Santiago

I’ve thought about writing an entry on Santiago, Guatemala for a while but was always hesitant.  I don’t know why really.  Maybe because this place and the people there are so special to me I wanted to guard them.  But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about it and since I can’t think up any other blog ideas I’ve decided to go for it.  Many of you know (or maybe you don’t) that I lived in Guatemala for a year and a half doing missionary work.  For 6 months I lived in a town called Santiago which is in the mountains of central Guatemala and sits on Lake Atitlan.  I swear this place was magical or maybe it was just a matter of being at the right place at the right time.  I had already been in the country for 7 months and was familiar more or less with the country, customs, and people.  But Santiago was like going back in time in a lot of ways and I loved it.  I had never before or have since experienced a place remotely close, so in my hodge podge way I’m going to try and give you a glimpse though I will never really be able to capture what I’m really wanting you to experience.

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Here are a few pics down by the Lake.  You can barely see in the first one but there are men out there night fishing.  And if you look to the right of the boats where I’m sitting in the bottom picture you can see a handful of women washing clothes.  Honestly it’s kind of gross when you think about it because that water gets pumped into the town to people’s houses and I can’t imagine how clean their clothes actually got using lake water.  But for a year and a half that’s exactly how I washed all my clothes as well I just didn’t walk to the lake to do it.  So I guess I can imagine how clean clothes got and I can tell you…not very!  I did get quite fast at hand washing clothes but to this day I’m convinced the washing machine is the best form of technology we have ever invented.

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We got all our food from street markets like the one up top.  Though the one we went to the most was A LOT more crowded than this and in a much, much smaller confined space.  Hmm, I’m not sure they have enough tomatoes.  The vegetables were so yummy because obviously they were fresh, I mean really fresh.  Once we were hungry and saw some farmers picking carrots out of field and payed them some money for a tasty afternoon treat.  My favorite were the avocados.  That’s one of the exports of this little town and they would send out thousands every week.  They were ginormous and so very cheap.  And in the spring vendors would sell sliced up mangoes in little bags and I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Like the avocados, the mangoes were HUGE and cost about 30 cents or less.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  And while I’m thinking of bags, you would go into a little local shop to get a coke and they would pour it into a sandwich bag, put a straw in it, tie it off, and give it to you to drink from.  It was cheaper to do it this way and they would make money by keeping the glass bottles and recycling them.  Kind of odd but…*shrug*.

Alright, so the lady at the loom is making one of her shirts (huijpil) and you would see woman doing this everywhere.  Usually they would tie it up to a tree in front of their house.  I tried it once and I think I’ll stick to buying my clothes from the mall.  Or Target.  I don’t remember what festival I was there for but that last picture is a human firework.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Every year they would find some local drunk and put him in that thing.  It comes down to your waist and you can look out through that slot in the front.  They would make sure he was plenty boozed up and then they would light that sucker.  What you aren’t really able to tell is that some of the firecrackers shoot sparks in circles while the ones on the top shoot off like rockets.  All the while the man is stumbling through the crowds having a grand ‘ol time.  I really, really wish I would have taken more pictures of the landscape and all the ins and outs of the town but after a while everything is so common place you just don’t think about it.  So now I’m going to move onto the people I met and would hang out with sometimes.

I loved the people so much but here are a few that I really got to know:

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The man in the top picture is Hno. Tecun and though he looks like he’s over 100 years old, he was still doing all manual labor caring for a little chalet.  Manual labor as in cutting the grass with what looked like slightly large scissors.  And he was still walking the couple of miles into town every week rather than riding in the back of trucks like everyone else.  The next picture is of the Cali Tui family.  I just remember laughing a lot when we would go over there.  They were always so cheerful and constantly joking around.  One of the worst days in Guatemala was when the oldest son (whom I had never met) was murdered.  They had the funeral at their house and we spent the whole day there and I was absolutely sick about the whole thing.  But they were a strong family despite everything.  I think I spent more time with the family in the bottom picture than I did with any other.  Part of what I did when I was there was to teach people how to read and write in Spanish and both women in this picture (Nicolasa and Candelaria) were two of my students.  At some point a few years before I got there, someone had taught Candelaria how to say “Later Dude!” and to hear her say it was hysterical.  I can’t believe she had remembered it after so much time and I’m not sure she ever remembered what it meant.

I swear the kids were the cutest I had ever seen and I wanted to pack all of up and bring them home with me but I guess kidnapping is frowned upon.  But they really were so much fun and so loveable.  I have tons of pictures with them but these are my favorite:

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The little boy in the top is Ceasar.  What a ham!  I asked if I could take a picture of him and he promptly ran home to change in to those clothes and comb his hair.  Totally adorable.  I love how the boys in the second picture are climbing trees with no shoes and playing with machetes.  That was pretty common to see people of all ages walking around with machetes.  The boy with his leg up in the air like the Karate Kid is Daniel (just like in the movie) and I once watched him make a kite out of a plastic bag, sticks, rocks, and string.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was probably the sturdiest little thing I’ve ever seen and he made it in a matter of minutes.  As you can tell from all the pictures but especially this last one, I was a gargantuous white amazon of a girl next to these people.  And really I’m just under 5’6″.  I never understood a single thing that old lady said (spanish is not the first language of the people in this village.  They speak a dialect called Tzutujil) but she was always so happy when we came around and that made me happy.  The last picture is of Maria who lived with her grandma in a tiny bamboo hut like a lot of people there.  And like a lot of people, they were incredibly poor.  Her parents had both died in some accident and her siblings had all been scattered and taken in by other relatives that were not so poor and lived in the city.  This little girl was unbelievable.  So sweet and caring and freak’n smart – she spoke 4 languages.  I was there when she had her 12th birthday and my companion and I decided to make her a cake and drop it off on our way to other appointments we had.  No biggie right?  She was so shocked and stunned she didn’t know what to say and seemed a bit overwhelmed.  As we left, her grandma came out and thanked us over and over because she said she didn’t have any money to do anything for Maria for her birthday and she, the grandmother, had been so upset about it.  Then she told us that this was the first birthday cake Maria had EVER RECEIVED!!  What??!!  Well that about broke my heart right then and there but I was thrilled she finally got one.

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Well speaking of cake, the girls in the top picture wanted us to teach them how to make cake from a box.  Both of them were students of mine so instead of class one day we made a cake.  After we put the ingredients in the bowl I turned around to get a spoon and when I turned back Michaela had already started mixing it with her hand.  Oops!  But then I figured oh why not and it turned out pretty good.  The little girl in the next picture is looking for lice in my companions hair.  She didn’t have lice but it was somewhat common to see mothers doing this to their kids.  The picture makes me laugh because I remember that it felt so good for them to pick through our hair that we would constantly tell them that we thought we had lice.  We knew we didn’t but it felt so good we couldn’t help it.

In the last picture is Nicolasa from a few pictures up.  She progressed so much in her reading in the few months I was there it was insane.  In addition to her regular work from the reading book, she began working on some church assignments as well.  Real simply, the section she was working on had 14 goals that she was supposed to do.  There was an entire list of options and she just had to go through and pick out which ones she wanted to do.  Usually, the girls work on this for something like a year before there is a night that honors the work they’ve been doing.  For different reasons she began working on this project only 2 or 3 months before this big night.  The whole thing may sound relatively easy but you have to keep in mind that she was only just learning how to read and write and the manuals were all in Spanish whish is not her native language.  Plus the terminology in these books were a little advanced even for someone who spoke Spanish fluently.  But she was determined so what happened was this.  She would read the goal or assignment and I would summarize it up for her so she would understand it.  Then we would discuss her thoughts/opinions on it and I would summarize that to a couple of sentences, make sure it was what she was wanting it to say, then I would write it down on a piece of paper.  Then she would copy what I wrote into the book.  After those few months she had completed only 2 of the 14 goals intended.  But she was the only girl in the group to have completed any of it at all.  The program thankfully, had been modified and adjusted to fit the needs of this group and I have never been so proud of anyone in my entire life when she was spotlighted for her achievements and received the medallion or whatever it was that she got.

I really could go on and on and on about this place (and some of you may be thinking I already have) and all the great times and wonderful experiences I had but I’ll stop.  I’ll leave you with a picture of me.  Not because I think I look good, but because my oh so sexy tan line makes me laugh right out loud.

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8 thoughts on “Santiago

  1. This post totally reminds me of my time in Costa Rica. Now I’m sitting here with floods of similar memories! What great times of our lives; probably no definitely some of the very best.

    Yeah I thought it would bring back memories for you. You should post pics from your time in Costa Rica.

  2. I have to imagine that the work you did was productive, but that time you spent there had to really change your life and they way you look at everything.

    It was an awesome experience for sure. Sadly I get too caught up with the insignificant things from day to day and it takes a reminder like this post to help me remember to put things in perspective.

  3. I enjoyed reading this with Mark, since I had some similar experiences, especially the tan lines! I’m jealous that you were able to be in Santiago. Everyone in my first and last areas, Las Margaritas and Jalapa, always talked about Santiago, and lake Atitlan. Good times! I really want to go back to visit.

    I’m so glad I wasn’t an elder because their tan lines were much, much worse! At least mine was normal with a t-shirt and not some collared shirt. Santiago was amazing and I’m so very happy I got to live there for 6 months. I definitely lucked out with that one!

  4. What an awesome post. Thanks for sharing…I’m glad you were able to give us a glimpse of your time in Guatemala.

    Why thank you! I don’t talk a lot about it because I hate when people are constantly saying stuff like “well, on my mission….” blah blah (you know the type)! That and at least for this area it really was so special it’s like I don’t want it tainted. But it was a fun time and everyone likes being a part of a fun time right??

  5. So. I had a somewhat controlled level of excitement…. but now… ahhh!!! I just can’t wait to go to Guatemala….

    Thanks so much for posting this!!!!

    It is exciting and you’ll have a lot of fun while you’re there. I really hope you get to go to Santiago because that is the best place to be!

  6. What an incredible experience! You are such a great writer.

    Ceasar is too cute. I mean too cute. He’s like a Guatemalan Webster.

    The girl who you made the cake for really touched me. You’re a really thoughtful. It’s amazing to think of people who can be moved by so little. I bet they are still talking about that today.

    I’m jealous of you and your sister’s travels. All my travels included weapons and people not too thrilled to meet me. Someday I will go on a mission like this.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    “A Guatemalan Webster” LOL!! That he is. That’s also him in the picture with the other kids and the old lady. His face looks like he’s a genie granting a wish. I love it. I loved my experience there and wish I had an opportunity to do it again sometime.

  7. This is really a great post, this is a heartwarming read… Perhaps you would agree that most of the time, its is the people we meet that make our journeys worthwhile… 🙂

    “I’m going to try and give you a glimpse though I will never really be able to capture what I’m really wanting you to experience” – I can really relate to this statement… Experiences are personal, and sometimes we are overwhelmed by it that we want others to share the same beautiful experience…. 🙂

    I surmise from your post that Santiago is more or less no different from the many communities here in the Philippines…

    It is always a joy that in today’s world, there are still many privileged people who are willing and able to look into poverty in the face, immersing themselves in difficult conditions and coming out renewed, overwhelmed and full of joy – just like you in this post… 🙂

    I would definitely agree that people are what make our journeys worthwhile. No joke my dream job would really be to go to poor countries and do exactly what I did on my mission by teaching and educating people on how to read/write or about health issues. Forget about all the red tape and protocol and finances. I just want to go and do my own thing without some daily agenda but with a future goal. I would love that.

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