This past fall I spent a week in Florida as a graduation present from my Aunt Michele and Uncle Larry. In between lazy naps on the beach and Coronas with limes, we fit in tidbits of educational material. Somewhere around drinking from the fountain of youth and losing Miss Jessica’s sunglasses, we learned about the history of Florida, in which Ponce de Leon discovered La Florida in 1,513. I’ve always thought Ponce de Leon had a classy ring to it, besides he was the first governor of Puerto Rico. We all know how I secretly wish I was Rican, it would give me an excuse for my sassy tendencies (right?).
Flash-forward to my Guatemalan vida. I just finished eating dinner with my host family, one which I actually cooked myself. Sure it was only eggs with tomatoes and onions, frijoles, and tortillas, but I was able to take and comprehend directions in Spanish fired off quicker than my sprint to the bathroom after a rumble in the tummy. My Spanish is progressing, poco a poco, and will be evaluated again tomorrow. This was supposed to take place today, but there has been a strike with the camionetas, or “chicken bus” drivers and workers, due to the high number of violence and lack of government support in stopping it. If I am not at the upper intermediate level I will have to take three more weeks of intensive classes before officially heading out to my site. This would be a bummer, but if it is the case I’m sure it will help me out down the line in being more productive in site.
As the days dwindle down with my host-family, actually few enough to count on one hand, I am fully aware of how much I will miss them. I’m now accustomed to talking sports and human rights issues with Don Jaime, walking hand in hand with Dona and the kids to Church on Sunday (and of course shushing them or stopping them from doing their classic tap the man in front of them and then look away act), having the kids call me for meals, and even Grandpa’s horse next to the shower, flies and all. I even get a besito from Andrea before bed each night. This sense of community and integration are aspects I aspire to incorporate into my two remaining years at my new site. Nearly fifteen months ago, how time flies, I faced a difficult decision, taking the education route or small business development. I chose to take advantage of my degree and go the sustainable business route, weary of the possibility of struggles in putting time into the areas of relationships, community and children ….beyond the marketing plan and gross income.
Focus back to the Atlantic and the Santa Maria led by the one and only Evan de Leon. The TeaCo-op community was quick to coin me as such, besides the President who calls me “Mr. Leon.” Throughout my four day visit the current volunteer was able to show me the spark-notes version of how things run; the marketing and promotion contacts in Coban, the president and vice… etc. at the Co-op, my counterpart and the other tour guides, the drying and packaging facility, even my office I will be working in. I am fortunate enough to be replacing a volunteer and am inheriting their current apartment where I will live for at least the next three months. The room for tour growth/ guide training, improvement in the joint tourism promotion for Alta Verapaz and potential in the German ruins on the land that date back to the 1800’s are just a few of those I noticed in my short time.
One thing which was encouragingly prevalent was the sense of community and ability to balance business and income strategy with that of relationship building and cultural exchange. In just the four days we ate meals with a handful of families throughout the co-op, typically a soup with a meat and occasionally rice. Some unique interchanges included taking part in a family Mayan blessing of a newly purchased cow, watching a group of eight brothers play the marimba in sync for us following a delicious meal in their home, and visiting the local school. The past volunteer worked a significant amount with the local school, something I hope to continue on after he leaves. Almost every member in the community and workplace knew their name and greeted them as we walked by, or even from down in the field or through their window. This is a testament to their effort in reaching out to the community. Despite the endless goodbyes, the current volunteer never seemed to get chocked up about leaving, just a part of their personality.
On my last day of site visit we were biking through the trail when we stopped to say goodbye to a family that they had become close with throughout their service. The father of the family had been an unofficial counterpart to the volunteer, always lending a helping hand and providing sound advice and input. He had become ill over the past year with what is highly believed to be cancer. In a failed attempt with good intentions, the volunteer had paid about a month’s salary to a proclaimed health professional who had set-up work in town. After fronting the money himself, following an assessment with ‘scheduled’ transport to the capital, the man fled with money in hand. The father has not been able to take down solid food in months and lay emaciated and struggling on his plywood bed when we arrived. Trying to communicate (in Q'eqchí,), but receiving no response the volunteer burst into tears, running to the arms of the group who have become his family. Sitting there on a wooden bench next to the struggling man, a tear subtly trickled down my check and onto the dirt floor. My first cry in Guatemala. Not from homesickness, or the scrape I endured from my bike incident, or from the scary dreams and restless sleep the malaria meds have given me, but from the helplessness engulfed in genuine love.
4 years ago