GUATEMALA In the Country of Quetzal

By | December 18, 2011

In the spring of 2010, I went to Guatemala, in a study trip organized by Vanderbilt. I discovered a verybeautiful country, I worked with an amazing team, and I learned so much in those 10 days spent there. The determination to write a journal comes from my belief that after an enriching experience, you have to give yourself time to reflect, put together the main learnings and share it with others who might find it useful for their work, or enjoy it for leisure. The journal was initially published in Romanian, by Enjoy traveling together to Guatemala, the country of quetzal! 

On my way to Guatemala: It is only nine when we land in Miami. Bienvenido a Miami – palm trees, ocean, people who speak Spanish are good preparation for Guatemala. I have breakfast with Eliza, who I met in theairplane from Nashville. The server addresses us as ‘preciosa’ and ‘bonita’. The omelet is excellent. Eliza tells me about Guatemala. She likes to talk about her country but enjoys living in the US. She has three children, and she and her American husband run their own business in Nashville. I listen as she talks on the phone, half in English and half in Spanish (the language known as ‘Spanglish’). She tells her family about me, correcting herself for calling me Cristiana not Cristina, and then she continues her conversation. Eliza makes sure that I have contact numbers for many people, including her niece in Guatemala, in case I need anything. She invites me to visit her when I return to Nashville. She smiles widely before we part, an ‘American’ smile, expressing the success story of a woman who has a better life in the US than she could have had in Guatemala.[…]

Airplane friends: I usually meet all kinds of interesting people when traveling by plane. But this time, I enjoy
having the seat beside me vacant so that I can relax, look out the window and read. But who can resist a snack on a flight where no food is served? Wendy, my neighbor across the vacant seat offers to share her snack, and we begin to talk. Wendy is a dance teacher in the US who went to Guatemala last year to build houses for ‘Habitat for Humanity’. I tell her that I am going to Guatemala for a similar purpose. Telling me about her experiences from last year, she gets teary with emotion as she recalls the family for who she worked and how happy the children were to have a permanent roof over their heads. I am surprised to discover that Habitat for Humanity volunteers not only cover all their costs, but also pay a fee to join the program. Though Wendy is close to retirement, she is determined to work for several more years to afford helping families in Guatemala.

Love at First Sight: A few hours later I land in Guatemala and the first thing I do is change dollars into quetzales. The spring jacket and boots become unbearably hot and heavy. The air is hot and smells different. Outside of the airport, I meet up with some of my colleagues. Getting on a minibus, we all start to wonder – “look at these flowers,” “look at these trees!” The van is full and noisy. Seeing the crazy driving of the people, I remember scenes from Indian movies – with busy streets, children sitting on cars, fruit, colors, drivers who in the absence of traffic signs use gestures while yelling with their heads out the windows. It becomes clear that we are far from the United States and I am starting to fall in love with Guatemala. Read more: Guatemala_Spring2010_CristianaGrigore