January 8th 2017: the day we would be all together again after a whole month apart! This day included a 4am plane ride for the Winnipeg students… rise and shine! Once we hit Houston after a couple flights, we were reunited at last, all 17 of us students and 4 leaders (one, Alanna, who is new to us!) were a whole team again.
After arriving in the Guatemala airport around 11:30pm, we went outside and met our new form of transportation. Gone was Trudy, our faithful 15-passenger van from first semester, and here was Bruce, a bright yellow school bus. We drove for about 45 minutes through the dark streets from Guatemala City to San Pedro, a town just between Antigua and our future home of San Juan del Obispo!
We arrived in Guatemala late in the evening and it was too dark to see anything. Waking up in the morning the next day felt like Christmas morning. Seeing Guatemala in the light was absolutely breathtaking! Volcanoes, cobblestone roads, fruit trees and vibrant plants and flowers surrounded us.
To say second semester started with a bang is a bit of an understatement! It was our first full day in San Pedro, and we were all sitting outside having a session when a tree fell on the porch of the house! We ran out from under the porch. Thankfully everyone was okay, but we weren’t able to stay there anymore, so we relocated to a hotel just down the street. Our new accommodations had a sitting area on the roof with a beautiful view of the city below, and the volcano Fuego in the distance. We are still praying for the first home that we stayed in though as it is being repaired. We are looking forward to staying there again at the end of the semester for debrief!
One of the highlights from this time was going on the roof after it got dark and in the distance seeing the volcano spew out lava from the little eruptions (remember an active volcano that has little eruptions is better than one without!). Our time in San Pedro was spent having sessions to prepare us for the next 3 months, learning the basics of Spanish, and getting accustomed to living in a new country. For example, we quickly learned that it’s important to ask someone who has been in Guatemala before to teach you how to use the shower. If you don’t, it will most likely be freezing cold (some of us learned this the hard way). We also learned that tortillas can, and will, go with everything.
Waiting for the bus!
After our orientation days, we moved to Guatemala City. We visited the elaborate National Palace of Culture, which is a building made of 100% Guatemalan materials! We saw the Monument of Peace, which includes two left hands representing a truce between both sides of the civil war conflict. Two left hands are symbolic, we learned, because your left hand is closer to your heart. A white rose is held in between the hands to represent peace. This was meaningful for us after learning about the injustices and brutality of the civil war in Guatemala. We had the opportunity to learn about the war from the MCC Guatemala Rep. We also visited the Guatemala City dump. In Guatemala, 50% of the population lives below the poverty line. Hundreds of Guatemalans live and work in a dump sorting trash to make a small amount of money. Some of these families who work in the dump have lived and worked there for many generations. Many of us students were struck with sadness and compassion when we saw the working and living conditions of the dump that is a reality for so many Guatemalans. We were encouraged to learn about efforts to provide education and support for those individuals, and are looking forward to learning more when we work with these organizations come March.
Our group has a better understanding of Guatemalan culture, history, and the people after our short time in Guatemala City!
As our first Sunday came, we packed up our bags and headed to Antigua. Antigua is about an hour drive from Guatemala City, and it is 15 minutes away from San Juan and our host families. Even though we all loved living together again, we were so excited for the opportunity to live alone with new families.
Our time in Antigua started by taking a shuttle partway up a mountain to go to church. We had headsets that translated the sermon from Spanish to English, but we could sing along to the songs in Spanish really well. Then we headed back down in the shuttle and had lunch in Antigua. Options included: sandwiches, crepes, bagels, tacos, etc. You can find everything in Antigua from pancakes to pasta, sushi to salsa, and McDonald’s to Little Caesars pizza.
Afterwards we headed to the Cerro de la Cruz, or the Cross on the Hill. This is one of the most famous spots in Antigua, and shows an amazing panoramic view of the city and the 3 volcanoes that surround it: Fuego, Agua, and Acetenango.
Cerro de la Cruz
Then, finally, it was time to head to San Juan and meet our new families. Nervous excitement doesn’t even begin to describe what we were feeling. On one hand, we couldn’t wait to meet our families and get settled in. On the other hand, the only words most of us knew in Spanish were hello (hola!), thank you (gracias), and where is the bathroom (donde esta el baño?). The next morning was filled with stories of wins – “I was able to talk to my family!” – and losses – “but I had no idea what they were asking me!” Needless to say, we were all very eager to start Spanish school so we could learn more.
Hasta luego! (See you later!)
– Shelby and Heather, on behalf of Guattatown