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Getting My Footing

The conversations I have with students, parents and coworkers are all really important. Antigua is, as I call it, Gringolandia. It is a place where foreigners congregate and one could easily live for months without ever interacting with a Guatemalan in a meaningful way. You have to really seek out that side of Antigua. Most foreigners won’t end up making those connections – whether it is because they’re not here long enough to make them, they’re too scared of the dangerous side of Guatemala, it’s human nature to gravitate toward what you know and to make things easier on yourself, or a combination of things.

I guess I’m a bit more unique in that regard. I have always sought out the types of places that tourists don’t frequent to get a more realistic sense of a place and the people. Unfortunately, Guatemala can be a pretty dangerous place, and Antigua can be, by contrast, a very safe place to be (although not without its dangers and problems). I don’t want to move out of Antigua; my lungs really appreciate the relatively clean air here compared to Guatemala City. But, it’s very difficult living in Gringolandia when I thought I was moving to Central America. Living in Antigua means there are less opportunities for me to connect with Guatemalans – this is why connecting at work is so important.

I finally feel like I’m getting my feet underneath me. I think I’m making the inroads with the staff and students necessary to understand what’s going on around me. It’s not enough just to be in Guatemala – I want to really understand how this society functions (or doesn’t, sometimes). I can’t do that without being a part of it.

The teachers at Camino Seguro are starting to seek me out. Guatemalan culture is such that you don’t tell someone the negative things on your mind unless you really trust them (it’s kind of like my native Minnesota that way). The teachers have been starting to open up to me about the program and giving me the heads-up if something isn’t running smoothly. Now, I just need to continue building the trust to the place where they’ll tell me their ideas of how it could run better. Being sought out is a huge step in the right direction. I had some human resources issues with one of my English teachers, and the Guatemalan teachers were refreshingly honest and candid when I needed to gather some information from them about it. They probably wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t at least see me in a positive light.

The students have also been coming to me. Camino Seguro has started sending classes a to swimming lessons, sponsored by an organization in the States. This week, one girl forgot her mochila (backpack) at home, so couldn’t go without her suit. The girl came straight to the English office. I talked with her a bit, and found out she didn’t want to go see Vinicio (it’s kind of like getting sent to the principal’s office). It made me feel like I was doing something right to know that the English office was the safe place to be. She hadn’t been bad, just forgot her suit. So, I decided to let her stay. I put her to work coloring English Star buttons and helping us put up our Students of the Month board. We chatted about life. She had the opportunity to just be, express herself, and have an adult take a one-on-one interest in her. These students don’t get a lot of that.

I’m not going so far as to claim that I “get it.” I don’t yet. I have no idea what these kids’ lives are really like, what their families really go through. I don’t know the full spectrum of Guatemalan life – the good, the bad, the ugly. I have a lot of listening and learning to do. From the beginning, my biggest hope for my year here was to understand the forces at play that keep countries poor and keep large numbers of individuals marginalized. I will never learn the full spectrum in Gringolandia. The stories I hear from the people I work with (students, staff and families) will be immensely helpful in completing that picture.

I don’t think that I’ll complete the picture in a year. That’s not the point. The point is to broaden my understanding of the world and deepen my understanding of this specific country. I’m not sure that we can ever master anything. I think the object in life should be to continue to grow and learn. The more we know about other people, the more we know about ourselves. I’m not going to save the world. I just want to continually learn and apply that knowledge to doing good. I want to create good in the world around me. The more I get to know the people, the better the world around me looks.

This week I saw peace in budding relationships.


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