Amish Gringa

My host mom Nuvia and I have been drinking tea together almost every day. She figured out quickly that I don’t drink coffee, and started making sure there’s hot water for me to have tea when I get home from school. It’s a calming and familiar way for me to relax. I’m still trying to get used to my commute to and from school. I spend about 3+ hours a day in travel time, often in the rain in the afternoon and it’s been a challenge for me. But taking public transportation is one of the best ways to learn about a place, and it’s certainly an adventure every day. The other day, an elderly gentleman next to me on the bus asked me a question about the route. He spoke to me in Spanish so I’d like to think that even though I stand out, I sort of look like I know what I’m doing. It’s the little things, you know. My Spanish teacher Albertina asked me last week if my host family makes the commute vale la pena (worth the pain) and I said they do. That’s the main thing; at the end of a long day I know that I can come home to a pretty wonderful family.

But I’m on the go a lot. There’s been very little downtime in the 3 weeks we’ve been here so far.

Our second weekend here, we took a few days to visit the Iximche ruins, San Juan la Laguna, and Chichicastenango. Throughout the various locations, we learned more about Guatemalan history and visited a number of community co-ops.

San Juan la Laguna is one of the less touristy towns along Lake Atitlan, and they pride themselves for being very safe and community oriented. After spending the day touring different co-ops in the area, we split off in the evening to find dinner. It was pouring and we dashed around in the rain splashing each other and ourselves. Myself and and a few others found a small restaurant sheltered from the rain. Dinner cost Q20 a person (approximately $3) and it was a plate filled with grilled meat, rice, beans, potato, guacamole, and tortillas (side note: I have exactly 0 complaints about Guatemalan food). After dinner we found a local indoor soccer tournament game and watched for a while, entertained by the game and also by the stray dogs that wandered through the court. I spent over two hours canoeing on Lake Atitlan the next morning and it was breathtaking. I felt as though I were in a travel brochure because it was so surreal. There are few things I have seen in my life more beautiful than Lake Atitlan misted with morning fog.

Guatemala really is beautiful. Our bus driver during the weekend was a pretty cautious driver, and made me feel safe enough to look out over the drop off ledges on the mountain roads we were taking. Every few minutes it would hit me anew that I was driving through Guatemala, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes.

Just outside Chichicastenango, we visited a women’s co-op called Ruth and Noemi that sprung up in the 1980s as a result of the devastation of the civil war. Most of the women there spoke very little Spanish; their native language is K’iche’ and so we had interpreters translating the K’iche’ into Spanish and then into English. It was incredibly time consuming, but it was really powerful to hear three different languages being exchanged and that dialogue was one of the most meaningful parts of my weekend. In central Chichicastenango, we spent a long time at the Sunday market. It was incredibly packed and after a while, myself and a few other group members left to just walk around the city. I think my favorite thing to do when traveling is simply walking and orienting myself to the space around me. We had a 4 hour drive back into the city on Sunday afternoon and despite the wonderful weekend, we all felt drained. That made Monday pretty rough.

This week I’ve been pretty exhausted; coming home only to do homework and then sleep. I caught a bit of a cold part way through the week, but I must have talked my body into recovering quickly because I’m already feeling mostly back to normal.

Today, September 15th was Guatemala’s Independence Day. Thursday evening students ran through the streets with torches (a tradition), and high school marching bands have been preparing for weeks to play for the weekend festivities. Local Guatemalans were preparing too, if the firecrackers and fireworks at all hours of the day and night the past few weeks have been any indication.

My brother Jacob and other cadets from the military academy were downtown at the National Palace Thursday night for a flag ceremony. However, the political climate here in the city has been really tense lately, and the cadets were unable to march because of the protesters. It’s interesting for me to observe things here from an outsider’s perspective. I wasn’t raised in Guatemala, so I’m being very intentional about just learning about Guatemalan politics and not taking a side.

Because I’m from rural Amish/Mennonite Ohio, my host brothers (who are 21 and 22) have a few times referred to me as their “Amish Gringa.” I find it pretty hilarious and it’s helped to remind me to go easy on myself. I’m a foreigner here and it’s ok that I’m learning and making mistakes along the way. I’ve experienced a lot of grace. Perfectionism has no place with me here. 

Every day has a new set of challenges that I have to work through but I’m still happy and (mostly) healthy. Here’s to whatever comes next!

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The Iximche Ruins
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The harbor in Panajachel before we crossed to San Juan
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A view of Lake Atitlan
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A display at a weaving co-op in San Juan
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Lake Atitlan from our hotel
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Lake Atitlan, early morning
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The countryside of Chichicastenango
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The services in this church in Chichicastenango are a beautiful blend of Mayan and Christian traditions
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The market in Chichi
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One of the streets I liked most while walking around Chichicastenango
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