I was awakened. I was startled by the sound of scratching on metal. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness it took me a moment to realize exactly where I was. I was not in my comfortable queen size bed in Houston, but rather in a hammock suspended by large ropes and bolts from the ceiling. The scratching noise was not the air conditioner kicking on, but rather chickens who had been disturbed by a roaming dog or pig and had found a safe haven on the tin roof.
The night noises I had grown accustomed to: sirens, cars pulling in and out, a train or plane in the distance, air conditioners and water heaters, did not exist in this small village of San Andrés, Guatemala. This was my first visit to a country where I could not take for granted a trip to the mall on a Saturday afternoon, a doctor if I was ill, or on a daily basis, something as simple as running water or electricity. My trip to San Andrés held some of the most introspecive experiences of my life.
Looking back, my initial few days in Guatemala were very difficult for me. My previous trips had been limited to family vacation spots across the States and tour through out Europe. I felt somewhat isolated living with an impoverished family who spoke no English in a place drastically different from any where I had ever been before. I was apprehensive about my stay and unsure if I would be able to come back with a positive perspective of Central America.
As the week progressed, though, I became more comfortable with my surroundings. It became routine to take showers without hot water, eat tortillas for breakfast, and have chickens scampering through my bedroom. There was the occassional bath in the lake, the re-wearing of unwashed clothes, and the daily fifteen minute walk to school for Spanish lessons each morning. It was through my Spanish lessons that I made my first real connection with San Andrés.
My teacher's name was Damaris and each day I received four hours of one-on-one Spanish lessons from her. Immediately Damaris helped me to feel comfortable. She was out-going, reassuring, and a lot of fun to be with. Even though Damaris and I lived worlds apart and spoke different languages, I found we were able to communicate fairly effectively. We talked about everything from teaching to our families, from romance to future plans. Both of us being in our early twenties and young teachers I discovered that we actually had much more in common than I ever imagined we could. Our lessons, which had started out with phonics and verb conjugations had now turned into wonderful discussions...........and a wonderful new friendship. It was through Damaris that I found myself looking differently at the small village I now resided in.
I was amazed that Damaris never wanted to live anywhere but San Andrés and scarcely even had the desire to visit the States. How could anyone live without microwaves, movie theaters, and CD-ROMS? Damaris helped me to look past the material things that I perceived San Andrés lacking and see those intangible things in which she felt so connected to.
I had been awakened.
Where I first saw a dimly lit dirt-floored kitchen, I now saw a mother who spent each morning, noon, and evening lovingly making tortillas for her family. Where I first checked each night to make sure the lock on my window was secure, I now found a new beauty in the sunrise over the lake each morning. Where I first thought carpet should be covering the hard concrete floors, I now noticed an unyielding pride in the way my family kept the floors of their small house sparkling. There were no gymnastic classes or after school baseball games to be rushed to, but rather a slow-paced way of living where people had the opportunity to enjoy the essence to life. There were no trips to McDonalds for dinner, but families actually took for granted the luxury of being able to eat together. My family loved to watch the sky when it rained and grew excited as boats crossed the lake, things often not noticed in our hurried society.
There was a certain attraction to the world that Damaris was a part of, untainted by the whirl wind of technology and often cold interactions found in the United States. It was a place that I probably could never grow completely accostumed to, but one in which taught me many lessons about my own life and perceptions. My eyes were opened. I returned to the States no longer feeling pity for the people of San Andrés, but with a new understanding and admiration for their culture. I will always be thankful for the opportunity I had to look at my world from a world away.
edited by Carlos R. Solís