August 3, 2011

Gringos in a Guatemalan World

It’s Kendra again, one of the new gringos – white people – living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. (Interesting fact: Quetzaltenango is also known as “Xela,” pronounced “Shayla.”) God’s grace has been evident to us these past couple of days, as our trip from Chicago to Xela went very smoothly. On the morning we left, and not so coincidentally, our shuttle driver from the hotel to the airport was from El Salvador, a country that borders southern Guatemala. We began to ask him a few questions about himself. It turns out he has lived in Chicago for the past eight years. He came to Chicago so that he could work and provide for his family back in El Salvador. So, for the past eight years he has worked from 4am to 6pm, seven days a week. For the past eight years his life has consisted of a fifteen minute drive from the hotel to the airport, airport to hotel. He has not seen his wife and children in eight years. This is common among families in Latin America. Many times the men will leave their families to come to the United States so that they can provide for their families back home. We were struck by this man’s commitment to his family, and the sacrifices he made to make sure their needs were met. We had heard that family is the number one priority to most people in Central and South American countries. Seeing it firsthand from our shuttle drive was interesting; interesting in that we saw a glimpse into the values of the culture we were moving to that day.

But like I said, flights, luggage, and travel went smoothly. All were an answer to many faithful prayers from people supporting us along the way. Thank you so much, and to God be the glory.

We are also now settled into our apartment, and have completed the first four days of “new teacher orientation.” We have only been here for five days, and we are already learning so much about the culture, the city, the people, and the school we are going to be teaching in. Our orientation so far has included everything from a tour of Xela, information on what not to eat, where to do laundry, the type of curriculum we will be teaching, proper conduct in the teacher’s lounge, and what to do if we get diarrhea.

It is hard for me to describe where we are living and what the culture is like. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Therefore, I decided I will give you a simple list of my observations so far. Obviously we have only been here for five days, so my observations are very surface level. But hopefully it will give people an idea of the beautiful and odd place we are living in. So, from one gringo to many others, here are a few things I have learned and observed about our Guatemala culture so far:

1. It gets cold up here in the mountains. I am typing this in two sweatshirts, sweatpants, and a pair of socks, wishing I brought along my warm, fuzzy slippers.
2. Showers are no longer an enjoyable task. Not because the water is cold, but because the warm water is only a trickle. And our house is cold.
3. The sun rises and sets very early (5:45am and 6:30pm. Guatemalans don’t believe in daylight savings.)
4. Traffic is crazy. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. Sidewalks are narrow.
5. Everything about Xela is loud: the colors, the celebrations, the stray dogs barking, the clothing, the music, the church bells at 6am, the fireworks at 5am…
6. The buildings in Xela are old and beautiful. The people in Xela are warm and friendly.
7. PDA (public display of affection) is prevalent: it is not uncommon to see young couples making out on the street corner.
8. There is no middle-class, only rich and poor. How did we find out? We went to the rich neighborhood and visited their Walmart and shopping mall.
9. We are freakishly tall. What happened to all the white, Dutch folk?
10. It is polite to greet people with a kiss on the cheek.
11. It is rude to slam doors.
12. We are surrounded by mountains. Beautiful, green and lush mountains. And a volcano. It’s awesome.

 We are really enjoying our time so far. Orientation is great. Our administration and fellow staff are great. The school is taking such good care of us with getting settled in. School starts already in seven days, so the next week is going to be filled with the rest of orientation and a lot of planning for the first week of school. However, we may take a break to attend a professional soccer game. No big deal.

We really covet your prayers, so if you are willing to take time to pray for us, here are a few specifics that wouldn’t hurt us at all:
1. That we will be ready and prepared for school and meeting our students next week.
2. That we will continue to learn the ropes of our city. We still have to tackle a few basics…like getting a taxi and learning how to speak Spanish.
3. That we will be a blessing and light of Christ to those around us.

Grace and Peace,
Kendra

Here are a few pictures from life so far:

 Our apartment building
 Our apartment. And all of our dishes. :)
The walk from our apartment to Central Park
Our first attempt at cooking a Guatemalan meal. Rice and beans.

 The view of Xela from our school. It's so beautiful here.
    My classroom. A work in progress.
 A typical road and group of buildings.
Central Park.