This weekend, Christine, Jose and I decided to take a trip to visit our new friend Katie in San Lucas Tolimán, a small town on the edge of Lake Atitlán in central Guatemala.
We asked our teachers if we could quit school early on Friday, and we hopped in a van with our very kind driver Manuel. Manual took us on a spectacular adventure through the Guatemalan countryside, switchbacking up and down curvy mountain roads. When we came to a bridge that had been washed away, Manual drove us straight through the creek it originally crossed. When we came to a truck that ran into the side of a mountain, he waited until Jose jumped out to help the drivers push it aside, then he drove on unfazed. Up and down he went, stopping on occasion to allow us to snap a photo of vistas that overlooked gorgeous valleys. Manual, uber talented professional driver, got us to San Lucas Tolimán without trouble.
Our meeting with Katie was providential and fun, especially given the random nature of how it came about. Christine met Katie via email through a random meeting with a lovely family at our language school, which consequently led them to discover they had mutual friends. We decided to visit her mission, which led us to discover that we also had mutual friends. From all over the world. And while we had never met before this week, God has been recycling us among different places and people at different times. Such is life among active Catholics: there’s only two degrees of separation between me and the Pope. I’m working up to one.
Katie runs a bustling mission in San Lucas established by a diocesan priest from Minnesota more than 40 years ago. Today, the mission has completely transformed the community with its numerous ministries, including a hospital, a school with more than 400 students, and several environmental projects including an experimental farm and a fair trade coffee project. When he passed away about two years ago, several thousand people came to line the streets during his funeral procession. Katie made an amazing documentary about the life of Monsignor Greg, the catalyst for change in the community. The movie and more about the mission can be found here. Katie was so kind to show us the various ministries of the mission, and it was amazing to see the beautiful impact the mission has on the community of San Lucas Tolimán.
We spent our Saturday morning touring Santiago and San Antonio, both small towns on the edge of the lake. The boat ride across the lake was the loveliest part of the day, as the water is so blue it’s almost unbelievable that the lake is real. We pulled up to Santiago, a bigger town with plenty of tourist stalls and steeled our nerves as we were immediately accosted by vendors. Young kids working in the tourist stalls spoke English, if you count the phrases “You think about it,” “It’s very beautiful,” and “Please, I give you good price.” Vendors are very persistent bargainers and shopping wasn’t too fun until the frenzy died down a bit as we got some distance between ourselves and the stalls closest to the docks. After we had gone up the street for a while, browsing the stalls was lovely as Guatemalans are known for their beautiful weaving and amazing traditional clothing, and some of their wares were absolutely gorgeous.
Santiago was also the home of Father Stan, a priest who was martyred during a brutal civil war in Guatemala that lasted years. We visited the town church which houses a memorial in the room where he was killed. His story is quite heartbreaking, as he fought for the dignity of the poor in Guatemala during those tumultuous years and was eventually murdered because of his work. He worked alongside Father Greg, and they were good friends.
San Antonio, our other stop on our lake tour, is home to a famous local ceramics studio. It’s a much quieter town, but we had a lovely time talking to the family that runs the studio and strolling aka climbing a rather steep hill up to the church which overlooks the lake and the town.
All this walking, shopping and learning made for a rather full weekend, as well as a long blog entry. But so many exciting things managed to jam themselves into one and a half days! We even snagged some time to say evening prayer together and chat with a new friend Gary, who rode his bike from Texas to Guatemala. That’s right, bike, not motorbike.
In the end, we managed to return ourselves to Antigua safely early Sunday morning, and even managed a relaxing Sunday in town to boot.
This morning, I packed up my backpack and Jose and I trotted off to school. Inside a beautiful garden courtyard, I met my teacher Erika. We sat all morning in our little classroom, which was two chairs, a table and a whiteboard in a little hut along a path in the garden. For five hours she taught me Spanish verbs, grammar and vocabulary. By the time we played a little game of memory with Jose and one other foreign student, my brain was fried. After hours of trying to relearn every word you know and use in a simple conversation, I was spent.
However, school is lovely! It’s quite helpful to sit and chat all day with a teacher, and Erika is patient with my blunders and helpful with my questions. I love the magic of learning a language; it’s amazing to discover to you know the meaning of a word when before it was just a unrecognizable sound. It’s like seeing a new place for the first time, and you almost feel giddy at the progress of any new vocabulary you can pick up.
The week promises to be quite fun, with a few educational field trips sprinkled in between lessons in our cozy hut. I was promised homework as well, and you know you’re an old lady when you don’t mind the idea. Otherwise, today brought back memories of meeting by the lockers after school, especially when Jose walked me home from school. But he refused to carry my books! I’m going to ignore him during first period tomorrow in retribution.
At 7 a.m., our friend and missionary brother Joe delivered us to a bus stop along the road in Comayagua and sent us on our way to our language school in Antigua, Guatemala. Yesterday’s adventure included a 14-hour long bus ride through the Honduran and Guatemalan countryside on a surprisingly comfortable bus. Passing away a full day on a bus is not easy, but somehow we managed. In true Jing fashion, I spent the majority of my time during the ride sleeping. In true José fashion, he spent a good portion of the time on the road trying to prevent me from sleeping.
The trip passed with relatively few issues, but we did have a few adventures in an otherwise monotonous day. Noteworthy was our success in maneuvering through bus transfers, including a rather nerve-racking moment when our bus handlers took our passports and walked away. Turns out they were just walking them to our new driver, but it’s a little disconcerting when traveling through a new city and a man just takes your passport and goes off into a crowded station with it. Crossing the border from Honduras to Guatemala also gave us a bit of a “I’m not sure what to do now” moment when we left the Honduras immigration station to discover our bus was missing. Turns out you have to stroll down the road a bit to the Guatemala immigration station where the bus is waiting for you, but how would we know that? I suppose all those directions in Español that the bus attendant gave previously might have addressed that small detail. Lucky for us it was only a second before we spotted someone from our bus and managed to very covertly chase her down and follow her along to the other station.
We arrived in the beautiful city of Antigua at 9 p.m., where a gracious local who happened to catch a shuttle with us offered us a ride to our lodging and delivered us there intact. Our lovely host, a kind Guatemalan woman who speaks no English, showed us to a comfortable room and we were able to rest. Today’s adventures included mass at a local church, an walking exploration of the city, home cooked meals from our host with a sampling of cafe’s and random snacks in between, leaving me presently so full that I can barely walk. The weather is beautiful here, the city is muy interesante, and our school adventure begins tomorrow. All this goes to show how loving a God we have. Despite being sojourners in a foreign land, He has blessed our steps along the way.
Our first glimpse of Honduras! Let the adventure begin!
Every time I move I run through the sad gamut of saying goodbye to people I love spending time with on a regular basis. This week I finished my time at a job I loved, and said a rather heartbreaking goodbye to the people I work with. As I went to my last karate class, I thought about the many nights I spent at the dojo and how kind and patient my teacher and classmates were with me. Even now, hubby, roomie and I are preparing our last dinner in our house together.
These days are never easy for me; I hate goodbyes, and often try to pretend that I’ll be back again next week. As I prepare myself to leave a place, all I can think about is how much I’ll miss the people that I’ll be separated from. But I’m reminded that these “lasts” are an offering, part of the sacrifice required when you’re searching for God’s will in your life.
I remind myself that my goodbyes are symbolic of hellos, of the yes that I’m saying to a life laid out for me by a God who loves me. And I try to remember that saying goodbye eventually gives way to happy reunions, which I look forward to every time I think of my friends.