If you can’t tell by the lack of blog posts, I have been really busy in Xela. I began to write this blog almost three weeks ago and never finished it. But I want to keep it and share it with you all so you can see where I was at and where I am at now. So here was the blog I started many weeks ago followed by pictures and details of my trip until now. Here it goes…
I have asked myself multiple times: How the hell did I get here? How did this work out so well? How did I find myself in Xela? And why does it feel so perfect in this moment?
Gaining Support and Feelings of Loss
These first two weeks have been full of love and adventure. It’s been unreal here. A paradise at time. But reality is bound to hit me at some point and this week it did. The reality of being away from my friends and family became real. And on top of that I began to recognize that the people I have grown so close to these last few weeks will in time leave Xela and I will continue to stay. I’ll start by introducing you to a few people you have not met before. Katy and Clara.
Katy just graduated college and is starting here new job in New York. It only took us two flights, a layover in Mexico City and one taxi ride to realize we were traveling to PLQ together. The first time I saw her we were sitting in the same row on our flight to Guatemala. I never asked where she was going and I definitely didn’t expect to see her again. I also never thought that she would be the first person I felt really close to in Guatemala. I loved exploring with her. I found her excitement for new adventures and her kind spirit infectious. Then there is Clara. She is an art student in New York. She worked on a dairy farm in Wisconsin during the summer. I love watching her navigate life. Her spirit is so full of joy and creativity ooze out of every pour in her body. The three of us clicked. It was easy and it was so nice to have these two girls in my life. Now Katy is on her way to start a new adventure in NYC and Clara is leaving this weekend. It’s really amazing how a trip like this jumpstarts a friendship.
Around Wednesday or Thursday it started to hit me. I am here for a year. Most people that I am meeting at leaving between 1 week and 3 months. This was a little bit of a reality check. For those who know me, my relationships with others grounds me and is center of my life. I love really hard which makes separation especially difficult for me. In knowing this about myself I am trying to not get caught up in others leaving (now and the future), or in my staying here when everyone leaves. Instead I am working on staying present. I am trying to soaking up every moment and celebrate these special times instead of crying. Physically saying goodbye to Katy was good practice for me. Instead of getting caught up in the sadness (which is usually my go to) I decided to enjoy my time with her. We had a big night out to celebrate Katy and it was really fun… like return home at 4:00am fun. When I did say goodbye (in Xela but not forever) it was hard but good practice because this is going to be my reality for the year. People will come and go and eventually I will go as well but for now I have an exciting year ahead.
In addition to saying goodbye to new friends in Xela, I have said a lot of goodbyes this last summer. Those goodbyes are starting to set in as well. I think I might get a reputation among the teachers at PLQ as being the student that cries! The first week, no crying! The second and beginning of third week there were some tears shred. But what you expect when you have to write a letter to your best friends? How can I not cry when my teacher asks me to talk about my brother on the day he leaves home to move to Florida?
Then to make things better I started having computer problems. This actually ended up being a blessing in disguise because I had to transfer documents and pictures from my computer onto a flash drive. I ended up loving this process because it gave me some time and space to reflect on life’s journey. This was both an emotional and joyful process. I reflected on my own growth as well as that of my friends/family. Here are some gems I found while transferring pictures:
Self Care Corner
I have only been here for a few weeks and the days are flying by. I have had a lot to balance between learning a new language, volunteering with Education and Hope, participating in activities with the school, making new friends and adjusting to life in Xela. This week it felt important for me to stay connected to friends and family back home. My relationships with my friends/family give me life. I really enjoy connecting with these cuties this week:
Meet Mi Maestra and Feeling Supported
Another piece of unexpected self care/support came from mi maestra: Teresa. I instantly clicked with Teresa. She is a mother, a teacher, a social worker and a bad as mujeres. I was so lucky to have her as mi maestra for the week. She reminds me of my mama. She is strong, warm and understanding. She understood when I felt overwhelmed and cared for me. With her I felt accepted for where I was at. As great as this experience has been so far it has also been emotionally hard at times. As a homework assignment I was asked to write a letter to a friend. I decided to write to Sonya and as I was reading it to my teacher I began to cry. Thinking about my best friends and my family was overwhelming. My heart misses them. I was reflecting on: my road trip with Jurija, my separation from an amazing year with Sonya, Kristen’s exciting engagement, and my joyful trip home with family/friends. During these moments of missing those back in the states I felt supported by Teresa. At the end of the week I thanked her for her support and she told me “I’m a mother, it’s what I do”.
Welcome to the Family
I have absolutely loved my host family in Xela. In the future I will have a post where you can meet them more intimately but for now you should just know that they are great. Right away they have cared for me and welcomed me into their home. This week they invited me to a few different family events.
First the family invited me to a festival at their church celebrating San Bartolomé. This was a really strange day. I woke up at 4:50am on August 24th to what sounded like bombs going off in the street. (Later I would find out that this noise was coming from “bombas” actual bomb like fireworks that the church was setting off). My first thought: ok the chickens next door are upset but my host family isn’t trying to save me. They like me enough to save me right? Yes. I think they do… My next thought, ok so can I still go on that hike I wanted to go on before school? They answer was yes and here is the picture to prove it:
Anyways back to my family. Later that night we talked about the festival and they showed me their place of worship. For them to bring me into such an intimate space made me feel appreciated and loved. I really enjoy spending time with those wonderful women. I am excited to introduce you to them in a few weeks.
On Saturday my host families relatives came into town. I was introduced to their cousins and their cousins two children (Lupita, 15 and Bryce, 7). On Saturday night we celebrating Bryce’s birthday with a chocolate and banana cake that my host sister Brenda made. We sang Cumpleanos Felize. And celebrated this special moment. The next day I would go to the cemetery with the family. From what I can tell these family members come once a month to visit their relatives both living and deceased. On Sunday we went to the cemetery to memorialize family members who have passed. They picked out beautiful purple and red assorted flower and arranged them beautifully on the tombs of their family members. They allowed me to help with the flower arrangements and then they took me on a little tour of the cemetery. My favorite spot was the tomb of Vanushka, the gypsy of Xela:
It is said that if you leave flowers and a message of your sorrow for Vanushka that she will reunite you with the love in your life. I found this super interesting blog post about Vanushka (with really great pictures) if you are interested in reading more: The Legend of Vanushka the Gypsy of Xela, Guatemala.
After visiting the cemetery the family took me to breakfast. It was there that they told me for the first time that I will be with them for a year and therefore I am like family. I am really struggling to understand Spanish but I can understand that!
Ok that is the end of the post I wrote two weeks ago. I hope you enjoyed it and I appreciate the fact that you are reading this now. So here is a photo diary of what has happened since.
The following are some pictures from my time in Xela:
This is one of my favorite poster from the URNG inside a museum that commemorates Guerrilla members who lost their lives during the armed conflict in Guatemala. I felt lucky to be welcomed into this space. It was amazing to see how this community kept a collective memory of those experiences/times.
Hiking Volcán Tajumulco
Myself and 10 other students from PLQ climbed Volcán Tajumulco which sits at 4222m. I went on this wonderful trip with Quetzaltrekkers. If you are interested in checking out more information about this hike or the organization (because they are awesome!) check out the following link: Volcán Tajumulco. This was my first backpacking trip and it didn’t go quite as expected, even though the experience was awesome. You see it is the rainy season here in Guatemala meaning that it rains hard and often. I learned quickly that rain is our worst enemy when camping especially in such a cold place. About a quarter of the way up we realized that the rain was not settling down and therefore we were not going to be able to continue on the hike to base camp. So we dragged all of our stuff back down the mountain to a local restaurant where we stayed the night. Even though the camping portion of the trip was cancelled because of the weather it ended up working out. We had a wondering time relaxing, drinking and having fun back at the restaurant. But we needed to go to bed early because the next morning we needed to make the hike to the top. Yes this meant waking up at 1:30 am! Hiking in the dark, up a mountain, with our packs (even though I am still questioning why I brought so much stuff up the mountain). Luckily I had a flashlight, wait just kidding, that died the morning of. I was very grateful to have a good friend offer to help me make this trek. He helped me not only by providing a light early in the morning but by providing support/fun for the rest of the trip. Looking back at this time I feel incredibly lucky to have spent this time with such an amazing group of people. Here are some pictures from the trip:
The Mountain School
Immediately after the hike myself and some other students went to La Escuela de la Montana. This school is the sister school to PLQ. It is located near the city of Columbo. This Spanish language school gave me the opportunity to experience rural Guatemala. We stayed in dorms in the main house and would eat our meals with a local family. My favorite part of my host family experience was playing with and reading to the grandchildren of Ana, my host mother in Nuevo San Jose. When I was not with my host family or studying with my wonderful maestra Maria Jose I was relaxing back at the house. The physical space at the mountain school is gorgeous. I loved exploring the property. One of my favorite things about the mountain school was the rain. For those who know me you might think this sounds crazy because I hate the rain. But recently I am a changed person (kinda). The rain at the mountain school is so beautiful to watch and to hear. I loved the sound of the rain on the tin roof while swinging in the hammocks. One of my favorite things about the mountain school is that I did not have access to the internet. I really enjoyed my week of being unplugged. This time gave me time to reflect on my experiences in Guatemala and my journey to this point. Though it was hard to have some seriously difficult conversations with myself I feel grateful for this time. Here are some pictures so you can see first hand what I am talking about:
Thank you for reading this blog and for your love and support in this journey. I know it took me a while to post this so thank you for your support and patience. I have an exciting blog coming up in the next few weeks so stay tuned!