Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 6: The Director’s Message and Some Outtakes

For your heartfelt, very meaningful content today:

I have tried to share some of the importance of school here and what it means not to have students in school. In the Spring 2021 newsletter from Global Shore, the director, Julianna Konrad de Pelaez, does a much better job than I ever could. (That only makes sense – although we are from very similar farming family backgrounds in southwestern Ontario – even to the point of going to the same church, although not at overlapping times, Guatemala is now her home permanently. She lives and breathes this work that God is doing here. I get a glimpse into things; she sees things much more fully.) So to give you a much better glimpse, I offer you this link to the spring newsletter and encourage you to read Julianna’s words for yourself.

And on the much more lighthearted side:

Look. Sometimes you feel on top of your teaching game, and sometimes you wonder just how many mistakes you can make. It’s especially bad when you have to rewatch yourself make all of those mistakes and edit them out of your teaching videos. I’ve compiled several of them into a short video for your viewing enjoyment, should you so desire… I promise that I’m a better teacher than this in real life. (I hope!)

Nothing like watching all the mistakes you can make in a short time and thinking, “What is my in-class teaching actually like?!”

Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 5: Extreme Allergic Reactions

Look, some of my blog topics are going to be very serious, and some are going to be a lot more light-hearted. We will run the whole gamut of the human experience here. Today’s topic is definitely going to be on the more light-hearted side…

So as my family can attest, I have a history of reacting to bug bites. I remember that as a kid I would get huge lumps of mosquito bites. We’re talking reactions that were swollen, hot, hard, several inches in diameter. If I was unfortunate enough to be bitten right on the back of my knee, I wouldn’t be able to fully bend my knee for a couple of days. 

Thankfully that reaction has died down to a more tolerable “still react badly but no longer look diseased” kind. 

Well, naturally there are delightful things to react to here. There are teeny tiny little ants under our clothesline, and inevitably, every single weekend, when I do laundry, I get bitten. I immediately get a big swollen reaction about the size of a quarter, that after a couple of days fades away into a blister, that after about a week in total disappears just in time for me to do my laundry and get bitten again.

Then last week Wednesday afternoon, I discovered what I thought was a mosquito bite on my arm, up near my shoulder. It was itchy. I tried my best to ignore it and not to scratch it. 

Hours later, when I was lying in bed, I suddenly thought, wow, my arm hurts. I looked at the bite. It was a big red swollen reaction, much bigger than the usual quarter-sized ant reaction, but also way more than my typical mosquito bite. I revised my premise from mosquito bite to ant bite – after all, I had first noticed the bite when I was working out, and there are always ants crawling around on the floor in my workout location. (This kind of comes with the territory when most things are outside and inside spaces don’t really have doors that bugs can’t easily get through or screens on windows.) So, an ant bite… but definitely bigger than my typical “clothesline ant” reaction. I grabbed the tube of hydrocortisone cream that I just leave out on my night table here (no point in putting it away!), slathered it on the bite, and went to sleep. 

Wednesday night: “It’s not that big!”

On Thursday morning, my bite hadn’t decreased in size at all. I showed it to several people because it was quite impressive in size. But over the day, the swelling spread… and spread… and spread. By Thursday afternoon, my arm was swollen from armpit to elbow – literally. It was hot, obviously red, and noticeably swollen. I went home to get some Benadryl, and on the way stopped to show people how much it had grown over the day. They (very reasonably) suggested that maybe it was time to see a doctor. And yeah… that’s probably good advice. Except I am used to reacting to bug bites. And what is a doctor going to do? Give me antihistamines? I have some here, and I took some. Administer an epipen? If you catch up on my medical history, you will immediately understand why unless I actually think I’m dying, I don’t want to experience additional epinephrine running through my body. I took the Benadryl, took a regular antihistamine, slathered on some more hydrocortisone cream, went back to school, and tried desperately to stay awake for the last hour of work. (Thanks, Benadryl! You always make life so fun!) After school, I took a shower and finally drew a line around my reaction so that I could track the swelling and growth. 

It’s too bad that I didn’t turn my arm just a little more in this photo – the swelling goes even further, all the way down to my elbow, on the bottom side of my arm. You can *just* see the line curving out at the very bottom from this angle…

The swelling did seem to stop then. I think gravity was actually exerting its influence, since the only place that the reaction was outgrowing its line was around the bottom, by my elbow. Around 7:30, I deemed it late enough to take some more Benadryl. I took two and pretty much immediately fell asleep. When I woke up, the swelling still hadn’t grown any more. 

Thankfully by Friday afternoon, my arm was looking impressively better. The swelling had really gone down, and while it was still red, it wasn’t so hot any more. It took until Saturday afternoon for all the swelling and redness to actually go away. It also took another week (!) for the itchiness to go down.

Once the swelling had disappeared, you could finally see the location of the bite again. It wasn’t just one bite – it was actually three. I’m not sure if that’s what caused the extremeness of the reaction, or if it was also the type of bite. When I showed her my arm and described things, my very wise sister hypothesized that it had been a spider bite. 

“Don’t you think you should have an epipen just in case?” my mom asked when I talked to my parents that weekend. Again… I’m going to do anything I can to avoid the feeling of extra epinephrine. I also really don’t think I’m in danger unless I get bitten near on my face or neck. But also, in an abundance of caution, I do think I’ll go to a doctor much earlier in the reaction timeline next time! (And praying there ISN’T a next time!)

Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 4: Chicken Buses

Picture this: you’re in a school bus that’s painted garish colours, crammed in on all sides by other people and their purchases. There’s music blasting on a radio, and the driver seems to be driving like he’s making up for lost time, speeding around curves and over speed bumps and potholes alike. The driver is honking his horn as if it’s the only thing keeping the bus running, and his coworker is leaning out the door bellowing the name of a city at anyone, whether they look like they care or not. 

Where is this chaotic scene taking place? Guatemala, of course! You’re riding a chicken bus to get from one place to another, just like any other Guatemalan who doesn’t have a car or a moto. 

The famous chicken bus in its native habitat

Once a school bus has lived out its life in North America, it’s driven down to Central America where it gets to live a second life. It typically has some work done – I’ve heard that most buses get a manual transmission put into them, although I haven’t paid enough attention to know whether or not that’s true. Buses also get racks put overhead – key, because a lot of people riding the bus have a lot of stuff with them. They generally get a metal railing installed on the ceiling the length of the aisle. This is important because the bus will often start driving as soon as everyone is on, not once everyone is in their seat, and it’s helpful to be able to hang on while you head to your seat or while you get up to move to the front in advance of where you want to disembark. Additionally, some buses seem to have new seats installed – the seats are wider, meaning you can squeeze a third person in (and I do mean squeeze – have you been on a bus in a while?), although this means really squeezing your way down the aisle. And the seats are then also installed closer together, a key factor in being able to fit more people in your bus and maximize your income if you’re running the bus (although it makes it difficult for a taller-than-the-average-Guatemalan Canadian woman to fit her legs into the space comfortably. Especially given the bumps over potholes and speed bumps – sometimes the kneecaps take quite a beating!)

And, if you’ve ever seen any photos of a chicken bus in Guatemala, you know that the other drastic change to the bus is decorating the outside. Red, white, yellow, green, blue – buses are painted vibrant colour combinations. They can also then have fancy chrome added or sometimes decals added to the windshield (enough that sometimes one wonders how well the driver can really see the road!) The colours matter when you have an adult population with a relatively low literacy rate – even though the bus will say what route it is taking, that doesn’t matter much if people can’t read the sign. So the colours also indicate where the bus will go, and this way people know which bus to take. 

These chicken buses are the equivalent of public transit in North America, with a few key differences. Have you ridden a city bus lately? Even if you haven’t, I’m sure you know that they have route maps and schedules. And if you wanted or needed to ride one, you would check ahead of time to see where the stops are that you need in order to get on and in order to get off. And then you would check to see what time the bus would come by, and you would be at the stop a couple of minutes before the bus’s scheduled time, expecting it to arrive at that time. 

Meanwhile here in Guatemala, if buses have schedules, I sure don’t know what they are. And you can’t look up a bus time on Google Maps like you can in Canada. You just head to some location on the bus route, and you wait for your bus to come by. We’re actually fortunate that from home, a couple of buses come by and all head through Jocotenango (church location) and into Antigua (nearest city, where we generally do our grocery shopping). Once in a while we’ll come down the hill and just miss a bus and have to wait a while (like 20 minutes has been our longest wait time so far), but other times, it’s a short five minute wait. Today I crossed the highway just as a bus rounded the corner, so I hopped on and was in town in record time. 

Buses have some sort of standard stops, but you can also wait anywhere along the bus’s route and hop on, and you can also get off anywhere along the route – just go up and ask the driver to stop and let you off. 

Buses come in a variety of colours

Why are they called chicken buses? There are a couple of different stories to explain this name. Some say it’s because passengers are crammed in like chickens. My preferred story is actually that people take whatever they have to sell in the market with them, including live chickens. 

Besides the bus driver, there’s another staff person on the bus who stands in the doorway and yells the destination at people. Once in a while, he comes down the aisle and collects bus fare from people. These people have the most excellent memory for who has paid and who has not yet. I think I would be awful at that job, but every person I’ve seen has been so good at their job. 

Would you like to have a job where you lean out the front door of a bus? You need to be really good at hopping in once the bus driver has actually started driving. You also need to remember who has what stored inside the back door of the bus, because when those people get out, they expect you to get their stuff for them again!

I also have to say, given the picture that I painted early of people all crammed in, that perhaps the pandemic has been good for creating space on the bus, especially for a Canadian who likes her personal space. Capacity limits are technically in place (I say technically because I really don’t know how seriously drivers take them. I’ve never seen anyone turned away!) and temperature checks are done at the door of the bus (again – I’ve never actually seen someone read the thermometer, but it technically gets pointed at everyone!), but ridership also just seems to be down. I don’t mind having the additional breathing space and being able to get a seat. It also makes it feel much safer – much less worry over pickpocketing or theft when you can see everyone and not have people packed in close to you for long periods of time. 

Despite all my description here, I kind of think that you need to ride a chicken bus to really know what it’s like. I know that some of my friends and readers have done just that. From your experiences, what did I miss in my depiction here? 

Additionally, I don’t have too many pictures of buses, and I don’t have any really excellent ones. I also don’t have enough to capture the wide variety of bus colour. If you’d like to get some better visuals, do a Google image search for Guatemala chicken bus and enjoy!

Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 3: School Has Started!

I know. Last week was already about school. But I’m a teacher, so you should fully expect to read more about school over my year here, teaching in Guatemala!

I need to write about school this week. Because it was A WEEK. An incredible week. A good week. A hard week. So pretty much your typical week when it comes to school. 

On Monday, parents came to pick up packets of work for their children. One thing that is very different from Canada is that students need to pay for their photocopies here. That has been quite a different idea for me to wrap my head around. I’ve had several conversations with Beth, our TEFL director about it. Because my first instinct is to make sure I give the fewest number of pages possible, but giving nothing isn’t an option right now and besides needing students to do work that they then turn in to be marked so that I have grades, students also need to do work to learn. So I will balance thorough, thoughtful sheets with saving space. Beth also reminded me that students expect that cost. At many private schools in Guatemala, students are required to buy books and then don’t really use them, so this is also a way to ensure that students only pay for what they actually need. 

On Tuesday, the halls rang out with the joyful sound of children. Such few children, but what a joy to have children at school! The children of teachers and staff are at the school. Having them doesn’t violate municipal regulations for Covid, it means students can actually be at school, and it means students aren’t at home alone or requiring child care while parents work. 

We started Tuesday the way we always do – with a devotions time full of listening to God, worship, and prayer. I spent a lot of that time crying. I can’t believe how good it was to listen to children sing with gusto. I haven’t been in a space like that since February 2020. It was so good. 

On Tuesday, I also posted my first video in a Facebook group. Still kind of crazy to me that I am teaching and purposely using Facebook. I also received some very cute texts through WhatsApp from students asking questions about their work. 

I don’t have any pictures of students or school, so please enjoy this very cute text from a student! 💕

Tuesday through Thursday, I uploaded teaching videos to Facebook, answered questions through WhatsApp, and TAUGHT REAL STUDENTS IN PERSON!!! I have one student in person in my segundo básico class (grade 8), and two students in person in my tercero básico class (grade 9). It’s so helpful to have in-person students and get to have real interactions instead of just online, and it’s also really helpful to get one data point of information for where my students might be in their English level. 

In typical roller-coaster teaching fashion, classes went really well and really badly. When I finished my last class on Thursday, I came back to the staff room and told my TEFL colleagues, “I’m really worried about my online kids. When you can spend 3x longer explaining the concept in person and they’re still struggling with it… how are the online kids doing when they just have 5 minutes of explanation?” Sure enough, that has certainly been the class and activity that I’ve had the most texts about. When parents come next week Monday and hand in this past week’s work and pick up the next packet, it’ll be very interesting to see how students did. 

In addition to teaching, editing and posting videos, and answering questions, this week we also needed to plan our next two weeks of class. We need to turn in our lesson plans for the coming week by Thursday afternoon before we leave school. To give some context, remember that Guatemala is a country with a chronically underfunded education system. In November, the Congress literally voted to make cuts to education and the health care system in order to increase their stipends for meals. So when teachers aren’t paid a living wage, when no one checks in on their work, when they sometimes live long distances from school… why bother showing up on time? Why bother having lessons planned for the day? Global Shore is consciously different. Teachers must arrive on time for the day or they aren’t paid for that day of school. Their lesson plans must be turned in to be looked over. And those handouts… remember the handouts that get photocopied? You also have to give those to the secretary to make copies for everyone. 

This past week and next week, parents will come on Monday, and classes happen from Tuesday to Friday. But the plan is to change the turn-around day to Friday, so that classes will happen from Monday to Thursday, and on Friday parents will come and switch out materials. That means we actually need to have our lesson plans turned in by Wednesdays and get the copies done. In order to make that turn-around happen, this week we handed in lesson plans and handouts for two weeks. So yes, in our first week of school we had to write lesson plans and handouts for the next two weeks. Another crazy and fun factor is that we need to have 3 “midterms” throughout each quarter, each approximately 3 weeks apart. So I have already planned and made photocopies for a test for the end of week 3 and I haven’t even gotten any student work back yet. Literally who knows if students will pass or fail, if it’s incredibly easy work or incredibly hard work for them?! Not me!

I don’t tell you these differences to critique the educations system in general or the work that Global Shore is doing here. If you understand the cultural differences, many of the differences in how schools run make sense. But I hope that the stories give a little insight into my life in this past week and in the kind of work that I’m doing! 

Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 2: Online Education

Last spring, Ontario schools pivoted rather rapidly and unexpectedly from in-class to online at-home learning. Granted, I was actually off of work recovering from surgery during the set-up and first week of implementation, but I came back to work into a system that was functioning well. My students each already had their own Chromebook, and they were used to using them independently during class. It was a given that each home had wifi, and while connectivity might not always be strong enough for the whole family to have great internet access, I could generally see my whole class for devotions each morning and students were able to complete their learning online. It was a definite challenge for students to switch from in-class to online, but they were well equipped. 

My new students in Guatemala will be starting classes this coming week. We were very much hoping that students would be able to come to school in person – restrictions have eased from the very strict lockdown that stayed in place for much of 2020, and the Ministry of Education was requiring schools to submit a Covid plan to be approved before students began their school year. However, we received word this week that because our department (think province) of Sacatepequez is in the red (as determined by percent of Covid tests completed that have positive results), we will not have students coming in person. While we are in the red or orange, students must take their classes online. We anxiously await yellow or green. 

So just what does online education look like in Guatemala? 

My students in Ontario all had their own Chromebook. This is obviously not a given for all students – even in our younger grades, students didn’t necessarily have a device. But JKCS put together a plan to loan out school devices to families for as long as needed. Here in Guatemala, it is even less likely that students have a device. If they do, it’s almost certainly a phone. It’s much more likely that there is a phone or two that parents own and use. It’s already a significant difference to plan lessons and work that will be seen (and likely not done) on a phone. That phone might also need to be shared between multiple students. 

Next let’s consider wifi. I held out for as long as I could before getting wifi for my own home in Canada… and I think I got it back in 2015. It was simply not feasible to live without wifi in my home. Here, I am blessed to have regular wifi access – at home, and throughout a lot of the school. Of course, concrete and block walls mean there isn’t great wifi accessibility into each of the classrooms and offices, but my TEFL colleagues and I have been enjoying the sun and warm weather while working in the courtyard where we generally have great wifi access. Wifi is much less likely in the average Guatemalan home than Canadian. Many of our students simply do not have wifi at home. What they do have, however, are phone plans. My Guatemalan phone plan has 8GB of data a month, but anything that I access through Facebook and WhatsApp don’t count towards that 8GB – they’re basically free. (Let’s save the conversation about the ethical implications for another time… but that would be a very good conversation to have!)

It is quite ingrained in me from teaching in Ontario that students do not belong on a teacher’s social media. I let students follow or friend me once they’ve graduated, if they really want to by then. So please imagine my… culture shock to hear that our main educational resource is Facebook. It all comes down to that free data access. I’ve been added to Facebook groups with my fellow teachers and students. I’ll post my teaching videos there. I’m also a part of WhatsApp groups where students can text with questions as well as sending things like voice memos – a great tool for the English teacher! Parents are picking up an envelope with worksheets for the week, students will complete them, and they will swap out the old for the new on a weekly basis. Considering that my students might need to share a phone among multiple family members, and considering what we know about student engagement and attention span, I’m aiming for a five minute video, with a maximum time length of ten minutes. I don’t know my students, and they don’t know me, and I get approximately ten minutes of one-way video interaction with them a week (two classes), with worksheet feedback on how they’re doing and what they’re understanding. 

So it’s definitely going to be a fun challenge! 

And… if you’d like a little taste of what those videos look like, I’ve added one here for your enjoyment.

Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 1

I don’t even know where to start. How do you sum up a week in a new life in a new country in a new job with new friends and etc? I’m going to assume that over the course of ten months you’ll get an idea of what daily life is like here. I’m going to hit you with an overview of this past week and what school will be like. (If you have topics that you really want me to write about, questions that you have, etc, please leave them as comments here or on Facebook and I will address them in future posts!)

Last Sunday we had a whirlwind of an orientation. Breakfast together as a TEFL team, our first ride on a chicken bus to get into Jocotenango, church service, another chicken bus ride into Antigua, the purchasing of Guatemalan SIM cards and phone plans, lunch in a restaurant, a quick sight seeing, and a grocery trip in the famous (infamous) grocery store La Bodegona. La Bodegona is an experience and definitely deserves a post all to itself sometime. For now, just trust me when I tell you that it is An Experience.

My good ole beloved Antigua!

Monday and Tuesday were days with some TEFL orientation for us new teachers. Let me introduce the new cast of characters – they may show up in varying frequency in upcoming posts. Eden and Tegan and I are the new ones, and Max and Matthew are returning TEFL teachers, and leading the charge is our fearless TEFL director Beth. Eden and Tegan and I live upstairs in what is affectionately called Casa Canche, or “house of blondes” (think foreigners or light haired people). Beth and her husband Fred (director of communications for Global Shore) and Baby Ali (cutest little chubby cheeked baby you can imagine) live on the main floor of Casa Canche. Most of the ex-pats working with GSO in Guatemala have historically been Canadian, but with the new opening of GSO USA in 2019, it’s now easier for Americans to raise support and work here. So both of my roommates Eden and Tegan are Americans. As I’m sure you know Canadians love to do, they got quite the lectures and lessons about Canadian culture as we started working together.

I just cannot get over this view. I am constantly amazed by it… it’s what I see when I step out into our porch, or step out of school. It takes my breath away every time!

On Wednesday all teachers arrived. Most of the school staff is Guatemalan, and we had a LOT of people to meet and names to try to remember. We TEFL teachers also received our teaching assignments and curriculum and started lesson planning.

I’ll be teaching segundo and tercero básicos this year – essentially grade eight and grade nine. Básicos is middle school here, and it’s essentially grade 7, 8, and 9, and just like those can be challenging years for students in Canada, they can be challenging for students here. So even though classes are not too big, the students are divided into two sections. So I have four different classes that I’ll teach, two grade 8 classes and two grade 9 classes.

For the first time since my first year of teaching more than fifteen years ago, I have a whole new curriculum to learn and a whole new crop of student names to learn. I’m so used to teaching at least some of the same curriculum and usually know more than half of the students coming into my class. It’s so strange to have everything be new. Strange in a good way – I am up for the challenge! But you can pray for my transition into a totally new job and for my ability to quickly learn names of all my new students.

It’s been nice to have a weekend break. Yesterday, Eden and Tegan and I took the bus into Antigua ourselves – our first solo trip, successfully completed! – and enjoyed lunch in a restaurant, beautiful views of Antigua, and a quick stroll through a very empty artisan market (usually bustling with tourists). Today after church, Eden and I found a cafe and are enjoying some quality drinks while relaxing in the fresh air.

Tacos!

Next week will continue with similar work – staff devotions together each morning, then planning and meeting times. On Thursdays, teachers have to submit their lesson plans for the whole upcoming week, so I’ll be fine-tuning my lessons and starting to prep for the second week of classes.

And then classes themselves will hopefully begin on the 18th. I believe that we still need to find out if our Covid plan has been approved by the government, but the 18th is what we’re expecting right now.

Thank you all for your comments on Facebook and Instagram. It’s great to still feel connected with you! Please feel free to stay in contact with me through any of your favourite methods.

Guatemala 2020

I don’t know when I first fell in love with travel. I didn’t leave Canada and the United States until 16, although I did travel quite extensively through my homeland before that. But even before my first trip abroad at 16, I dreamed of going to France. I’ll admit that I held quite a romanticised notion of France in my head, helped along by my beloved Beauty and the Beast. But visiting France along with several other European countries at 16 only whet my appetite. Once I started experiencing other cultures and countries, it seemed like I couldn’t get enough of it. 

Combine this with my passion for education, and teaching overseas seems like a natural fit. But it took a long time to have the right place, right school, right time where I feel certain that this is God’s plan and God’s timing for me, not just my own hopes and dreams. 

So… in case you missed it – in case you didn’t come here via a Facebook post – I am taking a leave of absence from my current job teaching in Canada, and I am moving to Guatemala in the summer of  2020 to teach English at a Christian school outside of Antigua. 

 

To tell you the story of how I got here, I actually want to use something I wrote in 2014. I had just finished the Camino, and I was given the privilege of leading staff devotions with my colleagues as we returned to school in August. (Remember, that means references to the present as you read is 2014!)

 


 

For we walk by faith, not by sight. II Corinthians 5:7

I walked alone through the dawning day as mist swirled around me. It was not quite light enough to see easily yet, and I was carefully searching for arrows that would tell me I was on the right path. In Galicia, the most western province of Spain, mist is commonplace in the early morning. Eventually the sun causes it to disappear, but the first few hours of my day were generally spent in mist. Particularly when I was walking alone, I was aware that a lack of attention might mean missing a turn off the path and result in getting lost somewhere in the Galician countryside.

Often during these misty mornings my mind would turn to Paul’s words in II Corinthians – we walk by faith, not by sight. This was my theme verse for my journey, and it was literally true for parts of the Camino. There were times I would be walking for a while without seeing an arrow or waymark, but trusting that I was still on the right path. Or there would be places where the arrows seemed to point away from the direction that intuitively seemed right. I learned the hard way to follow the arrows. It takes faith to believe that they are leading to the final destination. We cannot see the whole scope of the journey in one view, but we trust that we will get there eventually.

In my personal devotions time about a year and a half ago (context = early 2013), I began praying with urgency to know what God’s plans were for my future – not just the immediate next step, but I longed to know EVERYTHING God has planned for the rest of my years on earth. I am without a doubt a planner. I want to be prepared and equipped. I wanted to know ALL the good things God wants me to do, and what the timeline is for them.

The image I kept receiving from God was of the Good Shepherd leading me, one step at a time, up a rocky mountainside. The way is difficult, and I can’t look up from the path too much as I am walking, because I have to be concerned with where my feet are at present. The path is winding, and I can’t actually see where it is heading beyond the next curve. Plus the Good Shepherd is in front of me, and he is kind of blocking the view.

This was an image that kept returning to my mind throughout my journey this summer. It probably helped that I was actually climbing rocky mountainsides, but I also couldn’t help but think, if I had actually known, at the beginning of the trip, what the whole thing would be like, I wouldn’t have started. I would have given up before I began. Sometimes I think God purposely does NOT reveal everything to us. Walking by faith instead of sight is not a task given to us by a mean-spirited God, but by a heavenly Father who has our best interests at heart as he continues the sanctifying work in our lives. If we knew all the experiences that lay ahead, all the challenges, all the difficulties, would we dare continue?

 


 

I want to pause here from what I wrote back in 2014 to take you through the last year. Actually, let me stay in 2014 for a minute and tell you that even back when I was walking the Camino, living and teaching in another country was a dream of mine. One of the things that I was praying while walking the Camino was that God would give me clarity about when and where and how to do that. I felt a little let down arriving at the cathedral in Santiago without feeling like I had an answer from God. It was after I had dropped off my bag at my hotel, showered, eaten lunch, and returned to the cathedral to pray that I heard the Holy Spirit’s words, “Follow me.” 

Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do, God! Was my unimpressed response. And God again brought to my mind this vision of the Good Shepherd leading me, but not being able to see more than one next right thing, more than one foot step at a time. 

Fast forward to 2019. I finally felt like God had led me to the right place, the right school, the right time. I had found a school I had actually seen in a country I loved in a place where I was learning the language. It’s a school that cares deeply about educating kids to grow within the Kingdom of God, creating shalom in the lives of the kids and families and teachers. I had met the TEFL department director, visited the school, sung with kids in chapel, sat in on English classes. I could picture myself there. All that remained was actually making the plans. 

A year ago, I started 2019 with a trip with EduDeo to Nicaragua to work for 10 days helping to construct a school classrooms and learning about Christian education in Nicaragua. At one point during the trip, one of my school colleagues very astutely said to me, “So when are you finally going to move to central America and teach somewhere?” Uhhhhhh…  I sort of stuttered, very shocked for a moment. I’m hoping to do that in January of 2020! You see, central American schools generally run from January to October, so my plan had been to start my leave of absence at Christmas break. 

But by March break, I felt like God was saying, “Just wait!” Okay, God… if I still feel like it’s the right place and right school, then what are we waiting for? 

When my principal approached me about staffing changes and taking on the lead teacher role for 2019-2020,  that was an opportunity I was really excited about. And considering that and wanting to finish the year well at John Knox, it seemed clear that the half  year would be in Guatemala instead of at JKCS. I prayed and prayed, and the path seemed to be made clear again. In the summer, I inquired, applied, interviewed, waited… and received word that I was accepted to teach for the partial 2020 year that I was available! 

Labour Day weekend, I went home to tell my parents that I was planning to move to central America and oh yeah I had just been in the hospital two days but hopefully that would all be sorted out soon. After all, none of the doctors I had seen seemed too concerned over my condition.

Enter September, October, and part of November which I can’t even tell as a coherent story because they were a haze of new medication that made me feel awful all the time with at least a weekly visit to the hospital, referral to specialists, or diagnostic test, plus so many blood tests I lost track. My doctor started using the word tumour when talking about a possible diagnosis. I wondered what on earth God could possibly be doing… but I also absolutely experienced the peace that passes understanding. Even now when I think back to those three months, I don’t understand the peace that God provided. And of course now when I think back and imagine having planned to leave in January 2020… well, thank God that his plans and his timing are better than ours. 

By November, I had a diagnosis and awaited a referral to a surgeon. When can I expect surgery? I asked the assistant when I got the news I was officially referred to surgery. Well… consult by spring and surgery by summer, she told me. I asked everyone who knew about my condition to pray for something speedier than that… and was shocked when I had a consult scheduled in two weeks.

Meeting with my surgeon was enlightening as he explained anew all of the details of my condition. He assured me that surgery would actually restore me to health and I would be amazed at how great I would feel. I explained about my plans, and he assured me that I will have surgery before I need to leave and will be able to carry out my plans. I have again experienced God’s peace as I continue to await a surgery date. (Yes, prayers appreciated as I wait for surgery to be scheduled!)

If there’s one thing that I’m certain of moving forward, it’s that things will not always seem clear of where I’m supposed to go and what I’m supposed to do, but the Good Shepherd will continue to lead, one step at a time. And I will follow, even when I can’t see the destination. 

 


 

Let me return to that writing from 2014 to finish things off: 

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, God has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Even though we cannot see the whole scope of God’s work, we rest in God’s faithfulness.

Even when we do not know how our work will be used in the Kingdom of God, we will persist in believing that God has good works for us to do, planned long ago. Even though sometimes, the way God is leading us seems to be the opposite of the direction we should be going and we don’t understand what God is doing, we follow in faith. Even when we experience great difficulty and hardship, we will trust that God can work things together for good. 

 


 

Friends, I hope that you also experience the beautiful leading of the Good Shepherd.

CoEd Tour Day 4

Day 4 of our CoEd Tour was a different sort of tour day, so this is a different sort of post. 

I was three years old, on the cusp of another birthday, the summer that my parents realized just how desperate I was to attend school. My four older siblings left home each day to experience this thing that was only a wonderful mystery to me, but our local Christian school offered no junior kindergarten option. So, after much discussion, my parents enrolled me in junior kindergarten on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the local public school. I had never been as excited for anything in my life as I was to attend JK. Each weekday I would wake up, see my siblings preparing for school, and get ready for school myself. And every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, my mom would have to convince me to stay home. I was insistent that I should go to school every day, just like my older siblings. My mom would reason with me, reiterating that my class was not meeting, my friends would not be in attendance, my teacher would not be waiting at the door for me. And I would reluctantly agree to stay home with my boring younger sister for another day.

My love of school and learning continued throughout my life, and I never doubted my ability to accomplish my educational goals. I attended grade school and high school and began applying for universities, certain that I would be accepted into any universities I applied to. Once I was in university, I took advantage of additional study options, like a month long language program in Quebec, a semester abroad in France, and auditing classes like choir in order to squeeze in more courses. In my third year of university, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to finish all of the courses necessary for my teaching certification, French major, and music minor in just four years, so I decided I would stay in university a fifth year. This decision also allowed me to take some English classes strictly for fun, classes that were not required by my education program, major, or minor.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. University classes weren’t easy, and tuition wasn’t cheap. I worked hard to pay for my classes, getting help from my parents, the Ontario government, grants, scholarships, and student loans. I studied hard, often holing myself up in the library during breaks in between classes to fit in extra review time or work on papers.

Most importantly, though, during the 19 years of my education, from junior kindergarten through university graduation, I never doubted that I would achieve my goals. I never worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete my schooling for academic reasons. I never worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete my schooling for financial reasons.

And I kind of forgot that that’s not the story for many people around the world. 

 

On Saturday, our final day of the CoEd tour, we got to meet scholarship students. CoEd’s scholarships are awarded to students who show academic promise and who want to go to school, but would not be able to without the scholarship’s financial help. This might be because families can’t afford school fees, or because keeping kids home to work provides another source of income that the family just can’t do without.

A group of (totally guessing here!) 40 or so scholarship students took buses into Antigua from their homes to come and meet with us for the morning. We had a chance to introduce ourselves and talk, some icebreaker game time, and some marimba music of course, and then we broke into small groups in order to have more in-depth conversations.

My small group was made up of 5 scholarship students, 7 tour members, and 3 CoEd staffers (1 American staff member who translated for us, and 2 Guatemalan staffers who work in the scholarship program, meeting and assessing possible scholarship students). Our conversation began with each of us introducing ourselves and telling a little about ourselves. We told about the work or schoolwork that we did, our families, a typical day. Then we began asking questions that would be answered by different categories of people in our group. For example, students asked the tour members, “Why did you come here?” We asked the Guatemalans, “What’s your hope for the future of Guatemala?”

One of the questions we asked was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The girls in our group answered first. They had concrete, specific answers, like architect or English teacher. Then one of the boys, Juan Manuel, gave his answer. “I just want to be able to stay in school,” he said.

This was a shocking statement to me. First, I knew after three days on tour with CoEd that there were lots of kids who wanted to stay in school but had to drop out. But to meet one was heart wrenching. Second, Juan Manuel was in the scholarship program. Why was he worried about dropping out? Third, the girls were also scholarship students, but they had dreams they could hold on to, ideas of what their futures could be with the help of CoEd. Why not Juan Manuel?

After our small group session, I walked back to our group meeting room with Leslie. I mentioned how surprised I was by Juan Manuel’s comment, and Leslie explained more about Juan Manuel’s situation. His father has died, leaving his mother as the only income earner for the family. His two older brothers have already had to leave school. Juan Manuel knows well that this may be his future, too. As for the scholarship, Juan Manuel didn’t have an actual sponsor yet. He had been identified by the CoEd scholarship coordinators, and he had been invited to our scholarship day, but he knew that his programming for this school year was being paid for by CoEd general funds. If he did not get a scholarship sponsor this year, then he would not be able to continue school next year.

So of course, after that conversation with Leslie, I went next door to the bathroom and just cried. I could not imagine being 16 years old and hoping desperately that I would be able to stay in school while being unsure of whether that would be my reality or not.

My heart breaks for every child and teenager whose story is so different from my own – every kid who desperately wants to attend school but can’t. Every kid who is kept home from school to work. Every kid whose only dream for the future is to be able to stay in school while living with the uncertainty of whether or not that will be possible.

The stories, experiences, and realities of so many kids, both in Guatemala and around the world, who need help can be overwhelming. I wish regularly that I were capable of ensuring the continuing education of each child in Guatemala and around the world, but I can’t. But instead of despairing, over the last few days I’ve reminded myself of this quote from the Jewish text Ethics of the Fathers 2:16 – “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.” It’s not my responsibility to fix all of the world’s problems.  But knowing what I know, having experienced what I’ve experienced, meeting students like Juan Manuel who don’t know what lies in their future – I’m not free to desist from helping.

Would you like to help? Would you like to make a difference in the life of a Guatemalan student? You can’t finish the work of perfecting the world, but you can help in this small way.

Canadian friends, you can donate here. You can set up a scholarship donation, or you can make a one-time donation to teacher training.

American friends, you can donate here. You’ve got a lot more options that Canadians, so explore the website to find out what your options are!

If you’re curious about the scholarship program, there’s a lot more information on the CoEd website about their program. I opted not to include that information here since CoEd described the program so well on their own website!

 

CoEd Tour Day 3

Our third day of tour was another busy day, even though it had only one school visit and a longer drive back to Antigua (complete with rush hour traffic). After a (ridiculously hearty) typical Guatemalan style breakfast with eggs, beans, sausage, cheese, and plantains, we drove through back roads (and I do mean back roads) to a primary school outside of Tecpan, in Panabajal.

A beautifully decorated school ready to welcome us!

The school children were waiting for us at the gait, even though we were quite early. We were greeted with a rousing cheer of Bienvenido! and then the primary students took us by the hand to take us down the steps to the patio area. There was, of course, a beautiful blanket of pine needles, and a beautifully designed floral altar with incense burning on it. Throughout the morning, little prepatorio students – the kindergartners – would come over to throw more incense on the fire and blow it back into life. Because why shouldn’t the littlest kids in the school be the ones tending the fire?

Please take care of the fire, kindergarteners!

We had a pretty typical CORP (that’s Culture of Reading Program, remember) inauguration activities –  some singing in Spanish and English to get the kids involved; speeches from the principal, a representative of CoEd, and the regional supervisor from the Ministry of Education; songs played on the marimba; gifts and sports equipment given to the school; and a presentation of a small gift to us from the school, a beautifully cloth bound notebook with the name of the school embroidered on it.

The kids are excited for some songs and games.

The supervisor from the Ministry of Education caught my attention with his speech. He was talking about how important reading is and how there is a greater culture of reading in the United States than in Guatemala. He was encouraging the students to grow their love of reading to be just like Americans, who may read even five or six books a year! The idea that reading five or six books a year is something laudatory or even satisfactory was almost laughable to me, but it highlighted again the current culture of reading in Guatemala, where approximately 1 in 100 Guatemalan adults reads for pleasure. (I don’t have a reference for this – it was a stat that our CoEd staff gave us.) Further evidence of the current culture toward reading: the literacy rate among adult Guatemalans is 79%, and when you look at Indigenous women, the literacy rate drops as low as 30%.

(Side Note: I wondered how many books the average Canadian or American reads in a year. I realize that I’m hardly average when it comes to reading, and I read a lot of books for my work as a teacher. My research shocked me when I found a Pew Research Center study that said that in 2013 the median number of books read by an American adult was 5. The mean number of books is 12, which at least works out to a book a month.)

This grade 2 class had 38 students packed into it!!!

After our opening activities, we once again divided into groups and observed a lesson in a grade 2 classroom. This lesson was very similar in structure to the one from our first day of tour. As we were listening to the story (and looking at the pictures as the students got to see them), bombas, or fireworks, were regularly being set off in the street in celebration of our visit. This inevitably set off a car alarm on a car that was just outside the classroom windows. On the other side of the classroom, in the patio, the marimbas were regularly being played. The classroom door being shut made a small difference, as there were broken windows on both sides of the classroom. This made me wonder if the Guatemalan students we saw are better in general at tuning out distractions, or if they are losing educational time regularly because of the number of distractions around them. Of course, it was hardly a typical day for the class, what with 10 or so foreigners hanging around in their classroom.

After the story, each student and visitor got a balloon on which the teacher wrote a word. I asked all of the kids around me what their words were, very impressed when they could read them out loud for me. We then threw our balloons in the air and tried to keep all of them off the floor, working together and shuffling balloons around in the fray. Once we heard the maracas, we each grabbed a balloon and stood in a circle around the outside of the room. The teacher called on people to read their word, show the class, and then have the class read/say the word together. I was super happy to be able to have sufficient Spanish to participate well in the activities.

After our balloon game, we partnered up and got sentence strips from the teacher, with sentences being based on vocabulary words or ideas from the book. We read the sentences aloud with our partners, and the teacher called on some partners to read their sentences out loud to the class. Then we cut our sentence strips apart into separate words. I was paired up with another CoEd tour member, but students were all too happy to lend us their scissors to be able to participate. After cutting up our words, we had to try to put the sentence back in order. The teacher talked about how students begin to understand grammatical word order (like subject-verb-object), and how some words can go in different places in a sentence and still make sense.

I love that turtle shells are a typical percussion instrument!

As we headed out of the classroom to have a quick snack, a little girl approached me to show me her colouring book. It was beautifully coloured, and I loudly exclaimed over each page. When I tried to give it back, she told me that it was a gift for me. Oh, my heart!

Once we’d had some break time, we were on to our next task: painting the shelves we’d brought in order for the classrooms to have a place to store their books. I donned a garbage bag as paint protection, and Rosa and Anna and I started painting. Very quickly, some first graders came over to paint with us. They were excited, but they weren’t exactly careful. I didn’t get any paint on my clothes, but they managed to get my shoes, my jeans, and my sweatshirt. We were also regularly going over their brushstrokes to make sure they all went the same direction along the length of a shelf to end up with a good final product. Their enthusiasm kind of made up for it, though!

Anna and some student volunteers before we began painting.

As we finished up, we began to have some convivencia, or “living together” – some free time to hang out with kids. Again, I was so happy for my Spanish. The kids didn’t really care if I made mistakes, and I felt free to try to say whatever to them. I spent a lot of time asking names, taking selfies, and just giggling with a little group of girls.

Some kids easily hammed it up for the camera, while others took a little persuading to talk into a photo.

I noticed some CoEd staffers washing out paint brushes and scrubbing the floor, so I went over to ask what I could do. Alex took me up the stairs to the sink area by the entrance of the school where some other CoEd staff were thoroughly scrubbing out each paint brush and paint bowl. I worked with these ladies, and they asked me if I knew Spanish. They were so complimentary about my language levels when I told them I’d studied on my own and then taken some classes before going on tour. They were trying to teach me Guatemalan slang, but when you’re not given the English equivalent, only a Spanish explanation, it’s pretty hard to figure out what a slang word actually means! As we finished and I turned around to go back down the stairs to join the kids and the rest of the tour group, I realized that a security guard had come with me and stayed up in the entrance area the whole time that I’d been washing out paint brushes. I’m not sure if he thought I’d make a run for it, or if he thought I’d make a better target being so close to the street. Those guys sure took their job seriously!

By the time I got back to the patio, the gym teacher was leading whole school songs (with actions), and then a dance party/aerobics class. It was pretty epic! We left after hugs and tears and kids running along the fence to wave us off as we got back into the buses.

High fives to the whole class on the way out!

A few last goodbyes from the other side of the fence!

We had a late lunch and then headed back to Antigua. Of course, we had the opportunity to experience Chimaltenango rush hour traffic, complete with a total stop along the road due to a bad car accident a few vehicles in front of us. Thankfully we still had an opportunity to tour the new CoEd office buildings in San Lucas Sacatepequez, and then back “home” to our hotel in Antigua and a great dinner together.

Some serious traffic!

Look over there to be right… what did I find in the CoEd offices?!?!

CoEd Tour Day 2

After breakfast at our hotel, we boarded the boat again at the hotel’s private dock and sailed across Lake Atitlan again, this time in a little bit of a different direction, landing in Santa Cruz la Laguna. The town is literally only accessible by boat or by foot, the once existent mountain road now being impassable. Our boat ride was again, so glorious, soaking in the morning sun and breeze on the lake.

Morning comes to the lake.

Santa Cruz la Laguna is built in between two mountain ridges, but it would be very generous to say it’s built in a valley. There’s a little edge of flat land close to the lake, but then the town rises above on the steep front of the mountain. Instead of walking up the road, we got into tuk tuks and were carted up the mountain side. A tuk tuk is a three wheeled vehicle that’s sort of a makeshift taxi. There are no seat belts. There are bars to hold on to, and hold on I did as my companion and I headed up the mountain. The road was inbelievably steep, and at each turn in the road I expected to see the town, but instead saw yet another switchback. There were no guardrails beside the road, just a very sheer drop-off. Because of the steepness of the road, we couldn’t head up too quickly, and I tried to concentrate on the incredible view instead of the apparent danger. We did make it up safely in the end!

Your typical Tuk Tuk.

Upon our arrival at the school – a middle school where we were celebrating the CoEd Technology Program – we were greeted by students who put a friendship bracelet around each of our wrists. (Side note: it melted my heart when, at the end of the day, I noticed that one of our security guards still had his friendship bracelet on!)

Once again, we had an opening program at the school – Guatemala’s national anthem, speeches from the school director and a CoEd representative, a traditional dance by the grade 8 students, and the presentation of a few gifts from CoEd to the school. The director spoke about all of the ways that the technology centre is used – by the middle school, by other teachers whose only access to computers is generally through the computer centre, by the primary school students, by primary students from the next village who literally make the half hour hike one day a week to use be able to have access to computers, by the vocational students of CECAP, and by adults in night classes. Then the students headed back to class while our CoEd people split into two groups.

Grade 8 students perform a traditional dance for us.

My group got a tour of the CECAP vocational school first. CECAP stands for Centro de Capacitation, and it’s run by another non-profit that works exclusively in Santa Cruz, called Amigos de Santa Cruz. CECAP runs vocational classes on carpentry, beading, weaving, culinary skills – anything that people will be able to use to ensure employment in their future. Their store sells artisan goods at a fair wage, instead of the prices you might be able to barter for from street vendors that don’t recognize the artisan’s time or talent. The non-profit works in a number of ways to better the lives of people from the town, and is run with an almost all local board of directors and staff. Santa Cruz was able to celebrate the first woman university graduate from their town last November.  The vocational school building was built in cinder blocks, and each person from the town helped to carry at least one block up the hill to the building site, some mamas carrying blocks while their babies were strapped to their backs. In short, I loved everything about what this non-profit is doing.

CECAP’s cafe is on the top floor and overlooks the lake. I can’t imagine a better lunch location!

Pictures of villagers carrying cinder blocks for the building of the school.

A weaving class for women.

A carpentry class for middle school students.

After our tour, we swapped with the other group and sat in a class with high school students at the computers in the technology centre. Students demonstrated their tech skills while creating and personalizing letters they had written, telling a little about the Santa Cruz and Atitlan area, including details like their favourite sport, favourite music, favourite colour, etc. A CoEd staffer came around and took pictures of each set of partners, and soon the students pulled the photos up from the server, added them to the doc, and printed out the keepsake for us.

Again, I was so happy that I had a foundation of Spanish to use as I spoke to my student about her life and her hopes and dreams. She told me that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up, and I was able to tell her to work hard and pursue her dream, and that I have faith that she can become a teacher and love it just like I love it.

In the computer lab, listening to instructions.

All too soon it was time for us to head back down to the boat (after a little shopping in the school’s store, of course!) CoEd staffer Elizabeth was directing traffic – both tuk tuk and people – at the school door. When I got to the front of the line, she said to me, “Why don’t you go get in that tuk tuk, Bethany?” I looked at the one she was pointing to. “That one with the ten-year-old driver?” I asked. Despite his young age, our driver did take us down the mountain safely, although our downhill journey meant it was a little faster than I would have taken it myself!

Our boat ride back to Panajachel was relatively short, but again in beautiful sunshine. After lunch at a hotel in Pana, we were back on winding, steep mountain roads. After a bit of a drive (it’s always hard to estimate distance actually travelled when you’re on winding mountain roads and back dirt roads instead of my more typical trips on paved North American highways), we arrived at our next school. No one was waiting for us at this school – a bit of an unusual turn of events, so we hung out in their gym while they suddenly ran over and got ready.

The middle school was celebrating the renewal of their textbook program. Research has shown that two critical things for the success of students is a good teacher and good textbook for students and teachers. I can’t remember how much education a middle school teacher is supposed to have, but a primary teacher only needs to have graduated from high school (in a special program to become a teacher, but certainly not the university degree plus teaching certificate program that we’re used to in North America). That means that teachers without a set curriculum will struggle to know exactly what they are supposed to cover and what material is grade level appropriate for their students. CoEd’s textbook program starts with seed money from a donor (or multiple donors) to buy textbooks (really more like workbooks) for the school in math, natural sciences, social studies, and Spanish language. Families pay a nominal monthly fee to cover the cost of using the textbook, and these fees are saved in a special account. At the end of five years, the school can buy new textbooks to replace the well-worn books of the past five years. After the initial injection of funding, the school is self-sufficient and doesn’t need to rely on donors for their next textbooks. Of course, there are families who just cannot afford textbook fees. These students may use the books in school, but don’t take them home to study. That way they are allowed to access the information and are not held back in their school progress. Other schools know that their families might not be able to afford the regular textbook fee – usually around $1.75 US per month (about 12 Quetzales). These schools might opt to lower the monthly fee and have a textbook turn around time of six or seven years instead.

In addition to the textbook renewal, this school was celebrating a special anniversary, so they had their band playing, another high school band visiting, and a local adult band joining them – complete with a sousaphone player. We also got to witness another traditional dance by (I think) grade 8 students.

Students perform a dance.

Marching bands.

After some festivities out in the hot sun, we walked to the edge of the village, split into two groups, and had the pleasure of a home visit. This was a wonderful and heartbreaking experience. The family invited us into their home with such warmth and hospitality. As with most buildings I experienced in Guatemala, things were built around a courtyard – although in the case of the house, it was really just an open space with different buildings on most sides. One building held the very utilitarian bedrooms. One building held a kitchen with a small dining area. The mother invited us to learn how to hand pat corn tortillas. In order to be able to cook them quickly, she added some more wood to the open stove,and the kitchen quickly filled with smoke.

Once we were back in the courtyard, Mario, our Guatemalan CoEd staffer (and translator from Quiche to Spanish), told us that many women have trouble with lung disease and stunted growth because of their constant exposure to smoke. The young children have issues, too, since so much time is spent in the kitchen before they begin school.

Baby spends most of her day on her mama’s back.

We were happy to have Mario with us to translate, because our family was Maya and only the father and school-aged sons spoke Spanish. The family spoke Quiche at home, so grandma, mother, and younger girls didn’t speak any Spanish. This of course means that students are also disadvantaged starting school in a language that they don’t speak, a story that is so common in Guatemala.

We also got to see the family’s chickens and pigs, as well as the edge of their corn field. The father earns money through subsistence farming. The pig would not be destined eventually for the family’s table, but for the market where it could earn additional funds. The father told us how difficult it was to earn money and how he wasn’t sure he would be able to afford high school education for his two sons who were partway through middle school. We could do nothing to help except encourage him to do whatever he could to ensure education for his sons.

As a way of saying thank you for their hospitality, we brought a gift of a water filter to the family. Water in Guatemala may be chlorinated in cities (although it still might not be the best to drink). However, in rural areas, families are often not using running water and almost certainly don’t have filtered water coming out of taps that do have running water. While visitors to Guatemala may have the luxury of sticking to bottled water for the duration of their visit, rural residents can rarely afford the bottled water that would be necessary for regular life. The Eco Filter we gave would provide clean and safe water for the family for the foreseeable future. It was such an important gift, but it felt so small in the face of all the family needed – or at least that we perceived as their needs. After assembling it and taking a group photo, we walked out of their house, and I just cried the whole walk back to the bus, thinking about the difference in our lives and our inability to do more for this family in that moment.

Filtered water – I definitely take my safe tap water for granted as a part of daily life in Canada.

Our drive to our hotel for the night was quite a drive. If you’ve driven through the Rockies or Appalachians in North America, you have a good idea of what it’s like to drive on winding mountain roads. If you’ve driven on rough rural roads, particularly in other countries, you can imagine what condition our back roads were like as we left the school. And finally, if you combine those two and add in the rain that we drove through, you have an inkling of the conditions of the drive to our hotel for the evening in Tecpan.

To be fair, winding mountain roads can give some pretty amazing views, even if they’re hard to take pictures of from a moving vehicle. The memory of shafts of sunlight filtering through the clouds into the valley is something I will remember without a photo.

At the hotel, we enjoyed some exploring around the hotel’s very cute grounds, some social time in a bar that was a cross between a cave and someone’s basement apartment, and a great conversation at dinner. I’m sure that all the other tour occupants fell into bed as exhausted as I that evening.

Cute gardens…

…fancy and fun bridges over little creeks…

…flower lined paths…

…and cute climbing structures for kids! A great little hotel!