Did that volcano just erupt?

2013-06-25 17.17.15

My first stop this summer is Antigua, Guatemala. I arrived on Monday, June 24th knowing less than ten phrases in Spanish. As luck would have it, those ten phrases were quickly put into action when I arrived in Guatemala City sans luggage. After a few arm gestures and some broken phrases, I was able to give the airport attendant the address of the main organization I am interning with.

The weeks leading up to my departure had been a whirlwind, leaving my full-time job, moving my things into storage and packing for a trip through various climates. This minor luggage mishap and my new geographical location did not properly register until I was sitting in a shuttle on my way to Antigua, a city located about an hour from Guatemala City. Guatemala City itself was an intense area to take in. As my flight had descended over thousands of homes built from scraps of metal, I thought the plane was never going to make the runway.

As we finally made our way into Antigua, I saw the Volcán de Agua towering over the town with two other volcanos dominating Antigua’s horizon. The views of this Spanish colonial city are absolutely mind blowing. I stumbled out of the cab with my carry on, and paid with the few quetzales I had acquired at the airport. I quickly settled into my small room in my guest house and considering my lack of items to freshen up with, I started walking. Antigua is small and composed entirely of cobblestone streets. My feet were blistered within about 30 minutes of exploring. I quickly grabbed a burrito from a small restaurant and made my way to Ninos de Guatemala’s office.

I will be working with two organizations during my time in Antigua. The first organization is called Ninos de Guatemala (NDG). Ninos de Guatemala is an organization that sponsors community development projects that promote better education and better future for the children of Guatemala. The two schools that NDG have built and currently run with the help of volunteers are Nuestro Futuro and El Porvenir. As an intern with NDG, I am going to be aiding the English program and coaching soccer. This week has been composed of training and getting a grip of my Spanish while the kids have school off. I am looking forward to heading to school next week and getting started!

The second organization I will be working with is called Casa Jackson. Casa Jackson is a home for malnourished babies. Often times, families are too poor to eat, and mothers are unable to produce milk as a result of malnutrition. Many Guatemalan mothers try to substantiate the diet of their babies by feeding them mashed corn and water, but often times it is not enough. At Casa Jackson, I will be holding, changing, singing and playing with babies. When I applied, I was intimidated by my lack of Spanish. However, the coordinator quickly reassured me, “You don’t need Spanish to take care of babies”. True.

After finally receiving my luggage (phew), I have spent my first week learning Spanish, adjusting and preparing for next week. My fluency in French has made learning Spanish fairly easy, however there have been a few times I have not exactly expressed myself correctly. At my first Spanish lesson with Elsa, a Guatemalan women who treats me like her granddaughter, she asked me what I like to eat. I took a minute in my head to remember eat, and assumed that the word for cake, le gâteau in French, would most likely me similar.

“Me gusta comer al gato con queso.”

While I meant to convey my love for cheesecake, I actually told Elsa with 100% confidence that I like to eat cat with cheese. Needless to say, my organization has been using my linguistic mishap for several laughs this week.

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Already, this place has taught me to slow down and relax, say good morning and good afternoon to everyone you walk by, and reminded me just how intimidating it is to start over somewhere with no friends or idea of how to get around. However, the first night, I found myself sitting on a patio overlooking Antigua with 20 new friends. All of a sudden, everyone started shouting, “the volcano!” My first night in Antigua, I watched a volcano erupt.

Six days into living here, I can’t imagine leaving my new group of friends and my small room with the rooster in the courtyard that wakes me up every morning. Despite a little stress in the beginning, I am now confident that coming to Antigua was the best thing I could have done with my summer.

Buenos Días, and I look forward to sharing what I learn this summer with you all!

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About kayseygrard

I am a second year Master of Urban Planning student specializing in international development planning. On June 24, 2013, I will be heading to Antigua, Guatemala for four weeks to work with malnourished babies and at-risk youth. Following my four weeks in Antigua, I will be traveling to Roatan, Honduras to work with single mothers and their children. During this time, I hope to begin to understand the effects of heavy urbanization and the high influx of tourism to a city on the indigenous communities of Antigua and Roatan.

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