Hola familia y amigos! I am happy to report that my first week in Central America has been wonderful! I'm currently in Spanish language school in Antigua, Guatemala for five weeks, preparing for mission. I absolutely love being a student again. Although I am pretty conversational in Spanish, I had forgotten the alphabet! So, my tutor brought me way back to the basics. Inspired and humbled by my return to the alphabet, I present to you the ABCs of my time in Central America thus far.
A is for Antigua: My fellow missionaries and I are currently living in Antigua, a gorgeous colonial city/UNESCO World Heritage Site about an hour outside of Guatemala City. It's a city of colonial churches painted in rojo (red), amarillo (yelow), y anaranjado (orange), of adventurous tourists and students, of cobblestone streets and crazy drivers- all buzzing in the shadow of the immense Volcan de Agua.
(Volcan de Agua, Antigua)
(Guatemela is called "Land of Eternal Spring." These flowers [bagambilias] are my favorite).
B is for the Blessed Sacrament: About two blocks from my house, a tall fortress wall protects La Iglesia de San Francisco. But before I reach the main entrance, I pass a smaller iron gate, opening to a rose garden, leading to an oasis of silence and peace. This twenty-four-hour chapel houses Jesus in the Eucharist. I sneak in here for prayer and am struck by the reverence of the Guatemaltecos as they exit walking backwards, keeping their eyes on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
C is for Chickie! Chickie, my house mom, has been hosting students for twenty years and is a wealth of stories of hapless and happy travelers. In her slow and clear Spanish, she also shares with me the joys and sorrows of her beloved country. To date, she has also sewed my ripped clothes, cooked me many delicious Guatemalan dishes, and made me feel very at home.
(Chickie's "backyard" where she has a ladder conveniently connecting her backyard to her cousin's).
D is for Dayelle: Dayelle, one of my co-missionaries and our future Finca nurse, has a golden heart, a beautiful smile, and a sharp and hilarious wit. She's already keeping me in stitches. (Not literally mom).
(Missionary sisters! Ally, Olivia, and Dayelle).
E is for la Escalonia: Chickie recommended that I study in La Escalonia, a garden nursery, cafe, and restaurant. This place is my haven...filled with gorgeous tropical flowers and plaques with proverbs that test my Spanish comprehension.
(All is possible when you have faith).
F is for friendship: Getting to know Ally, another missionary in our Finca family, has been a gift. She loves art, literature, running, and Jesus, so I am pretty sure we are kindred spirits through and through.
G is for gratitude: When I walk these streets and realize I am only here because of the generosity of so many selfless friends, family members, and even strangers, I am filled with gratitude. When I get good WiFi and can talk to my boyfriend or my parents, I am filled with gratitude. When I hear of and see the struggles that poverty and government corruption wreak on families, I am gratueful that I grew up in security. When I see painful evidence of poverty, I am grateful that I have come here to serve.
H is for Hobbitenango: The Shire is real. I have been there. Some brilliantly quirky (and rich) Lord of the Rings fan built a real-life Hobbit town on one of the mountains outside of Antigua. When our bus to Hobbitenango didn't show, we crammed eight people into a tuk-tuk (think motorized three-wheeled taxi) and inched up the mountain. At one point, it was so steep that our fearless driver insisted half of us hop out because otherwise we would roll backwards down the mountain. Somehow, we made it to the top and it could not have been more worth it!
(Me encanta las montañas.)
(Bilbo was not home, so we took lots of liberties with his property).
(Missionaries Humans and Missionary Hobbits)
I is for Intentions: I believe strongly in the power of prayer. So every day here, I say my rosary for a million intentions...sometimes I dedicate each Hail Mary to a person I love. I pray for my donors, La Finca, my family and loves ones back home...and the healing of our betrayed and hurting Catholic Church. I know that I'm also on a lot of people's prayer intention lists, and I draw strength from that knowledge!
J is for Joy: I've been blessed with tangible joy here. I feel it when I run in the morning, when my Spanish teacher and I laugh at my mistakes, when I get to sing Disney songs with Kiara and Adelina, when I think about how lucky I am to be here.
K is for Kiara and Adelina: Our mission family includes Kiara (age 6) and Adelina (age 5), Eric and Nicole Wooldridges two daughters. Having two niñas in our community means we are showered in hugs, sing lots of songs, and have a ever-present supply of wonder and joy in our lives.
(L-R: Anne (my house sister), Dayelle, Me, Adelina, Nicole, Eric and Kiara, Olivia, and Ally).
L is for lluvia (rain): Guatemala has two main seasons, rainy and dry. Currently, I type to the sound of pouring rain. Although it's not fun to get stuck in a downpour without a raincoat, it's a beautiful to fall asleep to.
M is for mercados (markets): Guatemala mercados are a feast for the senses: the rainbow hues of huipil (traditional Guatemalan weaved shirts), the cacophony of yelling vendors and clucking chickens, the scent of fresh flowers competing with burning incense from Mayan ceremonies...It's wonderfully overwhelming for this gringa. We have an awesome mercado in Antigua, but last Sunday, we visisted Chichicastenango, home of the largest mercado in Central America and to a vibrant indigenous Mayan population.
( Chichicastenango is home to the world's liveliest cemetery.)
N is for Nicole and Eric Wooldridge: Sensing a call from God, Nicole and Eric left their jobs, sold their home, and brought their two little girls with them to become missionaries at La Finca. They are our family within the Finca missionary family and have a wealth of life, ministry, and mission experience. We girls pretty much want to be them when we grow up.
O is for Olivia: Olivia, a co-missionary, is the coolest Kiwi on the planet. She has a passionate love for her faith, puns, and cracking "cheeky" jokes. She's working on the first ever Spanish-American English-New Zealandish joke and colloquialisms book. (Ok, maybe I just want her to write it). She's already taught me that we are here to be humble servants rather than "perfect wee missionaries."
P is for (Santo Hermano) Pedro: St. Pedro is the first Central American saint who lived the majority of his beautiful but short life in Antigua. He was a Fransciscan brother from Tenerife, Spain who came to Central America and asked God to show him where he was called to serve. Legend has it that as he approached Antigua the ground shook, likely from one of the nearby volcanoes. He took that as his sign and remained in Antigua until his death. He took care of the poor, establishing a hospital that still serves the poor today. Foreign doctors come to offer medical care and support the local medical professionals. San Pedro lived the kind of faith I long for and loved with the type of abandon I seek. I'm hoping he will adopt me during mission and help me become a little more like him.
(San Hermano Pedro)
Q is for quetzales: Quetzales are the currency in Guatemala, with an exchange rate of Q7.5 to $1.00. What does this mean for me? A lot of mental math...which I LOVE and EXCEL at. Irony aside, learning about the economy of Guatemala is sobering. I'm currently reading Inevitable Revolutions, a book that recounts the history of US involvement in Central America and the resulting dependency of their economies on international corporations. I'm only a couple chapters in, but the destruction that the greed and corruption of large corporations, foreign governments, and Guatemalan politicians/elite has wreaked on the country took away my shallow satisfaction at my good exchange rate...
S is for (house) sister: I have a lovely house sister, Anne, a student from Holland who also lives with Chickie and studies at La Union. She and I challenge each other to practice Spanish and share stories about our home countries. She's bright, joyful, and a wonderful friend to have here. Together, we are Chickie's "dos Anni's."
T is for teacher: My Spanish teacher might be an angel. Carmen works patiently with me and my house-mate Anne every day, and then she goes home to care for her family, including two sons who are wheel-chair bound. Does she rest on weekends? No, she works Saturdays to earn a bit more for her family and spends Sunday cleaning her own home. She has a deep and empathetic heart, sharing stories of the struggles of her loved ones and of Guatemala in general.
(Carmen y yo on an excursion to Santa Maria)
U is for understanding: I need a lot of it these days...understanding of Spanish, understanding the history and culture of Guatemala and Honduras, understanding my co-missionaries, understanding my own heart, understanding the will of God in each moment.
V is volcanoes: Guatemala is home to twenty-some volcanoes, one of which (Volcan de Agua) towers above Antigua. On Wednesday I climbed Volcan Pacaya...which is one of the coolest things I've ever done. At the top we could see lava, feel the heat of the hardened lava beneath our feet, and even roast marshmallows in crevices in the rock. The view at the top is one of the most breathtaking I've ever seen. Of course, my phone died so I wasn't able to capture the best views, but I have them in memory!
(About 3/4 of the the way up Volcan Pacaya).
(A little lava...We were able to get way closer).
W is for waiting: Waiting for the internet to work, waiting for a new bus because your first is smoking and emitting awful smells, waiting for Spanish to become more automatic, waiting for La Finca. I'm trying to embrace the journey rather than default to my usual, "What's next?" and "How do I get there faster" attitude. All good things require time and care to grow.
(Travel tip: When your chicken bus starts smoking...hop out quickly. And no, we did not hitchhike mom :).
X is for X: As in incorrect...Re-learning and learning new Spanish is giving me ample opportunities to practice patience and humility. I have to remind myself of all the things I taught my students...practice makes perfect, it takes an average of seven repetitions to learn a new vocabulary word, try again, take your time, studying is a necessity. I've engrained a lot of bad Spanish grammar into my memory over the past couple years, so I am not cruising through with flying colors...Carmen is patiently helping me fill in my Grammar pot-holes and cement proper usage into my memory.
Z is for zeal: For the last three years, God constantly re-supplied my zeal for teaching and serving. My prayer now is to always have a ready supply of zeal...for Christ, for learning, for experiencing the richness of a new culture, for loving my community and family and friends back home, and especially for serving at La Finca. I'm not too worried about burn-out as long as I remember what I read this week in our missionary reflection: "Our service serves us as well as others. That which uses us strengthens us. Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting. Over time we burn out. Service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself sustains us." - Rachel Noemi Remen