Our trip to Guatemala has so far been a whirlwind of learning, feeling ignorant, exploration, and gratitude. Here is my Top 5 List of things we have done up to this point:
5. Trip to Iximche/ Atitlan
Last weekend, a friend asked us to accompany his family on a day-trip to Lake Atitlan that turned into a 2-day-trip after a stop off at some local Mayan Ruins ran a little long. Iximche was an expansive Mayan civilization in the 1400’s, short-lived due to Spanish conquest a century later. Compared to other popular ruins, it is relatively small but still beautiful and fascinating nonetheless.
Lake Atitlan, our destination on Day 2, is hard to describe. After a rapid descent on perilous roads in a Toyota Yaris packed tight with 6 people, we arrived at a pristine lake surrounded by three volcanoes, cliffs, and waterfalls. It felt like another world and definitively represents paradise on earth. Neither pictures nor prose could do it justice, and to this moment I am still in shock that such a place exists.
4. Playing Soccer with the Local Kids
Middle schoolers in Guatemala, much the same as America, are painfully awkward and terribly defiant toward authority. Though I’m sure many of their snickers and scoffs are directed at the weird and freakishly tall Americans, they have their redeeming moments. I’m honored each week when they break out the soccer ball and ask me to play. I think they enjoy watching me stumble around like an oaf, but I enjoy the challenge. I think the first time I scored a goal, I completed my initiation and they generally act warmer towards me now. But for those that were still skeptical, I bribed them with free American techno music and they’ve come around too.
3. Hammocking on the Back Porch
Our house is incredibly accommodating and ridiculously beautiful. Our back porch faces two volcanoes and sits on top of a coffee farm. There aren’t many things in the world more peaceful than reading in our hammock on the porch, sitting beside a fire and listening to the local church choir echo through the valley.
2. Motorcycle Trips Through the Countryside
Monte Cristo owns a few motorcycles and every once in a while, Hilary and I need to borrow one to go to the store or grab something from the city. And, on the beautiful days, we’ll strap on our boots and just ride through the mountains of Guatemala, cruising the dirt roads and traversing the occasional puddle. Hilary holds tight on my waist while I try to navigate the Motocross-esque obstacles, a little distracted by the mountainous views extending behind the tree line. Insanely romantic and a little too dangerous, we’re grateful to have each to enjoy the adventure.
1. The Conversation that Changed Everything
After having been at the Center for about a week, we requested a time to meet with the school administrator to discuss our specific roles at Monte Cristo. She smiled and agreed and asked us to return to the office after lunch. We returned, ready to lay out our plan on how much we would observe, how much we would study, and how much we would work, sure that our daily schedule was ready for implementation. Alejandra asked us to sit, started to talk, and changed everything.
Hilary and I were under the impression that the school was fully sustainable, had everything figured out, and that we would spend the year mostly studying their perfect model. Ale then proceeded to explain the history of Monte Cristo, the gracious donors who started the operation, and how they survived when donations ran dry. It has been mostly a story of hardship and bootstrapping, but also of widespread impact and impressive results. Many people have foregone pay and sacrificed the little they had to keep Monte Cristo running, and they’re ready for a change. After briefing us on the history, we were asked to research the school’s assets, create a business, and find a way for the school to be self-sustainable so they could ensure its future. In that moment, so much of my life made sense- my college major, my passions and my weaknesses. In that moment I understood what my life had been leading to. That was my favorite moment thus far.