by Carmen Lopez-Rogina

BioEsfera Project Essays

I embarked on the journey to Guatemala not truly having any expectations of what would be waiting when we arrived. On the plane trip to Guatemala I began to finally disconnect from the worries of everyday and read my book

The first memory I will not forget was that on the arrival into Guatemala City, the captain announced the eruption of one of the volcanoes. We all strained to look out the window to catch a glimpse of the sight, which resembled fireworks in the sky.

There was so much for us to see and so much for us to do, although we tried to do a lot, we were only able to just catch a glimpse of what is a truly beautiful country.

What met me in Guatemala was a re-encounter with ideals and practices I had somewhat lost contact with, but not forgotten. Living in a large metropolitan city one tends to get caught up in the hectic routines we all call "living". We tend to forget that to "live" we must be able to have patience, rest , relax, and not forget the basic rule of life, "to live life in harmony with our Earth."

The simple pleasure of going for a night walk by the light of the moon listening to the night noises was something I had not done in a very long time. Probably because in Houston one does not yearn for a walk in the night where one would be subjected to ambulance or police cars, loud cars and other dangers.

The second memory is of our arrival to San Andrés. After a long day of hiking to one of our famous Miradores, the group was very quiet and thoughtful as we approached on a bright blue lancha. Looking at San Andrés one sees rows of small houses with windows facing the lake.

In San Andrés I met people that allowed me to reflect on how happy people can be without all the materialistic wonders we have. Yes, I felt that people were happy but at the same time they have been touched by the great God of electricity, which has brought many changes to San Andrés in the last 15 years. They now have a window to the rest of the world through television. Unfortunately what many of the people see are telenovelas, which do not portray the "real" world outside of San Andrés.

There is a feeling of unrest among the young teachers which we had contact with. Most of them are in their twenties. This feeling is not of one in which they are looking for immediate results, but they are accepting that their way of life is changing and they are adapting to the changes. Ernesto spoke of how now many of his friends are waiting to get married later in life. He himself is striving to receive his law degree. He took us to visit Ixchel, a female community making efforts to educate and involve women in conservation by finding means such as breeding to replace the deforestation acts. Ernesto comments, "Ahora el pequeño gigante est´ despertando". "Now the small giant is awakening." The small giant is Petén and the signs of it's awakening are in the awareness of the people that they have to unite and work together towards the things they want.

The pain I felt when I visited the school and saw how those children do not have much beyond a stubby pencil and a notebook. They do have caring teachers that strive to do their best without much help from the government. As my teacher Ernesto, put it "here we have been allotted 8% to go towards the community but we have found that our mayor is the 8%".

When I entered into the first grade class I asked the teacher to allow me to just observe while I collected myself and planned how I would attempt to get the children to welcome me without causing a major disruption. I quickly reflected on the "cuentos" Ernesto had shared with me so far. At this point I wished that I had thought to stuff some story books into my already overstuffed red bag. I decided to introduce myself and tell the children about Houston, Texas, and it's environment. This led to a discussion of their environment and I found that for them their lake was something of which they were very proud of and were able to understand the need to keep it clean. I told them about the sad state in which our beach is in and how efforts are being made to keep it clean also. They then drew and colored pictures of their lake so I could bring back to show my students. Their drawings will hang on display along with the Polaroid photos I took of them.

The next day I saw Norma, the shy student that had not talked in class, on my way up to my "house". She smiled and held my hand. She continued to smile, but would not answer my questions. Her companion would answer all of my questions for her. When I asked the companion if she spoke, she told me,"Si pero ella todav%iacute;a vive alla arriba en el monte." Norma's 13 brothers and sisters lived with their mom and dad up in the forest. Norma, the child I thought would not be able to draw for me, drew wonderfully, using the brightest of the colors to fill in her lake. It was then that I wished I had taken a pack of colors for each child instead of a super jumbo pack, so Norma could have had her own colors to take home.

When I shared my experience with my "family" they told me that Norma's family was probably one of the few left that still speaks the Mayan language. My hostess shared with me how in her family her grandmother still communicates in Mayan with her mother but that she is not able to speak the language. There is an awareness on her part of their culture being in danger as she put it, " nuestra idioma es importante y saber el idioma Maya es bonito." She mentioned that in San José there is a society which is trying to teach Maya to the children so the language does not die out. She invited me to go visit with her grandparents because her grandfather loved to tell stories.

With that invitation still standing, with the desire to visit San José to view how they celebrate el Día de los Muertos from October 31 to November 2, with the need to learn more about the Mayan culture, with my wish to visit San Andrés again and look for changes in their lifestyles and practices, I hope to some day be able to return again to visit "el pequeño gigante". There are places one visits and says, "never again, this is a one time thing" Guatemala is not one of these places, for there is much to see and much to learn if one is able to do without the comforts we are accustomed to and able to relax and "live".

I am grateful to all those who made the trip possible for our group of teachers who strive to be life long learners. Through activities such as this we can continue to instill the love for learning in our students and prepare them to meet the demands of a global society by sharing our first hand experiences with them.

The last memory I carry of Guatemala was of my "family" wishing me well on my journey and asking to keep the photo I had shown them of me and my daughter because they do not want to forget me. I quickly gave them my photo inscribing on the back, "para que cuando vuela me puedan reconocer". 

Edited by Carlos R. Solís