December 13, 2016

What I Learned about Guatemalans Opened My Eyes & Heart.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

I recently went to Guatemala. So many people asked me why I was going there, with most assuming it was a mission trip and with some expressing concern of Zika virus infection.

In all honesty I went because a friend told me, “If you love Costa Rica, you will love Guatemala and Panama.”

And I did.

I stayed on Lake Atitlan in the Guatemala Highlands and it was gorgeous. Actually, words don’t do it justice. This very remote lake is surrounded by volcanoes, has spectacular sunrises and sunsets, along with 70 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures every day. It was simply paradise.

Each day when I woke up, I sat on my balcony enjoying Guatemalan coffee and the amazing view. Shortly after, I would hop on a boat to visit one of the various small towns on the lake—each had its own flair. San Pedro was my favorite because of its chill vibe and the beautiful Spanish schools. Panajachel is the big city with access to highways and has a great market on Sundays. San Juan is full of amazing weavers and artisans, while the quiet city of San Marcos attracts the hippies and spiritual gurus. Every day was a new adventure.

I rode in tuk-tuks, zip lined, rode horses, shopped, drank Jamaican flower tea, and even enjoyed an amazing cheese tray with 26 different types of cheeses from all over the world. I tried to suck up as much of their amazing culture as I could while I was there.

Oh, the memories warm my heart.

As I traveled through Guatemala, I gathered as much as I could about the people through observation while my curious nature led me to ask questions of anyone who could speak English.

Here is what I learned about Guatemalans:

Most Guatemalans don’t have running water or electricity in their homes, much less cable TV or On-Demand programming.

They don’t have waste management of any kind, so they have high levels of bacteria in their beautiful lake, yet may still have to bathe in it.

They don’t have ambulances, hospitals, or access to dental care.

They don’t have streetlights, paved roads, and most don’t have cars.

Many of them carry pounds of fresh produce to the market on their heads each week.

Most Guatemalans work three jobs.

Some women spend the day selling handmade goods while wearing their children on their back.

Children as young as six get off from school and assist their parents in earning money.

I saw several people without legs using a skateboard to get around.

Stray dogs run the street, but they aren’t malnourished, as Guatemalans give them scraps.

Retirement, as we know it does not exist, you work as long as you are able and then hope your kids take care of you.

And they live without America’s shining light: Target. Instead, at the market you find old used American brand clothes and shoes that are for resale.

But what they do have is the most basic of human needs:

They have their smiles.

They are friendly and they are pleasant to be with.

They live in God’s beauty everyday and are grateful.

They are just like you and me.

They love, they laugh, and the children drive their parents nuts.

People assume when you go to a developing nation there will be culture shock upon arriving there, however, for me, it was culture shock upon returning home.

The waste, the abundance, the entitlement here in the states—my word, its difficult to see now.

I remember reading about Adam Braun’s Pencils of Promise, a for-purpose organization, and how he had experienced the same thing after studying abroad with Semester At Sea. He was so affected by the suffering he saw in the third world countries he visited, that he quit his job on Wall Street and started building schools for the children in developing countries, including Guatemala.

“But deep down inside, I was no longer enamored with the life I’d created. The only purpose I was serving was self-interest. While I rarely showed it to outsiders, my happiness waned day after day. A restless voice kept me up at night, telling me that until I found meaning, the money wouldn’t matter.” ~ Adam Braun

Travel can do that for you—open your eyes to your blessings.

It can make you almost naked in the truth of your abundance.

It can change your heart.

I know it did mine.

Not everyone has this same experience. I overheard a group of fine folks in the airport talking about their mission trip where they fed 180 Guatemalans but were now hoping to make it home in time for their ESPN Game Day box seats. They had done their small part and now it was time to go back to their world—the one of ease.

That is not wrong, but perhaps some of us are more awake to the world around us than others. It’s not that we have better or worse hearts than each other. I think some of us are relating to the world in a more conscious way. A way that affects us on a deeper level and that simply means we were called to do more.

We are all blessed beyond measure.

With that blessing comes a great responsibility that far too few of us take seriously—or even consider.

We are supposed to be helping others near and far. We aren’t supposed to take all the convenience our precious America affords us for granted.

We are supposed to wake every day in our temperate houses, with our flushing toilets, and electricity and feel blessed, be grateful.

Just do that.

Be super grateful every single day.

You have so much.

You need so little.

Share your abundance with the world.




Author: Nicolette Beale

Image: Courtesy of Author

Assistant Editor: Tammy Novak; Editor: Travis May





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