Quote

Girls.

“I’m fine. I’m really good, actually. And sometimes being really good all the time feels really bad. But I’m on a journey. It’s my journey. And I am okay.”

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My Heart Was Stolen

Here I am, leaving the country of Guatemala after almost three months of living, working, and learning here. This is probably the most bittersweet I have ever felt. I am excited, sitting on the verge of being back in my own culture and seeing my loved ones, feeling comforts that were sorely missed. But I have an overwhelming sense of sadness that I almost don’t want to confront, because I wouldn’t get on the plane if I did. Leaving my friends, my niche, the language and culture here, the beautiful people, the sense of purpose and drive; it is all so difficult to bring myself to leave. This just hardens my resolve to come back.

I have had some amazing times. Last night, the group and I watched a slide show of just some of our photos, and it was so clear that we have been all over this country, done all kinds of things, and seen so much more than I could have thought possible in three months. In fact, I was not expecting to Love Guatemala as I do. Guatemala was never on my “Must See” list, Central America hadn’t before caught my attention…and now it has my heart. I fell in love with the people and way of life here. I fell in love with the possibility of my life here. So having to leave that behind today is a rough task. Going home holds many joys as well, and I have to keep thinking on that to keep me sane.

I have also been deeply blessed by the group of amazing people I shared this journey with. I see them every day, and I have not gotten sick of them. My love for the entire group has just grown through every experience we share. The past two weeks, we have swam in jungle waterfalls, jumped off of bridges, drank horchata to our hearts’ content, done social work in rural aldeas, rode chicken buses, and just hung out with each other relishing our time in this beautiful country.

Yesterday I had to say good bye to my friends who live in Antigua. It made me realize how close I had grown to them in such a short time, and how much I value their friendship. It also makes me grasp at any possible opportunity to come back and live here. I have a home here, and my heart knows that. I am so grateful for the time I have spent here, I look forward to time in the future to be back here, and I pray that all my life will be filled with experiences of amazing people, culture and places like I found in Guatemala.

Namaste, –Kira

Life: En Español

More than seven weeks in Guatemala, and I am seeing a potential life here unfold. I can comfortably call Antigua my home, where I am quickly making friends, I know my way around, and I feel the sensation of settling into my rhythm, my life – En Español. I have now learned all the verb tenses there are to learn, my vocabulary is growing daily with words and phrases only the Guatemaltecos- or Chapin- say, and I love being able to talk about any subject without being limited by the language barrier. After one week back here in Antigua, I am seeing how I could stay here for months.

Last week I played my ukulele and sang at my first “international gig” at my favorite coffee shop, “Y tu Piña También,” where I felt right at home with friends from both the states and right here in Guate. It was such a blast, that they called the owner over who also owns the Café No Sѐ bar across the street, and he loved what he heard….so much, in fact, that he said I needed to play at his other place on Friday night. And so was born one of the best nights I have had, possibly ever.

Friday night at Café No Sѐ: Amazing mini-set of my favorite songs, the whole audience was captivated, I made 70 Quetzales in tips, and had the most fun with my new group of friends and met people from all over the world. Totally blew my mind with how happy I was that night. I belonged. I could do this for a long while still; this is what life should feel like. I have a few more “concertitos” lined up for this week, and I am excited to play again and say a farewell to the people who have made this all possible. Unfortunately I have just one more week in this great city. But I have the best of plans to return, come next year…

I am hoping to be the On Site Coordinator of this same study abroad program next year, and work for Seattle Pacific University by being the guide, translator, and support for the students who will be on this program next fall. I would absolutely adore being back here and being able to plug in again to the amazing group of people and the wonderful culture I have fell in love with. I am inspired to write more music and love feeding off the creativity of the people I am meeting here. In Antigua, it’s always an amazing story that follows the common questions of, “So what brings you here?” I could dive right in to people’s stories, lives, and passions here…and I want to make it mine as well some day. Who knows, next year or sometime in the future.

I am in love. With the culture, the people, the temptation of a whole other life. It drives me to look for and be more. Learn more. Soak in more. From the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, to the nights of music and good friends in my new home; I feel content. It’s a bittersweet feeling of looking ahead to only two and a half more weeks in the country, this week being my last “huzah” in Antigua. But as a good friend shows me over and over again: always have hope – it never dies. Dios les bendiga, y que la vaya bien.

Namaste, Kira

Rain and Stories: Social Work in El Gorrión

I am soaking. I am soaking with the persistent, cold rain of the Guatemalan mountains. I am soaking with the stories of the people living in the slum community of El Gorrión, who are so openly sharing with me as I start my internship in social work. I am soaking in these experiences and sights and lessons and struggles and I feel as if I will never dry out.

The street of El Gorrion

The past week here in Magdalena has been quite the adjustment. The weather has been freezing cold up at this altitude, dripping wet with day after day of constant rain that is so deeply affecting the whole country of Guatemala. The rainy season is going on longer than usual with heavy rains causing landslides, infrastructure destruction, floods and loss of homes and lives. I am getting used to expecting all of my clothes to be damp, to having to remember my umbrella everywhere I go, and knowing the only place I can feel almost warm is under five blankets in my bed. I am staying with a family who lives here in Magdalena, who have so little, but who are being so generous to me. It is humbling to see how much they have to work for the little they own and for what they call home. But if I thought I was being pushed out of my comfort zone by having to live in the rural town of Magdalena, I wasn’t expecting the kind of poverty I would have to face day to day in El Gorrión.

Water, water everywhere...

Social Work in a community of poor, displaced families involves going in to people’s humble shacks and listening to their problems, their pleas, their grievances, their thankfulness, their desires, and their hope for something better. We listen. We talk. We pray. And sometimes, if it is able to be worked out, we can help them. Thankfully, I have been able to help in a situation that really tugged at my heart.

Her name is Deliah – She is 7 months pregnant with twins, but has already had complications with her pregnancy and was thus told to be on complete bed rest. This means her husband cannot work and they have no source of income, because he has to be home to take care of their three children and many animals. Deliah has been losing weight and is not getting the nutrients she needs to make sure her twins will be healthy. She has to go to weekly appointments in Antigua, without a mode of transportation other than hiking up the hill to take the over-crowded and dangerous bus. They do not have enough money to buy the Ensure that the doctor is telling her she needs for vitamins. After sitting with them in their home and hearing this, I couldn’t get it out of my head. How many more blankets do I have that I want to give to her for her to keep warm? How easy is it for me to just go to the store and buy vitamins or get enough food? How lucky I am to have my own transportation? I was frustrated that there wasn’t an easy fix to this problem, that there are so many factors to be addressed; that I couldn’t just walk to a store and buy her Ensure, or magically make things better like I wanted to.

Deliah and her Daughter Katy

But this story is not over, and I was blessed enough to be a part of it. After talking with the social worker I am interning with, I was able to direct some funds to go towards getting her a ride to her appointment. After searching around Guatemala a bit, we also found some cans of Ensure powder. It is expensive, and especially if we want her to have it for the rest of the pregnancy, so I was able to use my own funds and the help of the rest of my Guatemala team to buy enough to last her through her pregnancy. She went to her appointment, not by bus, and the twins are looking healthy again. I really can see how God’s heart for the poor is sometimes expressed by what is placed on our own hearts, and how we can be the hands of God who can get resources to those in need. That was a lesson that took a struggle to learn, but thankfully, God is patient as much as He is faithful – even when the situation looks as if God isn’t caring for those most in need. There is always hope; it never dies.

There is really no way to write about this whole last week, and even this snap shot is getting quite long winded…so thank you for reading through it. Thank you also for the prayers and your support; I am learning much more than I expected to, which is both amazing and difficult. Now on to week two of serving, crying, listening, working, experiencing, sharing, and living in a rural Guatemalan village. May I be ready to take on whatever may come – storms and all.

Namaste, –Kira

A Paradigm Shift: Antigua/Magdalena

For the last month, Antigua, Guatemala has been my home. I don’t have a house, I don’t have a job, I don’t have a plan for my life when I get back to the states, I just have a passion to be in other places. Being in this place has been so full of life, language, people, learning. Yet the path I have been on living here in Antigua is going to change, and not just geographically.

Tomorrow I am moving to Magdalena, a small, poor, rural village about half an hour into the mountains. I will be living with a family there, eating what they eat, speaking their language, and learning their life. My internship is in social work in the near-by village of displaced people, El Gorrión. These people had their whole village wiped out by a devastating landslide, and were relocated by the government and kept in poverty, not able to own their land and dependant on trucks bringing in water each week. Where I fit into this is something I am going to be finding out over the next two weeks. Yesterday , after our group bible study, I was able to speak with the head of the social works in El Gorrión, and when I asked about what I was going to be doing exactly, I was given the answer, “you will be going to people’s homes and hearing about their problems.” Perfect. I am a relational person, and I don’t have anything special to give to these hurting people other than my time and understanding. Yet another reason why I am so thankful that my Spanish is really taking off.

This shift with be quite the culture shock: from the touristy and comfortable quaint-ness of Antigua, where I was just starting to make some local friends (you know you are in when you get the Guatemalan cheek kiss), to the unknown, rural life of early mornings, devotion, and pouring out that will take place in Magdalena and El Gorrión. I am excited to live in this new place, and be taught so much about God and relationships from there people who live there. So here is to the comming paradigm shift — may I be prepared as I can, and flexible for what is to come, open to learning and relishing this other side of Guatemala.

A Normal Week in Guatemala…Far from Normal

Even a week here in Guatemala is too much to write about all in one sitting. The days are packed, as good ol’ Calvin and Hobbes would put it. I am doing more in the three and a half weeks that I have been here, than I did in the year I was in Italy — I am much more proactive about going to see different parts of the country, learning as much as I can about the history, culture and language. Living here is like a condensed version of life: pack in as much living as you can in three months. And I love it.

This past week has been one adventure after another. We started our classes at the Instituto Linguistico Maya, and I am learning multiple verb tenses in the four hours we attend in the mornings. This is the fastest I have ever learned a language and I love this pace. We have one on one tutors, so I am able to go at exactly the speed I need to, focusing on the areas I need to work on. My teacher, Lesibia, is an absolute delight: so sweet, patient, helpful and so fun to have conversations with. We chat about politics, marriage, faith, careers, and culture for four hours a day and the time just flies by.

Through the institute, we also get to participate in lots of different cultural outings, like going to a coffee plantation, seeing a Mayan music museum, walking through the many cathedral ruins here in Antigua, and even learning to dance the Bachata Salsa. One coffee tree only produces one pound (or 40 cups) of coffee per year. The marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala. Santo Hermano Pedro is the patron saint of Antigua. I have the hips to dance salsa with. (Who knew?!) A few of my friends and I have even joined a gym here, and it’s great to get to know the people of this city. There will be quite different surroundings when we head off to Magdalena next week…

Maya Marimba
Maya Religion
Colorful cloth

One of the highlights (which is saying something, cause it seemed the whole week was a highlight) of this past week was the Seattle Sounders game in Guatemala City against the Guatemala Comunicaciones (or Los Cremas as they are more commonly known). What. A. Game. That was the most exciting soccer event I have been to (yes, including the time I was in Italy when they won the World Cup of 2006) and the most soaking wet I have been due to the torrential downpour that lasted most of the game. Our whole group of 15 plus the Students International staff and families piled into vans to head to the capitol to meet with the two die-hard Sounders fans that travel with the team. In total we were a loud and excited group of 30 people cheering on our team in a stadium full of Guatemalan fans. We we escorted in by armed (and armored) guards and they even put up a net between our section and the Guatemalans. Intense. Throughout the downpour we sang sounders songs, waved our blue and green scarves, and screamed at the top of our lungs when we scored our goals. In the end it was a (close) tie of 2 to 2; yet we got enough points to advance, whereas the Cremas needed to win this game to advance onwards. Needless to say there were some not so happy Guatemala Cremas fans. But thankfully we had our armored guards, and we hurried out of the stadium, wet, tired and ecstatic.

GO SOUNDERS!

This weekend, which was one of our only “free” weekends this whole quarter (where we don’t have other trips or programs planned), a group of eight of us decided to reward ourselves for our hard work in the languages classes we are taking. Best way to reward a job well done? Sunbathing at the Pacific Ocean beach. Everyone knows that. The days were spent lying in the sun by the pool, and relaxing with my friends. i couldn’t have asked for a better group to be with. We even got to release baby sea-turtles into the ocean and set them free from the hatchery they were born in. Later that night we went on a rather intense excursion along the black-sand beach to see mother sea-turtles going back into the sea after depositing their eggs on the beach. What a wonderful sight of nature — I have only seen this on the discovery channel or something, but now, it’s part of my life! I am hoping to go back to Monte Rico another time, because the sea and the sand and the beach culture is something I adore.

Mamma Sea Turtle
Monte Rico on the Pacific

However, a lot of this week will be spent preparing for our weeks to come in Magdalena, which is the poor rural community we will be living and volunteering in for our internships. I still have no idea what my internship of “Social Work” will look like in the displaced persons community of El Gorrion, but I am putting all my expectations in God’s hands and hoping to learn a lot. The directors of the social works program there even have started a bible study with all us Seattle Pacific students, and we are going to read through Luke together while reflecting on what we will see and learn living in Guatemalan poverty. I am excited and a bit nervous — but if this trip continues to go the way it has been going, then everything will meet and exceed my expectations and I will grow even more.

Thanks for your patience with my infrequent blog-posts, and for reading this monster of an entry! May peace and blessings be on all of you,

Namaste —
Kira

From Classroom Books to Caribbean Beaches; Life is Good

It’s all downhill from here. I did it – the last, hard push through of the mountains of homework and credits, and my last classes as an undergraduate student at SPU. Now I look forward to weeks of Spanish language school and my internship with Students International working with rural community development in the nearby villages of Magdalena and El Gorrión.

However this weekend was a time of transition – from the full force of intensive classes (fitting in an 18 credit senior quarter into two weeks) to the more Guatemalan pace of language school and community building. What better place for a relaxing, get away weekend than the Caribbean shore? No better place, is what I say.

Thursday morning, all fifteen of us students piled  into a van headed for the capital, Guatemala City, where we then loaded onto a double-decker bus headed all the way across the country to the small section of the Caribbean that Guatemala claims: Puerto Barrios. After the 6 hour journey, we head in a smaller, sweatier bus to our next mode of transportation: a boat. There are no roads that connect with the Christian retreat center we are headed to. We skim up on the water to the palm leaf covered dock of “El Faro”, The Lighthouse (no lighthouse in sight, by the way, it’s more the idea of Christ being the guiding light, etc., etc.). I am instantly in heaven. This bright, humid shore steals my heart as I unload and walk straight into the 80 degree water. The sand is soft and welcoming under my feet and I have to let out a squeal of pure delight (or two, or five…). It had been one of my life goals to swim in naturally warm water, where at night its warmer then the air around me. Goal status: Check.

The whole weekend that followed was blissful: air conditioned apartments, meals cooked for us, hammocks in the shade, beautiful tropical forest all around us, fireflies in the evening lighting up the grass, parrots greeting us with “Hola” in the mornings, and hours and hours of nothing planned other than to be in and enjoy nature. I held a monkey for the first time, learned how to machete open a fresh coconut, drink the milk, and scrape out the sweetest meat I had ever tasted, and laid in the close, bright, hot Caribbean sun. It was a dream sharing this all with my friends, practicing my Spanish, playing ukulele in the palm trees, singing praise by a bonfire under a star-filled night, and swimming in clear, crisp pools of water fed by slowly cascading waterfalls. Butterflies the size of my face were commonplace. Shrieks of joy were heard loudly and often as we flew skyward off the water trampoline and blob. Sunrises at 5:20am set the morning clouds ablaze with passion. An evening rainstorm pounded on the dried leaf roofs and robed us of electricity for the night, letting us see more clearly the fireflies, and hear more clearly the jungle insects and birds.

As you can imagine, it was hard to leave. Yet coming back to Antigua made this cobblestoned old city feel even more like home. I loved walking in the door to hug a hello to Doña Christi and excitedly tell her about my weekend adventures. Today started the first week of Spanish classes, one on one teacher conversations that are fit specifically to the areas I need to address and practice. This is one of the best ways to learn a language: focus on the areas you know you need help in, study, and be able to walk out the door and immediately use it around the city and in the house I live in. Immersion and study complementing each other perfectly. I am excited to see how much I grow in my language ability, and even more excited to use that knowledge to work with the internally displaced people of El Gorrión in just two weeks’ time. I just know my next two months here will fly by, filled with learning and new experiences. Like tomorrow’s adventure: watching a futbol match between the Guatemala “Cremas” and the Seattle Sounders in the Capital. I can whole-heartedly say, “Life is Good.”

Celebrations, Learning, and Garbage

Of all the times to be in Guatemala — this is a pretty great time to be here. Elections, Independence Day, Dia de los Muertos, and the start of the sunny spring season.

Yesterday was the Dia de La Independencia for not only Guatemala, but all of Central America. It started on Wednesday night with runners from central park here in Antigua running a lit torch to the pueblos around the city, with boys running ahead blowing on whistles to “ring in” the Independence day. All day on the 15th were parades of students from the many different schools playing more drums than I have ever seen in my life. Marimbas (the national instrument) were abundant in the square as the people celebrated their freedom and showed their patriotism. Blue and white flags graced the city, and everyone had a sense of excitement and alegria.

Independence Day Parade in Antigua

My roommate and I, however, spent most of this joyous day doing research for our capstone paper which is due very very soon. This stress has been the worst part of this trip, because we want to go out and really See Guatemala and experience the culture; which is difficult to do when we are having to assign every hour to class or homework or writing. But soon it will all be over! This time next week I will be laying out on the Caribbean beach, celebrating being done with University and ready to move onto Spanish language school and my internship. Until then: writing and cramming information into my head faster than it can hold it. Yet I am still having one of the greatest experiences I could have hoped for–I get to be a part of  great things going on here. It was a blessing to see one of those things today.

Today was an amazing experience. The Global Development class took a trip into the capital, Guatemala City, in the morning to visit Compassion International and a church that is partnering with them to help the children and families who live in the trash heaps of the city. We visited the city dump and got to see the community of people who live and work there, recycling anything they find for pathetic amounts of money (about 30 Quetzals a day, which is only about 5 dollars a day). With this money they have to buy the “clean” water brought in every once in a while by a truck. Here is a picture of the tubs of water that cost about 6 of their Queztals:

I loved seeing h0w the kids of this community are still being kids, playing (even if it is around garbage and in polluted water) and laughing. The church and the people who do development in the community try to emphasize that the kids are not allowed to work, but sometimes they want to help their parents.

I got to chat a lot with the wife of the pastor, who also serves as the main doctor of the medical team that gives services to this community and the homeless around Guatemala City. Her name is Laylah, and she was so happy to answer all the questions I had. It was such a blessing to be able to translate for my other classmates and to talk about complicated issues with Laylah in Spanish. Thankfully my time translating at Agros International in Seattle has taught me pretty useful vocabulary, like human development, maternal health, and governmental support. The program in the trash community has been running for about two years, and Laylah described to me how much progress and improvement she has seen since they first started. She remembers going to the dump and seeing the people wrapping themselves in nylon fabrics and sleeping in the piles of garbage. Now there are dirt paths, less garbage, shanties of metal, and they are starting to put in concrete floors for many of the families to improve health.

So a good way to sum up my time in Guatemala so far? Learning. Sure it’s a fatiguing experience, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. I am so blessed to be able to learn in a place like this, and see what I have been studying for years first-hand. Tomorrow? I am going to hike a volcano. No joke. As part of my earth science class, we decided it would be pretty applicable if we got to see actual lava flows. I’ll be sure to take pictures and post as soon as I find a spare moment! Thanks to all who read this horribly long post, and to all of my new SPU readers out there! Many blessings on you all —

Namaste, –Kira

 

A Day of Remembrance and Politics

What a way to spend a Sunday. And such an Important Sunday at that — For the United States, we remember the Twin Towers attacks of ten years ago on this day. For Guatemala, it is election day for the new President and government.

It is an amazing thing to be down here during such exciting political times, and to be able to talk with Guatemalan’s about their opinions and what is going on in current events. Some things I have learned so far: no alcohol is sold starting 24 hours before election day and going until the morning of the following day. Great idea (Hint hint, US). There are ten different political parties that have candidates for the Presidency. People do not have to be literate to vote, since you just have to put an X on the symbol of the party you wish to vote for. Since it is unlikely for any one candidate to win the majority (50% plus one) then there will be a runoff election with the two top candidates in November, which I will also be present for. It is very exciting to be in another country for the change of government, and a little scary too. I hope to be an observant learner and see a peaceful election and change for the better come to this beautiful nation. Independence day is also coming up very soon here, on September the 15th. And of course the holiday I am most excited about? Dia de Los Muertes! All Saints Day is a big deal here, and the other students and I are planning to go to a festival of huge handmade kites in a nearby city’s cemetery — talk about a colorful culture!

Here is my group of companions and professors that are making this trip a fun and wonderful learning experience for me:

Today was also a day where being an American is very important. I felt very distant from my nation today as many were remembering the 9/11 attacks that happened ten years ago. It’s amazing, because ten years seems so long ago, but that event does not. As I am sure it is even more so for others, it is still quite vivid in my mind and heart. yesterday morning, however, I was provided with an extraordinary way of remembering the tragedy: I was speaking with Doña Christi and two Americans over breakfast about the attack on the Twin Towers and what it meant for each of us, where we were when it happened, and how we have been processing it since. The 85 year old lady of the house has two children who immigrated to New York many years ago and live in Long Island, so this event was very close to Christi’s heart as well. The amazing thing was being able to describe it and discuss it all in Spanish. Connecting to other cultures through languages is definitely a passion of mine.

The whole of today has been amazing and has allowed me to fall in love with Antigua and my Guatemala experience — started out with coffee grown right here around Antigua and pan dulce for breakfast, met up with some other friends who live here to go to a bi-lingual church and sang praise songs in Spanish, went out for a Guatemalan lunch (which includes a lot of yummy black beans and guacamol made with mint and lime) and had an SPU student get together over dinner talking about the great trips we get to have around the country after our two weeks of courses have ended (and we don’t have homework every night…). I am so truly blessed to be here, and I have never felt this comfortable in another culture. I am already starting to feel at home, and I am thankful for the fact that it’s going be a few months rather than weeks in which I am able to soak up as much as I can. I just feel like I belong in other cultures, and I know it’s something I will pursue for the rest of my life. Never will I want to stop going, seeing, experiencing this world and it’s beauties; and I thank God for all the opportunities I have to do so.

Blessings on this day of remembrance, change, and hope — Namaste