Guatemalans have a custom of having a snack, known as Refa, at 10am and 4pm. I thought it was a Peace Corps thing but today I found out that it is customary throughout the country, in homes, in the workplace and in the schools. In public schools, it is up to the parents to form a group and find funding for the daily refa. If there is no parents’ group then there is no refa for the children. But keep in mind that a typical school day ends at 12:30pm!
The above photo is from a gathering of a group of PC Trainees and their host moms and it included three PC language teachers. We were given scenarios that might occur in the homes, such as a trainee needing study time but the five kids in the house want their attention; a trainee with a rude attitude and who disregards curfew; or a vegetarian trainee with a need for a greater variety of vegetables. We offered answers, some serious and some lighthearted and we laughed a lot. When I speak Spanish I automatically tell a lot of terrible, corny, not so funny jokes. But the Guatemalans and PCTs are very polite and they do laugh, God bless ’em.
The above photo is inside an old U.S. school bus that is the typical mode of public transportation. The isle is very narrow and oftentimes it gets so crowded that people are 3 to a seat. This photo shows the bus as full but it felt empty because it wasn’t overloaded. That’s why I took the photo, so you could get an idea of the space. Considering the seats are only meant to fit two people, the third person has to squeeze to fit in and usually has their legs and feet dangling in the isle. That makes walking through the isle extremely difficult. I often find myself hanging on while the bus feels like it’s going 60 miles an hour when it’s really only going about 30 miles an hour. Jostled left, right, forward and backward, I am reminded of rush hour on the NYC subway.
A few days ago our Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) group known as Bak’tun 8, visited Azotea, a coffee farm and museum in Jocotenango. The photo below is a plaza in the town. Volcán Agua seems to peer overhead. It’s often covered in a thick blanket of clouds so when the top is visible, I get excited to take a photo.
A couple of blocks from the plaza, we began walking along the beautiful road to Azotea.
I should have taken some photos of the museum but I was so entranced by the garden that I forgot. I did learn a bit about coffee and was impressed with their tasty brew. It’s surprising that in most homes here, people drink Nescafe instant coffee. Doña Irma says it’s because it’s so fast to make. And although the price for a pound of quality coffee here is not much in terms of U.S. dollars, it is expensive in Guatemalan currency.
The coffee farm, above, uses shade trees. It provides higher quality coffee although with a lower yield for the grower. Quality reigns.
Red kept catching my eye that day. It makes sense since I was thinking of my mom who was in the hospital. Red is the color of the root chakra which deals with family, culture of origin, and survival. It was a very red day for me.
Speaking of family, this morning I woke up and looked at a couple of videos of my grandchildren dancing and I cried and laughed watching them. How could I have left them, I wondered. But here I am (happily) and I’m not even sworn in yet. I have another five weeks before I begin my official two-year stay as a PC Volunteer. But I am at home here.
After my first two or three weeks here I realized that I had not yet settled into life here yet. I felt delight for being here but my feet were not yet on the ground and I was overwhelmed with the change from the U.S. to another country. Then, I remembered hearing Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s (Thay) story of when, during the Vietnam war, he went to Washington D.C. to speak to people in Congress to promote peace. When he was ready to return home to Vietnam, he found that he had been exiled from his country. He felt a little lost in the U.S. and was not yet sure of what to do. So while he was in transition, he decided to call his present moment and present environment home. During his daily mindful walks, he got to know the names of the trees. Aligning himself with nature in this way, he found his own true nature and as he is famous for saying, he realized that every step was his home
So when I felt uncomfortable and realized that I had not yet settled in to Guatemala, I remembered Thay’s story. Inspired by Thay, I consciously spoke to the earth, trees, plants and flowers and all the elements. As a result, the world took on a wondrous sheen and now the flowers seem to shout out to me daily, hello, hello, hello. I am fully at home here and grounded to the earth.
[Photo: Peace Corps Trainees at Azotea]