When I say that my heart is so completely filled with love and joy...would be a significant understatement. It is more of a culture shock returning home then I ever expected. From the minute I touched down in ATL airport I had understood clearly that I was back in America....
...the bottle of water was $5. Ugh...why America...why are we so greedy?! Why do we crave POWER over each other or things to collect as a means of showing your success. Why do we work our entire lives, to give into a system that only takes??
I began to really understand, in that moment that this was more about corporate greed than the true value of water, obviously water is invaluable...but really...I felt like I was reliving Woodstock '99 🧐 But anyway enough about the water that enormously expensive...why was it such a cultural shock to come back home vs. being in Guatemala??
My love for Guatemala began with our plan ride to Guatemala City, the gentleman next to me was from Guatemala and returning to see his parents, his wife and children were already there. He was very nice and was telling me all about how beautiful it will be...and he thanked me for doing something so cool for the children. He was so happy that we were investing in the children of his homeland. Off in the distance as we were coming in for our last pass to land you could see a plump of black smoke coming out of the several volcanoes in this remarkable landscape. At the airport, for the most part, no one that speaks English and will really make you realize that you better shape up quick and I was ready to meet that challenge. EVERY person that we came in contact with was so helpful and polite in the airport.
Going outside into 80 degree weather with a touch of humidity (enough to make you have the sweats during travel) after coming from -10 degrees in Syracuse NY... believe me it was abundantly welcomed. At this point I'm tired but so curious, I just quietly take everything in...I hadn't slept in 24 hrs., and in making all my connections smoothly.... I hadn't been able to stop and eat all day either. We travel from Guatemala City via transport van that we had to seek out on the outside of the airport... 4 hours on EXTREMELY windy (BUT EQUALLY AS BEAUTIFUL) road with several stop and go traffic with motor bikes weaving in and out of traffic, no helmet law applies there, woman are riding side saddle in skirts and making it look incredibly easy...seriously props to them for having the core strength to do that at a pretty good speed. Then there are speed bumps through small townships along the way. I would wake but doze back off. I was sitting up front in our transport van, so the A/C was on and I fell fast asleep.... How I'll never know 🤤😵💫🤷♀️
We made it to our town that we needed to catch a boat transfer as our boutique hotel was only accessible by boat...20 minutes in a boat over CHOPPY water going fast but still feeling the amazing sun on my face and the breeze was welcomed. I was amazed by the sights, but I had noticed that the emissions were something I never thought I would have to notice or get used to, again, I am in someone else's home, and I have incredible respect for that. As we arrive at our "dock" to unload our suitcases that had been thrown on top of the boat going a hundred 😂 but again, if I had lost a stitch of luggage I would have laughed because...I HAD MADE IT TO THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE!!!!
As we all breathe a sigh of relief that we've made it there...to fulfill a dream... as volunteer out in the highs and lows of the JUNGLE to help build an ECO-SCHOOL for children...from our heart space. I had 2 pieces of luggage (first world problems), but what I didn't realize (and neither did anyone else...expect the ENORMOUSLY BEAUTIFUL BUT KILLER STAIRS we would need to trek straight up with 70 lbs. of luggage. Yes, I brought a lot...for comfort...and I didn't know what to expect because the weather is absolutely beautiful (we visited in the summer months/dry season), but as I researched, I saw that the temperature at night gets to approximately 50 degrees. So, a girl needs some options, HOWEVER, in my defense, I did bring a bunch of stuff for the kids, so that was probably 20 lbs. of it, also knowing that my mobility was going to be a problem I HAD to pack some options for comfort.
I realized that this was not the end of the trek to make it to the comfort of our abode for our stay. It meant crossing a MAJOR mobility issue for me. Living with chronic autoimmune disease has made my legs a hot a** mess. I had to do it, THERE WAS NO CHOICE...NO TURNING BACK!!! At the very least, I was not alone...we all had to stops SEVERAL times... I started to feel like I was slightly short of breath...we made it to the restaurant... everyone in a full on sweat and halfway up to my room. We walk into the restaurant and are immediately given water. I remember thinking back to my research and to make sure it was bottled (or bring a life straw which I didn't get). So, I asked them in broken Spanish, and we were shown the big jugs of water. Then we go up to our room, we open the door, and it is beautiful but HOT (no AC sorry). At this point they take our luggage up to our rooms for us... Thank you Jesus I remember LOUDLY thinking to myself 🤷♀️I had a mountain of barriers to get over...quite literally...WHAT HAVE I DONE!!!
At this point I knew I wasn't feeling well...it was like as soon as I stopped moving it hit me... I'M GOING TO THROW UP!!!! Off to the bathroom I went for the rest of the night. That evening was not pretty and the next day I stayed in BY MYSELF at the hotel where I didn't know anyone. I began thinking to myself the night before "what have I done to myself" and I began crying... I rested the next day inside... sipping water while the rest of the group went off to do a tour of the lake, Lake Atitlan. I enjoyed the view but really was in a very bad headspace in terms of being upset that I may have made an ENORMOUS mistake in coming there. With recent ER visits, taking immunosuppressants, and coming to a whole different culture. I began unraveling... not only did I just for the FIRST time in my life experience motion sickness. I brought Dramamine with me, but I never felt ill until I stopped moving, I realized I was also tired and hungry, so I had to give myself some grace. The group got back later that day and I had my door open on my room, with my back to the door of our room and without even hearing anyone, the group had returned and came through the door. My friend and roommate Danielle asking what is wrong, again tearful, I explained how I might have made a mistake. As we sat there, they encouraged me that I did the right thing and took the day to rest and feel better. I stopped crying because of their amazing support and put a smile on my face. I decided in that moment, that I can only do my best, but my concern was not for myself... it was because I felt like I was going to fail the kids that we came to help. I felt like it would mean less if I couldn't make it there or if I had to cut down on my trips to the site. I had to rationalize it in my own mind that I was not going to give up or give in... I'm giving it my all. I didn't feel like dinner and my friend and roommate Danielle brought me a smoothie from the restaurant. I ate a good majority of it and went back to sleep. The next day, we went into town (I only had to make it down the stairs to the dock). We were going to pick up the supplies for the kids, in Guatemala, you have to pay people to get supplies and hand deliver your goods. You have to go to a small city and get supplies and walk them, put them on a boat and then carry them to your building site. This is their way of existence, so that is what we did also. We hand carried the items such as wood, paint, cement bags, school supplies (I carried some notebooks) again respecting my body. I know realize that I had to conserve energy in any way that I can even if that means feeling somewhere in between my ego taking a hit and feeling inadequate. Again, I recognized that I needed to give myself grace.... telling myself "This trip is ALREADY successful because you MADE IT TO THIS POINT OF THE JOURNEY." So, I had to tell myself to STOP beating myself up... (we all do this self-negative talk at times). We had some really funny things take place like one of the volunteers was carrying a bucket of paint on her shoulder and the lid wasn't all the way on and covered one side of her and left a super RAD orange paint splotch on the Guatemalan sidewalk. I told her she definitely made her mark; she was a trooper and laughed the entire thing off and spent the entire trip back covered in paint. When we were heading back to the hotel later that day, I was told that a volunteer came forward and would like to switch rooms with me so that I could have an easier time with the stairs. This act of complete selflessness was an act of love I have never received from a stranger before. I graciously accepted which is REALLY, REALLY, hard for me but I also recognized that in myself and I had to tell myself that this was the only way I was even remotely able to finish this trip successfully and for what I came for. I cannot even express how much love and appreciation that I have for my new friend Oanaki, she is a true friend and selfless person. I still cannot thank her enough. She was equally amazing with the kids!!!
We all were still pretty tired and acclimating to the climate and elevation at 1556m, I could feel myself having to use more oxygen than normal, mixed with the emissions walking through the smaller cities with the motorbikes. I come from 345m at home, so it was an adjustment and I realized that I was really a bit short of breath the first night. Lake Atitlan is a lake in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. It is known as the deepest lake in Central America. The Mayan Culture remains strong here and at the bottom of the Lake that was formed by magma that collapsed the earth crust and sank to form a Lake, however when the volcano erupted to form the lake, it captured and took with it a crystal and Mayan City. Ancient artifacts adorn the local community Museum with amazing artifacts "THAT REMAINED WHOLE" and resurfaced. The classic and natural charm of the culture beams through here, with classic Mayan clothing still prominent, traditional architectural sultry and sleek Spanish influence. The streets adorned with 10x10 homes made of metal roofing homes and some of clay, but the children roam free, and the streets are filled with vendors, the sound of laughter, and it remains this raw untouched place in the world. It was then that I realized... you made the right choice, because this is EXACTLY what you needed and for so many, many reasons. The culture is palpable, you can feel the love between one another... it's visible. The happiness and masterful way that they help one another is unreal, it is a culture that stands together with unspoken trust amongst one another that is visual. It's like nowhere else I have ever existed... and it was such a delight. I was prepared for the long-ness of the trip as much as the radical sites, experiences, o however difficult it may be (except for the stairs, no one knew about the stairs thank God because none of us would have showed up lol...which I would do 100% over again in all honesty). The trip was just beginning, but I was ready for all the culture... wide eye ready to experience it!!!
One that evening we were asked what our intention setting was for the trip... mine was to release FEAR... in any capacity. Such as "I can't, there's no way, that could never happen to me, what if this happens" because fear I realized has kept me paralyzed for so many years, and I was done with it ruling my thoughts at times. I've grown and developed that tremendously over the last several years, but there are still situations where I may doubt my inner strength at times. So, I released it...to the lake, I let Mother Earth take it all, as she does so freely. What I didn't know that the 2 tearful days prior when I couldn't stop crying for any reason...I didn't feel anxious, but I realized I was triggered but I couldn't explain... I realized then... that that fear was a familiar feeling... and instead of taking hold of it, I released it from my body physically, I gave myself permission to give it to Mother Earth... that is why I was throwing up. I wasn't sick from anything other than fear, no motion sickness. I recognized that it was after I realized the stairs was going to be an ENORMOUS issue...I began throwing up and having panic from FEAR!!! My body was telling me...ENOUGH!!!
The next day I had a whole new appreciation for being sick from FEAR... when many individuals came down sick from parasites/food poisoning. They were sick with vomiting and diarrhea... I certainly could appreciate the feeling of it not feeling cool. Thankfully, the food was not from our hotel... it was definitely a case of traveler's diarrhea, and most recovered rather quickly but not painlessly. I think it definitely created or developed a new respect and nurturing each other. Making sure everyone had everything to feel as comfortable as possible, was something that each of us did for each other as a group. We formed a bond and a safety net between ourselves, no one was alone... we all had each other... no matter how uncomfortable, ill, tired, hungry, labored, or exhausted. We all showed up and stepped up for each other when each other needed it. It was community and duty at its finest. It's exactly how we should care for one another... no matter our backgrounds or homelands. It was truly amazing to see it develop unspoken between us all. There were tears, joy, so much laughter, never a silent moment, never a set of hearts so full of feeling so physically exhausted and pushed to your limits (at least for me). But it became a beautiful dysfunctional family... no matter our different experiences of hardships on our amazingly out of this world bonkers workcation... was that it was so beautiful to experience it all. Just as the land has high peaks and low-lying valleys... so do our emotions, our hardships... whether they be at home or in the sacred Mayan lands of Guatemala... I could never have imagined creating this super tightknit community between all of us. Love that isn't asked for... but still given freely. I realized just how much fear can paralyze you, and also how much it can push you...out of your comfort zone and into circumstances that you have to commit to whole heartedly.... to be continued...(still no cell service to call or text home)