San Juan Love

Below is the poem I wrote for and shared with my immersion group tonight. This is dedicated to the 15 wonderful young men and women that I was privileged to travel with this January. I continue to be inspired by them and learn from them.

San Juan Love

Roosters’ crow reminding the sun to wake up
The dawn breaks as the villagers hustle down to the dock.
Yogis stretch in the courtyard as they forward fold and downward dog.

Sleepy workers gather for breakfast and meet a smorgasbord of food.
Cereal, yogurt, fruit and the peach nectar of the gods,
Always more than enough.

Coffee gulped, tummies filled and the day can now begin.
Hands work hard.
Spider-egg filled windows cleaned, dirty, sticky desks removed
Carved with children’s scrawled writing
Showing that kids are kids no matter what language they speak.

Floors swept and mopped.
Leaves gathered, rocks moved, and moved some more
Walls painted. Bodies painted too. And faces painted in the afternoon.

Joyful greetings of “Hola” and “Buenos Dias” echo from the man hauling a mound of sticks on his back…
Walking uphill.
Visitors proclaim their victory on the way back down from Rostro Maya
As they pass a woman coming up. Is this her daily victory or her daily chore…or both?

One-hundred and fifteen pounds of beans picked in 75 hours
What is a weeks’ work worth?
Only twenty-seven dollars? Are you sure there is not another zero in that figure?
I want to meet the star that is getting the bucks from this transaction
And pick coffee with him!
I wonder how much that batch would sell for!

The afternoon means it is time to play
Balls, a parachute, balloons, coloring books, chalk and face paint
Are the tools for joy today
And none of them need a charger.
The children explode with shouts of “otra vez!” filling the gym.

Happy to play with the “big kids”
Happy to just be in the present moment
Happy to be in their own skin
No big screens needed here…just big hearts.

The walk to dinner is filled with anticipation
Simple food and simple conversation changes this simple hut
Into a sacred space of fellowship and community.
Family is created here.
Love. Love as sweet as the smile of our gracious cook and host.
Love as sweet as the bread that ends our meal
Fills this place.

Soon laughter soaks the courtyard as “criminals” are revealed, names are learned and jokes are created.
Love from dinner has followed us here. I hope it will fit into my 50 plus pound suitcase!
We need to stay connected.

The cold drippy shower cleans the body, mostly.
But I’m glad for the dirt.
It keeps me grounded.
Grounded to a place that spreads God’s love as freely and as plentiful as the kernels of corn that make the unbelievable tortillas.

Settled into my mismatched and uncomfortable bed
I feel more comfortable than I have in a long time.
A few stubborn firecrackers ring out and I chuckle to myself,
Ready to hear the roosters wake me up tomorrow.

1/23/13 – LMR

Day 10 – Going Home

Sat, Jan 12

Well, in typical Lisa form I woke up very early again today. Just habit I guess because I went to bed a little later last night. Plus, I’m excited to go home! I think I first was up before 5 am, but managed to squeak in another 1 1/2 hours of sleep. Finally at 6:30 am when it was light out I grabbed my journal and headed out to the courtyard. I’ve been rooming with three students the last two nights because of space constraints so I didn’t want to wake them up, plus the courtyard is beautiful! Of course they told me yesterday that I snore like a bear, which I totally deny! Ha!

This will be a long day today. We have breakfast at 8:30 am, a final meeting and then we head to the airport. Our final flight is scheduled to land in Cleveland at 11:30 pm. Even though my car is at JCU I’m going to ask Mike if he wouldn’t mind meeting me at the airport. It would be a late night for Zachy, but I so want to see them! We’ll see. I’ve filled about half of this journal, which is crazy, but I just want to remember everything about this trip and this experience.

Breakfast was at the other hotel this morning and was good. Afterwards we had a brief meeting with the Merge stuff. Mario helped us through a few reflection questions about what we experienced and how we can bring this experience to our life in Ohio in order to let it change our lives. I thought about the fact that I intent to share the experience with my family and also through my blog. Hopefully others can learn or get inspired from what I share. I also talked about how I enjoyed just doing one thing at a time in Guatemala. There was no multi-tasking, just going from moment to moment doing what we needed to do just then. I want to keep doing that. I also want to take some time everyday to unplug and find ways to help others on a regular basis. I also really loved the ritual of going Patrona’s every night and enjoying dinner together. Breaking bread together at a table is such as sacred thing. It was just so nice not to have any distractions – just a great meal, great conversation and a simple table. The people of San Juan are rich – rich in happiness; They are rich in relationships with each other and with their God. They don’t have a lot of money, but they don’t seem to need it. “The children don’t know they are poor”. That statement was really impactful to me. I mean most of the kids are wearing mismatched clothes, very warn shoes and they were dusty and dirty, but they just loved the simple toys we brought with us. And they loved us. They just enjoyed spending time with us. Simple, simple, simple. I hope I can take being simple back to my life and try to implement it in a more real way.

Chicken wrap and Jamaica at McDonalds! Score!

As I write this we are on our first plane trip back to the states. We connect in Atlanta and then to Cleveland. I cannot wait to see Mike and Zach. I hope they can come to the airport. That would be so great.

One other note – I am not sore one bit from the volcano hike yesterday which is kind of amazing! I think my legs just needed a taste of the hair that bit ’em.

After making our way through customs, we grabbed dinner at a TGIF in Atlanta. Can you say, “where’s the beef?” The table was filled with burgers and fries! Then we splurged on milkshakes/flurries at McDonald’s for dessert. Yep, it didn’t take us long to find our way back to the western diet again – fat and sugar!!!

We were a bit delirious on our flight back to Cleveland. I had a laughing fit and almost need to be sedated (jk). It was really late and we were all really punchy. Mt stomach was in knots a bit as we made our way to baggage and I looked for my boys. I spotted Zach in his fuzzy jammy pants and gave him the biggest hug ever. We both shed some tears as he squeaked out “I missed you, mommy”. Oh, music to my ears!

Day 9 – JCU vs. the Volcano!

Fri, Jan 11

This morning was an early one! We met at 6:30 am and walked over to another hotel for breakfast. It was good – scrambled eggs, hash browns, watermelon, banana bread, and bread for toasting. I actually toasted my bread today for the first time in like a week – yum! After a quick breakfast we hoped on the bus and made the 1 1/2 trek up to the base of Pacaya volcano!

Our guide was a 77-year-old man and he was pretty nimble let me tell you. He told us he only goes up the volcano once a day now! No wonder he is so fit at his age!

The other guides tried to get us to get walking sticks or caballos (horses), but we said “no gracious!”

We started our hike up at about 8:30 am and made it back by about 12:15 pm. We started at about 1900 feet and hiked up to about 2300 feet – just 200 feet short of the top of the crater. It was cool – on the way up the guide pointed out some interesting things along the way and of course we got some great pics.

Here we go!

Plants that Pacaya is named after

The plant that tequila is made from (lots of photos were taken here!)

We saw a 400-year-old tree and got some good pics of the volcanoes around the area.

There it is looming…

Stark like Star Trek!

It was not a bad hike up – just a steady incline mostly – lots of deep sand along the way and some big rocks. The mountain was way harder! we got almost to the top and found a store (okay a hut!) Crazy! Yes, I bought some lava rock earrings here!

We toasted marshmallows in one crater which was really fun!

We also got to crawl in a really hot crater and take some good photos.

One of the volcano dogs that stole my heart…

We made our way down back to the bus sweaty and dirty. We had to poor sand out of both our shoes and socks! It was totally fun and breathtakingly beautiful in a stark sort of way. We got back on the bus and drove back to Antigua, about 1 1/2 hours and ate lunch at a Burger King.

The to-go for BK!!

I actually got a grilled chicken sandwich and fries and almost ate ti all! Back to the hotel for a shower and now we are planning to do some more shopping before dinner. It is our last night in Antigua before the long trek home tomorrow. I’m ready!

Antigua is such a cool place! After attempting to get connected to wifi again and failing I headed out with Mario and a few others to just walk around. The main goal of our outing was to take people to the coffee place, but I just wanted to make the most of my final hours in Guatemala. We walked all over and I took a lot of pictures of the city.

I mainly window shopped this time and only ended up getting a magnet and a sticker. At one point I treated the girls to a cafe mocha on the street – seriously the best one ever! It felt really good to walk out my legs after the volcano this morning. My legs don’t feel sore yet so that is good!

At 7pm we headed to dinner for our final dinner together. The place was great.

There was a live band playing the entire time and the food was again – fantastic.

Everyone got these coconut drinks that were huge!

I got so full that I could not eat my whole dinner, but that was not a problem for our group – the guys always take care of the leftovers! I bought a CD of the band just because they were so good and the music will remind me of Guatemala. We had a nacho platter to start, and then we got steak with rice, guac and black beans – yum!

After dinner we came back to the hotel for our last reflection. Molly & Steve passed out CD’s made up of our “power songs” and we passed them around so everyone could write an adjective on them about each person. Then we shared why we chose our song. I chose “Where I Belong” by Building 429.

Then it was time to say goodbye to the family. Dorcas and Walter each made a speech (Keila & Alejandro translated) and it was very emotional for everyone. They are such a loving family and it was hard to say good-bye so we just said “Hasta Pronto” which means “see you soon”. It is amazing how quickly someone can touch your heart on these trips. I feel like each person I have met during this trip has changed me in some way.

I got my stuff organized and packed, hung out with the students a bit and then headed to bed. The students were laughing at/with me because of my crazy quirks. I let my hair down withe them and was able to just be myself – not Lisa Ramsey, Director of Student Activities, but just Lisa. It felt good not to be in charge, but to just share this experience with them, have fun with them, cry with them, climb a mountain and a volcano with them. Sharing these things together changes you in that you forever have that shared experience in common. I got to really see the students for who they are on this trip – without the student/FSA roles firmly in place. Note that I was still aware and respectful of the professional boundaries that need to be there, but it was just refreshing to be able to drop some of those personas that are necessary on the job and in my normal life in Ohio and just fully be me. I think the students got a kick out of it. They kept telling me they are convinced that I’m not really 43, but really their age (yeah right!). What a compliment! Well, hey I did keep up with the front of the pack on the hikes! Fo sho!!!

Day 8 – To Antigua and the Mayan Ruins

Thurs, Jan 10

This morning we did a brief yoga stretch session (15 min) and now we are getting packed up because we are leaving right after breakfast. I am showered and hungry!

Breakfast was leftovers and then we went over to the school to say goodbye to the school director. It was really sweet because he prayed with us and said really nice things.

Next we dragged our bags down to the dock and caught the boat back to Panahachel.

Then we took the bus to the Mayan ruins which was really neat.

Mario knows a bunch of of history about it, so it was really interesting. I took a bunch of cool pics.

This is what the pyramids look like when they are first discovered and before they are excavated.

Then for lunch we went to Dorcas and Walter’s house and had Domino’s pizza and strawberries from her garden! Their house is really beautiful and it was fun to see where they live. We hung out there for a bit and played with their turtle and did some yoga! It was very nice and relaxing. They kept telling us that it was “our house”!

We finally got back on the bus and made our way to Antigua. What a shock! It was a totally different place than San Juan – more hustle and bustle – a big city compared to the sleepy little village of an Juan.

Antigua’s famous arch

Beautiful window boxes were common

We checked into our hotel and I was immediately disappointed that we didn’t have wifi. Well the hotel did supposedly, but I couldn’t get it. I just really wanted to talk to Mike even if just for a minute, but no such luck. The hotel is really nice and a nice change from what we just came from. I took a hot shower for the first time in a week and it was awesome!

Beautiful courtyard

Two of my roommates for the last two nights!

Mario took us to the coffee place – you can buy it cheap and it and it is really good, he said. I bought 1 lb of medium roast and a lb of dark roast. I also bought 1/2 lb of cocoa beans that I can hopefully use to make hot chocolate or use for toppings, etc. I’m really excited about this coffee! Oh, and people were getting wifi at the coffee shop so I may have to do that tomorrow sometime.

Next we went to dinner at Frieda’s (Mexican restaurant).

I got the Jamaica drink – so good! It is like a cranberry juice mixed with a pomegranate juice.

We all got a bunch of platters of various meats, cheese and toppings for tortillas.

Vegetarian plate

I did miss Patrona’s tortillas and the sweet breads, however, but the meal was great! I even ordered a chocolate con leche (hot) for dessert and it was scrumptious – tasted like dark chocolate. Next we walked back to the hotel and stopped at the market on the way. I bought a bunch of chocolate! I think I am finally done spending money!

After a brief reflection most of us are heading to bed. We have an early day tomorrow. Breakfast at 6:30am and then hiking the volcano! Woo-hoo!

Day 7 – Last day in San Juan

Wed, Jan 9

Well, today is our last day in San Juan. We began the day (well me and two yogis that is) with our 30 minute yoga session. I mentioned connecting with our body so we could connect with each other on our last day here.

My yoga studio for the week!

Next we had breakfast – just cereal, yogurt, watermelon, juice, coffee and a breakfast bar today. I’ve been eating full meals – especially breakfast because we work and are busy during the day and because we aren’t snacking which is nice. After breakfast we went over for our last day of service at the school.

We finished our painting of the wall around the school and did other odd jobs like removing leaves, fixing playground equipment and such. I painted which was actually really fun. I have blue on random places on me now and got some “war paint” on me on purpose. There are pics to illustrate our obsession with paint!

We finished a bit early today – at around 11am so now we are just chilling at the hotel. I decided to get some quality time in the hammock soaking up some vitamin D! It is so pleasant here. The sun is nice and hot, but there is like no humidity so it is cool in the hade and cooler at night – need longsleeves. There are really no bugs to speak of either which is awesome, especially at night. We’ve seen a bunch of spiders, but they don’t bother me.

Oh and by the way, my quads are still sore on day 3! They feel a bit better, but still sore. I’m hoping they are better for Friday which is our volcano hike!

Lunch was good – we ate up the rest of the food since today was our last lunch. It was good – I had just a cheese sandwich with carrots and guacamole! The quac is awesome! Also pineapple, watermelon and pretzel sticks and those yummy snack cookie things.

After lunch I took a walk down by the water and took some pics. I then shopped my way back up the hill to our hotel and brought 2 more paintings. One is a coffee picking scene and one is of the Rostro Maya which is pretty cool. It is a little big so I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to carry it on the plane, but I’ll figure it out. Then we went back up to the gym to play with the kids for one last time. It was not really feeling it today. I’m not sure if it was because we are almost leaving or if I’ve reached my limit with “kid time”. We also had run out of supplies (stickers, balloons, coloring books) so they were braiding our hair.

The ice cream man showed up today in the gym!

The whole group!

Well, my hair is very short! So I could not really participate in that. I took some pics, talked to some kids and was ready to be done. I’m ready to see my own kid again! We headed back for showers and I picked up my bracelet “order” from the woman on the street. It felt good to get clean.

Our last dinner at Patrona’s was wonderful. I ate vegetarian tonight since the protein was red meat. So I had black beans, rice and a hard boiled egg. I had 4 tortillas tonight! Every other night I’ve had 3, but tonight I was going all out! And of course we had sweet bread and coffee. So good and definitely my favorite time of the day.

Okay so my quads are SO sore! I was walking down the steps tonight in flip flops and I tripped and instead of falling I gripped myself with my legs and my right quad to the brunt – it hurts! I may take some ibuprofen and just go to bed, but first I will do reflection with the group a little bit. Ugh. I’m getting a little bit antzy to go home at this point. It has been a long time and I really want to take a hot shower, shave my legs and actually do my hair.

Reflection done – packing a bit and going to bed – it is late tonight – 11pm!

Day 6 – Working and Weaving

Tues, Jan 8

I was up a little before 6 am today and decided to journal a bit. Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll get up the nerve to get up early and walk around the town a little bit. I’d like to check out San Juan early in the am, but I don’t want to get lost! I have turned on the TV in my room a couple of times and found something in English just to feel grounded, but it is really weird not knowing what is going on in the states, both in my family and the community, nation, etc. I guess I just hope and pray that all is well. My prayer for this trip is that I can be a good role model for the students, be open to new thing and new experiences and to challenge myself. I do feel like I’m doing that for the most part. I had this realization that my homesickness in the beginning was because I was still trying to have one foot in the U.S. and one foot in Guatemala by using my phone. I mean I’m glad I was able to communicate with Mike, but also I’m glad that since we don’t have internet here I’m forced to not use it. It helps me to be fully present here. I want to ask our Merge leaders and our Guatemalan family so many questions. There is Mario and then Heather and Esau (Heather’s husband). And the family is Walter, Dorcas, Alejandro (17), Diego (15) and Keila (21). Keila is training to be a Merge leader also. I have all these questions, but I don’t want to be obnoxious by asking them or offend them by grilling them with questions. Heather is American – she is from Seattle. She quite her job, sold her house and moved to Nicaragua and there she met her husband! She has not been back to the states in like 2 years. I just cannot imagine doing that! I want to ask her about that. She has mentioned a few times that the first service trip she went on “ruined” her. I have an inkling what she means, but I’d like to ask her about that. Maybe that will be my challenge today.

We had yoga again today with three yogis! This is really beginning to be fun! Breakfast was yummy yet again! No specialty today, but I had this “fitness” type of cereal and I put it on half a bagel with peanut butter. Than I had some cantaloupe, some peach nectar and coffee. Oh, and a breakfast bar. I seem to eat more here than home, probably because it tastes so good and because we are so active! After breakfast we went to the school to work. Today I finished cleaning the windows on the bottom floor and inside and outside of the building and helped clean and move desks back in the building.

I did a little painting, collected and bagged leaves and moved a couple giant rocks!

Eric was a little troublemaker – that’s why I liked him!

Others in the group did a bunch of painting on the wall and some wept tons of dirt off of a gym floor. It was fun! One more day of service here tomorrow morning. Then we broke for lunch and I had a pb & j, pineapple, cheese, pretzel sticks and a waffle chocolate bar thing.

After lunch a couple of us stayed back and had an awesome conversation with Heather. She told us all about her history and how she got here and then about her life in Nicaragua now. She told us that she had had a very posh film directing career with lots of cell phones and lots of assistants in Seattle,b ut that gradually she worked more and more with mission trips and eventually she determined that God was calling her to be a missionary full-time. She sold her house 2 years ago and moved to Nicaragua. She met her husband and got married this past August! She has never been happier and she said if you would have asked her back then if she would have become a missionary and married a Nicaraguan she would have said “no way!”. She described her house as really small – the size of our lunch room we were sitting in with cinder blocks and a metal roof. She has electricity, water and one of the only people in her neighborhood to have a fridge! And she has LOTS of tarantulas!!! Yikes! She described the public hospital, however and that would be enough for me not to live there. She said it was worse than a horror movie with people bleeding out and vomiting with no one cleaning it up for a long time – all around her in the waiting room while she and her husband, Esau were waiting to be seen with his hurt leg. She said you have to bring your own sheets and supplies to the hospital and you have attend to your own person (no nurses). It was so interesting to hear all this. She says that she has never been happier and that when people hear about her story they are either jealous or think she is crazy! It is definitely not the life for me, but so glad that wonderful people like Heather are doing this important work. I told her she should write a book!

Heather and Esau

After lunch we had a little time to shop so I was able to get some art in the art gallery finally! I got 6 little square pics of fruit that hopefully we go in our kitchen pretty well. The lady in the store was so nice she even gave all of us free bracelets! Then I bought a bracelet from a woman off the street too. She also took orders for bracelets with names on them that she will have ready tomorrow. I got one for Zach and my mom. I also ordered a necklace to go with my bracelet. She was a very good saleswoman!

Next we went to the weaving place which was SO awesome! This weaving association is just for women and was the first one in this area. At first the woman was not there and we thought we would have to come back tomorrow, but hen she showed up – yay! I was so exctied because I was really wanted to see it and I wanted to take a bunch of pictures for my mom.

So we went in and the woman told us all about how the weaving process works and let us try the different steps – yes more pics! I ended up buying a skirt. It is a beautiful teal color, wrap around skirt.

I also bought bookmarks there. So cool! She told us that it takes about a month to get the threat spooled and onto the loom ready to weave. From there my skirt took about a week to make. Thankfully Dorcas helped me fit it so I could get the right size! I felt good about buying something at this place knowing where the money goes – no middle man!

After the weavers we went back to play with the kids in the gym again. This time we did some quieter things – coloring and face painting. I had fun with 2 different girls named Maria and I told them both the “dot-to-dot” game and they enjoyed it. One was 9 and one was 10. The 10-year-old Maria played with me yesterday. The gym was busy and some kids were getting crazy, but they were having fun.

Next was a shower and dinner. Dinner is totally my favorite time of day. Patrona’s family is just so welcoming and happy to see us. Tonight we had chicken in this yummy re/orange sauce with white rice and tortillas and sweet breads, of course! I had 2 cups of coffee with dinner tonight.

One thing I’ve wondered about here are the dogs. There are tons of stray dogs all over the place, but hey don’t seem to go around in groups at all – always alone. This surprises me because they are pack animals. A few times I’ve wanted to pet them, but I’ve restrained myself because it is not a good idea to pet animals here. Also, the sky at night here is “muy bonita” I wish Mike could see it – the sky is littered with stars – no light pollution in Guatemala!

After dinner we had our reflection time like always. Tonight we broke up into small groups and talked that way. The questions were: (1) Is there a moment you regret since we’ve been in San Juan? What do you wish you would have done differently? (2) What image in your head makes you think of God’s love since we’ve been in San Juan? (3) What do you love about San Juan?
For me the first one is more what I wish I had done before the trip – brush up on my Spanish more. I also would have wanted to learn a little bit more about Guatemala in general. Second, the image that makes me think of God’s love for me is Dorcas and Walter on that mountain. Both were SO positive and encouraging to us, but especially me carrying my backpack. Third, I love how in San Juan people are filled with God’s love and positivity. They are so pleasant and greet us when we walk by – even when they are carrying a load of lumber on their backs. I think faith is their life here. I
appreciate their life here. I appreciate living simply here and have enjoyed doing so here. When it is time for work, we work. Play, we play. Shower, we shower. Eat, we eat. Write, we write. Love, we love. It is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people not trying to multitask. Tomorrow is our last day here so I intend to make the most of it!

Day 5 – Coffee Picking Day!

Mon, Jan 7

Today started with another 30 minute yoga session. This time I had four yogis join me. I was really stiff and sore this morning, but most of the students were not! I guess I feel all 43 of my years! Well, a few of them said they were a bit sore. My quads are SO sore! They are almost as sore as they were after the marathon. But they felt better after yoga.

Next, we had breakfast and today the specialty that Dorcas made for us was pancakes. Yesterday she made us eggs – we are getting so spoiled here! Then we met the man who was going to take us to the coffee field. It was his land that we would be working on. We started up another steep hill and I began to wonder if we were going to have another “hike” on our hands! Thankfully we did not – we made it okay. We partnered up and each pair got a bucket and rope to tie around their waist. I partnered with Mary – she took the basket since I had my backpack.

First Walter explained that we needed to pick the dark red beans and leave the unripe ones alone.

He also explained that the leaves had a worm problem, but that would not harm us at all.

We started not really knowing what to do. Unfortunately there was a beehive close to our group and a bunch of people got stung. Luckily the ones who were stung managed okay. Once Mary and I got a system down it was pretty fun. The plans grow on a steep hillside so it is very challenging to navigate the hill.

We realized quickly that it was easier to slide down on our butts to get to the next plants rather than on our feet. We just used plants, rocks and whatever we could grab to stabilize ourselves as we went down or across the hill. We picked for quite awhile – about 3 hours.

After that we brought all of our beans to the scale to weigh them and sell them. We picked 115 pounds of beans in 74 man hours and we earned $27.00 – that is it!

This is as much money as the family makes in one week. Then, we went and gave the money to the family. They were very thankful and grateful and told us they wished they could compensate us – which was very touching.

Yes, it was a fun experience – for 3 hours. I cannot imagine that job being my livelihood that I needed to do sunrise to sunset for 6 days a week to provide for my family. The coffee season usually goes from September through December or part of January. It is just so weird and makes you think about how much Starbucks charges for a pound of coffee. I really am going to try to only buy Fair Trade coffee from now on. I mean, I fully admit that I buy whatever is on sale most of the time, but after this direct experience I need to rethink some things.

Pause for a Rostro Maya pic (yes, I am obsessed!!) You can see the cross and then the nose!!

After another yummy lunch we went to play with the kids and it was crazzzzyy! We did balloon animals and face painting and it was very popular let’s just say!

Kids came out of the woodwork for them and were like flogging us! It was a bit stressful because we only had three pumps to use to blow up like 1000 balloons! But they totally loved it!

I did a few of them and then I started coloring with Maria who is 11. We played tic-tac-toe many times and she won multiple times. I didn’t even let her win – she totally beat me fair and square! When she was leaving she gave me a big hug and we took our picture.

It was fun because she was (re) teaching me the names of colors in Spanish. They all came back to me once she said them. Then we were doing the same thing with a sticker book of animals. It was amazing to see how the kids were so happy with really simple things. The favorite balloon animals/shapes were a sword, a dog, a sombrero, a sombrero with glasses, flowers and any other crazy shape we could make up.

(By the by, my legs are SO sore from the hike yesterday. I think they are getting more sore as the day progresses. Oh well, this too shall pass – with my my quads feeling like I just ran a marathon at least I feel like I did something!)

Dinner is always my favorite part of the day. Tonight was awesome again. We had what Heather described as a typical Guatemalan meal: scrambled eggs, black beans, white rice and plantains and of course tortillas – and sweet breads for dessert – yummy!

Right afterwards we had our reflection. It was an interesting one tonight – on being uncomfortable. People had the opportunity to share moments that have made them uncomfortable during the trip. I shared two things throughout the discussion. First I talked about how the hike made me feel uncomfortable – like I was really frightened, but anytime I verbalized it someone said we would get through it together. I also mentioned that I’m still actually uncomfortable because my legs are so sore! Late I shared that playing with the kids makes me uncomfortable and that there is a reason why I work with students 18 and older. But today I realized that I don’t need to be anxious around the kids – they don’t want much – just you and your attention. It was really hard for me to admit that in front of everyone, but there you go! Some people talked about how they have not yet felt uncomfortable during the trip and that morphed into a discussion about journaling more and realizing that we will be processing this trip long after it has ende. So we decided to take some time for ourselves right after reflection for journal. I think that is great idea because I always feel somewhat guilty about taking time to journal when we have a little bit of downtime, but I need it cause I’m a writing fool! I have about 1/4 of this journal filled already!

Just thinking about the trip I’m wondering if there could be more “meat” to it. I mean not that playing with the kids isn’t great, especially for those who like them (ha ha), but I really wish we could have more interaction/engagement with the Guatemalan people (adults). It is wonderful interacting with our Guatemalan family – I’ve enjoyed that very much and wish I could talk more with my little bit of Spanish that I remember. I’m not sure what suggestions I would have – just wish there could be more interaction.

I skipped the games tonight and went straight to bed. I’ve been toast by like 9pm every night (10pm our body time) so that makes sense and I’m always up early. Go figure!

Day 4 – Climb Every Mountain!

Sun, Jan 6

Wow, today has been a crazy/great day! First I got up and did a 30 minute yoga session out on the courtyard. Three (3) students joined me and it was really fun! Then after breakfast we went to church and that was really interesting. It was so neat to see everyone in their Sunday garb and hear the mass conducted completely in Spanish. We go there in the middle of it so that was weird, but really neat to experience it. Next as the best part of whole trip so far – “the hike”!

Ready to go??!!

We were to hike to the cross which we did, but there was also an option to hike up to “the nose”. The mountain looks like a profile of a face and the nose was the destination that some of the group was going to climb. The mountain is called “Rostro Maya” or face of the Mayan. When we started the hike I had not decided whether or not I would do the entire thing or just to the cross, but then I just decided “if not now, when?!” Just the hike to the cross was pretty rugged and steep. The view was absolutely beautiful up there. After a few pics with the whole group at the cross most of us decided to keep going to the nose.

Oh – my – gosh – this was the hardest thing I have ever done!!! Even harder than running the marathon! Seriously. The hike up was extremely steep, rocky and pretty dangerous actually!

Coffee plants along the way…

Rest stop along the way – this getting really pretty and hard!

We took lots of water breaks, but hiked up at a pretty good clip. At one point we thought we were going the wrong way because we were going down…on the way up! But, it turned out to be right afterall.

There is the nose…we are getting there!

Three of us were walking together at one point and we kept wondering how in the heck we would go down!!! I was so touched at the kindness of Dorcas, our Merge “mother” who is 47, by the way. She saw me struggling and offered to carry my backpack. Her husband, Walter, who is 48, offered to carry it earlier in the hike and I had said no. This time I gladly let her help me, however. She also let me use her walking stick which was very helpful to steady myself going up. She is such a wonderful and generous woman. This was her first time up this mountain as well! I wonder, would I do the same for someone else?!

Every now and then there were actual built-in stairs…but just don’t trust the “handrails” – yikes!

We finally made it to the top after many doubts that I could make it. The encouragement from all the students was so awesome and inspiring! We agreed that we could not have done it on our own. The power of the group was fantastic! We celebrated at the top with more water, rest and some snacks and took some really cool pics!

We did it!

Next came the really fun part – going down! It started off pretty good with students joking and laughing, but after awhile it was just quiet. Everyone was quiet and focused. Going down was maybe even harder than going up. I mean, going up was probably tougher cardio-wise, but going down was scarier and took forever. I threw away my walking stick (it was actually more of a hazard going down) and tried to come up with a strategy for coming down. Going down sideways seemed to work okay, but the gravel here and there was slippery and scary. At some point I just wanted to crawl in a corner and cry! It was so hard because at this point my legs were like jelly and I was annoyed at seeing rocks after rocks. But we made it finally and Steve (one of the student leaders) had bought us all sodas for when we came down! So refreshing and I never drink pop! What a great feeling of accomplishment!

It was about 6 miles up and six miles down and 2000 feet up – it took us 4 hours! We kinda missed lunch, but had a little bite at 3pm when we returned to the hotel. I just had a half of a pb&j and some guacamole because I’m never hungry right after working out – and this was one heck of a workout!! We all talked about our adventure and Mario (Merge leader) told me that I was the first “teacher” in any of his groups that has done it! That made me feel really good! He has hiked the mountain 7 times. I so wanted to tell Mike all about it and show him the pics, but I’ll have to wait and hope my journal about it translates. After a shower we are all just hanging out and playing games until dinner. Oooo – another dinner at Patrona’s – I can’t wait! Great, great day! I think I might have won the sweat contest too – my shirt looked like I had just gotten out of the washer. Go figure!

Dinner was amazing yet again tonight. This time it was a soup. It was served as a broth, but with a small beef roast and other veggies on the side. Thankfully Esau was sitting next to me and told me that you normally cut up the meat and vegetables and put them in the soup. The veggies were potatoes, carrots and this squash thing that grows in Guatemala that we don’t get in the states. It is called something like kuiquil. Them tomatillos were brought out – or called tomales. They are basically corn steamed in a banana leaf. I almost at the outside until Esau told me not to! It was yummy in the soup too!

After dinner we went up to have reflection. Tonight our question to ponder was, “Describe something that has happened on this trip so far that you expected and something unexpected”. My answer was that I expected the Merge staff and our new Merge family (Dorcas and Walter and fam) to be helpful and help us negotiate the trip, but I had not idea how kind and hospitable they would be. Just the offering to carry my backpack and provide me with help on the hike – when both of them were older than me and it was their first time up the mountain too was beautiful. Plus tonight Dorcas & Walter gave touching reflections about how they love us like their own and pray that God will protect and keep us from harm. I am so awed and amazed at their open hearts towards our group that they just met like 3-4 days ago. This is love – the kind of love that God wants us to share with each other. It radiates from them as well as their joy. This was also demonstrated at dinner tonight when their daughter, Keila, joined our group for dinner. She was traveling alone by bus from their home. When she came in she hugged her mother and father and then both her brothers who are 15 and 17 came up and formed this big group hug around her. It was genuine love and joy to see each other that we might not always see if the same situation happened in the states.

I kept thinking of the song I sang in Erie County Chorus when I was in 5th grade. I’m not sure what the name of it was , but I remember this part, “…I climbed a mountain. I saw the other side. And I can rest now, for I am satisfied…” Later the chorus says, “…and there was peace in the valley, there was hope in the land. There was joy in the children, there was love, beautiful love, in the heart of man.” I have no idea how that suddenly came to me tonight, but I think it is totally perfect for today and for my experience in Guatemala so far.

After reflection we went to get “papafritas” (french fries) that everyone loves. Then we came back and played “assassins” again – this group loves this game! Yoga is set for 7am again tomorrow. I can’t wait to see how stiff I am in the morning. Yoga will be good! Tomorrow we spend the morning picking coffee – should be another great day!

P.S. Things I’m amazed by: the lady walking up the mountain in her traditional dress by herself and a stick when we were on our way down. We were doing this for fun and she was probably doing it for work or for her family! I also saw men coming down while we were on our way up – with loads of wood on their backs. Also, Esau went up and down the mountain in flip-flops!! Amazing!

Day 3 – Meeting the Kids

Sat, Jan 5

Well, the day started with waking up to the sounds of drums, bells and fire crackers up and down the street very early this morning! It turns out that the community was starting their Epiphany celebration! Even though the actual day is tomorrow they started today! They go from house to house and bring blessings from baby Jesus to the to the people. If people give tot he church then they get more of a blessing and people are honored to get this blessing. I was pretty much up already so it didn’t bother me too much. It was probably right around like 6:30 am or so. We met for breakfast at 8 am. Breakfast was simple cereal, milk, watermelon and this wonderful peach nectar juice!

Everything is pre-packaged, even the milk. And we had coffee! Yahoo! It was instant, but totally good and did the trick. Then we got ready to do some work at the school. At the school we worked from approximately 9 am – 12 pm. Some of us moved dirt, some cleaned a wall with wire brushes, prepping for painting and some worked on the inside of hte school mopping floors and cleaning desks and windows. I cleaned a bunch of windows and desks. I was brushing webs down and a coin fell down. It was a quetzal worth 10Q – so in dollars it was about a few cents. But it was my good luck charm!

I showered in the morning and it was actually a little bit warm. The showers are heated by electricity so you cannot touch the shower head. You are supposed to turn it on slightly so it can begin to warm and then turn it up a bit more. I had no problems with it. It feels a little bit like glorified camping so far – minus the campfires! The shower felt similar to what happens when everyone in my house used all the hot water and then I have to take a shower.

We broke for lunch and had a typical “Merge Lunch” which consisted of lunch meat sandwiches, strawberries, pineapple, veggies, chips and some packaged granola bars, etc. The fruit is so good and fresh here! I opted for a pb & j which was a safe bet. I feel like that will be my go-to lunch. Now we are taking a break before heading over to play with the kids at the gym. I’m apprehensive a bit about that, but I’ll do my best to be engaged and fully present with them. It is a big part of the trip to interact with the children, but I’m not really good at that sort of stuff usually so we’ll see.

My homesickness is better now. I do think it is better to know I can’t use my phone even if I wanted to. Even though every time I check the time I also check the FB app – but it never updates – duh! I’m thinking about napping in a hammock for awhile. Oh I forgot to mention that I did a little bit of yoga this am just to stretch out a little bit. I just did it in my room – and even got a little sweaty in my pj’s. It made the shower feel really good. Some of the students expressed interest in doing some yoga at some point so I might teach them a bit if I get up the nerve and if we could find a good spot.

So the hammocks totally rock! I took a nice swing in one and read a bit. Then we went down to the gym to play with the kids for a bit. I did the parachute for awhile and then mostly just watched the students with the kids. Some were playing soccer, basketball and just generally running around. I just wish I could speak Spanish in order to be able to interact more with the kids.

Dinner at Patrona’s again was yummy! This time we had fried chicken with white rice and roasted carrots and another type of veggie that we don’t have in the states. It was green and it is squash-esque. Of course we had tortillas and sweet breads for dessert.

Then we had reflection up on the roof. This time our questions to ponder were: (1) What challenged you or was a “terror” for you today, and (2) What was a blessing? For me I could not think of a terror at first. But right away I thought of last night after reflection when I was a bit upset and Dorcas caught me and we had our mom-to-mom moment. A bit later in the reflection I thought of the terror for today. I think I met 3 ten-year-olds today and it dawned on me that since my son is the same age…how would he have played for like 2 hours with just a ball and a parachute. He would have probably lasted 20 minutes and then said he was bored. It is just weird to think about how much we have (Zach has) vs. how much these kids have in terms of things, but I wonder how they compare in happiness. Like I wonder what the rate of alcoholism, anxiety/depression and suicide is in a place like San Juan. Just things to think about.

Tomorrow I’m doing a little yoga class for anyone who shows up at 7am. Then we have breakfast at 8am and church and then a hike to the cross. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.

Day 2: Heading to San Juan

Fri, Jan 4

I woke up after a wonderful night’s sleep! I feel rested and very good. In day light I realize that my view out my window is a volcano which is very cool!

I slept from about 9:30 pm until about 6:30 am. I had my first shower (kinda cold) and kept my mouth slammed shut! I also have practiced twice now with brushing my teeth using the filtered water. Hopefully I’ll be okay. I’m definitely missing my phone/computer and being connected to the outside world. I found some TV progams in English that helped me a bit. I kinda wish I had a roommate, but at the same time I’m glad I don’t. I’m watching “Will & Grace” on TV. It is weird because it is in English, but with Spanish subtitles. I had no idea that there would be any TV shows in English. I was also surprised at seeing so many American fast food chains along the way driving to Panahachel…McDonalds, Burger King and others were plentiful.

We are meeting in 20 minutes to have breakfast and then an orientation meeting. Then we have a few hours to spend in the town, lunch at 12:30 and then a boat ride to San Juan. It should be cool. I already bought a blanket for $35 and a wallet for Zach for $5. There are tons of neat things for sale along the streets.

Breakfast was amazing! We had cantaloupe juice, eggs, black beans, cheese, melon, and of course, tortillas! And there is coffee – yahoo!!

After breakfast we had a meeting with the Merge staff Ministry team. Mario, the leader of the group, talked with us about Merge, their values and how this is not about us, but about the relationships we will build with people. In Panahachel it is more like a city than where we are headed to in San Juan. I got tears in my eyes a lot when he was talking because he talked a lot about how we are going to be the hands and feet of Jesus through our service to the community. I can already tell this Merge team is awesome!

Lunch was great! I actually had a peanut butter and orange marmalade sandwich with fruit and these cool wafer/chocolate bars.

The bananas are smaller here, but delish – tastier than the ones in the states.

And water. Everywhere we go we have big jugs of water that are safe for us to drink. At first I was wary of it, but I’m finally trusting it. I think yesterday I was skeptical and did not drink as much as I should have so I was a little dehydrated. After lunch we dragged our luggage down to the boats and took them for our ride over to San Juan.

The ride was fantastic. We had to wheel the luggage over the cobblestones which was not easy – especially for someone with a 50-plus pound bag! But the hardest part was yet to come!

The boat ride was fun – bumpy just like I like it! It was a little cloudy, but really beautiful. The water was spraying in a bit so a few of the girls got wet!

Then once we got to San Juan we had to bring our luggage up this giant hill – can you say cardio workout?!

Our hill!

It felt good, however! We checked into the hotel and I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. There is even a TV in my room. I have no idea if it works or not – might try tomorrow.

The only different thing is that you cannot flush toilet paper down the toilet. Instead you have to disguard it in a little trashcan next to the toilet. This will take some getting used to. I have not yet had to really test it yet as my system is still on stand-by mode.

My room

The hammocks were amazing!

After our hotel check-in we had a tour of San Juan, saw the school where we will work, the church where we will go to Mass and some other highlights of the city.

The school

The old church

Then we had some free time to explore on our own. It was really fun to walk around and check everything out. This little village is apparently an art center and has tons of little art galleries all around. I found a couple of paintings that were really cool and met the artist in one case.

Dinner was really special. Every night in San Juan we have dinner at this women’s house (Patrona). It was really yummy and fun. Some of the students helped her make the tortillas! The dinner was so good. It was chicken (wonderful flavor), black beans, and rice that was so tasty – and of course tortillas! I think I ate 3 tonight. It is sort of nice that I am not tracking my food or activity here. I’m just fully experiencing things as they are.

For dessert we had sweet breads which were like rolls with a sweet topping on them – yummy!

After dinner we had our first reflection meeting on the top floor of the hotel (which is not finished yet!). We had a prayer, listened to a song and then everyone shared low points and high points of the trip so far. I shared that my low point was being homesick when we landed (of course I cried) and that I was glad that our phones no longer worked here at San Juan. For me it is a relief to not even be able to try to contact home. It will make it easier to be fully present here without that temptation. The high point was talking to Alejandro (my Guatemalan brother) yesterday and trying out my rusty Spanish with him. After the reflection meeting I was thinking about just going to bed, but then Dorcas (my Guatemalan mother) spotted me. She and her family are working with the Merge organization on this trip. She picked up on my homesickness and we had a talk. She asked about my family and I teared up. She then shared about a time when her daughter was away from home for tres meses (three months) and she missed her terribly. She was “muy triste” (very sad). She was trying to connect with me and it totally worked. It was like we bonded mother to mother over our love for our children. She spoke Spanish and I spoke English, but we understood each other perfectly. It was a really special moment. I felt understood and we exchanged a warm hug.

After that I felt better and joined the group to play 2 rounds of the game “assassin” which was really fun. Good second day.