By Mahaan Govender
I woke up outside on the floor to the sound of Bo snoring blissfully. A dark bluish sky above me was filled with stars. I shuffled my arms out of my sleeping bag and checked the time – it was 5:17am, an hour before the sunrise, which was when we all decided to wake up. I turned awkwardly in my sleeping bag to see Landon, who was also up. I gave him a quick wave before sinking back into my sleeping bag where I went back into my slumber.
An hour later, I awoke to a lighter blue sky – it was 7:38 AM. We had missed the sunrise but, nevertheless, the day was still new and there was much we were going to do. I had a good night’s rest on the floor of our Airbnb (shoutout Peyton for lending me his sleeping pad – thank you truly) and I had a great feeling about the day.
As we were finishing up getting packed and ready to leave for today’s activities, Mr. Alter told Marina and I that we were to be leaders of the day. I was overjoyed by this new responsibility of mine. As leader of the day, I was going to be the person who sets an example of how we as a group should behave, and how we should engage in the day’s activity. In short, I had more influence as a leader and was excited to use it. Mr. Alter also chose Marina and I to be leaders on the first full day of being in Guatemala – whether it was by chance, or maybe it was because we were both preseason kids, I like to think he trusted us to set a good example.
During the morning explorations, I got Jasmine, Rebecca and Jaiya to join me in a little challenge. I had one US Dollar bill left and the challenge was to buy the best things we could get for this one dollar bill in the market. Now, granted, we were not supposed to be spending this time being tourists looking to buy things for ourselves. So, through my small challenge, another one of our goals was to observe, talk, and do more than just buy. After all, we were supposed to be engaging – observing the people, place and how the community worked. I think my challenge incorporated the best aspects of those two things. After all, we did not really want to get any souvenirs today but really wanted to talk to and learn about the people selling to us.
We started just by walking around the market and looking at things that might be within our price range. We were then approached by people trying to sell us a multitude of souvenirs, and we had to explain that the four of us only had one dollar. It was certainly challenging to tell them this in Spanish, especially since they were really just trying to sell to us and make money. This is their job after all. Another added difficulty was that most people were selling similar things. I guess that is also another reason why I liked this little challenge, because it played to the local-tourist, seller-buyer relationships that the people selling to us were used to. I have also noticed that the people here work really hard and consistently…so consistently that I think they viewed us asking questions and trying to talk them about things other than what they are selling as a waste of time.
Our little challenge ended with us buying a bracelet from a lady Rebecca met the day before. We learned her name, Flor, and made friends with her. She was kind and was patient with us through the language barrier. She taught us about her job, what it entailed, and what she sold each day. I’m very thankful we found her, and I believe she was so kind that Rebecca got a photo with her. So, considering the challenge, we made a connection with someone and talked as best as we could. It’s wasn’t just the local-tourist relationship, now, but instead it was person-to-person.
During my day as leader, I thought about the idea of leadership a lot. There were moments when I could have used my position to perhaps elevate the group’s experience in certain aspects. Also, at other times, I could have focused less on being a “leader” – when I was walking up and down the volcano, I was always in front of the group trying to lead the pack, help make sure everyone stayed on track, and keep a good pace. After hiking more, I realized there was already a pacer in front. I didn’t need to be in the front the entire day to lead, and instead I could’ve focused more on being an observer. Because leaders are observers, too, and I learned that there is a time to be a leader and a time to step back and enjoy the scenery.