antigua y magdalena

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The last few days have been so crazy! I can’t even begin to comprehend how awesome this trip is. I’ll just explain these pictures and tell you whatever stories come to mind.

We went to the National Cemetery in Guatemala City. Some of the graves are gigantic, like little houses or pyramids or statues or what-have-you. And some of the graves are tiny. There are walls and walls and walls of these tiny graves — if a body is put into one of these graves, it stays in there for 14 years (or until the family can’t pay). After one of those two options (14 years or inability to pay) comes to pass, the body is put into a common grave. Seeing the extreme contrast between the extravagant monuments of the elite and the nearly anonymous walls of the poorer people was certainly eye-opening. We split up into small groups and had to follow directions to get to a specific grave, learn the history of the person buried there from an information sheet we were given, and then travel with the whole group to all the different graves and present the history of our particular grave. It was a good exercise in: A., following directions, B., taking pictures of dead people’s statues, and C., not freaking out as our bus driver pulls out of the cemetery head-on into the wrong lane of traffic. Guatemalan driving… that factor alone must be why it was such a big cemetery.

We went to the Museo Miraflores! This was a treasure trove of information and artifacts from the indigenous (mostly Mayan) cultures in Central America, and especially about the community that used to exist on the very spot where the museum was built. This picture is of our group walking up a mound that covers the remains of a Mayan watchtower.

While staying at Semilla, we might have gone a little stir-crazy. It was lovely, but it was too peaceful for 24 college students. A group of us went for a directionless amble of a walk. We ended up walking down a very steep, twisty hill with a very narrow, treacherous sidewalk. And then the sidewalk ended. We just stood there for a while in defeat, then turned around and plodded back up the very steep hill. Another girl and I walked back to Semilla a bit after that, because we had forgotten to put on sunscreen and were trying to be prudent. Mom, that was for you. Now I won’t get melanoma. (Also, for the record, the whole group walked us back to Semilla’s street so that we wouldn’t get mugged. How’s that for prudent? I call that winning at street smarts.)

Today was our first day working with our internships! We moved to Magdalena yesterday from Guatemala City. Yesterday was fantastic — we dropped our suitcases off around 10:30 or 11 on Sunday morning and met our host families. My roommate Abby and I are living with Don Mario y Doña Ingrid. Don Mario is the pastor of a church here. Becky, our trip leader, happens to be staying with us as well, in a room off of our room (as she put it, “I’m living in your closet!”). Our house is the hang-out house, where all the students are invited to hang out whenever they want. There is a specific room designated for us to congregate, and it is super fun to have people come over after we’re done at our internships.

Yesterday, after dropping off suitcases and meeting our host families, we took the public bus back to Antigua. That was an experience. There is no such thing as personal space. It’s at least three people to a seat, and more crowd into the aisles or sit on laps or hang out of the doorway. As someone put it, “The rule of buses is that there’s always room for one more.” So true. You don’t think a single person more could possibly fit on the bus, and then you get to the next bus stop and five more people get on.

So after we took the bus, we went to the Students International office and had yet another orientation. It was really good, though — that building is where we’ll apparently be spending a lot of time, and it was fun to meet the staff who work there. After our orientation, we walked to Pollo Campero, a fried chicken chain restaurant. All of the boys had managed to work themselves into a tizzy about this restaurant; I’m not sure why, since none of them had been to a Pollo Campero before, but it was still funny to see their faces when Becky announced where we would be almorzando. It operates a lot like a sit-down Culvers — they take your order at the table and bring your food to you, but it very much has a fast-food atmosphere. Finding gluten-free food there was a challenge. I managed to find a small selection of salads and order one that (hopefully) didn’t have anything breaded on the chicken. I haven’t felt it yet, so I guess it was safe.

After Pollo Campero, we split into groups again and did a scavenger hunt through most of Antigua. This time was a little more tricky because we were given a basic street map and a list of the names of places (or types of places) to find and photograph creatively. There were no addresses indicated — the point was just to talk with people on the street and wander around, getting to know the area. And that my group accomplished most admirably. We found almost everything. We found two lavanderías, La Bodegona, el mercado general, el restaurante Panchoy, un restaurante japonés, La Café Condesa, and so much more; we even found and photographed Ronald McDonald (the Antigua McDonalds is basically a palace… Abby and I have made a pact to go there our first week of language school to do our homework. There are fountains and statues and terraces and it’s absolutely ridiculous). So we ended up walking from about 2 pm till 5:30, when we made our way back to the Students International office.

We were all exhausted, and couldn’t get our key to open the SI door. Seriously, it was embarrassing. Becky and one of her friends were upstairs laughing at us. Becky had to come rescue us… “Take your key out of the lock. OUT of the lock.” Apparently, each time you turn the key to the right, the bolt goes farther in. It has a total of three settings, and you just have to keep turning the key to the left over and over again to unlock it. No wonder we couldn’t get it open. But since we were the first group back (hooray for punctuality!), we got to giggle at everyone else’s misfortune. Especially funny was the call that Becky got. This was what we heard Becky saying: “Hello? Yeah? Okay, yeah, it’s a tricky lock. Oh, the office is… NO, THE OFFICE IS NOT A RED BUILDING. Take your key out of the lock and walk away NOW!” Needless to say, that particular group’s entrance was received with much mirth.

Anyway. That was all Sunday. I’ll now tell you about the picture I was supposedly describing. Our internships began today! I’m working at the microfinance site with Jeremy, Eric, and our site leader Aaron (a Bethel grad from 2007). Today, we walked around Antigua, trying to get different vendors to sell cards that are handmade by some women from Magdalena. We were pretty successful, apparently. I don’t really know what this work site will consist of yet, because while today we were checking up on current vendors and trying to recruit new ones, tomorrow we will be vaccinating 150 chickens. I don’t remember what we’ll be doing Wednesday, but then Thursday and Friday we will be brainstorming about how to get the cards to sell in a larger market (i.e. the United States). For the record, the website where you can buy these cards is http://www.GuatemalaGreetings.com. Buy some. You will be making a huge difference in the lives of these women and in this community.

Buenas noches, amigo. Espero que tengas un día fantástico. Que Dios te cuida. Algún día aquí voy a escribir una entrada en español… prepárete.

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