By Emilie Janzen
On our third day in Guatemala, we woke up with people slowly trickling out of the buildings and emerging into the morning light. As conversations about dreams and how people slept slowly faded, we got ready for the day. Once everyone was ready, we did our daily count-off before heading to the buses. There was about a 10 minute drive across the city of Antigua to a chicken bus stop where there was a small stand with an amiable woman preparing food. As we grabbed stools and sat on the corner of a busy sidewalk, we watched this woman put together plates of make-your-own breakfast tacos, including eggs, plantains, beans and cheese. Let me tell you that was one of the best breakfasts I have ever had.
Once everyone was full of delicious food, we took the bus back to our house. We gathered and discussed things that we would like to learn more about within the Guatemalan culture. In this discussion, we asked questions about government, education, work, life, and religion. We discussed how these topics might be prominent in the indigenous culture and the colonization of this area. I was most excited to ask questions about education. So, after our discussion, we went out into the city of Antigua to discover our interests.
My group went right to work exploring and asking questions at the town square. The first person I met was a 5 year old girl named Emme, who ran up to me while walking around the outdoor market. Due to the age and language barrier, I couldn’t learn that much about her; but from what I gathered, she didn’t go to school, and every day, she came with her mom to the market to help sell birdseed. Next, we made our way to the indoor market, where there were kids working booths with their parents and with family members all over the place. In the indoor market, I talked to 6 different people. The first person I spoke with was a man who had two children. One looked around three and the other around 6 or 7, but neither went to school, but he planned for them both to start them both next year. Then, I talked to was an elderly woman who grew up in Antigua as a child and only attended school for about 3-4 years; when I asked why she replied, “because I had difficulty paying attention.” As I continued through the market, I met a few other parents with younger kids, all of whose children attended school. Throughout my time exploring education, I felt like I grew more aware of all the different things that people value, and what is different in their lives. For me, growing up, education has always been important – here, I have started to think about how different places affect people and their values.
After walking around markets and meeting many interesting people, we headed to what I would describe as an outdoor food street market located around a local church. For lunch, I ate at a tostada stand where you could pick what you wanted on it. After lunch and a little bit of being able to explore on our own, we split back into small groups switched topics in order to explore all of our interests. In the second half of the afternoon, I explored the representation of natives in religion. First we walked into the local church where we walked around, observed, ond discussed what we saw and thought about. We talked about the colonization by the Spanish, how the missionaries influenced religion, the significance of family units, and the differences in cultural views on elderly people in the United States vs. Guatamala.
As went into more depth on these topics, we stood in the church and observed these large cases with statue scenes that each contained a different saint. We learned how the Spanish came and convinced the Mayans that their gods had become saints, and thought about the role of religion in colonization. We also discussed age – why people moved out of their parents house at 25, and why elderly people then live with their kids when they get older. We connected those observations to low income, lack of education, and difficulty in moving between social classes due to such a big wealth gap.
Once we were done with our vist to the church we made our way back to the house where we relaxed, reflected, and got ready for the rest of the night. Some of us went with Mr.Alter to a local park and basketball court. At this park, we immersed into the local community – Ali and Chris played basketball with some local kids; some boys taught Maggie, Sykes, Bo, Ria, and Clara how to skateboard; and Reed, Ana, and Kendall played with two little kids on a skateboard. I met a little girl who was super shy but loved to roll a basketball back and forth. We stayed at this park until sundown, and then went back to the house and joined the rest of the group before walking to dinner. Everyone was exhausted and by 11 everyone was in their beds and most fast alseep.
Reflecting on the day, it made me think a lot about my view on religion, education, and family life. Even though I’ve grown up all around the world, I have never really dove deeply into a small village community like we were in yesterday. I also have not thought about asking questions to people in a park or a church about their culture. I had assumed that education was important for people everywhere, and have been reflecting on my own. I am curious and excited to keep learning this way, and seeing how lifestyles can change based on where people live – not just in Guatemala but in the entire world.