Here are a few of the films produced by the students on this trip
June 4, 2012
May 30, 2012
Typical kitchen in San Felipé, Guatemala (just outside of Cotzal in the Ixil region):
Typically exterior where we stayed while in the Ixil region (e.g. clothes hanging to dry, plastic wrap shower, “chu”: a sauna type bathing area, an outdoor toilet and outdoor washing area).
May 26, 2012
Going into this experience I knew that there would be a language a barrier, but I had no idea how hard it would to communicate with out host families. My first host family the mother did not speak Spanish, so the few words that Erica and I knew did not help us much. The little time that we spent there we did not communicate with he much other than hand motions. We were able to communicate with her two oldest children, a little through Spanish and drawing pictures.
My second host family knew Spanish, along with two other languages, and that made it a bit easier but not easy. This family was more willing to try and communicate with us and wanted to know just as much about us as we wanted to know about them. We would ask them words in Spanish as well as they would ask us about words in English. We both showed them pictures of our families, homes and friends back home. They showed us pictures from their wedding, honeymoon, and baby pictures of their daughter. They both really enjoyed looking through our pictures in our camera to “track” our trip! When trying to communicate with them and we ran into a difficultly we would laugh and try again, most of the time we were able to get it. I will never forget the laughter that came from their home and the joy that this experience gave me!
We were asked to wright about limits, and I know I hit several of mine. There were a few times when we were hicking where I really had no desire to keep moving, but that is the type of limit I have hit before, having been active in sports off and on throughout my life.
I mentioned to my room mate that I had read a quote that suggested doing one thing each day that scared you, but this was back at Anadesa.
Every time I hit my “limit” or started thinking that I really didn’t know if I was willing to make things work, I would remember the generocity of my hosts, and things didn’t seem so bad. Having them trying their best to make us at home while we cringed at the living conditions didn’t seem just.
It is easy for me to quit at home, which is why I like having deadlines or a training buddy, I need someone holding me responsible. Here I was constantly pushed beyond where I was comfortable, and even to the point of wanting to quit several times. Yet being able to say I walked down a mountain, or I understood one phrase in Ixil was oddly rewarding. There was no bandstand moment where I received a praise, but it is one more way I can say “well I did _______, so this new obstacle can’t be that bad.”
Ultimately noting I did this last week compares to what many of these families have endured, and I would not claim I can relate to their suffering. Yet this trip was designed to not just learn about those people who live in Latin America and survived a civil war. It was to meet people and get a little taste of who they are as people, not just as survivors.
I think witnessing how they live day to day has made it more potent to then hear their stories. I feel like I can understand better what it means to be a leader and an activist having met the people I have on this trip.
Most of us in the United States seem to be extremely connected to our electronic devices. While this obviously has its advantages in being able to learn, connect with others far away, and just make life easier being in Guatemala for a week seemed to bring out some negatives of all this technology in our lives. Our host families in Guatemala had only a tiny fraction, or none at all, of the technology we are used to on a daily basis. Because of this, the person to person interactions in Guatemala seems to be ten times what it is at home. The three days we spent in San Felipe I spent more time talking to our host family then I have my own family in probably the last three months. I know for a fact I know more about my host family then I do any of my neighbors. Not being sucked into our electronic devices forced us to interact on a more personal level which, I have to say, I find much more satisfying (? no spell check) then then walking and talking with those whose face is stuck in a cell phone text messaging or checking facebook.
This trip pushed all of us to many differnt limits from trying to communicate to physical activity. The time I found myslef pushing past my limits was when I was carrying a roll of chicken wire for a pretty good distance and up hill. I was wanting to quit and hand it off to one of my other classmates but once when I stopped I thought to myself the people who live here do this everyday with more weight and for a longer distance so I pushed through and eventually made it to the top. Once at the top I thought wow I just did that with no help. It was a great sense of accomplishment for me.
I think this journey has pushed each and every one of us beyond our limits at some point during the week, both mentally and physically. However, when we each reached that point we found ourselves able to keep pushing and get beyond that point where we thought we couldn’t go which was really neat. There were a couple of physical challenges that involved hiking which definitely surprised us all–I think we all wished we would have done a little conditioning such as stair climbing prior to Guatemala to get us ready for the adventures ahead. But we all made it no matter our level of fitness. Mentally we were really pushed as well. At the end of the day we would be totally exhausted and wanting to escape to our own comfort zone and that simply wasn’t an option. I think that was really hard for us to get used to because not only was our comfort zone not an option, but our reality of where we were was just so different from what we were used to. The first moment I felt myself push beyond my limitations was early in the trip on Sunday. Some of us had the opportunity to go to church during our stay at Semilla, and just as mass started I found myself feeling more exhausted and overwhelmed than I thought I was. I knew I was physically at my limit and needed to step outside but wanted to stay present because the church was unlike anything at home and I realized I wouldn’t get to experience that ever again. It was the first time I saw how just being in Guatemala made me want to be immersed into the culture before I was phyically ready for it. We are very privileged in America and it’s amazing how different life is in Guatemala. The small things like access to clean water in America is a very big challenge in Guatemala and I know now that if I lived in Guatemala, the amount of water I drink on a daily basis now is quite a luxury comparatively. This is just one example, but I think myself, along with everyone else, was pushed several times past what we thought we could handle and it really opened our eyes to the reality of our host families and other Guatemalans as well.
‘Limit experience’ – Day 3
Today we took the boat ride from Panahachel and immediately got in the bus to head for Nebaj, it consisted of the windiest switchbacks and pretty miserable 5 hour drive into the city to meet Toby and Yasmin. At times it’s hard to remind myself to stay patient with everyone in the group and remember that we all have different experience with travel, but all things considered it was still a very memorable and amazing experience. When wgrotto to Nebaj, we met with the Mayor of the area and ate at a fun little restaurant. The meeting we had there was pretty intense and it honestly felt like the translations from English to Spanish seemed to take ages. I really appreciated how our hosts at Funda Maya seemed to be very concise and thorough in the answers to us as if they realized the sharing of our own stories with those back home could really make a difference.
After traveling to San Felipe, we then met our host mom, Anna,Who had with her, 2 young children who seemed to be coughing and sneezing during the introductions, I honestly felt bad for noticing and in my mind, I hoped I wouldn’t be paired with them. Anna also had a baby in a sling on her back who seemed to have a small cut on his head and actually seemed very content in all the chaos tucked away behind her. We traveled to her home, all the while graciously refusing her offers to help us carry our suitcases, as if she didn’t have enough to worry about without the two of us as an extra burden.There we met about 5 other children and two older women whom I assumed were the abuelas, grandmas of the group.
At that point things seemed very real and I was officially out of my comfort zone and in extreme culture schlock. With no other choice than to push on for the next 3 or more days, we played a little soccer in the muddy alley with the children while the women prepared dinner. I think at that moment I realized that I was just going to have to trust the hands I was in and hope that everything would be okay. We ate for dinner, a dish called botchvol which was basically masa or maize wrapped in leaves that appeared similar to spinach. It had been boiled and you ate the masa off the stem and then discarded the stem. The women and family laughed at us trying to figure out what to do with it.
I am amazed at how little these people have but are willing to share. We finished our meal with a cup of coffee, which was a welcome treat but which I was honestly hesitant to drink :( I feel Si bad saying these things because I know they are making sacrifices in order for us to be here.
There was sparse electricity at Anna’s it seemed and the kitchen only had a dim light and stove which was fueled by a wood burning fire. Strangely though, at least to me it seemed, i walked into a room where some of the family was watching television. In my mind I thought, ‘no toilet yet they have a television.’Ionesco of the teenage boys had to give up his room for us to sleep in and I felt so bad. The family also immediately pulled money from a jar a sent the typing girls to get a roll of toilet paper for us.
Needless to say, I have never felt so fortunate in my life. These days have seemed so full of excitement yet full of apprehension. I missed home terribly at this point but realized I could push through and managed to learn a lot about what I am capable of. I am so thankful to have had this experience yet so ready to go home. The Ixil people have such a strong will for freedom and resistance against the things they know are wrong that I completely admire .
May 25, 2012
This trip has been an amazing experience and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of it. Though testing at times, I have learned a lot about the indigenous Ixil people, Guatemala and even myself. Yesterday, after learning about an Italian MNC called Anell and the Ixil region’s struggle to get justice from the construction of a new hydroelectric dam, we came home to a room full of Mayan people, and our host mom, Anna. :). We had a bowl of broth with tomatoes and potatoes and a cup of coffee, plenty at this point. After dinner, Anna asked us if we wanted to tash ‘llavar’ en espanol. I had heard about the ‘tamascal’ experience from the other classmates and was actually excited to get clean. Anna, I and Sara all basically bathed together and Anna even washed my hair. You can definitely tell she is a mother at heart and is used to taking care of people. After the day, I was initially dreading going back to my host family but it was actually much more comforting than I thought it would be after such an intense day. I am truly amazed at the Ixil people and their generosity. I am extremely frustrated in hearing the story of their struggles and the meeting and hope I can somehow make a difference in sharing my experience. Today at the bakery, Raoul said something that blew my mind and seemed to come at the perfect time. ‘Like fireflies, religion needs darkness to shine.’ -Schopenhauer. It was as if the message was sent from above at the perfect time, though extremely confusing and frustrating at times, I feel so fortunate to have had this experience and been able to push myself to new limits in the experience of the past few days.
I think my favorate part of this trip- other than the waterfall- was the discussions we had with members of the comunity. While knowing about a damn being constructed by the Italians in Guatemala may not affect me, or my life directly, it is still important to have these discussions.
Part of my dificulty in living here for the last week was my inability to communicate with my host family, or with others in the comunity. It was really nice to be able to talk with leaders of the comunities we were living in about issues that affect them. This open comunication appears to be what many of the people are looking for, someone to take the time to see learn what is important to them, and to recognise that their needs and wants may be different than what we assume.
I appreciate their willingness to open their lives to us, and help us to understand more of what it means to be Guatemalan.
One of the most memorable moments of the trip had to be the choo (chu?). I heard about it before the trip and after a few others had experienced it and was excited to try it. I was excited when our host father asked us if we were up to try it, of course I was. It was a long few days without a shower and thought it would feel nice. After climbing through the small opening I realized it was much like a sauna. Awesome. After a wash with extremely hot water and some more time in the stream we got out had some cold water and relaxed to sleep. Kind of.
One of the most memorable experiences I have from this trip is Erica and trying to tell Juana that we needed towels after our chu and she wasn’t understanding. Erica and I went into the room and tried to find her wash cloth and once Erica found hers she put on her and muy grande and she got it. We all laughed! It was an exciting moment! After she left our room we could hear her telling her husband about and laughed. This is just of the many experiences that made us really connected with our family and made this experience an absolutely wonderful one!
May 19, 2012
Michael, We have arrived in Guatemala City and the scenery is wonderful. It is hard to believe a country with such beauty has seen such horrific tragedy in the past years. The trees and mountains around here seem to have a lot of impact on the lustrious landscaping and help give amazing beauty to an area with seemingly so little going for it. I am happy to have come on this trip and \i am very excited to meet the people of the highlands and get to hear their stories personally.
Ashley, Well today the adventure begins! As with any country, customs seemed a bit intimidating initially when we arrived at the airport but we were greeted by Adriana without a hitch. When we arrived in semilla, we got fresh water, yay!! chicken sandwhiches and pears! I am so excited to begin our day of sightseeing and learning today. Thus far everyone seems really nice and helpful and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of colleagues to embark upon this with. Hope everyone in the states is well and your enjoying a great weekend, I know we will!! Behind every corner lies an interesting detail of Guatemalan life that I am excited to uncover and and untold story that I am anxious to hear. We’ll be in touch soon, wish us luck!
May 19, 2012
Phil- Well we have finally made it down here in Guatemala this are good as of now. On the plane I met with a man who was from here who told us his story about his grandfather and how he was shot on his farm, it was nice to see him open up so easy about his story. I wish we could have had more time to talk.
Ryan- We have arrived in Guatemala City. The city is dark and I’m itching for daylight to see the mountains. We’ve had a nice late night snack and I’m ready for some sleep and a busy day tomorrow!
Sara- Flight was long, but so excited to finally be here! The weather is perfect and the girls are throwing a party in the room of bunks! :)
May 18, 2012
Currently Guatemala is in the beginning stages of the rainy season. While we expect precipitation, we are not anticipating torrental downpours for the duration of our travels (generally it rains in the afternoon times).
Today we fly from Kansas City (417pm) via Houston and arrive into Guatemala City at 917pm. As Guatemala is on “Mountain Time”, we’ll lose an hour going there.
Our first stop for about 16 hours is at SEMILLA, a Mennonite Seminary that hosts many groups with Connecting Peoples, for biblical study and for language study through CASAS. Given the long history of relationships between Catholics and Catholic institutions and Mennonites and common work on issues of social justice, we are excited to be lead and hosted by Mennonite Central Committee in Guatemala (who have been working in Guatemala for 36 years).
In case you’d like to contact the group at any point during our travels, this would be a clear contact that would be able to reach us wherever we are:
March 22, 2010
Our final full day in Berlin began with some gorgeous weather and a short walk from the subway station to Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). We spent the morning walking through the underground exhibit and then spent some time outside walking around the stone memorial area (which covers a square city block). This is a national memorial to this genocide and, as such, is of immense importance to reconciliation and remembrance.
After our visit here, many began shopping that lasted through the afternoon and extended into the evening. Bergmannstraße and Nikolaiviertel were both popular spots to get gifts at for ourselves, our friends and families.
Our trip then back to Kansas City was relatively uneventful. Thankfully we procured a fleet of taxi vans to take us (and our increased amount of stuff) to the airport. We thus avoided the two subway trains and express bus ride.
March 18, 2010
Today we visited Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in Fürstenberg, about 1 1/2 hours north of Berlin. We took the Regional Express Train (a double-decker with a great view of the windmills, farms, and architecture) to the Bahnhof (the actual station prisoners came through en route to the camp).
This was a women’s camp, predominantly for political prisoners and “asocial” people. Though it is much like Sachsenhausen’s population, we are now visiting a women’s forced labor camp instead of a men’s forced labor camp. Here more than 132,000 women were prisoners and over 10,000 were murdered, in particular over 6,000 died in the gas chamber (no longer standing) within a month before the Red Army liberated the camp on April 30, 1945. Many survivors provided sketched testimonies of their experiences and we were able to view these in the camp prison’s cells.
Unlike Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück has chosen not to reconstruct buildings in order to create an experience of what the camp was like. Rather, the goal is to preserve the state of buildings as they are. Thus, all of the structures are original to the camp (including the crematorium we visited at the end of our tour).
We thank our wonderful guide for his expertise, compassion and sensitivity to the testimonies of the victims and the survivors.
Please pardon the camera work on some of these videos. While I was a bit shaky, I was doing my best to avoid photographing our guide, as he could experience repercussions from hate groups.
Here is the group walking down the road up to the camp, in fact, on a cobble-stone road constructed by the prisoners:
In this video you see the main administrative building for the camp’s operations as well as the homes of the SS officials (1/2 of whom were women officers):
We had the chance to view a special part of the camp – pictures and a manuscript which cataloged all those who were murdered at Ravensbrück:
Here we are in the main are of the camp right near where the kitchen was located (standing where roll call happened and punishment by standing occurred). The barracks are no longer standing, so in the second clip you can see what the camp looked like previously (the first taken around 1944 & the second around 1958):
This is inside the camp prison, where many survivors & countries were given cell space to display memorials to those who were murdered:
March 18, 2010
We finally took a day off from our busy schedule to allow ourselves to explore Berlin’s many museums, cafes, shops, etc. Small groups visited a variety of sites:
We also experienced a spontaneous performance in the Zoologischer Garten area of Berlin. Here is a sample: