Guatemala & US/Mexico border
spring 08

February 6, 2008

It is strange to think that it has only been two weeks since we flew into Guatemala City. Time seems to have passed so quickly and yet it seems like a forever ago that we were at the border. We are all at different places in adjusting to the new culture. For example, Brian H refuses to eat anything that is from the USA whereas other members of our group long for a Burger King or Pizza Hut. These past two weeks have been challenging, but also very rewarding as we have grown in confidence with speaking Spanish, trying to traverse the city in buses and exploring new places in the city. There are times where we feel frustrated and wish we didn't stick out so much. To quote Chris E, "I wish I had darker skin, black hair and was a foot shorter."

Last weekend our group traveled to the center of the city to visit the Presidential Palace, the National Cathedral and to visit the market. The palace was a beautiful place, made of a stone that has a natural blue/green color. Amongst the grand halls and the 2 ton chandeliers were various pieces of artwork depicting the coming together of the Mayan and Spanish cultures. Also in the palace was a statue that was erected at the place that the army and guerrillas signed the peace treaty in 1996 that ended a 36 year civil war. The statue has two left hands because those are the hands closest to the heart, and a rose sits on top. As long as peace endures the rose is replaced every 24 hours. The civil war in Guatemala was accompanied by a genocide that left 200,000 Mayans dead and 150,000 as refugees.

Our group was able to finally make it out of the city last Thursday and into the countryside to visit some Mayan ruins known as Mixco Viejo. It was wonderful to be outside in the country, away from the noises of the city and where the air is clean. After being in the city for two weeks most of us had forgotten what silence sounded like. The ruins were once a city that 2000 people called home, today they are occupied by a stray dog and two roadrunners. Amongst the ruins was a ball court where the Mayans would settle disputes and sometimes even wars. The object of the game was to hit a ball with your elbows, knees and hips, and get it through a stone hoop. The losing team, along with the king of the city that lost would then be sacrificed.

This past weekend our group traveled to the Mayan town of Chichicastenango which is said to have the best indigenous markets in the Americas. The ride to Chichi was about 4 hours long and took us way up into the mountains. The views were breathtaking, but the ride in the bus was uncomfortable as the roads were very bad, not that that stopped our driver from speeding around the hairpin turns. On the way to Chichi we stopped for lunch at a women's cooperative called Ruth and Naomi. This was a co-op started by some women that were widowed by the war, and had no income to support their families. They started sewing bags and things to sell in the market. It now includes several dozen families in several different towns. After shopping around and purchasing many of their handcrafts we got back on the bus for the rest of the ride to Chichi. After arriving at a Methodist Project where we were staying, we walked into town to meet with the Catholic priest. He told us a bit of the Mayan beliefs and how they incorporate the Mayan history and beliefs into their services.

The following day we were set loose into the markets and did the whole tourist thing. The Mayan markets were bursting with colors of all the handmade crafts, blankets, bags, masks, clothes, and other items. Sunday was an official market day, and because of this bus loads of tourists arrived to join in the shopping frenzy. As a result of the three hours we spent in the market many of us have become extremely efficient at haggling.

We very much enjoyed these experiences of Mayan culture and look forward to discovering more of the history and spirit of these people in the coming weeks.

-Chris H, Michelle Y