A Few Late Blogs!
First off Happy Birthday Dad!
The entire GLA experience has been extremely fun and memorable. Today we did our daily routine at the school, working on the wall and mural. The mural is almost complete; the people working on it just need to do the final touches. The wall, which I am working on, is almost complete. We just need three more rows and we have three more days at the school, and because we finish a row a day, we will complete it just in time. After about 2 hours of work, we had recess, which I believe is the best part of the day. The kids ran out of their classes all excited to see us. People were playing tag, giving piggyback rides, and chasing the kids. I, however; was a human jungle gym/ punching bag for the kindergarten class. After service we eat lunch at Home Base and got ready for our afternoon Spanish class….
Today at Spanish class, we had our own personal tutors. There was one tutor for two kids, and I was with JP. We had an amazing time with our tutor. We went to a restaurant/museum, where we ate chocolate while snacking on some dessert type cookies, and it was all delicious. As we ate, our teacher helped us with using tenses as well as teaching us new vocab. Once we had finished eating, we all watched the end of the Argentina vs. Netherlands game, which was extremely nerve racking but also very exciting. Finally, once the game ended, we returned home where we did our leadership activity. –Max Cohen
Today, we woke up at 8:30am and enjoyed fresh huevos rancheros with fresh beans and fried plantains (a typical Guatemalan breakfast). While people enjoyed having breakfast outside of the Hotel, little did most of the GLAers knew what news was about to come out of the mentors’ mouths.
Celina (the GLA mentor), shared the devastating news that one of our fellow GLAer was sent home due to his attempt of purchasing alcohol. This completely made the whole group uncomfortable and made breakfast have a funeral-like silence. After students packed, the silence continued – some were crying, and chit-chatting about Charlie Darcos’ send off. Once we were about to depart from Panajachel to Chichicastenango, we saw Charlie on the back for the bus with a small backpack and wearing Celina’s floral leggings. Then Patrick revealed the fact that it was all a joke. And the moral of this story was to not buy alcohol or else, well you can already guess what the consequence is.
We then finally departed from Panajachel to Chichicastenango to buy some Guatemalan products. After our 1-hour ride, we then split into small groups to buy a variety of products. The market of Chichi was very interesting – it had some similarities and some differences compared to the other markets previously shopped at.
For instance, all were colorful and sold traditional Guatemalan clothing and art crafts. The difference that speaks the loudest from all of the others compared to the Chichi market is the fact that people were more aggressive on selling their products. Some used black mailing and stubbornness to make people, including me to buy their products. After bargaining at almost every little store, most of us got the best deals and were happy with our shopping’s of the day.
I enjoyed the fact of visiting an important place that portrays another aspect of the Guatemalan culture. It conveys a secret of diligence and perseverance and also the importance of maintaining its culture. -Jules
Only 4 days left till the first Spanish, Service, and Maya Culture session of this year concludes. Today was a very memorable day, as the bond of this group grew much stronger. This morning we were giving devastating news, Charles Dracos was sent home earlier today because he was caught “purchasing alcohol” at the local market. The grin in our faces slowly changed as Celina attempted to announce this over breakfast. As we prepared to leave out of the hotel we stayed at for the night, sorrow vibe was evident when going into the van. Celina’s “Everything will be fine in 10 minutes” speech became a clear hint for some that this may be a prank. There a boy was standing with his back facing the opposite direction the van was driving in. This boy’s choice of floral leggings and gray baseball cap gave an instant alert to everyone that this boy might be Charlie! All 21 students ran towards Charlie to greet him. Although we were angry that Charlie along with the mentors were able to execute such a prank, we are all glad that a member of our group did not have to go home. After this incident, it was evident that everyone enjoyed each other’s company a lot more. In the midst of this horrific prank, I guess we all learned that everyone is an essential member to the group.
The rest of the day consisted of improving our bargaining skills as we took on one of the biggest markets in Central American, Chichicastenango. Futhermore, we ate lunch at a very unique hotel while watching the Finals of the World Cup. Many were upset about Argentina’s defeat (Mentor Nicole), but the cure for this disappointment was a 3 hour nap in the car on our way back to our home base in Xela. It has been a very fun weekend, This group is not ready to go back home. -Angel
We’re Coming Home!
All students have departed and are on their way home!
We began our last day together as a GLA family by waking and departing from our hotel in Antigua at the rather ungodly hour of four a.m., with the purpose of catching a flight to the ancient Maya ruins of Tikal. While having a less-than-ideal amount sleep would leave most people drained of enthusiasm, I feel as though I can safely say that we were all excited to make the most of our final excursion. After a brief plane ride and drive, we arrived at the site of the ruins. Before we’d even laid eyes upon a single structure, our tour guide swept us away on journey to a time when the Maya were at the peak of their civilization, when they ruled the land from sprawling limestone cities filled with temples, pyramids and palaces, and when they lead the world in agriculture and astrology. Of course, when we actually came to the Great Plaza and saw the breath-taking buildings for ourselves, it truly brought the lost world to life. There is no way to completely describe these massive and complex structures without seeing them yourself.
We spent an hour and a half exploring the ruins, clambering up steep stairs, weaving through crumbling buildings, and climbing just about everything intact enough to withstand our weights. The little group I was exploring with even happened across some hieroglyphics, and we made a rather creative attempt to decipher them. It was mind blowing that over 1000 years ago, this flourishing civilization built a city of such size and durability. We ended our tour with a climb of Pyramid IV, the tallest of the pyramids at 212 feet. The view from the top was spectacular, to say the least. We took some group pictures up there, and we were also given time to simply sit and look out across the vast jungles of Petén and the remains of the Maya civilization scattered throughout. I personally used the time to think about the last three weeks and enjoy the memories they had given me. We then transitioned into a nice lunch, complete with scented wet towels for cleaning off our now uncomfortably hot faces. After lunch, we hung around for a few more hours as we waited for our buses to arrive to drive us back to the airport, from which we would fly back into Guatemala City.
Our next stop was a surprisingly upscale Pizza Hut, where we celebrated Nicole’s 16th birthday with copious amounts of pizza (of course), chicken wings, and some chocolate cake accompanied by birthday songs in a variety of different languages. Our last meal as a whole group was lively and fun, if Americanized, and filled with laughter, chatter, and not-so-organized chaos. The van ride to Antigua was one big party, with a continuous blasting of songs, people singing/screaming to what they knew, dancing to what they didn’t (and did), and everyone giving their all. With less than 12 hours left together, we let go of our sadness about the fast- approaching future and sang our hearts (and voices) out.
The atmosphere became more sober when we arrived at our hotel, as we allowed reality to sink in. We had so little time left, and we had to make the most of it. That night was spent packing, signing people’s awards, and fighting to stay awake as late as possible to spend every last second with the family that we’d created over such a short period of time. Those last few hours were bittersweet, as we laughed, cried and reminisced about all of the wonderful things we’d done together. Some of us stayed up until we had to depart in the 4:00 a.m. airport group, and lots and lots of tearful hugs accompanied us as we began our journey home.
I find myself amazed that three weeks passed so quickly. It blows my mind to think that I’ve met all of these wonderful and unique people quite recently, and yet I have put so much trust into them, telling them things that only family and long-time friends know about me. To say that I feel grateful for the experiences I had during the trip would be a gross understatement. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. My experience with GLA was truly memorable and inspiring. Most of all, it led me to learn even more about myself. Being put in a foreign environment with new people, a different language, and a brand new set of everyday challenges taught me this important lesson: I can do it. Even when confronted with some of my biggest fears, even when battling paralyzing self-doubt and anxiety and being pushed to my physical and emotional limits, I am 100% capable of conquering every obstacle in my way. The same goes for everyone else who experienced GLA with me this summer. It was such an honor to know every single one of you, to share in the blood, sweat and tears that come with our work. From beginning to end, GLA Guatemala has been the experience of a lifetime for me, and I will never forget what I have gained from every minute of this trip. Again, though these words could never say enough, I thank you. Wishing you all the best in life,
-Eleanora (aka Ella aka Genghis Khan) Brown
For the past few weeks it has been a pretty exciting trip and it has been a great experience especially with everyone else in the group, who I have made friends with. The best thing about this trip is not only the community service work and learning about a new culture, but also the new friendships I made during this trip. I have come out of my comfort zone and let myself be more open to everyone else and that has opened a new path for me. I have become very close with the people I least expected and I have been improving the comfort level I have with talking with new people. The community service has got me to work closely with children who are less fortunate and they have taught me the importance of having harmony in a community and looking after one another. When two little girls came up to me and my group about helping a students mother who was ill, I was bit shocked at how many people were helping contribute with the situation of another student in the school. These students care about each other. They have become a huge and big family. And they aren’t the only ones that have become a big family. My GLA group has become close together with each other and we all share a big experience that has now impacted our lives. I don’t expect many others to understand what it feels like to go to this trip. But, I do know that we are the only ones who can understand each other in a personal level then most people do at this given moment when we went to this trip.
Weekend Excursion to Lake Atitlan:
So we all survived the earthquake. It was apparently recorded as a 7.1, but here in Xela it was felt to be somewhere more like a 6.6. I think it woke all of us up and shook our beds, but we are all safe and most of us ended falling back asleep.
Here at GLA (and in Guatemala) we learn pretty quickly about being adaptable and open to change, so the earthquake today was a good lesson in that. Though we woke up at our usual time to be ready for the 7:30 breakfast, we were promptly informed that the service for the day would be cancelled. In fact, school in general will be closed until Wednesday as a safety precaution, but we will be returning to the school regardless starting tomorrow. Hopefully the wall wasn’t harmed, but if it was, we´ll gladly redo the work, so that we can finish the project in the time we have left.
For our friends and family back home, these 21 days probably feel like a long time. For those of us here, though, the days are busy, but pass by faster than I ever thought they would. We have enough down time to be able to be productive and helpful, but the rest of the time we live a life that feels fast-paced. We are constantly creating and deepening relationships, and we definitely aren´t afraid of getting our hands dirty. Many of us haven´t laughed this much in months.
Still, we miss you guys dearly. Even the greatest of adventures doesn’t match up to the feeling of sliding under your own covers at night, or having that one meal that your mom makes better than anyone else. I think there is a general feeling of gratitude among all of us. We are so glad to be here, for sure, but we are also so appreciative that we have the support from our parents while we are here and while we are away.
So instead of building and painting cement, we watched Frozen and made snacks in front of the TV, taking some breaks to play games or make friendship bracelets for the kids at the school. A group of us played Monopoly, which quickly became corrupt when someone (ahem Max C.) added a few extra zeroes to the one dollar bills. He won, by the way. By a landslide.
We had a lunch of spaghetti—the first pasta in Guatemala!—and went to our tri-weekly Spanish classes. It was a really good class today. We did an hour of our regular lessons and then all piled into the vans to head to a local orphanage. We spent an hour with the kids, playing pick-up soccer and getting to know them. We ate cake and took pictures together. Many of the children learned what a ¨selfie¨ was today. In all it was a great experience; both playful and heartbreaking. Learning about the kids´ stories, about how they came to stay at the orphanage was difficult to hear. Girls as young as fourteen were pregnant or had children. They both would stay here, and the older kids would help raise the babies. Today, I am grateful for everything I have.
To lighten the mood, we all walked downtown to get ice cream, and then headed home for dinner and improv games. I´ll have you all know that we impersonated the staff impeccably.
It´s crazy to think we´re halfway done here. Crazy, of course, because it feels like we just got here. But it´s also crazy because Guatemala is not a place that caters to us as tourists. We aren´t handheld; it´s clear that we are here to work and learn and experience as much as possible. But this type of program creates space for a deeper kind of connection. Guatemala, in these short eleven days, already feels like home. –With love,
The Learning Continues…
Today, the GLA group went to the school for community service. The projects are going along smoothly. The people working on building the wall are making tremendous progress by stacking a row of bricks every day. The other project of painting a mural is also going along well. Today was the third day of painting and I believe it will be done by tomorrow. I’m really excited to see the reactions of the children when they see it. The mural is a visual representation of the children and teacher’s values. The mural team wanted to paint a mural that has the children’s voice, not the team’s. Everyone seemed like having fun and getting along. We’re all working and playing hard. Later in the afternoon, we went to a building in Xela to learn about the marimba, a xylophone-like instrument. It was intriguing to learn about the history and influence the marimba had in Guatemala. Students had the opportunity to try playing the marimba. For me, it seemed easy while watching but in reality like learning any instrument, it was difficult at first. After learning about the marimba, the group went to a chocolate store to learn about cocoa and its importance in many aspects. This was the highlight of my day and I think for others too. We dipped fruit in chocolate and while so listening to the history of chocolate. In the evening, we had a guest speaker to talk about the Guatemalan civil war. The speaker discussed about issues concerning the civil war. In the end, the speaker talked about how the peace treaty was not fulfilled and still today the living conditions of people remained unchanged. The discussion was engaging and it was interesting to have someone who had first-hand experience with this event. I feel I have gained a new perspective from this discussion and see an event through another person’s lenses. I hope tomorrow is another day in which I grow more, learn more, experience more, and live life to the fullest.
I see the early morning wakeups as a blessing, rather than a struggle. I have come to realize how much I thrive on waking up to faces I feel connected to, and sharing my time with them. Yesterday morning, we awoke to another glorious breakfast from our kitchen staff, before our journey to the artisan town of San Andres, where we were given insight into the ways of the people of this colorful, proud town. Once we arrived, I quickly took notice of the large number of women wearing their traditional dress, and thriving to maintain their culture. At the school we are working at, most of the children choose not to wear the typical dress due to discrimination, while the children in this town seem to wish to maintain this aspect of their culture from an early age. We viewed several yellow churches, representing spirituality, and containing influences of both Catholicism and traditional Mayan religion. Finally, we were invited to indulge in hot chocolate and bread after having explored Mayan embroidery and a traditional sauna (and encountering some irresistible kittens). As the marimba played while we drank our hot chocolate, and a traditional dance was presented, I couldn’t help but consider the perpetual kindness that has been showered on us by the Guatemalan communities. We have been graciously welcomed into their community by all of our speakers, guides, members of the school, and even those we have no personal connection to.
We went back to home base for lunch, and afterwards went to a textile workshop, where we quickly learned that the process was much more difficult than we had imagined. Afterwards, we toured another church before heading back to home base for another delicious dinner, and bonding within our community.
The next morning we were supposed to continue our work at the school, but our plans were altered due to an early morning earthquake. This was my first earthquake experience, and as Celina said, I can now add this to my “travel resume!” We will hopefully come close to finishing our mural at the school on Tuesday. Before we started our mural, we had a discussion with the kids about what they hoped to see in their community, and unity and harmony were heavy, recurring themes. These words have lingered in my mind, and I’ve quickly grown a personal connection to them. What those children want to see in their school, neighborhood, and daily life, I see flourishing more and more within our community at home base. I have incessant gratitude for the community we have manifested during our first eleven days in Guatemala. Each of us are different, yet intertwined in our purpose. We are already halfway through the program, and I look forward to the remaining ten days with the lovely people I have come to know.
Huge progress was made today at the service site due to the fact that there were no children at the school. My team, which was building the wall, set a personal goal to complete 2 of its rows. While this may not seem like a lot, these 2 rows could take at least 2+ days on an average day. Within the first hour and a half, we had already completed the first row and were prepared to take a break. A group of us found a small ball, and played a hilarious and intense game of girls vs. boys soccer where in the end the boys won 8-6. Meanwhile, the muralists finished painting almost half of the mural which has turned out spectacularly.
Spanish class took an unexpected turn when dozens of the spanish tutors guided us into an old cemetery in Xela. We worked on our conversational spanish as we walked through the streets and heard the story of Vanushka and how she died waiting for the love of her life to return to her.
In honor of the birthday girl, Jules, after spanish,the mentors threw her a surprise birthday party with music, party hats, dancing, and decorations. It was a blast and there was even cake and some small fireworks. There were many laughs and sparklers lit.
It is truly humbling to witness a group of people who has met so recently working cohesively as a team. I am so thankful for being a part of the outstanding GLA Guatemala community and for being able to immerse myself in this vibrant culture. The atmosphere here is more supportive, genuine, and down-to-earth, than any other I have ever been a part of and I’m looking forward to the next 13 days with this crazy crew.
Today, we started painting the mural! We asked students what they valued the most and what they liked about their school. It was all very touching and unique. My fellow sketcher, Michelle, and I made up a sketch that the children would love and remember forever. Everyone on the mural was working really hard and got the whole outline done. It looks great so far and I’m so excited to see the outcome! Later we went to a pottery shop and I got to see someone make pottery from scratch! It was so amazing and very inspirational!
A Full Day
Today in the GLA community we went back to work at the school in the morning, where half of us worked on the mural and the other half on a wall for a library. We mixed cement glued and hammered cinder blocks, and made significant progress. During the students’ recess, we got to play with the kids: give piggy back rides, play hand games, etc. It was amazing how enthusiastic the kids were to see and play with us. Then it was back to the Home Base for lunch, a short pitstop at a local supermarket, and Spanish class. As an interactive lesson, we took a field trip to buy fresh fruit from street vendors (making sure to learn all the Spanish names of the fruits) and brought them back to make a fruit salad. We drove back to the Home Base, had dinner and a discussion group. We were all quick to get to bed, but excited to get to work again tomorrow.
A Great Day
It’s needless to say that any day in a completely foreign country being submerged in a whole different culture would be exciting and an adventure, however today was unique to me and many other students. Today was the first day that we were at the school and got to interact with the children. Yesterday we all went to the school for the first time, but seeing as how it was a national holiday, none of the students were there. My group continued to build a wall for the soon-to-be library whereas the other group began to collaborate with the students to discover what was important to them and what made them happy in order to help decide what should be painted on the new mural.
There was no easy way to approach the kids at the school today without coming across as a little bit creepy, but once we got over the language barrier and started engaging with the kids, we all were running around with kids dangling from our arms and backs as we chased 10 other kids. I’m definitely ready to spend he next three weeks with these adorable kids as well as teach them a class or two of English.
After we got home from the school, we all ate lunch and settled in to watch the USA vs. Belgium game (with an unfortunate loss) and then set off for an unforgettable Salsa lesson. My thoughts going into lesson were that we were going to learn some basic salsa moves, maybe even a couple intermediate ones to show off to our friends once we got back home. I was completely wrong. We were learning not only the basic steps, but intermediate and more advanced moves that inspired us to want to have a Salsa showcase where couples will sign up an to compete for the ultimate title of the Salsa Champion (aka me and Charlie Dracos because we rock)
I love the community that all we all have built here in Guatemala. Although everyone has come from different backgrounds or stories, no one is discriminated and everyone is included as well as equal. The way I see it: there are people that will fade in and out of your life and there are people that you do life with and will stick with you through thick and thin. I want to do life with my family in Guatemala because they encourage and support me in everything that I’ve done and it’s only been 5 days. I know it may seem naïve to trust people so soon after such a short period of time, but I can say whole-heartedly that you will never meet another group of kids and mentors like this. Today was a good bonding experience for my team who was building the wall because we found that without teamwork and cohesion, we couldn’t get our job done quickly and efficiently. We tend to carry out this idea of teamwork and cohesion back at the home base, whether it’s when we are doing the dishes and trying to finish quickly to move on to our next task or even something as simple as being flexible when making a shower schedule so that everyone can shower at a decent hour. I’m excited for what the future holds for all of here in Xela for the next 16 days.
Service & Spanish
Yesterday was a very busy day for the GLA Guatemala team. We began service, began our Spanish lessons, and went on a tour of Xela with our Spanish instructors. Yesterday was a national holiday, so none of the students or teachers were at the school. Initially we split into two groups, those building the wall and those working on the mural. I will be working on the mural with one of out wonderful mentors, Celina. We took inventory on our supplies and made a wish-list of the items that we needed. After this was done we assisted the wall building team by forming an assembly line to transport rocks and sand out of the school yard. After this we headed home for a delicious lunch cooked at the home base and shortly after left for Spanish lessons. We split into 3 groups- beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I joined the intermediate group and we conjugated verbs, sang and danced with our mentor. Shortly followed by this was a tour of the beautiful town of Xela, where we will be staying for the majority of our trip. The instructors took us all around but explained 4 spaces in detail- el teatro municipalidad, el catedral catolica, central park, and the governor’s estate. The residents of Xela have such an amazing sense of pride in their culture and surroundings. It is much different than US in this sense, but also in the warm welcoming from the Guatemalan population as a whole. Even though we have only been in Guatemala for a short time, I feel like I have known the people in the group my entire life. It’s great to be living with a group of such caring, fun individuals. As a group we did a “personality test” more or less through a game called cool as a cucumber, hot as a tamale. The group started out on one line and individuals moved forward or back in response to questions asked by the mentors and then mid-way we rotated and moved forward or back according to new questions. At the end we were separated into 4 quadrants representing 4 different types of leaders- architects and analysts, drivers, spontaneous motivators, and relationships masters. At first people seemed confused by their results, but most everyone ended up in agreement with their results in the given circumstances. It is clear to me already that everyone is very excited and dedicated to the work we are doing here in Guatemala. I am excited to see what else this beautiful country have in store for me as an individual and the group as a whole as we continue our service and travels.
– Lexi Hyde
First Day at Home Base
Today was our first full day at the home base and to be completely awesome. Everyone is super friendly and it is nice to feel settled into the place that will become our home for the next three weeks. As well as this being our first day at our home base, we also experienced our first adventure. After breakfast, we jumped into the van and drove to a spot where we transitioned into riding in the back of pickup truck to venture where our GLA vans could not. After that, we started our hour and a half hike up the inactive volcano, Laguna de Chicabal. The hike was challenging, the scenery was beautiful, and once we reached the top of the volcano there was a sacred lake which we sat by and ate snacks. We came back to the home base we had a dance party outside, made friendship bracelets, watched the world cup and made our home base flag. It was a wonderful day.
All 22 students have arrived and spoken with their parents! Photos and blog posts to follow!