Mis amigos and I are just getting back into the swing of things in our pueblo of San Juan del Obispo after an awesome, physically-challenging and mentally -stretching week in Coban. With our packed lunches in hand from our fabulous host familias, we piled into our infamous yellow school bus for a four hour drive the Friday before last. I was reminded of last semester, cramped together for long distances, but the instance I looked outside I realized what a diverse and amazing adventure we are having; from the beautiful mountains of Canada to the cloudforest of Guatemala.
We unloaded into rustic little cabanas at a hotel just outside of Coban where we started our week off with a little retreat. We soon discovered that the leaders were not lying to us when they told us to buy rain boots in the mercado back in Antigua. We spent the weekend with Rob, our facilitator and friend for the week, as he spoke to us about some issues in Guatemala, personal experiences, and what our week would look like. He challenged us to think about life in different ways, about how our desire to belong is biological and about better ways to approach development. He passionately spoke about our Saviour, tying things back to the Bible, and left many of us feeling encouraged and energized for what was to come.
On Sunday morning we visited a Mayan cave, attended Rob’s church and headed out to a 400 acre finca, where we would spend majority of our week at the Agricology Centre. Some children from a local Q’eqchi’ village joined us, where they were given the opportunity to learn about birds and the environment and have fun with us gringos. We also had the chance to connect with some teachers who have been through the program Rob’s family runs. Young women from nearby Q’eqchi’ villages are invited to the centre, to receive some education and be empowered with some opportunities they would not otherwise have access to.
During the days, we worked very hard under the warm sun that we were blessed with. We carried logs, gardened, worked with the ninos, helped with construction, floated logs down the river, and learned to take our anger out in healthy ways with machetes in the forest. You could see the exhaustion across everyone’s faces as we sat down to dinner, counting down the minutes until we could snuggle into our bunks. But we didn’t just work! The first day, the children taught us how to gather and carry firewood the proper Guatemalan way and we spent another part of an afternoon playing sports and juegos with the kids. We buddied up with the ninos and, hand-in-hand, hiked through the cloud rainforest to a large cave. Along the way, we explored with our little amigos and they taught us the Q’eqchi’ words for the things we saw around us. We had a blast swimming in the river’s current, ate our first mangos and I don’t think I can count how many tickle wars there were.
When it was time for the ninos to head home, they did not go alone. We were split into pairs of two and entered into their village of Sebob to spend the day and night with the children and their familias. We were stripped of most of our familiar comforts and were challenged to not “turtle” in our rooms. It was a very rewarding and eye-opening experience.
Overall, this was probably my favourite week of Outtatown so far.
-Jen Ma, aka stronghorse