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.

2 thoughts on “Learning to Speak, Wash, and Be Present: A Week Back Home

  1. Hi Siena, what a heartfelt essay on your life in Guatemala. I remember when your Dad went to Italy on his own and when Uncle Scott went to Japan & Bermuda on his own that there were lots of times when they felt lonely and alone. I suppose this can be true in any new situation and have experienced this myself in times of change. I love the thought of ‘ living in the moment’ and appreciating the environment in which we are placed/sent. I pray for you each day that you will sense God’s loving arms holding you and our arms reaching out in love.
    From Grandma xoxo

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