friday, we woke up and headed to the school again. Except this time, we weren´t painting the school, but going into the classes of grades 3rd and below to teach a lesson. The instructions for this lesson were to draw a picture of what you wanted to be when you grew up. We hoped this would help spark ideas for the mural we planned to paint on Monday in the back of the school. After school ended and we ate lunch, we were supposed to have a speaker from the civil war come speak to us, however, it was rescheduled for Sunday evening instead so we had the night off.
Saturday we woke up super early and started our drive to a country club. From the country club we drove to our drop off point and we divided into two groups for the river. The river was called Cabuz and had both rapids and areas to swim. At lunch we stopped and made sandwiches to accompany our watermelon and cookies. There are no pictures due to the fact that our waterproof camera is probably in the ocean floating as we speak.
Sunday we met up with the other group and took a hike down to the beach where we experienced a Mayan traditional ceremony. We were supposed to play a soccer game but due to stitches and rain it was canceled. When we got home it was discovered we had lost power so we had a free afternoon which we used to strengthen our team bond.
Monday we had community service which after we went to Spanish class where we went to a traditional mayan ceremony and learned how the people that are mayan make a living with their weavings. The people at a place named trama pay traditional mayan women for their weavings. This is how they make their living and it was created after the civil war.
Tuesday we went to community service and then after an amazing lunch went to a small village where we learned the ways that they create the wool used to make clothing. We were able to try out the machines and actually work on the loom at one point. It was truly a place where we were thrown into Guatemalan culture.
Wednesday after community service we attended our last Spanish class where we went to a café and talked with future teachers. After we had some free time and we roamed around downtown in small groups.
Thursday was the day of our Despedida and what a sad day it was. We had a wonderful party at the school and watched many traditional mayan dances. We were taught the culture and foods by the students and then we said our goodbyes. The school and mural look amazing.
-Madeline Mark and Maria Scovel