I have always felt a calling towards service work ever since I was little and wanted to help everyone (dogs included) that I met. This calling was what initially attracted me to this trip. I assumed we would be traveling to Guatemala to do service work and help those in need. When I found out that this was not necessarily the purpose, I struggled to understand and explain to others why we were going. I became frustrated with the thought that we were investing quite the sum of money to go see a culture in need of that exact thing. I knew that this trip would be life changing, although I did not know to what extent the transformation would reach. When we first arrived on the clinic grounds in Santo Tomas, my narrow perspective began to broaden with the stories of the incredible women who work there. Sheila, Mary, and Anna showed me the real answers to poverty. Simply giving money directly to these people in need only relieves the pain of poverty until the donation runs out. In some cases, it even acts as a catalyst for the destruction of one’s dignity and empowerment. I realized this when we spent a morning digging a canal in Clinica Maxena’s garden. Sheila explained to us that showing the people how to supply their own means of food and work could allow them to provide for themselves, which in return results in self-respect and life satisfaction. The Guatemalan and Mayan people have an undeniable pride in their work. So taking this away from them by merely handing them money instead of supporting their abilities cripples their exceptional spirits and their futures.
“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine let us work together”
Working in harmony with those in need encourages their efforts by creating a common goal and ultimately a connection for all of humanity: to enhance the quality and equality of life for all.
What I have also realized is that a great deal of prejudice also lied in that fact I assumed we would be the doing the majority of life improvement. To my great surprise, this could not be more on the contrary. The Guatemalan people have a bountiful, inspirational, and unfathomable faith that is incredibly contagious to those who witness it. Although they struggle to meet their basic needs, they will offer everything they have to the Lord and their guests or brothers and sisters in Christ. I was brought to tears many times by how gracious they were to us. I thought and continue to think, if only I could communicate that their faith and friendship was enough to satisfy what they have shown truly matters- the soul. These people may be poor in money and possessions, but their tremendous richness in spirit, generosity, faith, and love should be what us “privileged” admire and seek. These beautiful people display the true definition of poverty as being devoid of the Lord.
Ella Marie Goodwyn
So we (Nate and Jennesa) just arrived at the Salt Lake City International Airport and have been reflecting upon the differences we experienced in our few hours back in the states. The kindness and generosity of our brothers and sisters in Guatemala is one of the things that struck me (Jennesa) the most. I especially saw this in the women who cooked delicious meals for us and washed our clothing. They were so happy to do these things and serve us in this way. I was amazed by the way these women were so filled with joy in their giving, especially since we were strangers to them. Another instance of this generosity was when we were at la Asuncion School and I scraped my knee; when I was going to put a band-aid on it, several of the students said they were sorry to see that I got a scrape. I was touched by this, because they didn’t know me but still cared. Experiencing this heartfelt, genuine kindness in Guatemala has changed my perspective on how to treat others, especially those we don’t know.
Before arriving in Salt Lake, we landed in Los Angeles and had to go through customs and security. During these short experiences we were immediately reminded of the contrasts between our own culture and the one we had been immersed in for the past ten days. I (Nate) felt reverse culture shock. Witnessing my own culture after getting off the plane made me very uncomfortable. Seeing the high paced, stressful, intense, hurried Americans in LAX surprised me. I noticed the time oriented, materialistic, ‘done up,’ people around me and I didn’t like it one bit. What made me even more uncomfortable was how the people were treating one another. When I was in the security line, I saw a middle-aged, bleach blonde woman chew out a TSA worker. She made it through security, but came back to the metal detector machines to yell at him about how he handled her shoes. She ended her rant with a aggressive and mean exploitive. Jennesa saw a young family with a baby and a businessman getting in an unnecessary tiff about taking too long in line. The man asked why the family was taking so long and the father said the man could go ahead of them, then he asked if the businessman was in a hurry. The man replied in a huff that he wasn’t in a rush, so the father was irritated that he pushed them along and conveyed this through profane language. Their argument escalated further, until they went their separate ways.
There are many problems in Guatemala, but a positive aspect of their culture we witnessed was how they treated one another, particularly in the rural mountain communities. This inspired me (Nate) to make a little extra effort to converse with a woman who was checking my boarding pass at LAX. It wasn’t much, but I could tell it made a positive impact on her morning. The kindness I saw in the Guatemalans also inspired me (Jennesa) to a wish a barista at Starbucks a great day. We are just about to board our plane to Helena, so thanks for reading and see you soon…well, some of you!
Nate and Jennesa
Hello everyone! Kirsten and Hayley here, finding ourselves at the end of our journey, and we’d like to take some time to reflect on the differences we have noticed between our previous home of Santo Tomas and our current “vacation spot”, Panajchel.
In the villages, we felt like we were at home. We came to know the sisters, the clinic workers, and even began to recognize people in the streets of Santo Tomas. We felt introduced into the people’s lives and their culture, even though we were often greeted with blank stares. When we went into the rural churches or even the market at Santo Tomas, we were welcomed into their community.
On Sunday, the day we left Santo Tomas, we got to experience our first, full-blown, sensory-overloaded market. For example….think Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, WA. In the summer, single-file, shoulder-to-shoulder, feral dogs weaving their way through your legs, all while towering over everyone, because the whole culture runs much shorter than us in the U.S. A particular image will never leave our minds: the meat market in a back basement of some market building. If you would like a detailed description of this, please ask any one of us, as there is no way we can do it justice over this blog. The beautiful part of this market was that the people there smiled at us, wished us “buenos dias”, and sincerely helped us to pick out our purchases.
Later Sunday afternoon, we arrived in Panajchel and headed out to the market. Not only did we find ourselves in the midst of other foreigners, like ourselves, but we also immediately we felt overwhelmed and surrounded by street vendors. To give you another mental picture, this market is much more of a tourist attraction…bright colors, similar merchandise at every other stand, and annoying vendors. The first thing that happened to us was a Mayan vendor who tried to barter with us…in English. We didn’t know how to respond. The following are pretty standard lines from the vendors:
“You want bracelet? I make myself. Only 20 quetzales, only for you.”
“Hey. You like this? It look good on you! Or for your girlfriend? Or your boyfriend? I give you good price. What you want it for? Ciento quetzals? Just for you. Good price.”
These vendors followed us up and down the streets. If they ever saw us purchase anything, we became a magnet. Side note… Kay was particularly attractive to these vendors; we think that it’s because she’s a very kind-looking lady! Even worse these vendors are either middle-aged women or young kids. It was definitely a shock to our systems, considering how at home we felt at Santo Tomas. All day we’ve felt as if we’ve been taken advantage of, simply because the caring spirit isn’t communicated through the vendors here.
Ultimately, we have already started to recognize what a beauty and a blessing it was to be immersed in the Santo Tomas (and surrounding area) culture. In our last reflection, we talked about what we’ve seen in the last week or so that has impacted us and will stick with us. Some of these things were the joy of the Guatemalan and Mayan people, the beautiful but difficult paradoxes that we have encountered, and the rare experiences that we have gotten to have.
On a lighter note, you should all know that for a week, we shared a twin bed and have become closer than close… From sleep talking to sharing Pepto-Bismol, not only have we gotten closer as a group, but we’ve formed inseparable bonds with one another that we will never be able to share with anyone else, based on what we have experienced as a group. Soccer games and dinners of bean paste and tortillas are already being planned. As much as we’re excited to come home and see you all, it’s definitely a bittersweet feeling to leave this beautiful country.
Thank you for continuing to follow us the whole way! We’ll be seeing some of you in the coming days! Love you all!
Kirsten and Hayley
The warnings came true. I woke at 6 am on May 19th with an awful stomach ache and several side effects. I whined. I was angry. I wondered why it happened to me. Then I realized something as I lay in the extreme comfort of the Utz Jay hotel in Panajchel later that evening. Where have I been for the last week? What has the Lord shown me? I had antibiotics on my nightstand and a nurse just upstairs. Since when was I so infatuated with myself? I think that we Americans easily take our comforts for granted. When faced with all the comforts one could ever dream of and yet being angry about being sick, one asks himself if he is truly a Christian. I have seen people who sleep on floors, have tin roofs, and are at the mercy of a clinic that provides good medical help, but is financially strapped. That is the point of trips such as this. For men and women to truly become their full identity in Christ, and that means first seeing their selfishness then getting outside of themselves.
In 2012, I was able to see the beauty of the Catholic Church in Rome. What splendor! What awe! What truth! The Lord asked me to see that same beauty in Guatemala. This task is far more difficult. This task requires one to look through the filth, the garbage, and the stink to see that this is a part of our universal Church. The beauty and splendor of the Church encompasses all the world because the Lord God surrounds each beautiful heart and place in all the world. This means we are to attempt the same. We are to let the Lord bring us to the ends of the earth so that He may use us to bring his love. This is the change that I believe is happening in my heart. I am seeing the value of living outside of oneself, which is a microcosm of Christ’s selfless act on the cross. I have no doubt that every young Christian on this trip is transforming as well.
Today, May 20th, we were able to visit the place where Fr. Stanley Rother was killed. Shot by the Guatemalan government in the 80’s for standing up against genocide. It was a powerful moment as we all prayed and asked to give everything to the Lord, even our very lives.John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” So to those reading this back home: can we Americans lay down our lives for our God, for those who are our brothers and sisters that our God loves fully and Church encompasses? Will you imitate your Christ for real this time and not hold back? As for me, there is much work to be done.
Yesterday was our last full day in Santo Tomas la’ Union. This week has been so good yet so difficult. I am thankful for all that has been good yet bothered by the poverty and suffering I see here. As this is my last Headlights trip I am leading at Carroll I don’t know if I will return here again. This week I have experience moments where I could see myself wanting to come back because of the relationships I have formed here (despite language differences) and the commitment of those who serve here but again moments where what I experience here is difficult and I do not feel a strong desire to return to Guatemala. This is the third group I have worked with to travel to Santo Tomas and probably in total about 55 Carroll students and several images formed in my mind.
Yesterday before we left the mission I asked the students to share what images they think will most strongly remain with them. The answers ranged from the beauty in the faces of the Mayan people and the beauty in the landscape of Guatemala to remembering how little people get by with here and the garbage that is on the streets. It is hard to know in just a week how this trip will continue to affect the way we all look at violence, poverty, hunger, immigration, health care and suffering in the world. My hope is that the images that stay with us form the choices we make, the prayers we offer for others, and the professions we commit our lives to.
As a group we have also spent time reflecting on the way we (as Americans) are viewed by the people we encounter. Traveling together as a group of 16 Americans it is hard to remain subtle in our movements through the villages and towns. I am thankful that overall we have been welcomed at each place we visited however a few students have talked about how when we are stared at it is a bit unsettling. We are not use to being a minority or being the outsiders. One image I will not forget is seeing an American flag hanging on a clothes line in a house near the coffee co op we visited. I want to believe that our country is appreciated for what is good however I also see what we have given to this country that is destructive. I am also bothered that we have been so welcomed here yet Guatemalans living in our own country are predominately undocumented and not protected by the freedoms America promises.
All of these images remind me of the complexity of life in Guatemala. When I leave here on Wednesday I will not forget the noise of the city of Santo Tomas, the sound of Mango’s falling from the tree onto the roof above me, the giant spider I shared a shower with for several days, the almost unbearable humidity, our friend Diego, the generosity and kindness of the people we encountered, the beggars who stopped by the mission to ask for money, sipping a Gallo’ on the patio, or the stoic nature of the people who live high up in the mountains.
I am also thankful for Guatemala for giving me more insight into where my own journey in life will lead. As I finish my time at Carroll and prepare to move to Kansas City to live and work with the Sisters of Charity I hope my experience here continues to remind me that what I need in life is not things but relationships with others and the courage to trust that my own life is on the path God has intended.
I will miss these students deeply but I am thankful for the time I have spent with them here and inspired by the way they have entered into this experience and embraced the complexity. Guatemala, for me, is a place where joy and laughter have met suffering and where simply coming and experiencing life here is not nearly enough. I pray that all of these images stay with me and that I continue to live my own life recognizing the complexity and desiring to work for change where I can.
It is Monday and we are in Panajchel. We got here late yesterday and enjoyed a little time for shopping and eating dinner. A couple of the guys tried a cheeseburger and what they found was they should have stuck with the local food. Still though, I appreciated their enthusiasm to hope for the best.
We will be here until sometime tomorrow and then go on to Guatemala city. I hope to post more reflections for the blog later today as our time here is more relaxed.
This morning, after a not so pleasant night of unsettling food from the mountain villages yesterday, we had the opportunity to look at and purchase weavings done by women who lived in some of the villages up in the mountains. These weavings are truly a piece of art. I was amazed to see how colorful and how much detail was put into each piece. After saying goodbye to my fellow Amigos and Amigas as they headed out to play another game of soccer, I was able to learn more about the individual pieces that I was buying for my family and friends back home. Ana, who is a Sister here at the mission, works with the women from some of the poorer villages and is able to set up what we would call individual savings accounts for each of the women, in case they need money for their children or other needs. She explained to me that one of the coin purses I had picked out was done by a thirteen-year old girl, who was the daughter of one of the woman who regularly does some of the weavings. Ana said that the coin purse I had picked out was the girl’s first piece that she had ever done. Putting that story to the coin purse instantly made it much more personal. Ana told me about another purse that I had picked out, which had been done by a woman who had fled from her village with her daughter. She did this in order to escape her husband, who would often abuse her with his machete. She left with almost no possessions and when she ran out of money, she stopped at a town where she was fortunate to meet a man who was associated with the Mission. This lead her to meeting Ana and the Mission was able to loan her money to get her started doing her own work. After hearing these stories and learning about the work Sister Ana does, I am not only excited to give these gifts to people back home, but also support something that truly benefits the women here.
Until next time ☺
Today was our day to visit a high mountain Mayan village. The sixteen of us Carroll folks, along with Sheila and our amazing drivers, Cerillo and Chico, piled into two four-wheel drive vehicles at 7:40 a.m. and headed up-up-up into the mountains to attend mass with the people in the village of Pacaman.
First, let me tell you about getting there: When I say Cerillo and Chico are amazing drivers, I mean it. They wrestled the wheel for two hours as we bumped over incredibly rocky, washed out, and winding switchbacks to deliver us to this remote village perched on a hillside way up, literally, in the clouds. Half of us rode standing in the back of a truck—the usual mode of transportation here. The other half rode inside a jeep. We all pitched and rocked as the vehicles crawled the 40km from Santo Tomas to our destination. We climbed out about half a mile away from the village.
As we walked the last part of the road, we could look up hill or down hill onto tidy corn fields, divided into sections by fences made from poles which, stuck into the ground right next to each other, sprout leaves from the tops. The distant backdrop to these patchwork fields is the vegetation-covered volcanic mountain, where fog hovers pretty much all the time. We passed by goats with tiny kids, garden patches of blossoming peas, and an assortment of small dwellings, also set into the hillside. Some had wood and thatched roofs, some were made of corrugated tin sheets attached to poles, and a very few were bright-colored stucco. Smoke from cooking fires comes out of the space between walls and roof. They are separated by the same kind of dense fences. Most have packed dirt yards, with maybe a flowering bush. We also passed by a number of Packman’s residents—men or boys carrying wood or a machete, girls and women dressed in their traditional cortex—a mid-calf “cut” of dark cloth that they wrap around as a skirt and secure with a bright belt—and bright embroidered blouses. As we passed by, they stopped to look. Sheila told us groups like ours rarely came up this far to visit (the long bumpy ride is not an incentive!). Father Kevin only gets up there every several months to say Mass—the last time was in February of this year.
Soon, the number of people increased, and we were pointed to the church. Outside the small stucco building, a crowd of people had gathered. The colors are what strike me first. Black hair, eyes and brown skin are set off by the heavy pink, red, orange, and green embroidery on their shirts and shawls. And so many children! So there are always big eyes, big or shy smiles, and fidgeting. The area outside the church was packed with people. As we approached, they opened up a path for us. Fr. Kevin told us a spot had been saved at the front of the sanctuary. We moved inside and headed for the front. As we passed all those people, I got a lump in my throat—their chance to attend mass with Fr. Kevin is, as I said, rare. Besides, he was doing a number of baptisms at today’s Mass. And probably a third of those who wanted to attend were left peering in from the outside. I felt pretty sure that they should have the front row seats at their mass. Still, I imagine that giving them to us was their way of honoring the Mission by extending hospitality to us.
My favorite part of mass was the constant hum of kid sounds—lots of tiny babies there for the baptism, plus the many other children attending. They also moved in and out from the front area of the Church throughout the service, watching this bunch of big, pale people who were apparently special guests today. Nobody made them sit still. And many people were standing, so the kids wound their way through the crowded aisles—intrigued for a bit with us, and then onto something else. I also loved the music—sung in K’iche and accompanied by an accordion (played by Mission musician Pedro) and a bass guitar. I also loved sharing the sign of peace, and the varied responses to our handshakes. Some of the men came across the whole room to shake hands with all of us. A few of the women responded warmly, others more gingerly to our extended hands.
As soon as Mass was over, the people at the back set up a long table with chairs and set out lunch for us all. Rice, beans, chicken, and big baskets filled with hot tortillas. We sat down to eat, while many of the residents stood in groups a few yards away and watched. The food was delicious. After we finished, we moved out of the church—there was another high mountain mass to attend in another hour, at another village. I asked a few people if they would like me to take their picture. Some retreat, others engage happily. After I take a shot, I show them the picture, and they often giggle at their images. But then, some Pakaman residents own their own cell phones with cameras, so for them this is old news.
Really, I don’t know how to process the mix of thoughts and feelings that arise during our encounters with these Mayan people, in their home place, high up in these volcanic mountains. We stare at each other—the basic desire to do so makes simple sense to me. They are visually beautiful people—that’s one reason I want to look. And we are different, in so many ways—in our appearance, in what we do in our daily lives—that’s another reason to look. Differences intrigue us. If we were all kids, it might be just as simple as that.
But there are other dynamics that make this more complex, and that make this exchange somewhat uncomfortable for me—especially when they displace themselves for us and honor us by giving us space and food from limited resources. They appear so generous—we could learn from how much they give of resources that are scarce. But to conclude there, as valid as it might be, seems too simple. Perhaps our status as U.S. citizens courts a particular kind of favor that we should consider more critically; as we also see where our influence here is less than positive. After discussing this with several other students, we concluded that our encounters with other people should begin by acknowledging their complexity. We want to meet these people and interact with and learn from them, but this only touches the surface of knowing who they are. We need to resist over-simplifying our understanding of them in any way. It’s too easy to let our own “ideas” about them replace the complexity of their individual and their collective lives in ways.
It has been a long-standing tradition for the Carroll College group to play futbol against the Clinica Maxena team. As you read from Hannah and Jacob, we as a group went into the match pretty confident, while others had their doubts (aka Colleen Dunne and Father Marc). To give you a little background, the last Carroll group, three years ago, lost with a score of “a lot” to zero. From the starting whistle, on foreign turf, we had our backs against a wall. Within one minute, Clinica Maxena delivered its first strike and the score began to look like a repeat from games past. While Colleen’s face turned smug, Ryan (our goalie) blocked the next 700 shots, Jenessa took out half of Guatemala’s ankles, James took out his own and the Carroll Saints proved they would not fall with out a fight. Within a minute left in the half, Carroll was up 3-2 and Kristen was so excited that her arms levitated a little to far from her body and ended up getting a handball in the goalie box. Despite Ryan’s best efforts, the Clinica Maxena tied up the game 3-3 with a penalty kick, ending the half. Carroll pulled away the second half to clinch the victory with a final score of 8 to 6. Sheila, the director of Clinica Maxena, returning to her alma mater, traded her old Clinica Maxena jersey in for the new powerhouse, Carroll College.
It would be impossible to pick an MVP of the game because each and every one stepped up and played their hardest. It was a great bonding experience working together and having fun… and winning. While this was just a soccer game, it was a beautiful way to break differences between our cultures and join one another on common ground. While there are obvious differences and barriers between our cultures, it is within the experiences that transcend beyond us, as individuals, that we are bound to one another’s humanity. It is within experiences, such as this simple soccer match or in sharing something much deeper in the Eucharist, that we find ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ.
David and Matt H
I am sorry we have not posted anything today but it has been a long day. In just a quick post I want to say everyone is doing well, other than being really tired. We spent most of today traveling high up into mountain villages on bumpy roads. We left at 8 AM and didn’t return util later in the afternoon.
Tomorrow we have more soccer and time with the parish youth group and it will be our last full day in Santo Tomas before we leave for Panajchel on Sunday. Right now David and Matt H are working on a blog giving all of the details of yesterday’s soccer game, be ready for exciting stuff! Kay also has a blog ready but she has asked me to edit it first — since she was my writing teacher at Carroll I am nervous for the task.
Please continue to pray for this group. This is a really difficult trip that is hard on the body and the mind, we have been so lucky to not have any one get sick though James did have to get his foot x rayed today (it’s fine thankfully). The days and nights have been hot and humid and we are all feeling tired and sore from so much soccer and traveling around. In the end though, having this experience is an amazing blessing!