Images of Guatemala
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.