Antigua’s streets woke us up bright and early today. The day started with breakfast and slowly everyone gathered in the main hall to head out to Santa Cruz de Quiche. As the sun inched upward through the mountains, we packed our bags in the vans and the excitement to meet the Chuchun community increased by the minute.
The way to Santa Cruz consists of winding roads in between the breathtaking mountainous terrain of Guatemala. Our Envisage International team was full of renewed energy after yesterday’s travel day. Emil and Greg chatted away about the kind people of Guatemala. They were amazed at how whole families can ride together in motorcycles through these roads to get to their day-to-day activities. Meanwhile, Bryanna sat in the back of the van staring at the Volcan del Fuego, concerned that we should have a volcano escape plan- just in case. The Volcan del Fuego or Fire Volcano is one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes and last erupted in October of 2018. Ever since, it spits out ash clouds every few hours a day but the Guatemalan government is well prepared in case another eruption occurs. Elmer, our driver for today, explained to us that there are about thirty four volcanoes in Guatemala and about 3 of them are currently active.
In the meantime, Sutherland listened to my conversations in Spanish with Elmer and Chiara (from School The World) and tried to understand what we are talking about. Sutherland studied Spanish in preparation for this trip and she was able to understand about every three or four words. The Guatemalan mountains reminded me of Colombia, my home country. The towns are built in similar ways where the Catholic Cathedral is the center of the town and there is a main square where vendors gather to try and sell their products. One thing very unique to Guatemala were the traditional yet very colorful outfits of the locals. Pinks, blues, reds, and purples prevailed in their beautifully handmade clothes, especially those of women and children. The colors can be seen in their colorful public transportation too; the buses look almost festive.
When we arrived to the Chunchun community, we were greeted by whistles, cheers, applause, even fireworks! The mayor of the community gave us a warm welcome and played both the Guatemalan and the US National Anthem. The community also prepared dances and songs that they presented to us, of course in their typical attire. As the welcome ceremony progressed, the children’s curiosity got the best of them and they started asking us questions, asking us to take pictures with them and their families, and inquiring how we got all the way to their community. One of the parents told me that most of the children of this community only know Spanish, but the adults still retained much of their culture and language, K’iche’.
I was humbled by the kindness and warmth of the people of Chuchun. Ana, one of the representatives from School The World, told the mayor today was my birthday and they all surprised me by singing “Happy Birthday” as a community. Of course, no welcome ceremony is complete until the piñatas are emptied of their candy and everyone has had a chance to dance the typical songs from this region of Guatemala.
After the festive welcome ceremony, the EIC team along with the other groups got to work! For the next two hours, we were tasked with digging up 16-inches-deep holes where the new swings and slides will be placed. We braved the blazing sun; while two of us used a pickaxe to chip at the dirt and rock, the other two shoveled it into wheel barrels for the men to take away. After two hours of this, we finally accomplished our goal and walked away with only a few blisters. A small price to pay when we reflected on how hard the men of the community work to help build this school and playground.
The day ended with dinner and birthday cake as a group. The School The World team surprised me with a birthday cake. Special thanks to them for their kind gesture.
Tomorrow the real work begins! Bryanna, Sutherland, Greg, Emil, and I are prepared to work hard and give it our all.