Updated: May 26, 2019
By Jack Whitehead:
You know when something happens and after it happens you're like, "Wait, what just happened?" Yeah, that was Day 2 in Guatemala. It was packed. It was humid. And it was eye-opening. I'm honestly processing everything for the first time as I'm writing this. I'll recap everything to the best of my ability, or at least the best that a Civil Engineer can do.
After successfully waking up at 6:40am for the first time since like 4th grade, our extremely busy day in Guatemala City began with some scrambled eggs, beans, plantains, and coffee provided by the Hotel de Dan Pedro staff. We hopped in the bus at 8:30 and travelled through the stressfully busy one-way streets to the CEDEPCA office downtown. Once we were behind the facility's 12-foot, barbed-wire walls, we went to a small conference room and were introduced to Hector Castañeda. Professor Hector is one of CEDEPCA's leading voices in Guatemala and beyond. He's one of those guys who seems like he'd know a little bit about everything. His presentation was about Guatemala's colorful but painful history. He recapped every major event from 1492 (the start of the Spanish invasion of the Central American area) through 1996 (the end of the Guatemalan Civil War). His first-hand recap of the Civil War, or as he more simply called it, "La Violencia," which resulted in the death of over 200,000 Guatemalans, was precise and emotional. The wounds left from that conflict are still open and result in social injustice even today. Basically, the war came to an end, but the killing never did.
Then we had coffee. (By the way, yes, coffee comes up a lot today. I HATE coffee and I still had some. Trust me, we were offered coffee like 12 times.) Next, we unloaded our pre-packed office supplies for the CEDEPCA employees and they were beyond thankful. Our second presentation of the day was with Betty Carrera, another CEDEPCA worker. She discussed the way women are treated in Guatemala. I'm gonna sum up her 50-minute talk in 2 words: it's terrible. CEDEPCA has workshops to help women in physical, psychological, or emotional stress. One of their exercises teaches women how to use the word 'I'. Yeah. Literally how to say things like, "I want ice cream," or, "I don't like that idea." Parts of the Guatemalan culture are so bent towards intense, gender-based abuse that women are not comfortable talking about themselves. It was frustrating to hear, but important things often are. They offered us more coffee when the presentation was over.
After a walk around the entire CEDEPCA office, we ate lunch with the CEDEPCA staff. Honestly, I'm not sure what we had because I'm terrible with food but it definitely had chicken in it. We were actually given assigned seating so that we would mingle with the Guatemalan staff instead of sitting comfortably all together. Now, this was our first real, Spanish-dependent interaction experience of the trip, and some handled it better than others to say the least. You got people like Mitchell choppin' it up with the workers, and then you got people like me who don't even know how to ask where the bathroom is. That's part of good travel though. Being in potentially uncomfortable social situations is strangley beneficial. Also, they offered us more coffee.
After dessert, we piled in the van once more to head to Casa del Migrante (House of the Migrant). This organization offers temporary housing/stabilization services to people travelling from one country to another in search of a better future. We were given a presentation on the services they provide and the people they help. There were groups of people currently staying there that we got to see, including a 2-year-old trying to climb up a slide. That was fun to watch.
At 3:30, we drove to Jesus es el Camino (Jesus is the Way) Pentecostal Church. This church is a 3-story concrete building right next to other 3-story concrete buildings. I don't know what I expected walking into the sanctuary, but a group of 60 kids singing modern Christian music for us definitely wasn't in my mind. It turns out that this church hosts several programs for children and teenagers. We were there to basically hang out with them.
When the kids stopped singing, we went upstairs to these small classrooms and were met with kids literally screaming like we were celebrities. I felt like Brad Pitt walking around. You're probably wondering, "Wait, why were they so excited?" and belive me, I was asking the same thing. The church staff told us we were going to feed the children pancakes, and we were all basically standing there like, "Cool. Hey, by the way, are we famous or something?" Anyway, Jordan and I got juice cups to fill up and hand out. While we were doing that, everywhere we would look, kids would look at us, whisper something to each other, look back at us, and DIE laughing. It was hilarious. We think they were laughing at how tall I am (I'm 6'0", so I'm really not even THAT tall). Either way, Jordan and I still don't know exactly what they thought was so funny, so we've decided that they were either completely roasting us or they just thought we were cool. Let's go with the latter. Also, I met this super cool kid named Antony. Antony's the man.
After serving the kids their snacks, we took some pictures with them and got to learn more about who they are from Emerson Morales, one of the church's leaders. These kids are all from poverished neighborhoods surrounding the church. Many of them essentially come to escape from their tough lives back home. It's a sad situation to think about, but it made us all appreciate the work Emerson and his crew were doing. We said goodbye to the kids and then ate pizza. Domino's in Guatemala, who'da thought. They also offered us more coffee.
At 7:30, we joined the church's teenagers in a small gathering area to more applause. There were about 40-50 of them there and they had a small praise band that we sang Spanish and English songs with. It really was chill-inducing to hear two languages being sung at the same time, both to the
same tune praising God. After the music, the rec leader told us we were going to all play a game together and that we should find a partner. Before I could even look around, Antony jumped out from nowhere and grabbed my hand. This dude is definitely not a teenager, so I'm not even sure why he was there, but I'm sure glad he was. We played a fun game that allowed us to physically interact with one another without having to speak too much. Times like this make you realize that we're all humans. Languages might not be universal, but laughter is.
After some words from Kathy and the church group leader, we all got in a circle to pray. We stood in the middle while the teenagers circled around us and began to sing while the leader prayed for us. Their prayer was one of thankfulness and genuine happiness.
It was at this moment when we realized something. These kids and teenagers weren't excited to see us because we were "celebrities". It wasn't because we were rich or because we were from America. It was simply because we were visiting them. That's it. We cared enough about them to come by for a few hours. They didn't need gifts or money, just our time.
God works in crazy ways. I was buddies with Antony, and I don't even know how to talk to him. The language barrier was strong, but something in that room was even stronger. After praying, we took pictures with the group and headed back to the hotel, leaving us all to process everything that had just happened. This trip is energizing.
Also, honestly, I think me being tall did play a big role in all the attention I got, but that's beside the point.