My first thought when I first saw the massive mountains of Guatemala was “wow.” And now, having been here for a whole week, “wow” is still my first thought.
Leaving the United States for the first time to come here, I had never thought that I would experience such a culture shock. To me, almost everything is different. The money, the language, the public transportation, the amazing landscapes, the shops, the phones, the food, and even the showers—everything.
But despite having to adjust to all of these changes, as soon as I began talking to the people here, I realized something: the people, apart from looking different and speaking a different language, are not any different than the people I encounter every day in the United States. They still have to buy their groceries, send their kids to school, and pay the bills.
Here, however, people are not blessed with the same luxuries as we are in America. And I think that what I’ve learned the most from Guatemala is that despite all the daily difficulties and roadblocks, people endure.
The children that I met in the school in Chacaya, despite having holes in their shoes and barely any school supplies, welcomed me with smiling faces that melted my heart. They asked me questions about my life and were happy to answer questions about theirs. They pulled on my shirt and put flowers in my hair. They held my hand as I struggled to walk up the impossibly steep hill from the garden. When we said goodbye, they kissed my cheeks and shook my hand. One girl, Francisca, pulled me close and said, “nunca te olvidaré.” (I'll never forget you).
Walking with adults to the beehives later that day, I noticed their strength, too. I consider myself to be in shape, but I was sweating through my clothes and struggling to find footholds on the path. The Guatemalan women behind me were doing the same thing, but they also carried small children on their backs and wore worn down sandals.
When we reached the hives, they fearlessly interacted with swarms of buzzing bees while I covered my ears and prayed for it to end. Even around town, I was shocked to see men and women of all ages simply climb into the back of a pick-up truck and stand there, bracing themselves against the wind and the curves in the road.
But it wasn’t until I saw three-year-old Louisa – the child that my mother sponsors from the United States – that I realized how big a difference a little help can make. As she silently clutched the new pencils and stuffed puppy my mom had sent for her, I finally understood how important our work here had been.
Now, having stayed in Guatemala for just a week, I can say with confidence that I will never forget it. I will never forget the children, or the food, or the beauty of standing on the bed of a pick-up truck, zooming down turning roads, looking out at the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen, surrounded by the only volcanoes I’ve ever seen. Like Francisca told me in Chacaya: Guatemala, nunca te olvidaré.