For this round of contributions to the blog, I was asked to try not to write a poem. I was thinking about the difference between life at home and in Antigua, Guatemala. It’s quite a touristy place, but in a sense that’s a good thing. There’s something to be said for familiarity, but another part of travelling is trying new things and widening one’s comfort zone. With a TV, reliable internet and various other luxuries, I feel like it would be a stretch to say that life in Antigua is completely different from home.
Our stay in Antigua has showed us some of the reasons there are so many expats here. It felt like a place we could actually live in for longer than eight weeks. We’re acquainted with our neighbors, and we like to say we know the town well. I’ve gotten used to living in our “apartamentito”, and it seems like the differences are becoming less significant over time. It’s normal to walk three blocks to the supermarket. The city stretches only eight blocks from the north to south, and waking up in nice warm weather to the calls of exotic birds and a small patio bathed in sunlight is a delight.
When we walk around the city, we notice that all the walls and doors are closed to the street, and there is no concept of a front yard. Each door is like a mysterious oyster waiting to be opened. It seems almost hostile, but the word “almost” lingers, like a soft pillow, assuring you that this crazy idea is far from the truth. Behind each door there may be a small family living in a tiny space, a wonderfully blooming garden or a long alleyway lined with plants splitting off into different houses.
Opposite this feeling, if you get on a bus for ten or twenty minutes, you end up in an area where almost everything is constructed out of worn, rusty corrugated metal. People cook with an open fire in the middle of the room. We tried to help a little with this problem by going to Xela (otherwise known as Quetzaltenango, place of the Quetzal bird) to build safe stoves with proper chimney pipes to let out the harmful smoke. We spent our afternoons at Los Patojos, volunteering and spending time with Guatemalan kids in the program. Although I feel it seemed like there was not much to do at times, just sitting next to the kids while they work helps them concentrate and stay in their seats.
Now that we’re in Sorata, Bolivia, even the small size of Antigua seems big. Sorata is a small town set on a mountainside. The view out our window is incredible, when it’s not blocked by the fog that seems to come almost every day. There are wonderful day hikes all around, one going to a big natural cave with a pool of water big enough to take a paddle boat around in. Although we didn’t see any bats there, we could definitely hear them.
We are living in the Quaker Internado, a project set up for kids who live way up in the mountains to come down and do a five day boarding schedule. All the meals are cooked by Maria, the “mother of the house”, and the “father” role goes to Eusebio. It is nice not to have to cook, although this week we cooked one meal for all the students. We have just started to teach English classes at one of the high schools in town, and we’re looking forward to continuing that. All the kids are great; we play volleyball in the courtyard, eat meals together, and just hang out. We’ve started the silkscreen process, where each kid will draw a design and make a t-shirt.