The moment has come! My final film has been completed and posted on YouTube. I apologize for the long wait! Please share this with your friends and family and help to spread the word of the great work that Mission Guatemala is doing!
So I've just completed my 6 weeks in Guatemala. Leaving Panajachel was a lot harder than I thought it would be. It was a struggle for so long and then suddenly, it wasn't. It is strange how you walk the streets of a city for so long and it goes from totally foreign and unfamiliar and before you know it, it all becomes so natural and then eventually, you must walk away. Of course now, as I was beginning to feel at home and truly connected with people, I had to leave. My timing has never been ideal. Thinking existentially about the grand scheme of life and all of that, I truly hope I can see these people again and with better timing. I feel like life always gets in the way though. It always happens like that. Service trips and camps and things like that - they unite a group and you always think you're gonna stay BFFs forever and even if you are on the same campus, priorities change and things fall apart. It's quite tragic. So even though I must leave just as things are getting good, I can only hope I really can stay in touch with these incredible people and break the cycle of busyness that can stop relationships. Unfortunately that seems an unrealistic goal in today's society but I'm sure as hell going to try. But regardless, all good things must come to an end. Such is life. And my time in Guatemala with these people was not at all wasted. My time there might be over, but its impact on me is not. I definitely plan on returning to Guatemala in the future- nothing official yet though.
So in my last week, I got a lot of video work done, visited a cool art gallery, hung out with new friends, and went swimming in the lake! FYI: the videos are not done and won't be for several more weeks. Stay tuned for updates. After I left Pana, I went to Antigua, a city in Guatemala about 2 and a half hours away. I'd say it was an uneventful ride, but I vomited twice out the van window on the way- don't ask me why, it just happened. Also fun fact: I've now puked in 4 countries: America, Austria, Gambia, and Guatemala. But yeah, after that, I got to my hostel and then just wandered around the city. It is gorgeous, with its multicolored store fronts, beautifully maintaining the historic integrity of this Spanish colonial era. The atmosphere is so much different than in Panajachel, but it was still really cool to explore. There were tons of old churches and ruins of old churches from prior earthquakes, and again, the volcanoes provided an incredible backdrop. I returned to my hostel in the evening, where I was eventually dragged back out into town to go dancing. I'm so glad I went. It was an awesome way to end my time in Guatemala, struggling to learn to salsa and then just dancing normally alongside other Guatemalans to their upbeat pop Spanish music.
So while this experience was hard, it pushed my out of my comfort zone and forced me to acknowledge what I can emotionally handle. I somehow thrived in a foreign country, despite language barriers and lack of initial friends. I guess, "Thrived" is relative and sure, certain factors, if changed, would've made things a lot easier, but I managed well with the cards I was dealt. I found it really tough to travel somewhere new on my own, but oddly enough, it was even harder to leave on my own. And now, being back in the US, it is very strange. Some habits, both good and bad, came back to me too quickly. And some, like throwing toilet paper away in a trash can, were still ingrained in me due to Guatemalan plumbing. Old habits die hard I suppose. But the Land of the Eternal Spring made a significant impact on me, in multiple areas of my life, and I look forward to seeing how it has transformed me as a person and will better me for future jobs, travels, relationships, etc. Thank you to everyone who helped me get to Guatemala, supported me while I was there, and has listened to me spew random thoughts on the internet for the past 6 weeks. I could not have done this without you. I captured the Eternal Spring on camera with beautiful scenery and amazing people to make it easy. What I did not expect was that the Land of the Eternal Spring would capture me too. Not on camera Until next time.
*cue Imagine Dragons song* The following describes one of my favorite experiences so far in Guatemala:
So on Sunday evening, I took a boat across Lake Atitlan from Panajachel (where I've been living) to another town, San Pedro. Then the next morning at 3:30 AM, I was awake to take a Chicken Bus (literally a converted American school bus used for public transportation) up out of San Pedro. It was a holiday so fireworks were already going off by 4! That coupled with the very rocky, twisting road and chilly morning air made it impossible to get any sleep on the ride out of the city. Once we arrived, we used flashlights to begin our hike up Indian's Nose, the mountain. Gradually it became lighter and the flashlights were no longer needed and after about 45 minutes of very steep climbing, we reached the top. Despite my sweat and exhaustion (I'd never actually hiked before), I was still in awe of the view. It was absolutely breathtaking. We could see for miles as the sun rose above the mountains, shining onto the beautiful Lake Atitlan and the line of 8 volcanoes stretching in a row. Our British guide, Matt, talked about plate tectonics and how the lake and volcanoes were formed. It really showed the sheer strength of nature and to me, how it will always win out over man. That we can do our best to control nature, but it is better to just adapt it try to work with it rather than against it. I felt like I was on top of the world. I felt oddly huge and insignificantly small at the same time. But after an hour, I reluctantly had to follow the group as we began our hike back down. It was now very hot but thankfully the downhill trek was not as physically painful as the way up. It was, however, very rocky and somewhat treacherous so we had to be mindful of our footing. We took several breaks to learn about (and eat) random fruits and herbs we found on the way. We even saw a neat plant that has petals that curl in on itself when touched. It was almost as if it was crying sadly at the aggression. We saw a tree appropriately called the "Tourists' Tree" for its red bark that peels off like sunburn. Our Guatemalan guide told us traditional Mayan stories as well. After about 2 hours, we arrived at the bottom, at San Juan (the lit city visible in the photos). We took a pickup truck (another common form of public transportation) back to San Pedro. I limped back to a cafe to rest a bit until returning to Pana. It was an incredible experience all around- one I am definitely grateful to have had before leaving Guatemala. While my legs will eventually stop being sore (at least I hope so) I will always have my memories and the photos to remind me of this journey. It is quite symbolic of my time here. Very much a challenge, but one I can look back on with pride, knowing that I can overcome even the tallest of seemingly unconquerable mountains.
I have just completed my fifth week in Guatemala. I've spent the past week working at construction sites, photographing other people working even harder at construction sites, and editing my short films while drinking delicious smoothies or coffee around town. It is strange to think that I only have one more week left here in this beautiful place. My time here has been an incredible learning experience- both learning about Guatemala and myself. I could write a paper (which I'll probably have to do at some point anyway) about the cultural things I've learned, but I won't go into that now. On the personal side, I already knew that I loved traveling but now I'm realizing that I really enjoy doing so with the intent of observing, capturing, and/or helping with social change. That is what I hope to do in the future to some extent, whether in the form of a career or not. I do not want to just be a tourist, but a student of the culture I am entering. I also know that in the future, I need a companion. A human one preferably, although the countless dogs around here don't hurt. Unless they bite you and give you rabies...it happens! But while I am someone who enjoys alone time, I need to talk about the things that I'm experiencing. Seeing so many new things and just keeping them to myself makes question my observations and my personal bias and am not always sure what is the true reality.
Also, it is very odd to see American news stories while abroad. It is hard to stay up to date and part of the conversation. A lot has happened since I've been here. Caitlyn Jenner, the horrific church shooting in South Carolina, and of course, the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, among other things. Again, I could go on about my opinions on these stories, but I brought this up to note how it is interesting to see firstly what stories people post on social media and secondly their responses to these stories. I lack a television so I really only know what Americans my age are talking about. So I didn't really hear much about any of the international terrorist attacks or even many of the things going on here in Guatemala. I only have a few people here to discuss these with in person, and our time to do so is often short. Therefore, I have felt kind of in limbo- in an in-between, partially still in American culture and only partially integrated into Guatemalan culture.
At least the weather is something we can always talk about here. It hasn't rained in a while, which is strange for the rainy season, but I'm not complaining. It has been awfully hot though, in the mid 80s every day. It wouldn't be so bad except shorts aren't super common here and I'm still a target for bugs so I end up wearing pants around town and then just sweating a ton. It's super attractive, trust me.
Ok, time to wrap up- I can see you all nodding off already. So although I have learned a lot and continue to meet some amazing people during my time here, I am ready to come home. I want to have the time to reflect more on my experiences from afar, to share my funny and random stories, and to eat Chipotle. Clearly I have my priorities in order. It appears that I will be continuing my work on the videos once I'm home so I'll still be doing things then. I'll be sure to share the link to it once it's online so don't worry! Time to go adventuring for the next week. Until next time!
Holy crap- I've been in Guatemala for a month! It is such a strange feeling because the culture shock has worn off and so many things seem normal now. This is the longest I've been out of the country so I guess it makes sense. Oh I hope I don't forget how to drive a car when I get back. I've really been taking advantage of my ability to walk everywhere or take a Tuc-Tuc when I'm lazy or it's dark out and I'm alone.
Here are some random observations that I figured I'd share with you. If you want to know the anecdotes behind any of these, just let me know.
1. Ziplining for the second time is even better than the first.
2. Women here have no problem breastfeeding in public- something that I'm still forming an opinion on but would cause quite a debate in the US.
3. The paper towels here are way too thin to be used as paper towels. They might as well be toilet paper. May have been used as toilet paper when I ran out.
4. Henna is fun. But not when it takes 2 hours by a weird guy who won't stop talking the whole time about his "Space Philosophy".
5. I haven't worn make-up in weeks and it feels incredible. Although I am conscious of what I am wearing to be culturally appropriate, it has been great to not be concerned with how I look all the time.
6. Friendly people are the greatest. I have met some incredible people lately all from our ability to make eye contact and then start a conversation. This is the thing I am most grateful for during my time here.
Film Update: I have the basic skeleton created for 2 short videos. I love the editing process but I have been feeling pretty unmotivated and frustrated when it comes to gathering more footage. I finally figured out why. It is because unlike in narrative film making, here I don't have much control over what passes through my lens. I'll have a great shot set up and people walk in front of the camera and not care. The Guatemalan kids love cameras and jump up and down in front of it. Or they think I'm taking a photo so when they see me, they stop whatever cute thing they were doing, look straight at the camera, and stand still.
Here's to two more weeks in this beautiful country and the relationships I'll continue to form before I leave.
Today on my long walk into the city, I suddenly became very aware of my surroundings. There was so much going on but I found myself able to focus on each one of my senses. The sight of the on-going rocky road with the green mountains looming tall, outlining both sides. The feeling of gravel (and regret) in my shoes, as I had chosen to wear sandals that morning. The herbal smell of a variety of plants being harvested on the farms both on the flat areas and carved into the sides of the mountains nearby. The taste of bug spray still in my mouth from earlier attempts to keep the bugs at bay. The occasional itch on my leg from the remaining bites that have yet to go away. The low rumbling of a Tuc-Tuc approaching from behind me and the smell of diesel exhaust as it passes. Seeing cute stray dogs asleep on the side of the road, flies buzzing around their heads. The feeling of the warm air, with a cool breeze coming up from the lake. I see a woman in her traditional Mayan outfit, clutching the hand of her young daughter as they stroll along. Walking towards Guatemalans is just fine. Walking behind them, on the other hand, is a painful experience for those like me who walk quickly. I envy their slow pace, which is not at all due to laziness, as is my perception of many of the people on campus, but rather due to their relaxed, living-in-the-moment mindset. I see men walk by, in jeans and a t-shirt, who politely say "Hola Adios" in one breath as we pass. I hear the powerful pounding of a waterfall to my left and can see the water cascading over the top of a cliff. I hear distant unidentifiable birds and voices quickly speaking Spanish words I cannot make out. As I get closer to the city, I hear upbeat Latin music and more mechanical noises of trucks. I can begin to see the peaks of the nearly twin volcanoes over the lake. I hear the fast patting of hands, forming round tortillas to sell for the day. I smell the corn used to make them. I see a bicyclist riding toward me and feel the warmth of his laughing smile as we unintentionally play chicken on the side of the road. I get to my destination, the Panajachel Center, where I will spend the afternoon on the second floor restaurant, with sparkling lemonade, delicious coconut crusted avocado fries, and free Wi-Fi. I overlook the main street of Santander (Saun-taun-dare) and can feel the breeze through the open window in front of me as I continue to edit my video. It is a good day.
Hello friend. Yes you! I've missd you! Even if I just saw you the other day or if I've never met you before. It has been kind of lonely here in Guatemala but it has been nice to talk to you recently and get some of my thoughts out. This week, week 3, which now marks my halfway point, was full of many emotions. Frustration, fear, relief, excitement. I'm learning a lot about what I can handle, what I actually enjoy, and what I am looking for out of life. It is helping me to think more about my future. I graduate from college in less than a year so I've been thinking a lot of my various options: the Peace Corps, a Fulbright scholarship, a job, graduate school. I still don't know what I want just yet.
In addition, as I mentioned in a prior post, it has been tough being aware that I am missing out on relationships with Guatemalans due to my inability to speak Spanish. However, I am blessed for the relationships I have made with the English-speakers who have come to Guatemala to serve. Over 60 people have come through Mission Guatemala since I arrived and although they only stay for a week, I have formed many friendships with them in such a short time. Due to the religious nature of these mission trip teams, I've seen firsthand the many ways in which people worship God and share their religion. This is helping me to develop how I want to express my beliefs and love, in a religious way or not, to others. It is the selfless generosity that I've appreciated seeing the most in these people and hope to emulate.
Seeing the adults from Baldwin Wallace was another highlight of my week. It was great to reminisce about things on campus and to join together in the new experiences here thousands of miles away from Berea. We got to go ziplining which really pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I had a blast.
Being in a foreign country has made me very aware of my "white-ness", something I usually am not conscious of. But I have found that locals look at me slightly differently and other Americans smile trustingly and with the acknowledgement of the shared experience. It made me think about the idea of stranger danger, which I don't necessarily agree with because it asserts the assumption that all strangers have bad intentions and that people we do know can't hurt us. This obviously is not true. I could go on and on with examples, but I understand it is hard to teach children to trust their instincts and to be free to meet new people but remain cautious at the same time. So my advice is to be open to others, friends or strangers, white or brown or black, but as soon as you now longer feel comfortable, don't hesitate to remove yourself from the situation, regardless of if you feel like you are being rude.
FOOD! This is the first week that I've begun to struggle with the food. Trust me, I love the food here- there's tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, tacos, beans, rice, chicken, steak, potatoes, etc. But it is tough because I often eat with the teams each day so we don't get a say in any of their meals. I miss just having options and even when I do go out for food, it doesn't quite taste the same as a home cooked meal or a greasy burger or fried macn'cheese bites. The coffee here is really good though so at least that keeps me going.
Lastly, I am getting a lot accomplished with my work. I am pleased with my photographs and video footage that I've gathered recently and I just am slowly figuring out the order of things. From there, I just have to put the pieces puzzle together to find what looks and sounds just right.
Thank you for taking the time to keep up with my trip and for encouraging me through this whole process. I couldn't have done it without you and your support.
I just wanted to make a random post related to my travels here in Guatemala, but on a more personal note. I was terrified to come to Guatemala. Ask any of the people in line with me for security at the airport who saw my mom, sister, and me crying to each other as I had to leave. People have told me how brave they think I am for coming all the way out here on my own. I was scared out of my mind. But I don't define bravery as the absence of fear, but rather continuing with a decision despite the fear. Being honest with yourself and with others isn't easy. But even as a kid, my parents taught me that it is okay to be scared, that it is okay to cry, but it is NOT okay to not try or to give up or to go back on your word simply because you are scared. As an example, I used to be petrified of roller coasters. My mom had dragged me into the line of one the smallest ones and I cried and protested. And as upset as I was with her at the time, after the ride, I ran out to my dad waiting patiently at the exit, loving it and grateful that she forced me on. But she knew my limits and knew I would be fine and safe. And I reluctantly trusted her. This process has repeated over and over again since then, our mutual trust growing stronger. As I've gotten older, however, I've found that I've developed more bravery than I think my mom could've been prepared for. She is the one who is now forced to trust me, instead of the other way around.
It was my decision to go to college 2 and a half hours away, to go to Africa, to come out, and to travel to Guatemala for 6 weeks. We both knew the challenges these would pose. I have never been blind to the fact that somehow I am drawn to making challenges for myself. But life's not any fun if it is easy. My happiest and most blessed moments have been when I was scared, but continued past it to see what was beyond. I have found the people and things I love most because of it. Whether they were the destination or part of the journey.
And I encourage everyone else to do the same. Fear is natural. Fear of the unknown, fear of what others might think, fear of failure. But prepare well enough, trust in yourself, and keep pushing past the fear and past the pain that might come with it. Pretty soon you will find some spectacular things. And they may not be thousands of miles away. They may be right in front of you, just waiting for you to find them.
Now that I am in Guatemala, I have my own apartment, an internship, and more freedom than they probably should trust me with in a foreign country and a drinking age of 18. But even with the everyday challenges I face, I now know that I would be comfortable living by myself in an apartment in the United States, an idea that used to scare me. I know I can fly by myself (and a trained pilot), a thought that also terrified me. When I return to the US, I could run off to New York City or Los Angeles if I wanted to and had the money. They're not going to tell you this, but you don't need a college education to be successful anymore. I could stop now and pursue a career in professional juggling (I won't, I promise. I don't know how to juggle). But what's stopping me? And what is stopping you from going after what you want most?
So what if others do think differently of you or failure does strike? Have the confidence in yourself and love yourself enough to know that you tried and did your best. And because of that, you can try again. That is what life is about. Facing the fear and pain head on, surviving, and trying again, knowing that better outcomes lie ahead.
Week 2 is now coming to a close. So much has happened but I won't bore you with the details. I mean, that's kind of why you're here but I'll try to be brief.
As two teams leave Mission Guatemala after a successful week of construction projects, two new ones will be arriving shortly. In addition some awesome faculty and staff members from BW just got here! The newness of everything has been stressful so seeing familiar faces has been extremely comforting. I look forward to sharing some more of my experiences here with them.
I am feeling more at home here though, for sure. I'm getting closer with the Mission Guatemala staff- I was even invited to play soccer with them since they have games once a week. I got one goal! But ultimately my team lost. The mosquitoes at least seem to think I'm a great hostess- but over 50 visits later to my ankles and calves, I'm struggling. Beyond the loss of my dignity from the tragic futbol defeat and the pain of bug bites, I am much more confident walking around town now on my own. I can order food, buy items, and use the taxi service. Sometimes it takes some confused looks, me overemphasizing the few Spanish words I know, and crazy hand movements to get my point across, but things usually work out just fine. It is frustrating most often when I realize that I am missing out on some relationships by my inability to speak Spanish. But I try to remind myself that I'm doing my best and that's all I can reasonably expect.
Fun fact, Guatemalans love fireworks. Loud, bomb-like sounding ones. At any time of the day. Literally. At 7:30 AM, 10 PM. Who cares- fireworks for everyone. They scare me every time. There have also been random parades and celebrations recently which have been fine until I walked out of my apartment and accidentally into a group of parading men wearing dresses and animal masks. I narrowly escaped into a nearby Tuc-Tuc.
I still can't believe I made it this far, in one piece, and with the confidence that I can make it through the next month. I was terrified to come here, leave my family and friends, and enter an unfamiliar place with no one I knew. It definitely has some growing pains, but growing comes just when you cross outside of your comfort zone.
Oh yeah, the reason I'm here- to film stuff! That part has been going well, not too much to report at the moment. I could tell you all about it but then you'd have no need to watch the final product. So I'll just keep the suspense building for the next few weeks and you can see for yourself all that my hard work has come to.
I can't believe I've already completed a full week in Guatemala. I have met some incredible people here and although it was sad to see one group leave, I'm excited to have the opportunity to meet others from around the world who are also dedicated to service and learning more about Guatemala.
This past week, I continued to document Mission Guatemala as they provided further medical care to children at local schools and to the men at one of the few Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation programs in the area. It was good to see these people receive quality treatment at an affordable cost (it was free) and get the respect that they deserve despite their circumstances.
Although I am still struggling with Spanish, everyone has been so hospitable and patient with me. I've begun to explore and learn my way around Panajachel. I discovered Crossroads Cafe, an awesome coffee shop that caters to people from around the world. I've only been there twice and met people from Canada, Australia, Florida, Minnesota, and Mississippi. I look forward to returning and hearing more about the adventures that bring people to Guatemala. The views here have not ceased to amaze me and I look forward to seeing what this coming week brings with new adventures, new people, and more amazing food!