By Sophie Heath
Thursday was my all time favorite day. Not just because it was my “leader of the day” day, but because it was the day I felt the most connection with the people of Lake Atitlan. When we first arrived at the lake, I was wonderstruck. The landscape in front of me – the crystal blue water and powerful volcanoes – made me feel like I was in paradise. It felt like I was in a dream.
Walking around Cerro de Orro, the village we were staying in, I could automatically tell that our group was the first group of non-Guatemalans that the natives had ever seen exploring their community. Some were so taken aback by the color of my face that they couldn’t even speak. After the initial shock, though, I was soon greeted with smiles and excited “holas.” I started to feel like I was really in a community.
On Thursday morning we woke up at 5:30am to make it up a nearby volcano in the morning light. I was very reluctant when the faculty came around to wake us all up but as soon as we reached the top of the volcano and saw the incredible view, I didn’t regret our early morning one bit. Later that day, we went into the village to play basketball. It was an experience I will never forget.
While some were playing basketball and, of course, soccer, I sat on the sideline and started playing with this 7-year-old boy named Juan. He is from Cerro de Orro. Juan and I sat there for a long time just passing the hacky sack back and forth. It brought Juan and me so much joy. Juan was too shy to say much but we built an incredible bond in the way we played together. I learned through that bond what it takes to be happy and how simple that can be. I thought about Juan’s family and his neighbors, many of whom live in poorly built shelters, and how much they seemed to cherish the little things. I will never forget Juan’s smile or the way he laughed. The joy we shared will live on forever in my heart, reminding me always of what matters in life.
I will never forget the lessons that Cerro de Orro taught me. The community taught me so much about how they measured their wealth. It didn’t seem to matter how much money they had or how big their house was; they measured wealth based on their daily interactions. They smiled and laughed every day. This was really valuable for me to witness because it reminded me how often people take the little things for granted. It reminded me of how I am trained to always want more.
I am forever grateful to the people of Cerro de Orro. They taught me that the most important thing in life is smiling every day.