This is a place right below us. Its name is on our coffee and its flag represents many of our citizens here. Unfortunately, not many people know Guatemala and not many would call it a paradise. My mission trip with the Sierra Service Project was for ten days in this country and we stayed away from the typical paradise. However, in my opinion, white sandy beaches and palm trees do not make a paradise. For me, it is the people, the community, and the experiences that truly make it a paradise.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
During my stay I visited San Jaun La Laguna on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan (called by many the most gorgeous lake on Earth), a Spanish school right outside of the town of Colombo, and a coffee cooperative called Santa Anita. Everywhere you walked, you would hear “¡buenos días!” or perhaps “xqa'j q'iij”, which means good afternoon in Tz'utujil, one of the 22 Mayan languages still commonly spoke in Guatemala. Despite this language difference, the native people were incredibly patient with us. A very kind man, Gabriel, met us in San Juan and though he did not know any English, he took us to our first work site, renovating a trail for better access to the coffee plants. Later, after a game of soccer with some local kids, he led us on a tour all the way to Lake Atitlan’s shores. He slowly explained what the vegetation was that was growing around us, and the few of us that knew a little Spanish would finally understand after awhile. Nearby, a local fisherman was bringing in his catch and he offered to show us what he had caught. Just a few small fish. Later our group leader explained to us that the introduction of the Black Bass to the lake had killed much of the native fish. This was just one of many truths we had to accept about what had happened to Guatemala in the past.
Once we arrived at the Mountain School, just outside Colombo, we listened to a few locals tell about their experiences in the civil war that just ended in 1996 and their many legal struggles with the landowners. One told us how he and 15 fellow campesinos fought for ten years with their oft-drunk landowner, all over a simple $0.70 raise which he refused. Now they own their own land but they are still developing. We listened to another man, Geo, tell us about how his parents took him into the US illegally when he was two in order to escape the war, yet he was deported back to Guatemala just last year. The personal stories we got to hear made the trip unique and eye-opening to what really happens in third world nations.
Our last stay was in Santa Anita, a coffee co-op founded by ex-guerrillas from the war. Their resistance during the war caused many close to them to perish, but now they are living free of landowners, although the government is still corrupt. However, here they focus on simply making organic, fair trade coffee and giving tours on their land to educate others on the importance of fair trade. We got to help them plant new coffee trees and paint a building.
During my stay, I received an intimate look at the lives of these people. So long repressed, but now hopeful for the future. Everywhere we traveled, they welcomed us, let us sit at their tables, and work alongside them, all the while sharing their stories and teaching us about the world which we thought we knew so well.
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