My first two weeks here in Guatemala have been very eye opening, and left my brain struggling to process all of the new faces, names, places, language, and interactions. It’s a little overwhelming, and difficult to provide an adequate answer the question… “so how’s Guatemala?” I’ll do my best in this post to answer that, and therefore will be saving my experiences with the children for the next post (which will come within the next week!). These experiences I wish to share will hopefully be a good background to my future posts about the kiddos at Casa de mi Padre.
Throughout the first 9 days, I got a pretty well rounded view of Guatemala as a whole, and experienced it all with a small team of 6 people. We spent some time in Guatemala City, Antigua, Xela, Chichicastenango, and of course my new home (for at least the next two months), Quiche. In each city we visited, I saw a new side of Gautemala and Casa de mi Padre as this ministry has a left a mark all over this beautiful country. Our trip back to Quiche from Xela was quite eventful, and really began the “eye opening” process to what it’s truly like to live in this country.
Through this event, I learned some valuable lessons required of living in Guatemala (and other 3rd world countries):
- Be prepared for ANYTHING.
- Challenges of all shapes and sizes are inevitable.
- You can choose to laugh or cry when these inevitable challenges occur.
Let me just outline how our trip back to Casa de mi Padre from Xela went:
7:30pm – We left Xela, and began our 2 1/2 hour drive back to Quiche.
9:30pm – We drove up Quiche mountain after passing through Chichicastenango (aint that a mouthful), and got stuck in a line of cars for miles on this narrow windy two lane road. There had been an accident miles ahead, and they still needed to tow one of the cars out of the way.
NOTE: In the U.S. you’d think, “Okay, maybe I’ll be sitting here for 30 minutes or an hour, and then start moving again.” NOT SO IN GUATEMALA MY FRIEND. The police don’t show up to direct traffic and help people get where they need to go. And we heard from murmurings of other drivers that the tow truck may not make it until morning (also normal in Guatemala), so they were settling in for the night.
10:00pm – We decided to turn around and attempt an alternate route (a long dirt road, but leads to Quiche nonetheless) that Shane had driven on a few years ago. After we inched our way out of line with the help of some Guatemalan men and frantic hand signals “Adalante! No! Para!!” We found ourselves heading back through Chichicastenango, and into the great unkown.
11:00pm – We got about half way through our alternate route, before we got stopped again by a small group of cars with emergency blinkers on. At the bottom of the hill was a muddy mess that our van was definitely not going to successfully cross. Our last option was to head back to Chichicastenango and find a hotel for the night. In order to get turned around on this road, we (three women and a adolescent young man) had to push the van up a STEEP DIRT ROAD while two of our other women lit the path so Shane didn’t accidentally drive into the ditch. We were back on the road at around 11:40pm after some more frantic hand signals and shouting “Forward! No! Stop!!”
12:20am – We got to the first reputable hotel in Chichicastenango. The man there gave a ridiculously high price for the rooms, so we went to the next hotel where no one answered. Upon returning to the first hotel, the man said “You know what, someone just came and took those rooms.” Within the last ten minutes?! I doubt it. We had just about resigned to sleeping in the van when the police drove by saying the road was open, so we started back for our original route.
1:30am – We got past our first place in line, but found ourselves back in a line stuck on the same darn road. And just as we had resigned to sleeping on the bus… the line started moving!
1:45am – We made it back to the guest house, and collapsed in our beds.
So to summarize, a 2 1/2 hour drive turned into about 6… plus some unexpected physical activity.
The next day, one of our team members was animatedly telling a Guatemalan friend about our adventure, and the woman looked at her blankly waiting for the punch line. It dawned on us, that this is everyday life for Guatemalans. Crisis is always just around the corner, and the resources to rectify them are often out of reach. Forget thriving, people are merely working to survive. We may not have control over our lives, schedules, or circumstance, but we do have control over how we perceive them. That 6 hour drive could have been tense and miserable, but it wasn’t. As our circumstances began looking increasingly ominous, we became increasingly delirious with laughter. Even as we pushed a 15 passenger van up a hill backwards, we wheezed and giggled. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time, and I’ll forever look back on that chaotic night with fondness.
And then yesterday I had a day off, and spent it attempting to be productive… but found myself frustrated with a plethora of those little inevitable challenges. I won’t bore you with an extensive report, but it included an exploded ranch packet in my back pocket while wearing them (also my last pair of clean pants), a tuk-tuk driver tried to rip me off, several people dismissed me when I couldn’t understand what they were trying to ask me, unidentifiable bug bites, grocery shopping in an unfamiliar country, raw egg running down my leg while squished between two grown men on the bus, and after hanging up my clean laundry to dry it started raining.
In those challenges, I did not take the “laugh approach”… but chose the latter. I sat on the roof of my house, called my parents, and complained about these inconveniences as bitter tears rolled down my cheeks. When our call ended I looked over the ledge, and saw this:
Ouch. In one moment, I went from throwing a tantrum over my inconvenient mishaps… to wrecked over my ignorant, self-absorbed, spoiled little heart. My “challenges” were so trivial in comparison.
As Americans, it’s hard to truly grasp this way of life, as we have an abundance of resources, options, and order in the States. You need to go grocery shopping? No problem! You have a car to put your groceries in, and four stores to choose from. Also, did you know that “The pedestrian has the right of way” is NOT a universal concept? I do now. I’m learning that choosing joy over bitterness is going to be a constant choice I must face here, as I will often find myself in more challenges with limited or no resources to utilize.
Don’t get me wrong, I like this country a lot. I think I just skipped the honeymoon stage and jumped into the reality of life here. This country is beautiful, chaotic, simple, and yet complicated. It is consumed with poverty and tragedy, but also strong family bonds, love, willingness to help a neighbor, and teamwork. When those cars were stuck in the muddy mess at midnight, five other drivers stopped to help push them out. The “every man for himself” attitude we find more common in the U.S. isn’t really a thing here, and I love that. And I know this is just scratching the surface of all that I have yet to discover about this country!
I’m just now finishing my first “typical” week here, and still learning the routine and structure of the ministry. I haven’t fulfilled the duties of a psychologist yet, as I’m being trained in other areas first. I’ll share more about my experiences with the children in the next post, so stay tuned!
Prayer requests as of 7/21/18:
- Please pray that I learn the language quickly. It has been a major hindrance for me in being able to get different places, having conversations, and correcting behaviors when necessary. A handful of times I’ve had to pull in another staff member to help interpret for me, which is not ideal. I want to build relationships with the children and people of this city, but am so limited by this language barrier.
- Please pray for our kiddos, and that their hearts would be open to my being here.
- Pray that the Lord gives me wisdom in my approach to counseling sessions as I attempt to create a safe atmosphere to share vulnerabilities and bring healing.
- Pray that the Lord gives me clarity as I pray about staying here long-term after this two month trial run.
Thank you so much for your support of what the Lord is doing here in Guatemala! God is going to use this ministry to radically transform communities here, as I see the lives of our children are so deeply impacted. I’ll write again soon!