A Window into Life: Incredible Experiences in Guatemala – Photo Story

These weeks working and living in Guatemala have been so full of life and experiences. Time seems to fly by, even as it carries the weight of so much life and all that has been happening, all that has been changing within me, and all that I have been able to impact while I have been here. My last post was over a month ago; but let’s be honest, I don’t have time to write internet updates when I am living in a mountain village, translating conversations in Spanish, and traveling all over the country with eleven college students.

But I do want to provide a window into some of the amazing blessings and even the hardships that have been defining my life this past month or so…

A while ago, I got to go to the Caribbean with my students to relax after a few weeks of intense classes. It was a relaxing and joyous trip — and just so happened to be where I was blessed to have my 24th birthday. As is tradition there, I was tossed into the Caribbean with all my clothes on to celebrate the new year ahead of me. I also got to hold an adorable baby sea otter, and climb around on some breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls.

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I have been so happy to have been living in Antigua for the majority of my time working here. It really is a second home for me — never have I felt so comfortable and assured that I belong somewhere. I have already posted about my Antigua community, my amazing host family, my love for the musical community here; but I am going to share a few of my favorite pictures from this wonderful city.

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Here is a sunset I was fortunate to watch from the roof of my homestay:

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Speaking of amazing sunsets, I traveled with the students about three weeks ago to Monterrico on the Pacific coast to have a weekend at the beach after living and working in the mountains for a few weeks. There are some incredible skies there. I also got to adopt a baby sea turtle from a near-by refuge and release it into the sea to start on its adventure.

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For a total of a month, I work with the students in Magdalena Milpas Altas in the mountains while they do internships in different areas of community development. I get to help out with medical clinics for childhood malnutrition, play ukulele for mentally disabled kids at the hospital, visit homes in El Gorrion to build relationships with the hard-working mothers there, and work with an amazing group of students learning so much about Guatemala and relational development.

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I have made some wonderful friends since I have been living here — sharing a house together, playing music together, and traveling together. I want to introduce you to a lovely new friend for life, Olivia: She works at the Pina, and supports me in my music and has listened to me rant about life and made some beautiful memories. Here she is holding a sweet baby:

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This is a picture that Olivia took of me playing at the Pina — one of my very favorite activities…

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I also had a few great Spanish teachers this trip, and wanted to introduce you to Yolanda (Yoli) who mentored me, taught me, comforted me, and helped me really express myself in another language.

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Some of the girls I live with came with my study abroad students and I to the All Saints Day celebration  at the cemetery in Sumpango for the Gigantic Kite festival. These larger than life tissue paper kites take more than 6 months to create and are stunning in their varied colors and forms. Such an amazing sight to see — and so many people all in one place! The tradition of flying kites for the day of the dead is something so touching, because it is believed that the kites are seen as messages from family and loved ones down here on the ground to those who have passed on into the skies.

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At Sumpango I was also privileged enough to see the Mayan Royalty. There is a Cultural Contest (instead of a Beauty Contest) held every year for the many diverse Mayan tribes to show their culture, traditional dress, and language. The winners are then the Mayan Princesses for the year and go to all the significant cultural traditions and celebrations. This is a picture of them watching over the kite flying contest the First of November.

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Our most recent group excursion was to Tikal in the Peten region of the Guatemala highlands. I have been to these ancient Mayan ruins before, but it was so good to see them again and share my knowledge with the students. This time, however, we got to stay on the amazingly beautiful island-city of Flores. It reminded me so much of Sardinia, the Italian island in the middle of the Mediterranean – the colors, the quaint streets, the island life. This island took about 7 minutes to walk around, and it was surrounded by such green jungle and a beautiful lake full of life. I also learned how to walk on water….

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My thanks to all who took a browse through this post — a little photo story of what’s been going on in my life here in the amazing country of Guatemala. I am truly blessed, and that is solidified to me every time I go through these snapshots. I have a great community, friends, and opportunities to travel, grow and fully engage with life and all it brings.

Peace and Blessings,

–Kira

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The Importance of Family: A Word or Two about Lucky and Jose

It’s been a rough week — hard, unexpected news; struggles with subjunctive; cancer attacking my family; tumultuous tug-of-war with my heart over a breakup.

You know you can always count on family to be there for you when life gets rocky. But what about the times when you are off in another country, far away from anything familiar, and hugs from loved ones? Thank God I have a family here in Antigua that, every day, is becoming more and more a family to me, and less of just a house in which I live.

Let me introduce you to two very special people: Lucky (Lucrecia) and Jose. They have graciously opened their home and hearts to fully welcome me into their lives, and arms, literally. This wonderful couple, happily in love and always laughing (that’s their secret to so many years of happy marriage through hardships) has become a blessing to me this past week or so by being an amazing support system.

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Jose and Lucky celebrating my birthday away from home — they got me a lovely cake!

Jose and Lucky both come from families FULL of children, each having 11 or 13 siblings. They have worked through so many hardships and trials to be where they are and to get what they have. Generous, full hearts reach out to people from all over the world as they house students here in Antigua (or ambassador’s wives, or rich European diplomats, or the regular returning community of Christmas in Antigua celebrators).

They have three children and have stressed the importance of education to all of them, somehow sacrificing everything for their daughters to go to college (something their own parents didn’t see the value in, and pushed back against). Now their daughters are dentists and doctors. They treat all their home-stay guests with such kindness and patience, but it’s when you really make that connection with them and spend the hours over meals talking with them about all subjects (ranging from earthquakes, to dance parties, to culture differences, to pop music and embarrassing stories) that they adopt you as a child of their own.

Lucky in front of her house with the altar for the procession of the seven pains of the virgin Mary.

Lucky in front of her house with the altar for the procession of the seven pains of the virgin Mary.

So when I break down over the simple question of “how was your day?” and cry, the first thing I encounter is two sets of open arms, the space to cry and talk, and hopeful words of advice and faith. I really couldn’t ask for more, and I am so pleasantly surprised that after just three weeks I feel like I have an extension of family in Guatemala. That’s the importance of family – and the importance of understanding that we can all be that to each other, to those we meet in our lives that need hugs, words of hope, or just simple, warm hospitality when far from home. I am always going to remember the kindness of Jose and Lucky, because no matter what hardships you have been through, you can always be kind and loving and family to those around you. I am also going to always remember them because never have I laughed so hard at every single meal — all things can be made better through sharing laughter, always remembering to smile through all parts of life. Even the hard weeks. Months. Years.

Thank you, Jose. Thank you, Lucky. I am blessed to have you in my life.

Community and Belonging: My Antigüeños

I Belong. That’s something people strive for anywhere they go: Community, Acceptance, a sense of belonging.

I consider myself to be one of the most fortunate people, since I have that sense and that community here in Antigua, Guatemala. Let’s see, I’ve been here a little over a week, and already have had requests to play my ukulele at the cafe and the bar, been to a housewarming party of a couple I had known for two minutes before they invited me, and feel completely adopted into this family of amazing friends: my Antigüeños. It really does feel like a homecoming.

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The fact that I get to do this for my JOB is still incredible to me — I have the most amazing group of students, and I am so glad that I get to be a resource. Suddenly my limited knowledge about Guatemala and Antigua is valuable and coming in useful!

I am playing a set tonight at Café No Sé, despite my sore throat, because I just don’t want to say no to these people. I know already that so many people will come out to see me play, request songs, and just support me in everything. What more could I ask for from a group of friends? And especially one that I haven’t seen in about a year, and half of them I am just meeting this week. I am awe struck. And so very grateful.

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Can’t wait for the adventures, fun times, bonding, and craziness to come in the next few months with this amazing conglomerate of people.