Monday, January 21, 2013

Reflections After Guatemala

Welp--we're all back safe and sound in the United States!

The little fire "Johnny Tiger" built us at on the Mayan Nose.
After a hectic day of delayed flights and sprinting through airports, we made it back to Kansas City late last night, and I'm back to work at Graceland today. Did I mention that I came home to a toasty -19 degree wind chill in Lamoni? Because I did...and if feels just slightly different than balmy San Pedro.

As I walk around the office and people ask, "How was your trip?" I'm finding it hard to find the words to capture Guatemala. The easiest thing for me to tell people is this: "It was perfect. I wouldn't have changed a single thing." And truly, it was.

Who's afraid of a big bad Mayan calendar?
For many people, a trip or a vacation should include sandy beaches, relaxation and an overall feeling of tranquility and comfort. Our trip to Guatemala didn't include swimming in Lake Atitlan (trust me--it's not water that you'd want to frolic around in), gratuitous amounts of free time or a luxury suite--but as I said, it was simply outstanding. I would much rather live in a homestay, connecting with people from a culture unlike my own, than a resort. I would much rather wake up before the sun to climb 2/3 of a volcano or listen to a sermon I can't understand (because it's in the Mayan dialect, Tz'utujil) than rub my eyes from a warm bed at 10:00 a.m.

Melanie, queen of dominos.
San Pedro was the perfect location for our work. With about 3,000 inhabitants, it had that small-town Lamoni-like feel that I know and adore. We were able to safely walk everywhere we needed to go, pausing to say "Buenos Dias," "Buenos Tardes" and "Buenos Noches" along the way. The clinic in San Juan was full of passionate, kind-hearted workers and volunteers, and the patients at the clinic were true to their name (patient) as the nurses took vitals and drank in as much experience as they could. Though at times some of us were uncomfortable, the value our experience in the San Juan clinic is unquestioned. Many of the nurses had never seen first hand how bad a scabies epidemic could be. Many of us understood for the first time that diabetes isn't just an American, fast-food lifestyle problem--it springs up in more places that you'd think. And we all learned, regardless of our profession, how useful it can be to be bilingual.

Domingo and Melida, our host father and mother
Outside of the clinic, we saw true compassion for others when it came to health care. We worked with a curandero and midwife that charged little to nothing for their services. We saw people finding innovative ways to heal and help those around them, despite not having the most advanced technology. We learned about the flower remedies of Edward Bach, that can be used to treat emotional and spiritual ailments, when other medication is not available. The resourcefulness and compassion of these people is truly amazing.

Stephanie dancing with one of our classmates!
And in our Spanish classes and homestays, we learned to be brave. We learned that just because you aren't fluent in Spanish, just because you know you're making mistakes, there's no reason not to try not to speak a different language. Now, mind you, some of us made frequent or embarrassing errors (I consistently asked my teacher about being tired (cansado) instead of being married (casado)) and sometimes things didn't quite translate, but regardless of our barriers we were all able to make strong and lasting connections with the Spanish speaking people around us. We've returned back to the states with a larger Spanish vocabulary, and an even larger desire to further our Spanish education.

Ardella, riding home from San Juan in a tuk tuk!
While, naturally, some of the things I will remember the most vividly are the "touristy" things (kayaking, mountain and volcano climbing, zip lining, etc.) by far what I'll remember most fondly is the people of San Pedro. My host mom, Melida's concern about us getting enough to eat and her passion for controlling her diabetes, my host daughter, Melanie, trying to explain dominos to me in Spanish, and my teacher, Nicolas, telling me "tranquila, tranquila" when I was frustrated about not understanding verb conjugations. While the lifestyle and culture of San Pedro is quite different from my own, one things that translates perfectly is the love and passion for helping others.
Adios, San Pedro!

As we flew back last night, many of us were full of sadness about leaving Guatemala behind, but as we flew over the beautiful lights of Texas at night, we couldn't help but feel a little pride in our home country. We come back to the States full--of ambition, of stories, and tortillas. I hope from the bottom of my heart that we will continue this Guatemala winter term experience for many years to come--it's an experience that will open your eyes and fill you with love.

Thanks for reading,

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading all of your enlightening and humorous entries. You finally got to experience the Spanish speaking culture that you've desired to so much. I might have already told you this before.... but if not here is a quote I've always enjoyed from St. Augustine, "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." You've definitely read many pages so far... and I know you'll read even more in the future!