Guat ’14 Day 8 – The Blessing

Fri, Jan 10

Last day for yoga and we had 11 people again – yahoo!! So proud of these students for getting up at 6:20am for yoga!!

My Guat yogis!

Good breakfast and then back to work for our last day!

Best last breakfast – banana pancakes AND plantains! The mother load!

We got all of the painting done and then spent the rest of the afternoon after lunch cleaning up. The floors were pretty messy with paint, but we did the best we could with paint thinner! The fumes were pretty bad, but we pushed through it by taking breaks. In total we painted 10 rooms – mostly classrooms, but some offices. That feels good.

The highlight of the day at the school was when we were called into a meeting with the principal, teachers and some of the novitiates. It was in a chapel and it was very moving! It turned out to be a kind of blessing for us. They started with music played by the young men and then a dramatic poem by the teachers.

Next we all formed a circle and all of the others formed a circle around us. They told us they were going to do a prayer for us (or like over us). But it was more than a prayer just from them, they explained. Their tradition when someone leaves home is to do a prayer from the family to send them off, but it is not only from them it is from their grandparents as well. I got really teary at this point and continued to cry as the principal prayed over us. I had no idea what she was saying, but it was just the idea that I was sharing in this special and quite beautiful part of their culture that was so neat and inspiring. Also is was very cool that we were all sharing our faith.

Next they gave us each bracelets and medals from International Samaritan which was way cool.

But the absolute highlight was when we were presented with a beautiful painting from their local artist (the one I mentioned before) as a gift to John Carroll. It is absolutely beautiful! I was so touched and just wished we had something to give to them. More tears. What a beautiful community.

We stopped for ice cream again after work – yum! After a wonderful last dinner we did our final reflection as a group. We did the “tap the back” affirmation exercise which was so neat! That was the first time I had ever participated in this activity and I was so surprised at how emotional I got during it! (I know, how am I surprised – I don’t know, but I am!) Afterwards we took a bunch of pics, gave lots of hugs and went to our rooms to pack.

Tania, one of our facilitators. Super amazing and beautiful inside and out!

We have a very early morning tomorrow! I’m itching to go home and see my boys!

Guat ’14 Day 7 – Futbol game

Thurs, Jan 9

We had 8 people in yoga today! Breakfast was good with egg pancake things and these sausage balls. There were actually pretty tasty!!

We got lots of work done today – painted most of the red. The top bigger portion of each wall is white, but there is a different color band along the bottom of each wall and that is to be painted red. The good thing is that the red covers well so only one coat!! The white on green was a different story!!

Tomorrow is our last day, but I’m pretty sure we can get the rest done. Today after work we stopped for helado (ice cream) which was so good! We all got large cones. I got mint chocolate chip and noticed how small their large size is. In the US that size would probably either be a small or even a kids’ cone. Just another example of our super-size culture in the US. Oy!

We were able to chat with some children a bit today while we were working. Eduardo, who was 7, kept coming to visit us in our classroom. He was really cute and very gracious and patient with us as we tried to use our Spanish with him!

The day’s highlight was our futbol game with the young novitiates (young men who are studying to become priests). They were on site volunteering also and came from a number of central American countries. We broke early at 11am for our game before lunch. We divided our group and each half played a 30 minute game. It was really fun! I totally sucked and our team did not score at all, but it was fun just to play and get sweaty. They are really good!


“Us – well half of us”

The Guatemalan cheerleading section

Our cheerleading section

Group pic

We also met this artist today who grew up in the dump community and used to collect garbage and eat from the dump. The principal of the school began to help him by giving him clothes, etc and eventually realized he was a talented painter! He has done many many beautiful murals throughout the school. He also has some for sale that we are able to buy. I’m totally buying some – he is very talented!


Just a few examples of his beautiful murals at the school

Bananagrams was popular!! Many rounds were played each night

Reflection Time:
1. What are you feeling as you begin to say good-bye to the people of zone 3?
I feel lucky, blessed and grateful to have a family to go home to. I’m glad that I could come and witness the reality of the lives of the poor in the dump community.
2. How can you use your God-given talents to continue to work for Christ’s mission after returning home?
I want to be more aware of making good use of food and not wasting it. I want to stay in contact with this group and support them in their journey. I want to stay open to the possibilities and listen to what God is calling me to do going forward and I want to share what I’ve witnessed and learned here to all who will listen.

Guat ’14 Day 6 – Give her a hand – 19 of them!

Wed, Jan 8

We had 11 people at yoga this morning – broke another record!! Yahoo! I don’t have tons of time to journal tonight so here is a summary of our day:

Attempt to get paint off of us

Good day! We had a very productive day today with painting! Got lots of white done.

French toast was amazing!

Kids dancing on the roof above the school

Also, today the group played a funny prank on me. It was orchestrated by Mary Ann! It was called “Operation 19 Hands”. All of a sudden all the students attacked with hands full of white paint and smacked me so I had 19 hand prints all over my legs and back! It was awesome. I think I was bragging about keeping so clean a little bit too loudly! I will keep those jeans forever that is for sure!!

Yes, even the butt!

Good fun!

During painting today I was able to connect with a group of students too – good day. This trip is not exactly what I expected, but probably just what I needed. Isn’t that always the way in life?!

Guat ’14 Day 5 – “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go!”

Tues, Jan 7

We had 9 people in yog this morning – yay! I do feel really good about being able to share the practice with students. It is one of my favorite times of the day! Now it is time for prayer and then breakfast. Tengo hambre!

Today’s breakfast was cereal, pancakes, pineapple, bananas, and scrambled eggs with hot dogs in them (interesting, but good!).

Then we left to head to the work site for our first day of work. First we had to stop and pick up the 2 police officers that were to accompany us. We had them with us in Guatemala City yesterday too and during the tour of the dump community. It is just a precaution. They even went with us to the market! They seem nice and friendly, but don’t speak much English, however.

While the male officer changed frequently, Ivonne, the officer on the right, was with us all week. She was wonderful!

So today our job was to prepare the walls and then start to paint. They split us into 5 groups of people and each group was assigned a classroom to do. I scraped our entire classroom – just to get any glue or any paper off – not all the old paint – that would have taken forever! Then we began painting white over green, but soon realized that our red brushes were not washed out enough and our white was a light pink! So we had to clean the brushes again. It is an oil based paint so it can only be cleaned with paint thinner! Once we got going we got in the groove.

Group 4!!

We ate lunch (p,b and j’s) right on site in the school library at about 12:30pm and then started working again at about 1:40pm. During lunch one of the students and I began singing all sorts of camp songs which was very fun! Of course people were videotaping us!

Dora and I having fun with camp songs!

After lunch we painted until about 3pm when we took a break to hear a presentation from a woman who works with our partner organization, International Samaritan. We heard about the program and met a couple of the students who are interning with the organization and who are graduates of the school we are painting. They gave us all little gifts that they painted and gave Mary Ann and I each scarves that they made and normally sell. Of course they would not take any money for them as they were gifts for us. So sweet!

We quit work about 4pm, drove back to the retreat center and now are just hanging out before dinner. I miss hanging out with other Guatemalans throughout the trip. Last year we just had more native Spanish speakers around and it just felt like more of a community. We learned from each other and had shared experiences like picking coffee, climbing the mountain, and volcano. The shared experiences for this group so far has been shopping and painting – nothing really unique to Guatemala. Even though I keep reminding myself that I should not compare the two experiences it is so hard not to do it! The only way I can describe how I’m feeling right now is that I’m homesick for last years’ experience! Does that even make sense? Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to come to the same place two years in a row – not sure! Although even though it is the same country, it definitely is not the same place. I need to work harder at letting last year go and just being more in the moment of this year.

Guat ’14 Day 4 – The Dump Community

Mon, Jan 6

Today was unique and something I will never forget. Today we got a tour of the garbage dump in Guatemala City. We had yoga at 6:20am (with 8 people again!) and then prayer at 7:20pm. Breakfast today was a quiche dish, black beans, plantains, juice and bread – scrumptious!

Morning reflection in the chapel

After breakfast we boarded the bus and went to the school where we will be working the rest of the week. It is the school that serves the dump population – about 300 children!

Courtyard area of the school

The school principal welcoming us

We got a tour of 2 of the homes of the families in the community. The first one was for 2 children and 2 adults that all sleep in one bed on a bare mattress. It was a dirt floor with a corrugated tins roof and walls. It was very small with no running water and divided into 2 rooms with a bedsheet as a divider. There was no running water, but they had a big giant container of purified water provided by an organization called HopeRenewed.

Views along the route in the community

Mural on the wall supporting the organization that provides clean water.

The first house was very messy with stuff everywhere. The owner told us that when it is the rainy season the water comes up to her knees in her house. The group was able to ask her a few questions about life living in the dump community. She said they have bad times and good times. She told us that her husband worked in the dump. Then the next house we visited was a little bit larger and housed 4 children and 2 adults, again all in the same bed. It was neat to hear her talk about her dreams for her children and to hear her daughter talk about wanting to become a doctor. This woman kept a very tidy house in spite of her circumstances. I felt grossed out and disgusted walking around the neighborhood near the dump and I got tears in my eyes as we walked around. There were flies all around, stray dogs everywhere and it smelled. We saw and almost walked right over a dead cat (not road kill, just dead) in the middle of the road and people just went about their own business like this was a common occurrence.

Stray dogs were a common site

Litter of puppies along the route

We saw lots of children and people along the way who greeted us with an “hola” and a smile, but I didn’t get the feeling that they were happy – at least not like the people in San Juan – the little town we were in last year. The people in San Juan were poor, but had what they needed and seemed happy, but I get the impression that these people are just poor. I’ve been trying to figure out the difference between the two populations – I guess the most obvious is that one is a small village and one is a large city. The other is that the people of San Juan had what they needed – lived off the land and were happy and really didn’t know what they didn’t have – no wifi, internet or tv. Whereas, it seems as if the people in the city know just enough to realize how much they don’t have. They wear modern clothes, some have phones and some have tv’s and radios, etc. These are just my impressions of the comparison/contrast of the two populations. Not worse or better – just different.

Next we went to the actual garbage dump. Now that was overwhelming. We viewed it from way on top of a hill behind a cemetery. The first thing I noticed was all of the turkey vultures swarming in the sky. There were tons of them – hundreds of them and they were huge!

The swarming of the birds was overwhelming in itself

We looked on as the trucks came in and people ran after them. The people who work in the dump search to find recyclables to make money for their livelihood. The most valuable is plastic (like from water bottles) and they sell it to the recycling trucks. A good day for them is making about $3.00. The dump is also where they get their food. While we were there we saw a big plume of smoke rise up from the dump and it smelled terrible. We found out that later that it was a rather large fire from a methane explosion. The smell of the dump was not as bad as I thought it would be. I mean, it was bad, but I know it is way worse in the rainy season and in the heat of their summer. Our guide told us that many of the workers in the dump have bad skin diseases and respiratory problems from exposure to the chemicals and other awful things in the air at the dump.

Birds’ eye view (literally)


Covering the garbage that has been picked through with sand

After the dump we went to the grocery store to buy groceries for lunch for the week and then ate lunch in a park. Lunch for the week was very simple – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, cookies and a drink. After lunch we toured a market in Guatemala city. I bought some gifts and finally found the painted tortuga I was looking for! The tortuga (turtle) held special significance for me as a reminder from last year’s trip.

My tortuga

We had dinner – more American food – fried chicken, french fries, soup and cole slaw. While I do appreciate being fed, I really miss the Guatemalan food that was prepared for us on our trip last year. I really do miss lots of things from last year – I miss interacting with more people from the country. Last year we had our awesome Guatemalan family and 3 other staff to interact and form relationships with. I feel like we are separate from the community we are serving and not a part of it. This experience just feels really big where the other one felt smaller. I can’t help but compare the two. Maybe it comes down to the fact that I’m probably more a country person rather than a city person. It does not feel like our group is a community like last year – at least not yet, and I’m not sure why.

Well tomorrow we finallly get to work so that will be good. Mary Ann was feeling better today so that is really good.

Reflection Time:
1. What are you feeling now after your day in the dump? Any surprises?
I felt a bit like a spectator at a zoo during the tour of the homes. Now I am angry and just wonder why people anywhere have to live in those conditions. It is barely survival. It is totally random why some are born with privilege (like me) and some are not.
2. Was there a moment when in spite of the overwhelming experience of the day you saw Christ’s light?
Honestly, my first answer is not really. After thinking a bit more, however, perhaps I did at the second house when the woman talked about her children’s future and also just seeing the pride she took in keeping her house to tidy and organized in spite of her circumstances.
3. Why do you think God wants you here?
I’m not sure yet. I know I sacrificed to be here and be away from my family at a difficult time this year so I know there is a reason, but I’m not sure what it is yet. I’m open to exploring that question more…

Guat ’14 Day 3 – Antigua

Sunday, Jan 5

Today was a really fun day! We did tons! First I led 8 of us (including me) in yoga – just 30 minutes. It was awesome. It felt good to stretch and sweat! Then we had breakfast at 7:30am which was amazing, as always. Next we boarded the bus for our day long excursion in Antigua. Our first stop was our guides’ favorite stop – at this garden/art/breakfast place. It was very cool and we took lots of pictures.

Christ’s foot at the cross

The quetzal – bird of Guatemala

Workin’ out!

The group in front of the volcano called “water”

Next we went to Mass at the cathedral in Antigua which was very neat. It was packed and different than the mass in San Juan last year. This church was right next to a really nice hotel. The people at the church in Antigua were dressed in modern clothing, but last year in San Juan everyone wore the traditional Guatemalan dress. It wasn’t better or worse – just different. It was cool because we had a newspaper like “bulletin” that we could use to follow along in Spanish. Even with the bulletin, however, we got a little bit lost because they talked so fast! It was neat that there were girls that participated as alter girls – neat to see in a Catholic mass.

Front of the church

Back of the church

Next we went to the Jade Museum and learned the history of Jade in Guatemala. It was interesting. The Mayans liked preferred jade over gold because jade would last forever whereas gold could be melted down and changed. They believed in immortality so they liked the forever quality of jade. I bought a jade keychain for Mike and pendant for me (not expensive!!)

Next we visited the chocolate museum which smelled divine! We heard a bit about the history of the cacao bean and then had a sample. I bought some chocolate for making hot chocolate which I remembered was awesome last year and some chocolate bars for the boys. I was in heaven knowing I could make Guatemalan hot chocolate again – so good!

Our next stop was lunch at a restaurant in Antigua – wonderful. I had a chicken stew dish that came with a tomale, rice and of course tortillas – delish!

Reunited with “Rosa de Jamaica” juice again – highlight of the meal!!

Next we went to see the Jesuit ruins that were rebuilt after the flood from the volcano many years ago.

The colonial McDonalds

The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping at the outdoor handicraft market – 100 stores! I bought some gifts and some other unique Guatemalan goods. Now we have an hour of freetime before dinner a 6:30pm.

Honestly so far this trip feels like one giant field trip! Don’t get me wrong it has been awesome seeing these things, learning more about the culture of Guatemala and have the opportunity to shop and bargain. Our guide has been great helping us and giving us tips. But I feel like tomorrow at the dump it is going to be a rough transition seeing that community after what we have seen the last couple of days. I’m going to be prepared for an emotional reaction from both myself and the students. We will reflect after dinner tonight for the first time so maybe we will talk about what we are going to see tomorrow. I’m curious about how it will all go.

Dinner tonight was spaghetti with meatballs, cooked veggies, bread, strawberry juice and some sort of yummy soup. I was not a fan of the noodles – more doughy than at home. But plenty of other yummy food!

Mary Ann is resting with a bad migraine tonight – she missed dinner and also reflection. I’m feeling badly and praying that she feels much better in the morning.

Each evening we were given three questions to reflect on and journal about. Then we shared some of our reflections with the group.
Reflection Time:
1. What seeds do you expect to plant this week?
I hope to learn more about the community at the dump – not sure about what seeds yet, but I’m open to the possibilities.

2. What are your expectations this week?
I expect to be challenged physically, but most of all emotionally. I expect to be uncomfortable and probably sad/angry, etc. Also I want to not have expectations and just be open to it (need to stop comparing the trip to last year).

3. Are you ready for your service trip to Guatemala?
Yes! So far I feel like a tourist and although it has been fun, it feels a bit empty. I want to grow as a community with our group too.

Guat ’14 Day 2 – On the road again

Sat, Jan 4

Today was an early day. We went to bed late and then had to be at breakfast at 7am (no yoga this morning!). Breakfast was awesome – scrambled eggs, black beans, bread and my fave – plantains!! Oh and also delectable watermelon.

Then we took about a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to this beautiful hotel to pick up our boat over to San Diego.

Photo-op along the drive

Resort-type hotel

Gorgeous grounds

We passed San Juan (the town we stayed/worked in last year) and I just had to take a picture of our mountain. We climbed to the nose!! Picture the landscape as a giant profile.

We saw a really cool church built circa 1500 and then had lunch at a cool restaurant.

Neat old church

I had the “typical plate” which was amazing – typical Guatemalan meal. Delish!! With tortillas of course!

Oh, by the way I had a cold shower this morning, but I got clean. Not a big deal. After lunch we had a chance to shop for a bit. Then we took the boat back across the lake and took our 2 1/2 hour bus ride back to the retreat center. I got a little bit carsick today even though I sat in the front of the bus with all the twisty roads, so I’m planning on going to bed early. I even took a travel sickness pill for they way back, but I think that just made me more tired. Dinner was SO good – we had chicken, mashed potatoes, soup and cooked veggies. So good!

It was a good first day here. I was able to send a couple of facebook messages to Mike as our liaison shared the wifi password with me. I normally would not do that, but I just feel I like I need to touch base more than ever this year. Tomorrow is another “touristy” day in Antigua before we actually start our work at the dump on Monday. So far I bought a purse for my mom and a cool table runner for us that is the Mayan calendar. I’m so tired – I hope I can get to sleep over the noise from the students’ game playing. They are just having fun and it is only 8pm, but I’m wiped. Need to get caught up so I can have energy for tomorrow…

Guat ’14 Day 1: Getting There

Introduction – just like last year I thought I would post my reflection/journaling and some pictures from my immersion trip to Guatemala with John Carroll students this year. I’ll post one entry per day of the trip. It was a totally different trip than last year with different experiences and lessons. Click here if you want to read more about the background of this immersion trip. Enjoy!

Jan 3, 2014

Wow! Long day! We met at JCU at 10am and our flight to Atlanta left at about 1:30pm. After a few hour layover we left Atlanta and flew to Guatemala City. We landed at about 8:30pm. It is now about midnight my time and I’m too tired to write that much so I’ll bottom line it for you…
*Uneventful trip – all luggage accounted for.
*Saw a beautiful sunset out the airplane window on the way here.
*The retreat center is beautiful! We each have our own rooms which is really great. The accommodations are much different than last year. This is “nicer”, I guess, probably because it is in the city.

Retreat Center at night

My room

No electric shower this year!

Our contact Carlos Andrews seems great. They gave us hot dogs and fruit when we arrived. We had a quick meeting before heading to bed.

Tomorrow we head to do some touristy stuff. I had very mixed feelings about coming on the trip this year because of Laura’s passing (Mike’s sister) so recently – like two days ago. But Mike encouraged me to still come especially because we are not going to have a service in St. Louis for a few weeks. Also, MaryAnn, the other FSA for the trip and my dear friend, is recovering from the flu and she still came on the trip. We all have our own rooms so hopefully we are able to stay healthy.

My goal is to approach this trip with no expectations so I will try not to compare it with last year, and just be open to the possibilities. Goodnight!