It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in my kitchen doing homework for tomorrow. My host brothers are watching a movie and my dad is sitting at the table with me sorting through mail and reading the news. I have officially been in Guatemala for a week now, and in honor of that, I’m taking the time to write this really long post so that some of the groundwork is laid for the ones yet to come this semester. 🙂
Monday was a long day of traveling, and it didn’t really hit me that we were on our way to Guatemala until we got off the plane, made it through customs, and walked outside the airport. It didn’t take long to get to Semilla, the school, but were all pretty exhausted. We took our suitcases to our rooms and then had a late dinner together. The buildings at Semilla are all connected, but the guest house area is 4 stories high. There’s a rope lift for luggage so we didn’t all have to carry our bags to the 4th floor, but it was absolutely worth staying up there because the view was incredible.
Tuesday we had our Spanish placement exams so that our teachers could get an idea of our varying levels of comprehension and conversation. There are 2-3 students per teacher, so our classes are very specifically designed to help us with whatever we need and want to learn. Our Spanish classes are from 8:30 to 12:30 every day, and initially I wasn’t sure if it would be possible to focus for that long. But we have a half hour break in the middle with snacks, and my teacher is excellent at keeping the content engaging and diverse. Tuesday evening, some of us walked to the shopping center near the school to look around and to buy a few things. It was nice to be able to walk around because even though we had been in Guatemala for 24 hours, we had only been inside Semilla’s complex up to that point.
Wednesday in the afternoon we walked about a mile to another market to look around while we waited for our host families to finish their orientation at Semilla. My host mom came to get me, and we took a taxi back to our house. We talked the whole way there, and as soon as we got home, she showed me around the house. I have my own room and my mom decorated it with lace curtains over the bed and a few other lovely, warm touches. I met my host dad, and one of my two brothers, and settled in for the evening.
Thursday was my first experience with Guatemalan public transportation. To get to school, I have to take two buses and walk some as well. One of the other Bluffton students, Josh, lives near my family so we will be able to commute to school together. Our moms will take us to and from school for three days, and then after that we’ll be on our own. The first bus requires a reloadable card that we tap on a sensor to be able to enter the bus. The second bus requires money, either 1-3 quetzales depending on the time of day and the fare is not consistent. So we have to always remember to have some coins on us. There’s a ten minute walk in between both buses, but after we get off the second bus, it’s only a few minutes of walking to Semilla. It took us a little over an hour to get to school. After class Thursday, our Bluffton group went to La Casa de Imery for lunch and then visited the Mapa de Relieve which is a 3-D map of Guatemala made in 1905. It is 90% accurate and it’s one of three maps like it in the world. After the Mapa, we went to Zona 1 to visit La Catedral and to see La Casa Crema (The Cream House) which is like the White House of Guatemalan government. The Central Park in Zona 1 had a market (El Mercado Central) and a giant government building that over time has turned green because the foundation materials were mixed with copper. We had a late start and traffic was really bad returning to Semilla and so instead of getting back at 4, we got back at 6. It was pouring down rain by that point, and it’s dark by 7 pm here, so I really had no idea how to get home. I just followed my mom closely. The bus I take that requires coins are referred to as chicken buses. They are US school buses that no longer pass codes in the US and are sent to Central America. Each bus is painted and decorated however the driver wants, and usually filled to capacity with people and even animals. This bus in particular had blue neon lights and a giant Tweety Bird in the front. The bus was completely packed and started moving before Josh was on, so he had to quickly jump inside and hold on, part of his body riding outside of the bus. Traffic in Guatemala doesn’t stop for pedestrians, so people just cross the street whenever they can. There’s a 4 lane highway that we cross going to and from school, but there’s a divider in the middle that’s probably 6 inches or so wide, and so we can wait there before crossing the other two lanes.
Friday was the busiest day by far. We had class in the morning and then in the afternoon we visited the National Cemetery and overlooked Guatemala City’s dump. People work in the dump recycling and reselling items they find. About 10 years ago, laws were passed that prohibited children from being in the dump and also prohibited anyone from living there as well. It’s terribly dangerous work, and often the only means of income for some families. Hundreds of vultures swarm above, and even though we were nowhere near the edge, the smell was overpowering and unlike anything I’ve ever known. Directly after leaving the dump we went to Cayala which is one of the ritziest malls in Guatemala. It’s not far, but the contrast is astounding.
There was a traffic accident on the way home and so even though we left Semilla a little after 5, I didn’t get home until 7:30. I also got lost. Josh and his mom got off the bus before me, and my host mom was waiting for me at our stop but it was dark and I got off at the wrong stop. I was able to ask for directions, and I made it home, but it was pretty overwhelming. My biggest fear here is probably getting completely lost in the city somewhere between school and home, and so it was not helpful that I had that scare. It had been a very long day by the time I got home, but my evening wasn’t even close to being over. One of my host brothers is in the military academy and so Friday night I was his date to the President’s Gala at The Westin Camino Real hotel. It’s a banquet held every year on September 1st to honor the cadets in the academy. My host mom had a formal black gown that I wore with some of her jewelry. It’s the most formal event I’ve ever been to in my life and it was incredible. There were over a thousand people in the banquet hall, and the president of Guatemala came to speak. There was a lot of food, and music and dancing and we got home at 4 am. I was completely exhausted most of Saturday.
This weekend has been restful, and I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my brothers and my 16 month old niece. We’ve watched movies, and listened to music, and went to McDonald’s last night for hot chocolate. This first week was wonderful, but I must confess that I’m glad it’s over because now a lot of the new-ness is out of the way and I can start to settle into a routine that feels comfortable.
I am so glad that I’m here! One week down, and a semester to go 🙂