Guatemala, Day 2 – Arriving in the Village

A recap of my experience traveling to Guatemala on a philanthropic expedition with CHOICE Humanitarian. Click Here for Day 1. The following is my journal entry from Day 2.

18 August 2013

We made it to the village!

We loaded onto the bus at 8:00 a.m. and headed out of Guatemala City. And oh my, what an amazing ride it was. And by amazing, I mean crazy. I knew our driver knew what he was doing, but we just don’t drive like that in the States. He was swerving in and out, passing with traffic coming head-on, racing up and down hills … oddly enough though, I wasn’t scared in the least.

The landscape was incredible–so lush and green, which is totally cliche to say, but I don’t know how else to describe it. It was everything you would imagine a South American jungle to be.

We stopped for a quick lunch at a resort on a lake (our last moments of “1st world”) and then drove on for another 45 minutes, at which point we stopped and changed buses. Meaning, we got off the nice tourist bus and hopped on the un-airconditioned, one-step-above-a-“chicken-bus”-bus. The remaining three-ish hours of our nine-hour trek was mostly dirt road and we needed something that could handle the terrain and the mountain climb.

It. was. great! I had my window open and eyes agog the whole bumpy ride and never once did it feel like a nine-hour drive to me. I loved every second and couldn’t soak it all in fast enough. I could’ve driven for another nine hours. I just wanted to see everything.

Soon after changing buses, we entered the Polochic region and climbed the mountains to the very tip tops. Truly, I’ll say it again, this is such an incredible experience. And so so beautiful. It’s hard to believe it’s real. As we drove, little children would wave by the side of the road, “Gringos!”

Side note: we also, oddly enough, passed two Latter-day Saint (Mormon) churches (!). One was Spanish-speaking and the other was Q’eqchi’ (the indigenous Mayan dialect here). I even saw two missionaries walking the dirt roads between villages. (I can spot those white shirts from a mile away.) Such a testament to the Lord’s admonition to take the gospel to the corners of the world. To every climb. It made me so happy.

As we drove, I couldn’t help but wonder–what are these people going through? What are their hopes, dreams, and desires? What are their questions? What answers and comfort and hope could the (would the) gospel of Christ bring them?

Once we “arrived,” we still had to climb down a steep, slippery hill to get to the village center and schoolhouse. As we reached the end of the path, all the villagers were waiting for us–well the women and children were, at least. The men had climbed up to the top of the hill to carry our bags down for us. Good thing too, because I barely got my body down that hill. There’s no way the bag would’ve made it too, had I been left to my own devices.

It was overwhelming and in a sense, emotional, to see all those beautiful people gathered to welcome us. A few brave children came close to check us out and smiled wide when we took their pictures.

Once all the luggage had been brought and everyone was gathered (Seriously. The whole village came to greet us.), the leaders of the village stepped forward to welcome us officially. Their speeches had to be translated from Q’eqchi’ to Spanish and from Spanish to English, but they basically said that they were so glad to have us, that they were so grateful that we would come to help them with their water system, and that the spiritual leaders of their village had begun praying for us two weeks before our travels began and throughout our journey to their home.

Then one of them asked to pronounce a blessing on us. We don’t know what we said, but he began to pray and it was the most amazing experience as other villagers began to pray too. Soon, all these individual voices were speaking, simultaneously lifting their voices to God (Gods? I think they might believe in more than one.), all saying different things, but collectively praying, pleading, and blessing on our behalf.

I closed my eyes to take it in and I hope I always remember that sound–all those voices. Praying. I wanted so badly to raise my voice too, to join in their prayers, but I just raised my thoughts.

(I did find it interesting that no women joined in??? At least none that I saw.)

After the blessing, we introduced ourselves. At one point, Dr. Ambrose, an OBGYN from California who came on the expedition to offer medical training to the village, said his name was Anton and one of the older villagers jumped up and said his name too, was Anton. Then he said (in Q’eqchi’, of course) in honor of this delightful coincidence, “I am now going to play you a song, and you will dance.” It was hilarious, but Doc went along with it and soon we were all dancing with the villagers while Guatemalan Anton played his marimba.

After dancing, we had dinner (chicken, rice, and beans) and all the villagers watched us eat (felt a little funny). Then we painted nails (boys too!) and learned names.

It took me a little while to jump in. I don’t know why but I hold back, a little shy, in situations like this, but soon, a young girl, Gertrudis, smiled shyly and asked my name, “como te llamas?” And I was able to get in and start talking. My Spanish isn’t great and neither is theirs–the children are learning it as a second language as all of them speak Q’eqchi–but we got along just fine.

Gertrudis is 16 and likes her writing class at school (a girl after my own heart!). Josephina is 15 and likes matimatica and Benjamin is 10 and like Spanish.

I still just can’t believe I’m here and doing this. The generator has been turned off and it’s dark and the crickets (among other things) are chirping outside. I’m laying on a not-very-cushy sleeping pad on the concrete floor of the bright aqua schoolhouse … and I’m happy as can be. Amazed that I’m here experiencing this. Amazed that this is actually my life. Meeting these people–people who matter, to me, to God, to this world–in this tiny, remote, humble village in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle.

Father in Heaven, thank you, thank you for these people. Thank you for this opportunity. Please fill my heart with your love. Help me show that to them. Help me to know how to communicate. And help me be big enough to take it all in. I love you. And I love them. Already. I do.

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