1 September 2013
As I drift to sleep I see the sun making its descent behind the line of towering mountains, the beautiful dew-dappled flowers flowing over the edge of the roof on their lush green vines, and the glow of lava flowing down the sides of the volcanoes. I feel the chill of the evening air, and I’m happy that I remembered to bring my favorite sweatshirt. I hold my cup of coffee close, warming my hands. This roof was my sanctuary during the week that I spent in Guatemala during the summer after my ninth grade year. It was the place for me to reflect on my day and recharge for the next. My experiences in Guatemala were the best I’ve had. That one short week impacted my life in so many amazing ways, making me a completely different person, a better person.
Even though the last time I sat and watched the sun set from the roof of the hotel that was our mission team’s base in Antigua, Guatemala was over a year ago, I constantly see it in my dreams. Since I returned home, I haven’t stopped thinking about my experiences that week. It’s one of those things that constantly sits at the back of my mind, not always at the forefront but there nonetheless.
I traveled to Guatemala with three other people from my church. We flew into Guatemala City, and it was visible how different this country was from America the minute we stepped out of the airport. The sky was overcast and gloomy. It was one of the filthiest places I have ever seen. There was trash littered everywhere, and the air was so heavy it was like I could feel the toxins as they entered my lungs. For the journey to Antigua, we were herded onto a chicken bus. They are called chicken buses because they pack as many people as can possibly fit onto them, not unlike chickens in a coop. It was an old school bus that had been painted with bright blues, pinks, greens, and purples and had stickers covering the inside. As we drove through the city I wondered what exactly I had gotten myself into. The buildings were old and worn. Some looked like they were ready to cave in. There was barbed wire everywhere, and the police held large automatic guns. It was intimidating, but things began to change as we drove out of the city. We drove through the mountains on narrow winding roads. It would have been terrifying if it had not been so beautiful.We were so high up that we could see the clouds below us. The buildings of Guatemala City looked so tiny from up there.
After about an hour of driving, we reached Antigua, known for being one of the wealthiest cities in Guatemala. The Hotel Candelaria would be our team’s base for the week, and we would make the forty five minute trip each morning to our mission site, the village of Santo Domingo Xenacoj. The hotel was an old Spanish colonial style building with beautiful Guatemalan woods and a courtyard with hundreds of exotic looking flowers and a fountain. Our rooms were all different and filled with handmade furniture from local artisans and colorful tojidos, Guatemalan weaving made by the women in the villages, on the beds. I remember the smell of the delicious coffee that was always brewing in the common room of the hotel. After settling in, the rest of the evening was spent getting ready to set out on our mission the next day. We closed the night with a worship service where we learned the songs we would be singing with the children at vacation bible school and discussed our theme for the week, “tener la fe de un granito de mostaza,” meaning, “to have the faith of a mustard seed.” It was after worship that I found myself on the roof for the first time. It was pitch black, so all I could see in the distance was the lava flowing down the side of one of the two volcanoes that sit on each side of Antigua. I sat in one of the rocking chairs, sipping my coffee and listening to the quiet gurgle of the fountain two floors below me. This first night, I sat up there and prayed. I had no idea what to