Well, these past few weeks have been very full, challenging, but wonderful all the same. We had the opportunity to make visits to all of the communities and families where we’ll be living for the year, and it was so exciting to see where everyone will be living and working! All of the placements and families are very different, but I think they all fit our personalities well. It was so cool to see how everyone loved their placements, and was excited to start working. I can’t wait to find out what we’ll all learn and see, and how we’ll all grow and be stretched through these experiences. Here’s a quick run-down of our placements:
Comolapa, where Rachel will live, is known for its art and paintings. Murals are painted on many walls throughout the town, and Rachel is by far the most artistic of the bunch 🙂 She’ll be working at a tri-lingual school, where students are taught in Spanish, English, and the Mayan language of Kaquikchel. We got to visit the school as well, and the kids are so wonderful! I think it will be a great experience for her there.
Kate is our warm-hearted people person, and both of her jobs in Xela seem like they’ll be a great fit for her. She’ll be working at a shelter (Nuevos Horizontes) for young moms and their children who have suffered from domestic violence, as well as in a lunch program for elderly people that is sponsored by an Episcopal church in town.
Jensen will also be working at a school, but this one has a much different environment than Rachel’s 🙂 Jensen’s school, Ceipa, is made for children and adolescents who have had to work and have gotten too old for their grade level to continue in the public schools. The school is right in the middle of the huge market in Xela, and most of the students there are teenagers. Jensen is excited for the craziness of it all, and I think the school will be a great fit for her too!
Finally, Pachaj, where I’ll call home. It is beautiful! Quiet, full of cornfields, little hills, and a much slower pace of life than Xela, even though it is only about 40 minutes outside of town by bus. I’m also looking forward to my work placements there, even though I know they will also challenge me. I’ll be working in the community health clinic 3 days a week (where my host mom works!) and a day care for 2 days a week. I’m not quite sure yet how my jobs will look, but I’m moving in tomorrow and starting work on Monday so I hope to let you know soon 🙂 I’m excited to have the experience of living a simple life out in the countryside, but I’m also grateful that I can travel into Xela easily if I ever feel homesick for the city!
After visiting the placements over the course of a few days, we spent a week in a rural language school called La Escuela de las Montañas. It was a wonderful experience, since we also got to know some families in the nearby communities and learn more about some of the social and historical contexts of Guatemala. Two communities nearby, Fátima and Nuevo San José, were formed by families who were forced off of coffee fincas because of financial hardships. The workers at the fincas were not paid fair wages, and after a coffee crisis in the late 90s and early 2000s, many families had to leave because they could no longer support themselves through full-time work on the farm. Even now, wages on most farms in Guatemala are unjust; the legal minimum wage in Guatemala is 65 Quetzales a day (unbelievably low compared to American standards, since there are currently about 7.85Q to the dollar), but on coffee fincas it is common for workers to get 25-40Q a day… wages that are almost impossible to support a family on. Sadly, it is also very common for women workers to get paid only half of what men do, meaning that they could receive 13-20Q a day for hard labor. This is just one reason to consider buying fair trade coffee… it really does make a difference in the lives of the workers!
At the school, we all ate three meals a day with a family from one of those communities in order to get to know them a bit. My family was very kind, but also had some hard history. There was now only my host mother, her mother, who was blind, one of her sons, her daughter-in-law and her 5 month old baby girl living in the house together. My mom told me that her husband died many years ago, because he became blind like her mother. Once he was blind, he became very depressed and started drinking excessively. Eventually, he passed away from liver failure, and she had to work to support all of her children as a single mother. Also, her youngest daughter, who is now 25 years old, was taken to the US 13 years ago by a much older man. When she was 15 she had his child, and even though she wanted to return to visit her family he said that if she were to leave the US he would take their daughter. With this threat, the daughter was unable to return to Guatemala since she was afraid to leave her little girl. Now, she is only able to call her family once every 2 years and the mother worries about her daughter’s safety and well-being in the States. This story reminded me of the extremely sad truth about all types of human trafficking that happens around the world, even in our own backyard. It was a good reminder for me to keep all of those people and their families in prayer!
Despite hearing these difficult stories, there was also much to be celebrated. One of the huge blessings of the week was my Spanish teacher, who was also named Annie (Anny in the Spanish version 🙂 ). We immediately got along amazingly well, and it felt as though she was an old friend. We were able to share many things with one another, including our faith which was a huge blessing. Through sharing our own stories and experiences, we were able to minister to one another throughout the week, support each other and learn from one another. It was absolutely a God-send, and I am so grateful to have met her. On our last day, Anny told me that she is certain that God has a ministry for me here in Guatemala, and that it will be a wonderful experience even if the work is surprising or challenging. Everything she said was so encouraging and affirming, and it was such a gift! I hope we continue to stay in touch this year and beyond… I have a feeling that we will 🙂 God works in such wonderful and surprising ways! On Friday, we also had a big lunch with all of the host families, students, and teachers at the school, and it was nice to be able to spend time in community and give back a bit to all of the people who had given so much to us and opened up their hearts and their homes.
Even though we just spent a week at the school, it quickly became a comfortable place and felt homey. On Wednesday, we even had an adventure into town with our teachers to go to the health clinic… it turned out that 3 students had amoebas! Fortunately, all of the stomachs are on the mend, and it was so kind of our teachers to spend the entire morning and part of the afternoon making sure we were ok 🙂
Well, there is so much more floating around in my head right now but our time at the internet cafe is coming to a close. Thank you for letting me share bits and pieces of this experience with you, and thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers. It feels great to be back in Xela, and I can’t wait to go to Pachaj tomorrow and see what awaits me there!
Peace and blessings, Annie