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 .