The Adventures of April

We shall not cease from exploration - And the end of all our exploring - Will be to arrive where we started - And know the place for the first time. -- T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Hola! This week I am in Xela (shay-la), the second largest city in Guatemala. It is very pleasant, but all in all I am getting very READY to wrap up these intense spanish lessons and hit the road, especially to somewhere warmer! It is usually in the 50s or 60s here in the days, so I am wearing about half of my clothes all of the time!

This weekend I am doing something crazy - climbing a huge volcano and camping overnight! I´m not sure if I´m actually going to be able to do it, but I´m going to give it a go because it sounds like such an adventure! It is the trip that the school is organizing. The volcano is the highest point in Central America (=altitute sickness for me!) and you can see into Mexico from the top. I´m very excited! Then on Monday I start to move, first to Tekal, one of the largest and most wonderful Mayan cities, and then on to the Yucatan for a few days of sun and relaxation before I go to El Salvador.

Otherwise, not much new on my end. I did meet somebody from Michigan for the first time and I was surprised at how excited I got over this. You can take the girl out of Michigan, but you can´t take the Michigan out of the girl apparently. And he had heard of Alma College!

Okay, back to espanol. Thanks for all of your emails even if I can´t write back at length. I really appreciate it, and I am looking forward to spending time with you all when I return!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Imagine that... another great week

I just finished up my time at the Mountain School and now I am studying in Xela for one week until I start to travel. Very sad to leave the school and all the wonderful people, but I am intent upon returning!

I thought I´d take the opportunity to share some humorous/memorable moments of the past two weeks.

* Kite flying is a major past time in the villages that I lived by. One of the most endearing sites was a little boy flying a kite made of half of a plastic bag of chips and a tattered piece of string.

* Guatemala, as you all probably know, is earthquake central. Last week at the school I was studying in my room when we had a pretty sizeable tremor for a couple seconds. Very exciting for a Michigan girl!

* My friend Joel and I went down to the nearest town to buy some food for cooking and check email. You can either get to the town by riding in the back of a pickup (my prefered way of travel!) or a camioneta, a chicken bus. Needless to say, these get very full. Joel and I rode part of the way to Colomba with me standing on the lowest step into the bus, Joel on the next step up, and my arms practically hugging his legs over the potholes. The door was open and about three more people were hanging out the side! Normal here, not so normal back home. We tried to continue with our conversation, but I was laughing too hard.

* The more you learn Spanish, the greater chances for an embarrasing misunderstanding. Instead of missing the whole boat in a conversation, you think you get part of it when you really don´t. Last week I was looking for some raisins at the market to make rice pudding. I was all excited to use a new verb tense that would make me sound more polite. I mean to ask a vender where the pasas (raisins) were, but instead I said this:

"Descuple, a donde yo podria encontrar los payasos?

Which means,

"Excuse me, where might I be able to find the clowns?

Apparently there were not any clowns in Colomba that day because we sure didn´t get any directions out of her.

Yesterday we went on a tour of some Mayan ruins. Our tour was in Spanish, and many of the statues were idols for "fertilidad," and I joked with Joel (whose Spanish is much better than mine) that I was going to get pregnant just walking around. Fortunately, he informed me, the idols were for SOIL fertility and unless I was planning on growing some corn, I was going to be alright. Those little details make all the difference...

* Mayans have a traditional sauna, called a chuj. The school fired up their chuh for the first time in many years and Joel, Falin and I enjoyed it immensly, although I think I am going to smell like a fire for a week.

More to come, I´m sure! I will have more regular access to email this week, so I´m looking forward to hearing from you all!

Also... I think I´m near/passing the half-way point! Crazy how time flies!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Val Update

I have been grateful to receive an update on my friend, Val. You can read about her condition at the website her brother has set up, All in all, she seems to be in good spirits despite the challenge she is facing. Feel free to leave her a comment to brighten her day!

New Host Family

This week I am eating with a new host family and I like them a lot! The grandma prepares my meals in the dirt floor kitchen behind the cinder block house. She lives next to her two grandchildren, Liliana (9) and Evelyn (5). I know their mother, but currently she is living for two months in a larger city in the south because there is no work in their village and she must feed and clothe her kids.

The little girl Evelyn reminds me SO much of Gloria... all the professors at our school agree that she even looks a lot like Gloria. She has a very goofy and outgoing personality and is very intelligent. When I showed her pictures of Gloria in a swimming pool, she was very jealous because she does not know how to swim. I sense that she can tell that there is a difference in the quality and standard of living between Gloria and her. She even asked her mother one day why were they poor, and then proceeded to tell her that she wants to go to school so she can work with computers so they do not have to be poor anymore. Last night I brought over some books to read and the girls were so excited! Evelyn (like another little girl I know...) was memorizing each page I was reading even though she can not read and will not get to start school for two years.

This week there is a group from a college in Wisconsin at the Mountain School so it is just me, my friend Joel, and two girls from Sweden who do not speak very good english or spanish. So I have been hanging out a lot with Joel as well as Tim and Falin who run the Mountain School. Last night we hung out and talked in Tim and Falin{s house which was very nice.

All in all, I wish I could stay at the Mountain School longer (in fact I am already planning my return...). I feel like I am learning a lot of Spanish as well as a lot about Guatemala. I am overflowing with gratefulness!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Escuela de la Montana

I have loved my time at the Escuela de la Montana. Getting here and finding the school went fine. In fact, I am liking it so much, that I am going to stay for an additional week here! Which means that I again will not have much access to email.

The school is located near several small villages. The profits from the school go to finance scholarships for over one hundred middle school and high school students, who otherwise could not afford to go to school. A couple from the US run the school. One is a nurse - one of two nurses in a district of 30,000 people! She helps out at a local clinic.

I live in a house with ten other students, most of them are from the US. They are wonderful people who are very committed to being agents of positive change in the world. One is a lawyer (and a former Fulbrighter!) from the US who is learning Spanish so he can better serve his clients at his migrant, immigrant and labor law firm. Another is a social worker from Chicago. It seems like all of the students are interested in putting their Spanish skills to work in some positive way!

I eat my meals with a family in one of the nearby villages. The food is excellent! My host family this past week was a mother with four sons and a daughter. The father is living in Houston Texas as an illegal immigrant in order so his kids can go to high school and hopefully university. He crossed the desert in Arizona, which is a very difficult and many times fatal journey, in order to work at below minimum wage so his kids could get out of the cycle of poverty. He has been gone for two and a half years. I can only imagine that it is very difficult on the family. He wants nothing more than to return to Guatemala, but cannot. Definitely enlightens your perspective on the immigration issue! Everybody deserves an education and the ability to support themselves!

I feel very fortunate to be here. This is exactly what I have been praying for - to have an authentic look at Guatemalan life. It is also amazing to know that my money is going to do good, instead of bad (which is unfortunately usually the case when you buy something in the US). It´s such a relief to feel like you are living within the bounds of the natural environment and that your presence is a benefit rather than a harm.

It makes me realize how much we are also oppressed in the US... to rarely feel like "all is right in the world" because so many of our consumption patterns and lifestyle choices directly and indirectly result in the oppression of other people. I hate that, and don´t want to live my life like that any longer! Hallelujah! God has something better for all of us!

I have been reading a book on the life of Oscar Romero. In it they quote one of his counterparts, Herbert Anaya, a passionate fighter for peace and justice in El Salvador, as saying

"The agony of not working for justice is stronger than the certain possibility of my death. The latter is but one instant, the other is one´s whole life."

What that means to me is that the risk involved in transforming your life to help the poor is much less than the certain suffering of not working for transformation in the world. In other words,

"Life is risk. If I do not risk, I cannot be." (Pauto Freire)

I have a strong desire and conviction to continue to change my life to be more in line with what the earth can handle, accompanying the poor, and working towards justice. God blessed me with this towards the end of my time in Toronto, and I am thankful that He continues to give me energy and desire - instead of guilt - to change. Change is scarey, and I don´t know exactly what I´ll do.

Hope this makes some sense. Probably sounds a bit crazy, but if the way things are in this world is sane, then I hope that I´ve perceived as a lunatic! Would love any comments or input.

This week a group is staying at the Mountain School who are studying liberation theology, which is based around the teaching in the Bible that God loves the poor and wants them to be delivered from their suffering. A priest is coming who is going to speak on his efforts to alleviate the dire poverty in Guatemala. Pretty great that it worked out for me to stay, eh? Wonder who had a hand in that... :)

Urgent Prayer Request

I have just learned today that my friend from Alma, Valerie Lienhart, has been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I don´t know what stage it is at, but she is already in the hospital undergoing treatment. She had recently moved to Atlanta to start a teaching job. Her family is from Michigan and I can only guess that they have picked up everything and gone to Atlanta. Please remember her and her family in your prayers.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I love people... I don´t know if you knew that about me...

So I am always limited in how much I can actually write in my posts, because I would like to spend more time outside of internet cafes than inside, but I would just like to take this moment to express how wonderful the people I have been meeting are.

Of course it gets lonely traveling alone, but the past two weeks I have felt so blessed by the people I have meet in Antigua. My roommates, the other students, my teacher (who invited me to stay at her house the next time I return to Antigua), my host family, etc.

Last night I went out for drinks and dancing with two friends from school. It´s something that I don´t do very often, either at home or while traveling. (Usually a couple of drinks and chatting, not much more!) But it was such a luxury to go out with male friends, one of which is a 6 ft 5 in Austrailian (people stop him to have their picture taken with him, not too many tall folks here) and the other is an energetic German. They areas good as gold and I didn´t need to worry as much about the usually female-traveling alone-at night worries. So much fun! Although I do think I cramped their style with the Latinas a bit at the clubs... sorry guys!

Today I met a CANADIAN! FINALLY! From Toronto! I was so excited. I got to use the following words in a conversation: Bloor, the Annex, U of T, Stephen Harper, Tim Hortons, Swiss Chalet, etc. Music to my little homesick ears! I do get sad listening to my Canadian music on my shuffle, thinking about how much I enjoyed simply walking down Bloor on a sunny day, Sarah Harmer as the soundtrack!

I´m sad to leave Antigua. It really is wonderful here and is one of my most favorite places I have traveled so far. God is so good.

Friday, September 08, 2006

My Typical Day

In case any of you are wondering, this is what my typical day has looked like in Antigua:

6:10 Wake up, step outside room, which is literally outside since rooms of house are built around a garden terrace. Take shower. Shower is concrete stall with some tall on the walls, water pressure is suprisingly equal to gravity, and water is warmed through an electrified metal plate a few inches above your head.

6:45 Breakfast with the host fam. Usually eggs, rice, bread, indigenous vegetables. Watch Teletubbies dubbed in Spanish (they are annoying in any language). Make small talk.

7:00 Study and review Spanish for the day´s lesson.

7:45 Walk to school. Very busy on the streets in the morning!

7:50 Ride to school in delapidated van that unfortunately dumps the exhaust into the interior of the van. Use experience as a way to bond with other students.

8:00 Start lesson. Correct yesterday´s homework, learn new grammer.

10:30 Break! Walk to market, buy fruit, tortillas con queso, pancaques, sandwich, or candy. Chat with fellow students, drink coffee.

11:00 More Spanish. But only review because your mind can only learn so much new Spanish each day.

1:00 Class is done!

1:15 Lunch at host family´s.

Afternoon: Engage in a variety of activities, possibly excursions organizd by school, check email, take a nap, read, study Spanish, walk around, or, my favorite, get to know all of Antigua´s charming cafes (delicious Guatemalen coffee and chocolate!). Avoid torrents of rain that come down in the afternoon!

6:45 Dinner. Watch la noticias (news) or Los Simpsons over yummy Guatemalen food. Try to use in conversation what you learned that day.

8:00 Study, or go out with friends from school to pub.

10:00 Bedtime!

Not too shabby, considering all of this is done against the back drop of volcanos, green mountains, brightly painted colonial buildings, cobblestone roads and wonderful people!

This Week

This week has been a relaxing time of study and reading for me. I have been learning a lot of Spanish and finished the book I was reading about the history of Latin America. One of the most exciting things is that I finally started to learn how to say things in past tense (e.g. "I live in Canada" vs. "I lived in Canada.")

All of the high school marching bands have been practicing for next week´s Independance Day, which should be quite a big deal. We got to see a parade this morning, and it made me reminisce over my old marching band days! The kids ranged from all ages, from some pretty rag-tag ensembles to groups with white uniforms and a diversity of instrumnts. It was cool to see that band nerds exist around the world!!

I was so excited yesterday... some context: In May, when I went to Mexico, I met this nun who know all these people in Central America that I could get together with to see more of their countries and safely leave the beaten patch. One organization she me about was CRISPAZ, a Christian Peace and Justice organization in El Salvador. I didn´t have a contact, but hoped to find people from the organization. Currently, there is another woman staying at my host family´s who is from San Salvador, the capital of Honduras. Last night she gave me some email addresses of her family members whom she said would be interested in showing me around. It turns out that they are organizers for CRISPAZ! So they are good people who will help me out while I am there and show me around! How (I hate to say it, but...) serendipitous!

Next Week

Next week I am off to Escuela de la Montana. I´ve included some information below so you can see what I am getting myself into. As you will see, I will not have any internet access for that week. But I´m excited to move on and see a new place!

Escuela de la Montaña

Since 1988, the not-for-profit Proyecto Lingüístico Quezalteco (PLQ) has provided socially responsible Spanish language studies in the highland city of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Placing an emphasis on human rights and social justice, the PLQ has developed and supported projects in rural communities and with grassroots organizations using funds generated by the success of the Spanish school. The PLQ started the Escuela de la Montaña in 1997 in an effort to expand its work among the indigenous and campesino communities of Guatemala. The Escuela de la Montaña is unique in offering students the opportunity to live in Guatemala’s mountainous coffee plantation region while sharing daily life with the people of the surrounding communities.

Living accommodations are in the schoolhouse (sheets and blankets are provided; rooms have two to four beds). In addition to six bedrooms, the building has a library, kitchen/dining room and two large porches. The school has running water, indoor and outdoor bathrooms and showers. When the electricity is working, there is even a hot shower! (Bring a flashlight because the power frequently goes out.) The nearest telephone is a short walk away in Nuevo San José. There are two internet cafés about ten kilometers down the highway in the town of Colomba.

The families in Nuevo San José and Fátima provide students with three meals a day in their homes. They have been trained in the areas of health, nutrition and hygiene and have experience cooking for vegetarians. Diets are simple; often black beans and rice supplemented by eggs and vegetables. Every meal is accompanied by corn tortillas. The Escuela de la Montaña provides fruit or bread as well as coffee and tea during the morning and afternoon breaks.

The three-acre grounds include a steep ravine planted in coffee with a small quiet-house overlooking a stream, several barns, chickens, a fish pond, an organic garden and lots of banana and durazno trees. In addition to three affectionate dogs, we also have two cats to keep the house clear of mice. One of the barns has been converted to accommodate meetings, workshops and activities for children and youth. Students are welcome to participate in daily activities such as gardening, maintenance, and feeding and caring for the animals. There may be opportunities for volunteer work in neighboring communities for students with working Spanish who plan to stay for two weeks or more.

The climate is temperate so a sweater or fleece is usually adequate to keep you comfortable. Even during the dry season (verano) from November to April, it rains once or twice a month so bring raingear or an umbrella. You may wish to bring insect repellent (there are mosquitoes but not malaria).

Monday, September 04, 2006


This past weekend I went to Monterrico, Guatemala´s best beach location. And one the only locations... the country isn´t too much for beaches. Anyway, figured this would be an easy trip for me to do alone to warm myself up for three more months of traveling alone.

So the trip down was lovely, nice van ride, and the shuttle was empty besides me. When we arrived in Monterrico, however, there were hundereds and hundereds of men surronding our van, tapping and yelling at the windows at me. It was not enjoyable. I almost laid at the bottom of the van. Turns about there was a Gallo convention in town that same weekend. Gallo is the national beer of Guatemala.

So my first concern was finding a hotel that wasn´t overun with drunk/drinking men. Luckily I was successful. I spent the rest of my time relaxing on the beach, reading, and of course studying mi espanol.

So the traveling alone went fine, except the first thing you always think is ¨this is so amazing!¨ and the next thing you think is ¨I wish I had somebody to share it with!¨ But I am grateful nonetheless.

I did get approached a lot on the beach, one time by a (I swear) 14-year-old claiming to be in medical school (Terris!). On the plus side I am getting the tannest I´ve every been in my life; now instead my arms just looking like Robin William´s, they look like Robin William´s arms in Hawaii! Yay!

On Sunday night, after I returned to Antigua, I was feeling bit lonely and had to eat dinner outside of the house since Sunday is an off-day for the host families. Just as I was thinking I would like a friend to eat with, I ran into two friends from school who were meeting two other friends from school for dinner, about 80% of the people I know in Antigua! It was great!

Digging back into the spanish this week. More later!

Some Religious Life in Guatemala

Last week I had the opportunity to go to a number of religious services. The first I found on my street, a gathering of Christians for worship behind a coffee shop. I saw the sign and decided to attend that evening. For some reason, I was in the mindset that it would be other backpackers, like me. Instead, it turned out to mainly be protestant missionaries from the US in the region.

It was your typical casual protestant gathering... songs, prayer, message, prayer. I enjoyed the signing and the time of prayer, but had a difficult time with my own judgementalism against traditional missionary endeavors. That being said, I didn´t even know what most of the people exactly did, so that was wrong of me to assume that they were going ¨Poisonwood Bible¨ style on the people down here.

I also had a difficult time with the message, in which a woman described Christianity literally as a ´hat´ that she wears. Christianity is not a hat to be taken on and off; the word itself is not what you are but instead signifies that you have a relationship and are a follower of Christ. All in all, I was more tempted to study these people rather than fully participate in the service. I´m embarrassed that I can´t get over my own hang-ups to see the good (and indeed Christ) in these people. That is something I pray about for in the future.

When I was walking home, I walked passed La Merced, a beautiful Catholic cathedral. There was a service occuring in there as well, and the young priest was quite enthusiastic and charismatic (even though I could only catch snipets of what he was saying). Catholics definitely do a better job of conveying the awe and mystery of their faith with the ambiance of their masses. But since I couldn´t understand that much, I only stayed breifly.

The next morning I went to San Andreas Ixtapa with my teacher, about 45 minutes away from Antigua. It is a predominantly Mayan pueblo and its main attraction is a temple for the Mayan idol San Simon. People burn candles of different colors before the idol for different reasons - red for love, blue for luck, white for children, etc. There were also shaman outside performing ceremonies for those who brought items to sacrifice and could pay there prices. There was also a witch who would smake cigars that people would sacrifice on behalf of people´s requests to San Simon.

One of the most interesting aspects of this experience was mixing of Catholic traditions with the Mayan religion. For instance, devotees would kneel and cross themselves infront of the idol of San Simon, as well as around their sacrifices.

One Mayan family had come to do their yearly sacrifice. It was amazing the amount of food, liquor, and other expensive items they paid the shaman to arrange and ultimately burn for San Simon. A (very) young couple giggled the entire way through a sacrifice for love, which involved building a sacrifice of incense, eggs, red candles, and other various things in the shape of heart. I remarked to my teacher that they didn´t seem to need to ceremony, they were obviously quite in love already!

The whole thing makes me wonder what rituals I offer which (I believe) God doesn´t care about or want for the sake of the ritual itself. In other words, what aspects of my faith have I turned into rituals devoid of spiritual significance? I don´t think rituals are neccesarily bad, it works for some people (they still focus on its meaning).

Ah yes, lots to think about. I was able to take pictures, so you can see for yourself when I get home.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Comments FYI

Thanks so much to everybody who has left me comments and sent me emails. I really appreciate it, even though I don´t get a chance to immediately write back.

Just so you know, if you leave a comment, everybody can see it when they click comments. So if you want to send a more personal email or something, feel free to write me at my Gmail address (the address that I sent the email about this blog from).

Thanks for simply reading as well!

This Weekend

This weekend I am going to Montericco, the best beach town on the Pacific coast. It has black volcanic sand! I am going alone; it will serve as a good opportunity for me to generate confidence in my solo-traveling skills (remember me in your prayers!). I plan to relax, read, and, of course, study my Spanish.

On Monday I plan on posting a big entry in regards to some recent experiences. Last night I went to a Protestant service, and then part of a Catholic Mass. (I live very close to La Merced. Look it up!) Then, this morning I went to a Mayan temple where there were shamen and a witch performing rituals for devotees a San Simon, a Mayan idol.

Obviously, a lot to tell. But Í don´t have time now, so more later!

Spanish Update

This week has been my first week of classes. The first few days were overwhelming and exhausting, but now I am getting on more of a roll. All instruction is one-on-one, so it is me talking with a teacher for five hours straight. But it is an excellent and the best way to learn. Basically, this week I have covered everything I learning during two years of Spanish in high school! Now on to some verb tenses!

You can take classes via webcam from the US as well. You are still one-on-one with an instructor. I saw a demonstration today - it is much niftier than I thought it would be and extremely economical - only $8 per hour! I think I will continue with that when I get home because I have a very strong desire to reach fluency someday. It will take me years, no doubt, but every bit helps! The website for the online classes are I recommend it if you are interested in Spanish but can´t afford to go to Guatemala or don´t have much time.

I get excited thinking about how much further I will be in only a few weeks!


I have been meeting a lot of people and making a lot of friends, which is really great.

My roommate is fabulous - a woman from San Diego. We have been having a lot of fun chatting, walking around, and occasionally going out. She leaves this weekend however to return home. Friends while you are traveling are definitely transient!

My host family is also nice. The house is a only a part of what used to be a huge estate. In the middle is a terrace that is open to the sky. The living room and dining room are a part of this open area so it has a very open feel to it.

My fellow students are nice as well, and I´ve been meeting people other travelers while out and about. I´ve been pleased that many people are also traveling alone, so they are willing to talk and to hang out.

The other night my roommate and I went to the Sky Bar, which is on top of a building over looking the city and the surronding volcanos. It was lovely! We met an Austalian fellow that we ended up chatting with for several hours. We had to go inside due to the rain, and the power was even out for 20 or so minutes. It was incredible to see the rain progress across the range of volcanos toward us.

Que bueno!