New places, familiar faces

I’m sitting in the living room with my laptop while my host parents watch a movie. We had dinner a little earlier than normal which means I’m starting my homework a little earlier than normal. The routine we’ve slowly established here will be changing soon; we have two more weeks left of language study here in Guatemala, and then after a week of free travel, we’ll leave for our month-long service placements elsewhere in the country.

This past weekend we spent a few days around Coban in the Alta Verapaz department. Friday we left Guatemala City at 5 am in hopes of beating some morning traffic. The highway to Coban is a mountain route that is frequently delayed by rockslides and bad weather. Traffic Friday morning was delayed by a truck that broke down in an inconvenient location and delayed us (and everyone else around us) by three hours or so. When we finally reached where the truck was pulled over, I turned to look at the driver and he looked so defeated that all of my frustration just melted away. We hit another delay a few hours later caused by a rock slide. The trip to Coban usually takes between 4-8 hours but it took us at least 9 before we reached our hotel. We had a late afternoon lunch at the hotel, and then went to the Parque Central in San Pedro Carcha. In the evening we went to K’ekchi Mennonite Church and had kak’ik for dinner, a traditional meal prepared for special occasions. The worship service following the meal was almost entirely in Q’eqchi’ with some Spanish and English in translation. The intersection of 2 languages is pretty great, but 3 is incredible. Hearing a language I couldn’t speak at all made Spanish feel familiar and comforting which is vastly different from how Spanish and English together makes me feel.

Saturday morning we visited Bezaleel Mennonite School in San Juan Chamelco. The students live at the school during the school year (January-October) because many of them come from villages too far to commute from. The school is for junior high and high school aged students primarily, and for many of them this is where they will learn to speak Spanish. The classes are mostly taught in Spanish, with some in Q’eqchi. After leaving the school, we went to Chicoj to tour a coffee farm. Chicoj is a Q’eqchi word that means “place of the mask.” Coffee plants require 50% shade and 50% sun, so the coffee fields are filled with banana trees to help provide shade. Part of the tour included a zip line course, so we spent about an hour ziplining through the farm on 6 or 7 differents lines. We had a late lunch there and then drove to our hotel in Baja Verapaz. We stayed in cabins that had open fireplaces and no wifi so Saturday night we hung out, roasted marshmallows, and turned out the lights to enjoy the light of the warm fire chasing away the chill of the mountain night air.

Sunday morning we hiked to a waterfall. It took about 30 minutes through a muddy trail and a creek to cross. The creek didn’t have a bridge, just a boulder path through the water which was incredibly slick. I slipped and plopped down hard on a partially submerged rock. After that everyone else crossing was a little more careful with their footing, but I didn’t have a barrier anymore to splashing around in the water when we got to the falls 🙂 After returning from the falls we left to go back to Guatemala City. It only took a little over 5 hours to come back, which is still a pretty tiring drive when a good bit of that is spent stuck in traffic in the mountains.

One afternoon last week I had to commute home from school by myself and so I took my time along the way, trying to notice details that I haven’t before. I stopped to buy gum from one of the women who sits with a basket on the sidewalk through the San Carlos University. She has a toddler and sometimes a young girl with her. She’s always there by 7:30 in the morning when Josh and I walk through the University on our way to our second bus stop, and she’s always still there around 4:30 when we pass by in the afternoon. The vendors in the university are pretty regular, and I wonder a lot how much they make in a day, and how much the location affects sales. In the morning we’ve had the same bus driver on the second bus multiple times. It’s gotten to the point where instead of having to ask him to stop at parada de Las Charcas, he just makes eye contact with Josh or I, and waits for us to nod. I know we stand out and we’re easy to recognize, but it feels good to be recognized and also to recognize others. I like being part of the faces in the city; someone who is familiar to a few other people who happen to have a schedule similar to mine. Familiar strangers; we don’t know each other’s names, but there’s something trustworthy about the consistency of seeing the same people each day even if it’s just in brief passing. It makes me feel less out of place, and a little more comfortable. Of course all of that is about to change in two weeks, and even though I’m starting to appreciate Guatemala City, I’m ready to experience living somewhere new.


Parque Central in San Pedro Carcha 
Zip-lining at Chicoj coffee farm
A full sized marimba at Bezaleel school; one of the staff members played for us
Dusty mountain roads
The falls in Baja Verapaz on a nature reserve

One thought on “New places, familiar faces

  1. Hi Rowena,

    I enjoyed reading your latest “space for grace”. Sounds like you are having some amazing adventures (and long bus rides!) in Guatemala. Glad you are visiting some Mennonite schools and churches in different languages and cultures.

    Keeping you and the group in my prayers this week. Let me know if there is anything specific that you would like me to pray for.

    Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
    Campus Pastor, Bluffton University

    Liked by 1 person

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