My head pressed on cool glass that vibrated my brain within my skull. I took a sip of my water, struggling to avoid biting my tongue as the jolting of the bus bounced me up and down. A girl sat next to me—Noelle, I believe. I didn’t know her; she was from Alter High School, I from Seton. But none of that was important to me. I simply stared out the window, gorging myself on the sights and sounds, wanting to make the most of the experience that I had saved up for over the course of three long years.
Families, the mothers holding their infants and toddlers in wrapped cloth, walked along the streets, just another day. Fathers drove their wives and four children on motorcycles, whizzing along the streets past our slow, lumbering bus. I saw two young men lead five or six goats along the street—to the slaughter, I surmised. But then they stopped before a security guard, spoke briefly with him, and milked one goat into a plastic cup. As money and milk exchanged hands, I could have laughed at the novelty. And then we moved on, and everywhere I looked, there seemed to be more shops with hand-painted signs: “Auto Polarizado;” “Vendo Terreno;” “Silenciadores;” “Grand McBurger.”
The last should hardly have surprised me, but there I was, wondering why I was finding American food in Guatemala. Why were their signs in English? Why did the billboards look strikingly American while the shops themselves were makeshift and—I could only presume—very Guatemalan?
These thoughts whizzed by me just as the stone buildings around me were whisked away by hills and trees. My ears popped as we climbed the 5,860 feet to the small city of Chimaltenango; but it was more than just the altitude that made my head spin. The wide plains of dust stretching between the green hills were breath-taking—in beauty, yes, and grandeur, but there was a second side to Guatemala that was all too visible. The expanse of nature was littered with trash: plastic bags, bottles, foil, and anything that could not be reused or salvaged. The garbage seemed to grow like weeds, as if these great plains, too long amidst human poverty, were vegetated by human waste. The village streets, as we neared Chimaltenango, were much the same, with cramped, unfinished rooms serving as homes for entire families. And to think—the children who I was travelling to meet in Chimaltenango had lived in this squalor before being taken in by the children’s home of Agua Viva.
Families stared out into the too-narrow streets, their features shadowed in their dim, single-room homes. And children—children, with their wide, cholate eyes, smiled shyly and waved at us. Their white, yellow, and silver teeth shone as they laughed.
As we entered Agua Viva through wrought iron gates, I looked about me at the grazing horses, the stalks of corn, and the buildings where the children of Agua Viva lived, ate, and played. So this was to be my home for the next week. Barely seven days to take in the broken cobblestones, crazy drivers, overabundant trash, and the sweet, darling children. I realized just how blessed these children were to have such great love and protection in their new home. I realized just how blessed I am to have my own home with my family. And I realized that I never wanted to leave this place, so poor, yet so full of joy.