First things first: I’m sicky poo.
I spoke too soon when I boasted about not falling ill in Nepal. I almost, almost escaped unscathed. But I found myself coughing every few minutes between two hefty guys on a 15 hour flight to North America. That was not comforting in the slightest. Thankfully, they were just coughs and not anything worse. Upon landing in the Guatemala City airport, the time was now around 8:30pm on Sunday. I easily navigated around, found my luggage, eased through customs, and went on my way out the door. I saw a guy holding a yellow flag with a smiley face on it. That’s my guy! I received an email a couple of weeks ago telling me to be on the lookout for a yellow flag with a smile on it. There were two other volunteers there waiting. I was so out of it from flying, lack of sleep, and falling ill that I couldn’t remember their names.
Our Guatemalan driver handed us a folder labeled “Maximo Nivel” that had information specific to us. I opened it and read that I would be placed in a homestay. My host mother’s name is Olga. Can’t wait to meet her! We were picked up in Guatemala City but had to drive about 30 minutes west to the city of La Antigua, my new home for the next six weeks. I expected the roads here to be crap but they were as smooth and paved as can be. On the way we passed multiple McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bells, and Burger Kings. I haven’t had McDonald’s since Germany! That might be a new record for me.
We entered the charming city of Antigua, which was festive with Christmas lights and colorful buildings. The roads were made of cobblestone that spread evenly between perfectly parallel and perpendicular streets and avenues. Smack dab in the middle of the city was Parque Central, a very small square with a fountain and lot’s of greenery surrounding. Speaking of squares, Antigua was very square in nature. Streets ran directly north and south and directly east and west. This was block city at it’s finest. It would be difficult to get lost here.
After dropping the other two volunteers at their volunteer house, the driver dropped me off at my homestay, door number seven.
I walked inside with my bags and met a young woman, maybe about 20 years old, and a little girl around 10. The older woman didn’t speak a lick of English but welcomed me anyways. Her name is Lorena. Where was Olga? The woman showed me to my new room. Would I have roommates? Would the room be cozy? This house smells like my grandma’s house when I was growing up and that’s a good thing. It’s a comforting scent. “El desayuno es a las siete,” she said. Breakfast is at seven in the morning.
My room was a single bedroom, with a really soft bed, blanketed with multiple covers. I had my own dresser, night desk, and a few towels to spare. To top it off, I had my own bathroom across from my room with an actual toilet I could sit on and best of all…a hot freakin shower! This was luxury compared to my more primitive homestay in Nepal. And since I was coming down with something awful, I needed to be as comfortable as possible with the peace and privacy I needed to relax. But, were there other volunteers already living here? I arrived late at night so if there was anyone else then they’d be sleeping. I’d see who else was around tomorrow.
I woke up early from jet lag and from constant coughs. Thankfully, me new bed welcomed me with much needed comfort and warmth. Soon enough, I got ready and entered the dining room. There I met my pleasantly pleasant host mother Gloria and a few other volunteers. Three of the volunteers were here independently studying English. The other four were part of IVHQ and were only here for one measly week. Three of them came together for nursing and another, Adelah (New York), came here for construction. The breakfast we had was wholesome and filling. Yogurt, granola, omelets, fruits, toasts, and tea. We had a brief orientation later that morning at Maximo where I was introduced to more volunteers, including Roxy (USA). She will be teaching English alongside me.
The place where we would be teaching is in a new building that Maximo is still renovating. It’s about 25 minutes outside of Antigua in a place called Alotenango. To get there, we must take a chicken bus. A chicken bus is a pimped out American school bus that the locals can take to nearby areas on the cheap.
They call it a chicken bus because they pack it so tight that everyone’s heads are bobbing around like chickens packed in a crate. Honestly, I’ve been on far tighter buses that deserve the name “chicken bus” more so than these here in Antigua. These buses here weren’t so bad in comparison.
A team member from Maximo named Jonathan took a few of us to our placement on our first day and gave us the lowdown on our teaching gig.
Roxy and I expected today to just be an observation day to get the scope of things but instead we were thrown into our own classes of three groups of students. I haven’t been in Guatemala for 24 hours yet and already we had our own classes. As a matter of fact, there were no other teachers here, just Roxy and I. We found out we would be teaching to kids who couldn’t afford language classes and that these kids would be coming to our building after their normal school day. We teach for three hours every weekday to three classes, all ranging from five year olds to adults in their early twenties. We have to be basic and simple here. Constant repetition is key. Unlike Nepal, Vietnam, South Africa, and even Tanzania, the students here in Guatemala were severely lacking in the English department which surprised me. I thought they’d know at least a few things here. This will take some time!
I’ve been pretty sick for the past few days and instead of mingling with the other volunteers and getting to know them better, I was stuck in bed, sick as a dog each night. I signed up for Spanish classes every morning and I wound up getting my poor teacher, Sandra, sick. Lo siento Sandra! I worked up enough strength to finally go out into the town with Adelah and a new arrival named Katie (England).
Turns out Katie and I have a mutual friend by the name of Sam. Remember I met Sam in South Africa some time ago and visited him when I went to London for Christmas two years ago. Small world! A few volunteers from the volunteer house planned on going to a place called Semuc Champey over the weekend and invited me along. By now my cold started to wear off and I felt better enough to join up. I had no idea what Semuc Champey was. I never heard of it.
Turns out it’s one of the best places ever to do something I’ve never done before!