Loving Life in San Juan

Hola again friends and family back home!

This marks our fourth week in San Juan del Obispo, living with our host families and going to Spanish school. Crazy to think we are nearly two thirds of the way done; only two more weeks left of life in San Juan. This semester is flying by unbelievably fast and we often find ourselves wondering “where the time has gone?”,  or, “how are we already this far into this semester?” At times I have to sit back and really reflect on how amazing an opportunity this is and appreciate all that I am experiencing, the good and the not so good.

Our past week consisted of the usual activities when in San Juan. We had Spanish class everyday and our regular service projects on Tuesday. One new event on Monday afternoon was having the pastor from the church we’ve been attending in Antigua come share with us. He told us a bit about his family’s experience moving to Guatemala and then the work they’ve been doing for the past eight years. After his story, he read a chapter from the Bible and we all reflected on how we can put ourselves in that Bible story. It was quite refreshing, and a bit of a reminder of last semester, having this pastor come in and speak into our lives. Another new activity was a birthday celebration for all the Outtatowners on Wednesday night. It was pan dulce (sweet bread) themed; a Guatemalan snack we’ve all very much been enjoying. There were relay races, eating competitions, and decorating contests. Let’s just say the local bakeries won’t be seeing us as often for a while, after all the pan dulce we’ve consumed.

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Note the confetti in everyone’s hair! Happy Valentine’s Day…Guatemala style

Valentine’s Day rolled around and the exam at school wasn’t going to put a damper on the mood. A group of students made valentines for everyone and really spread some extra loving around the community that day. Guatemala celebrates the significance of love in friendships and family. They show this love a bit differently around here from what we’re used to back at home. It often consists of smashing an egg full of confetti or flour on someone’s head. Then rubbing the contents all into their hair, whether they’re family or complete strangers on the street.

It was nice being able to spend time in San Juan again and expand our Spanish vocabulary a little bit more. Our teachers taught us how to use past and future tense so now when we speak, we make a bit more sense. I’m sure our host families are appreciative. We wrote our second exam on Thursday before embarking on our two week travels away from San Juan. We do love life in San Juan, but are all very excited for what’s to come and what we’ll see next.

Thanks for reading and taking some time to experience this adventure with us!

Until next time,

Bethany

Learning to Speak, Wash, and Be Present: A Week Back Home

By Sienna Armstrong

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We were all really excited to return to San Juan del Obispo and our host families, after a week away. We got back into our regular schedule, returning to volunteer projects on Tuesday and participating in multiple small group activities on Wednesday. For a cultural adventure, many people on our site climbed Volcano Pacaya on Friday! We also went back to school in the mornings, which was a relief because I definitely forgot a good amount of Spanish while only speaking English for a whole week!

We changed teachers around for these next two weeks and it’s been helpful learning new topics that feel more advanced. Most of us have started to learn past and future tense so we can stop speaking in present tense at all times. This is a good thing because for the first two weeks I kept saying things like, “When I have 7 years I move houses.” My host family probably thought I sounded a little bit like a child.

One of the first things I needed to do after coming back was wash my clothes with my peer mentoring group (PMG, a small group of students with the intention of providing another for of support within our larger community). This was very crucial after a week at a building site! In Guatemala, most of our host families don’t use a washing machine, so we’ve been learning to wash our clothes by hand with a system called a ‘pila’. Some families have a small, individual pila in their home, but it’s also really fun to use the public ones, as we can wash our clothes as a group and laugh together when we mess up—which is more often than we might like to admit. The community pilas have a main pool that fills with clean water and smaller raised areas where you wash your clothes. Using it has involved a steep learning curve, while making multiple mistakes along the way—like not rinsing some of my clothes enough, to the point that they were stiff after they had dried off—but making those mistakes with my PMG, and others, makes it slightly less embarrassing.

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I’ve noticed a few differences in my day-to-day life from the first semester. I’m trying to take these in stride and learn how to take advantage of new opportunities, leaning on the community through new difficulties. Living with a host family, I don’t spend as much time with the others on our site, and I’ve found myself sometimes feeling lonely and homesick. My PMG has been really helpful to me in that as we spend time together talking about issues we’ve been struggling with recently, and generally support each other.

One way I’m approaching my homesickness this week, that’s different from last time we were staying in San Juan, is that I’m trying to build familiarity in these spaces, especially because I know that I’ll be missing them a lot once I’m back home. I have been listening to a lot of music that’s very familiar, and it’s comforting to look at the pictures I brought with me of my family or my dog. I’ve also found that I’m getting a lot of energy and excitement from stepping back from my routine and realizing how amazing it is that I’m here!

I think all of us here can specifically relate to how amazing the landscape is in Guatemala and I’m lucky to have a wonderful view from my room. Some mornings I like to look out when people are just getting moving into their day, with the mountains and the forests in the background. The landscape is so different from my home in Canada, but it’s starting to feel less foreign and more like home.

Most recently, we spent the last of the weekend relaxing and getting ready for another week of increasingly intense Spanish classes. To top it off we went to a Guatemalan soccer game! Appreciating and living in the moment isn’t as difficult when each week provides a new eye-opening experience to this country that we are starting to call our home.

Building a Firm Foundation

Hola everyone!

What an amazing week we have just come from in Panajachel. We had the amazing guat 10.1opportunity to explore more of this beautiful country that we get to call home for the next few months. Our first weekend there we spent soaking up the sun, swimming in the beautiful Lake Atitlan, and zip-lining. Words can’t describe the beauty that we were surrounded by these past 10 days.

We worked alongside an organization called Solomon’s Porch, they were amazing to get to know and learn from.

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Monday was our first day on the job, we drove out about 45 minutes from Panajachel To meet the family we would be serving, and working alongside that week. It was such an amazing experience meeting this family and seeing their joy and anticipation for a house that is going to be built for them. It was a bit of a hike getting up to the site of their new house, so the size of our group really made a large impact on the progress that was made this week. In between shoveling dirt and hauling bricks up the hill, we took time to guat 10.3interact with the family and get to know them. The kids were thrilled to play just about anything with anyone. Solomon’s Porch emphasized to us that the house would be built no matter what, but the relationships between us and the family would require our time and effort. This week proved to us that speaking the same language isn’t necessary for spreading and receiving love and building relationships. Although we didn’t get to see the house completed, we did get to take part in building the foundation. A foundation built by the compassion and hard work of our community, that will stay with that family for many happy years to come.

We would work from about 9:30 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon. Our evenings consisted of Porch taking us to restaurants to get a taste for the culture in Panajachel…literally. One evening we even got to sit in on a marimba show and participate in a tortilla making competition.

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Our last day on the site was bittersweet, as most last days are here on Outtatown. We surrounded the family one last time and thanked them for welcoming us in and allowing us to serve and work alongside them. We prayed blessings over them for a happy and healthy future in their new home and then said our goodbyes to the family and neighbouring families as well. They also took a few moments to bless us and thank us. Then we departed Panajachel via boat for Santa Cruz where we spent the weekend relaxing and recuperating at a hostel. We had various activity opportunities to participate in, such as: scuba diving, hiking, and traditional backstrap weaving lessons. We took in the last views of the lake and surrounding volcanoes before heading back to San Juan del Obispo, all looking forward to a little bit of familiarity.

Overall, God was very present in and around all of us this week, whether that was through service or nature. We were humbled and grateful for the opportunity to have servant hearts and serve a beautiful family this week. This is a week I personally will never forget.

We now are back home and adjusting back to life in San Juan del Obispo and Spanish school.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers, we appreciate them always.

Hasta luego,

Bethany