Wow! Where to begin. I wish you all were here with me to experience this beautiful country and amazing culture. It’s been a whirlwind of a week but I’m going to attempt to share as much as I can.
Leaving my mom and brother at the gate was about as hard as I expected. I tried so hard to hold it together and I was fine once I got to my gate (probably because they had wifi and I didn’t feel so alone). Once in Miami, I found Curtis, Noelle, and Natalie at our gate and had one last piece of pizza before we left the States. Little did we know, Antigua has that and basically everything else we could ever want or need.
Landing in Guatemala was so easy. We kept trying to come up with backup plans in case someone wasn’t there to pick us up and if our bags were missing. But by the time we made it to immigration (immediately after exiting the plane), we were surprised to have our own pick of immigration officers stamp our passports. The airport was virtually empty and only one of our bags was missing (trust me, that’s amazing). When we walked outside we were immediately greeted by two guys from our Spanish school La Union and Patrick, the fifth missionary of our class. Once we left Guatemala City for Antigua we were distracted from the crazy traffic by an entertaining “Spanglish” conversion with the guys from La Union. They handed us gifts from our house families and a little Mayan doll with our names on it. Needless to say, we felt very welcome.
Once in Antigua, we were greeted by lusciously green smoky mountains and volcanoes. There are three nearby, the closest being Volcan Agua. Agua is no longer active, or so they say. The others are Volcan Pacaya, which you can climb as well, and Volcan Fuego, which means certain death if you attempt to climb it. Luckily, that is the furthest away they assured me. I’m all about exploring, hiking, and seeing volcanoes for the first time, but when you tell me one of them erupted last year and killed some people, forgive me but I’m bound to be a little hesitant. Needless to say, these guatemaltecos who have grown up next to volcanoes all their lives tease me about it incessantly.
Driving through Antigua to our new homes was like being in a very old Italian city. Everything here is ancient. It’s the only colonial city in Guatemala that has regulations to keep it looking so original romantic. The roads and sidewalks are all cobblestone and the buildings only vary between five warm Tuscan colors. There are a ton of Catholic Churches throughout the tiny city from the colonial times, not to mention all of the ones now considered ruins because of earthquakes years and even centuries ago. I never knew anything like this existed outside of Europe. It’s absolutely incredible.
The first night was both the worst and the toughest to get through. I was dropped off at my host family’s house and greeted by a sweet smiling old woman named Señora Cony and her daughter Lúcrecia (or Lúki). Cony looks just like an older version of my favorite Spanish teacher from middle school—shout out to you Mrs. Citro! It was very comforting to be greeted by a semi-familiar face…not to sound creepy.
Their house is quite small but very cozy. You enter the big steel door that is typical for the area and enter a sweet courtyard complete with a beautiful hanging garden, a bird cage, their stove and pila (a sink they use in Central/South America to wash clothes and dishes). Directly in front is a stairway up to the second floor, looking up is an open sky, and to the left is a doorway to the office and another just after it to the tiny dining room. The next door is mine and, while it’s a bit dark because there’s no window, it’s cozy. I’m hoping to change rooms tomorrow to an upstairs one with a window and a view of the mountains. There’s a bathroom directly across from my room with just a toilet and a shower (and hot water! I cannot explain how grateful I was for hot water). It’s always awkward in a new country, new place, new house and new culture to try and ask where the things are that you’re most comfortable with, though. For example…uhh where’s the sink? And do you all not keep toilet paper regularly? Also—after I finally found the sink in the bathroom upstairs—where is the soap? Sometimes it’s there, other times it’s not. I’m trying to make it a goal of mine to learn to read people better and feel out situations, but add on a different language and culture and it gives you a whole new challenge.
In the end, you just learn to work with it and provide the things for yourself that you know you need to stay comfortable. Granted, in trying to now live a very simplistic life, I don’t want to be too comfortable. But, I’d say toilet paper is kind of a necessity.
Enough about the house though. The family is so wonderful! So there is Cony and Lúki. Cony is kind of in charge of my stay and feeding me every day except Sundays. She is so sweet. The kitchen is too small for me to eat with their big family at meals, but she will still sit with me and talk. I think at first she did it because she felt rude not to, but now I know she enjoys talking with me over meals. We drink tea, eat different types of bread, and talk about everything and anything. I’ve learned so much already from her. It reminds me of the time I got to spend with my sweet, wise old friend, Louie.
Lúki is 24 and studying to be a lawyer at the local University. Here they have to study for 5 years and then have a job for 2 years before they can be considered a lawyer. But I feel proud of her already even though I barely know her. She is working so hard and is such an independent, strong woman…kind of like someone else I know (Meredith Fee).
Heidy is my new personal trainer. She is 28 but doesn’t look a day older than 17. We run almost every morning and she has shown me more of Antigua than I ever thought existed. She is from the next pueblo over called San Gaspar and one time we ran past her house and stopped by to meet her parents and grab some water. Her dad is 65 and runs marathons with his son every year here! He is so fit and looks so young. Heidy is married to Francisco, Cony’s younger son and they have a four year old boy called Francisco pequeño. He is so cute…and has a LOT of energy. I brought him a Thomas the Tank Engine bubble making whistle which he went around playing with for about a week. Then I whipped out the super hero coloring book and every day he wants to color now. But not just one page…all of them! He is sweet though and I love spending time with him. He has a dog called Oso which, yes, means bear. But here oso also means teddy bear and I honestly think he must believe his dog is a stuffed animal. He carries it around, torments it, chases it, plays with it, shakes it. Like any four year old boy, this is expected. Maybe the dog likes it though because he never bites him.
The other people here are Cony’s older son Alfredo and a student studying at a school here named Bryan. I rarely see Alfredo but he is very nice. He drives a tuktuk—the local taxi which is basically a motorcycle with two wheels in the back and can carry three people—that they keep in the courtyard at night. It looks pretty funny sitting there in the middle of the house. Bryan is quiet and seems very studious. I think he is just living here during the school year because by the time you reach high school here you are studying towards a profession. If you want to be a maestro like Bryan for example, you would choose the best school you know of focused on becoming a teacher. This is a more modern idea, I am told, and often the students will have to move away from home to go to the school of their choice.
So, moving onto Antigua! Like I said, the first night here was horrible for me. I was so lost and confused by all the streets, which conveniently don’t have signs most of the time. Luckily I was able to meet up with my group of finca missionaries for dinner at the Parque Central , which is the main center of most of Antigua. We all went to dinner and kind of got to know each other. Curtis and Noelle are married and both Notre Dame graduates. They spent the last year working as Americorp Vista volunteers in Moab, Utah. They are both very funny and a beautiful example of marriage. Natalie is the nurse and she is so down to earth. She is kind and so full of faith. It’s people like her that give me hope in the modern American Catholic Church again. We spend a lot of time together figuring out where to buy things, getting lost, and being late but we have fun. Patrick is such a kind soul. He seems very genuine and keen on moving to Honduras to experience poverty and learn about the culture and spend time with the kids. He was a theology teacher back in Texas so I’m sure he has plenty of experience with feisty teenagers!
Meeting everyone and kind of getting to know them that first night helped so much, but I’m telling you it definitely did not stop me from thinking about booking a ticket home immediately. I think it must have just been the abrupt culture shock. All I could think of was how I hate this part. I hated it when I left Honduras and spent every night for 6 months crying myself to sleep because of how much I missed this life, this culture, and those kids. But two years later, the American life had grown too comfortable. Maybe that was just it. I was uncomfortable, I was alone without any way of communicating instantly with anyone, and I was afraid. It’s like ripping of a very very VERY strong band-aid. Coming from my clean, perfect, porcelain life, I guess I can’t blame myself for thinking I couldn’t do it. So I just told myself this over and over again: one week. Give yourself one week. Pretend you’re on vacation and you’ll be home in just a week if you want. Then go from there.
Well, I guess it must be obvious but it worked. Literally the next day I felt 100% better about everything. I came to know more of the streets, I forced myself to go out and buy things I needed and explore, to be confident in myself and in my decisions, and to just be myself around all of these new people I don’t know. Believe me, it’s not easy. I don’t easily trust people nowadays and I have to fight not putting up a fake wall every step of the way. But it’s worth it because Antigua is growing on me and so are my new compañeros. If it weren’t for this new finca community, I don’t think I would be nearly as happy here.
Just a warning, if you were expecting a short blog post you might want to continue reading this later. There’s just way too much I want to share!
So at La Union we each get our own personal maestras. For me, it’s like meeting with an old friend for coffee. My teacher’s name is Claudia and she is so fun. We rarely work on grammar from the book she uses because I talk her ear off every single day. I think it’s supposed to work a different way, though. Two hours of talking and then two hours of studying with the book…but somehow every day we get off topic and keep talking. I guess that is practice in and of itself, though. I just can’t think of studying right now without wanting to go INSANE. I barely made it to graduation alive and the last thing I want to do is study. Gracias a Dios, I put most of my time into studying Spanish in college so I can afford to be a little lazy. Anyways, a typical day at school is me sitting at a small table across from Claudia next to a beautiful relaxing water fall drinking bottomless tea and coffee with smiling faces all around. The employees there are all so happy and kind. There are so many of us foreigners there too…and throughout all of Antigua for that matter.
Here in Antigua they have their own special police force just for the tourists. There are many ex-pats, visitors, back-packers, students, and people who just stopped by for a visit and never left. I feel very safe here. On Saturday, my group hiked up a short ways to the famous El Cerro de la Cruz which is on top of a big mountainy-hill (I’m telling you it’s somewhere in between). It overlooks all of Antigua and has an unreal view of Volcan Agua. We went in the morning when it was bright and there were barely any clouds and it looked like a painting. There is a giant cross behind you that is the focal point of the view and a main reason for our visit. I wish I had more pictures, but I hadn’t bought a camera charger yet. Don’t worry, now that I have one I promise to share more.
We have done so much just in the last week and learned so much. Our eyes are constantly being opened wider to more things, both very beautiful and incredibly tragic. In the end, though, I am glad I stayed. I have a feeling Antigua has a lot more to teach me before I leave for the Finca. Thanks for hanging in there with me through this long post! I promise more fun details and stories in the next week or so.