By Clara Tucker
I have only spent two full days in Antigua, Guatemala and one at Lake Atitlan, but I have learned so much throughout this immersive experience. When I first embarked on this trip, I was super excited to experience Guatemala and have fun with my friends, but it has already turned into so much more. The people of Guatemala seem to be family oriented, and find ways to be happy just by living their daily lives.
Yesterday morning, we had a representative from FAFG (Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala) come to talk to us about their organization. I learned a lot about the Civil Conflict in Guatemala that happened 30 years ago, and it made me think about what all there is in the world to learn about that I have yet to discover. I could have gone my entire life not knowing about these events in this Central American country, but what good would that have done? What is my role as an American citizen to explore the truths of others around the world? How much am I willing to get out of my comfort zone to learn and embrace culture?
When it was time to leave the more touristy town of Antigua and to head to more to the rustic and indigenous town of Cerro de Oro, we piled into our vans (thankfully not chicken buses, which are the common transportation here in Guatemala) and headed to Lake Atitlan. The roads were very twisty and turny. At one point, we reached our adventure of driving through the stream, and people were starting to feel it. It was so cool to watch the kids in my van step up for each other when the motion sickness hit, and they adjusted their own positions to accommodate others. I was definitely worried about the size of our group when we first left the states, but I have grown to love our big size and many different personalities that all seem to find a place within the mix.
My absolute favorite part of the day was hanging out in the town square of Cerro de Oro, which was just a short walk away from our AirBnB. I have never before made connections so fast with so many people. As soon as we walked onto the road, a group of about six kids started shouting “gringas” (meaning white foreigners), and running towards us to try to get our names. Their smiles were so infectious and they seemed so excited to see us and attempt to communicate through the language barrier. We then walked a bit further to get to the town square, and upon arrival we were greeted with a somewhat quiet scene of people going about their daily lives. There were some teenagers playing basketball along with people working food booths, children playing together, and stray dogs (and one not so stray) scouring for food. We got delicious food from the stands and then began to interact with the people, specifically the kids. These kids were so open and kind. They found joy in the little things, such as running around as fast as we could in a circle or playing a confusing multi-language game of duck duck goose.
One of the little girls I met there was named Emily. She was 7 years old, and seemed to gravitate towards the girls in our group. I ended up having the chance to sit down with her for a while and attempt to talk. As she began to warm up to me, she leaned on my knee and really liked when I scratched her back. We had a great conversation about Elsa from Frozen, who was pictured on her shirt. From school to swimming abilities to where her parents worked and who her friends were, we just talked! It got to the point where she would tap my shoulder and put her hand up to her mouth so that when I leaned down, she could whisper in my ear. This seemed to be her favorite way of communication. Even though I kept telling her I could barely understand, she was very persistent. Her smile was also very infectious! There were times when I had no clue what she said but I would look down at her and she would just be beaming and leaning her head on my knee. She seemed so happy just to have someone to talk to and sit with.
I think it’s so important to listen to the little whispers of the people around you, or to bend down and attempt to understand what you might not know to listen for. This world is crazy and messy and beautiful and I’m so grateful to be apart of it, especially in this amazing country!