What Happens in Guatemala Stays in Guatemala By Khyati Lad

SOARING IN THE CLOUDS

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Friday March 10th
  • We left for the Philadelphia Airport, tired yet excited for the journey to come.
  • We cherished the last few familiar sites of the city, a reminder of how far we would be away from home.
  • We were earlier than we needed to be! But that was alright, as we got to spend some quality time with the people we would be living with for the next 10 days.
  • I got through baggage check-in smoothly, but poor Parth had a lot of issues!
  • We passed through security checks quickly, and as we approached the gate, my jaw dropped as I saw....
  • MY FAVORITE SANDWICH RESTAURANT: EARL OF SANDWICH!!!!!!!!!!! I hadn't eaten there since Disney 2015, and had been DYING to eat it again since then. This restaurant honestly made my flight :)
  • We boarded Flight UA1957 and thankfully didn't get dragged off. I instantly slept like a baby. Soon, we safely landed in Texas.
  • We switched gates and then boarded UA1751, which took us straight to Guatemala City. Once again, I fell asleep!
Earl of Sandwich at Texas Airport
La Aurora International Airport, Guatemala City
CULTURE SHOCK
  • As soon as we landed in Guatemala City and left the airplane, a blast of warm air hit me. It reminded me of India, my home country. Guatemala reminded me of my family, my grandparents, the environment, and the excitement that I only get when I visit my home country. I was instantly nostalgic.
  • I was bewildered by Guatemala City. It was significantly more modern than expected. People were wearing jeans and t-shirts, driving the same cars we drove in America, and eating at familiar restaurants! How could this country be poor and disadvantaged?!
  • As we left the city and climbed up the mountains, I started feeling carsick, and so I took a Dramamine and slept. When I woke up, we were in the town of Panajachel, as the wheels of the bus were going up and down on the cobblestone streets.
Current Location on Maps: Panajachel
Street art in the City of Panajachel
  • First Impression? I wasn't in Guatemala. I was in a village in India, with colorful shops, beautiful people, and a peace that you could never find in New Jersey.
  • Hotel Rancho Grande Inn once again took me by surprise...it was simple yet elegant. We ended up having a class pet too! A beautiful cat (we named it Biscuits) took our breath away and we simply couldn't help but fall in love....until it entered our apartments.
  • That night, we ate at a restaurant, and exchanged some money! We were exhausted after dinner, and went to sleep early, preparing for the next day to come.
Me and my sister having a twin moment!
Hotel Rancho Grande Inn
Biscuits (always hungry!)

CROSSED A RIVER AND SIPPED SOME COFFEE

SATURDAY MARCH 11TH
CROSSED A RIVER AND SIPPED SOME COFFEE
Lake Atitlan
  • We woke up early and had one of the most delicious breakfasts that was healthy too!
  • Soon, we were on the way to San Juan La Laguna...but we had to cross a river first! The boat ride was one of the most peaceful I've had in my life.
  • After huffing and puffing our way up a hill, we reached Cafe La Voz, a coffee plantation. It was enlightening to not only see how coffee was made, but also how much care was put into caring for the plants, preparing the coffee, and serving it to the people.
  • What surprised me the most was how much care the workers put into taking care of the environment by reducing water usage and using organic fertilizers. They not only cared about the health of the people but also the environment. What a paradox from the wasteful mindset we have in America...these people, who did not have much to start with, used and valued all the resources they had. Simply put, THEY CARED.
  • After the tour, we were served one of the best Coffee drinks I've had...Starbucks cannot even compare.
  • On our way back to the boat, we bought a couple souvenirs to take back home!
  • Back in Panajachel, we had dinner again and slept like babies!
Coffee beans dried out in the Sun
Coffee tour guide in the small coffee store

FLY HIGH IN THE SKY

SATURDAY MARCH 12TH
FLY HIGH IN THE SKY
Everyone is excited + nervous for zip-lining
  • PSA: Zip-lining in Guatemala is EXHAUSTING!
  • Ultra-Extreme Zip-lining took me by surprise. I had gone zip-lining before, and so, I thought I was ready. Unfortunately, I underestimated Guatemalan zip-lines!
  • In the end, it was a memorable experience. Nothing can match the thrill of gliding 800 feet in the air, with the oxygen shooting in your lungs as you take in the breathtaking scenery around you.
  • Honestly, Guatemalans are one of the strongest and most physically fit people I have seen. The two guides that guided us up the mountain kept waiting for us as we huffed and puffed our way up! Their strength, enthusiasm motivated us to keep climbing, step-by-step.
  • In the end, those little steps we took added up to 12-16 miles! By the end, we were all frazzled and disoriented, but proud of ourselves. The best part? No one gave up. No one judged. We took care of each other as family does, and the unity we had, despite coming from different backgrounds, was the most phenomenal experience of all. This was the beginning of a family that would last a lifetime.
View from the zip-lining ropes (about 800 feet in the air)
Mr. Rutgers Man going to Zip-line

SHARPENING OUR BARGAINING SKILLS

SUNDAY MARCH 12TH
SHARPENING OUR BARGAINING SKILLS
  • After ziplining, we got on the bus and headed out to Chichicastenango, a well-known marketplace.
  • We had lunch at a restaurant where everyone had corn liquor, except me and Parth! I also got to speak some french as there was a French senior citizen group visiting from France!
  • After lunch, Guadelupe and Dr. Pontes let us loose. We bargained our hearts out and bought quite some goods to take back home!
  • Amidst bairgaining, we learned about the hardships of the people. We were starting to see the mild forms of poverty that existed in the country.
  • One woman I bought from had three kids from the age of 6 months-12 years old to take care of, and she looked very young. However, even with all the troubles she was going through, she sold me a backpack with a smile, accepting the money I offered her. I still remember her face to this day, and hope she is faring well.
Loma Real Inn
  • After a long, Dramamine filled ride, we reached Xela, a city in which our hotel, Loma Real Inn, was.
  • We quickly dropped off our luggage in our rooms, then went to the location of AMA (Asociaciõn de Mujeres del Altiplano) and the Grassroots Highland Support Organization, where we were introduced to Celesthe and Claudia. Claudia gave a beautiful presentation that set the tone for our trip: We were not here to help the natives. We were here to make them independent, to show them how to support themselves. I loved this because it got rid of the superiority-inferiority complex that exists when giving and receiving.
  • P.S.: That night's dinner felt like what I usually have at home. Home-cooked food is the best and healthiest food!

STOVE BUILDING

MONDAY MARCH 13TH
STOVES
Panorama image of the village
Picture time with the beautiful girls!
  • After a good night's rest, we left for the village, where we experienced an amazing ceremony by the Mayan women. They made us extremely excited to start our work!
  • After a prayer wishing us the best of luck, we saw a demo of how we would build the stove, and off we went!
  • At our family home, there was a mother and her daughter. We did not see any other children there. The mother was very shy, likely because it was difficult for her to communicate.
  • We learned how much work these women do on a daily basis, and how difficult life is for them, especially with stoves inside the house, in which it was difficult for them to breathe.
  • After a day of hard work, we went back to the hotel to clean up and discuss the day.

STOVE BUILDING OR BODY BUILDING?

TUESDAY MARCH 14TH
Stove building and body building!
Fire ceremony candles at AMA house
  • The morning of the second day of stove-building, I was so sore! I could barely walk without my knees stumbling. It made me realize how physically and mentally strong these women were, and how they suffered these hardships everyday
  • It also made me slightly ashamed to be complaining of pain all the time back home. We do not value how easy our life is until we experience the pain of others.
  • Seeing the women in the village empowered me to be braver. I promised myself that I would not always take the easy way out, if the the harder way was more worth it.
  • In the evening, once we got back to Xela, we received a presentation on Mayan Cosmovision by Daniel Mathul. After the presentation, there was an amazing fire ceremony. In the ceremony, we were able to reflect upon our life choices, our priorities, our families, and even our mistakes. It was a very enriching and uplifting experience, one that I'll never forget.

WHAT DOES THIS SAY?

WEDNESDAY MARCH 15TH
Health Checkups (Eye testing, Blood pressures, glucose testing, etc)
  • Today we got ready to do health screenings! Many women and children got in line to get their eyes, height, weight, blood pressure, and sugar checked.
  • I was part of the eye screenings. What amazed me was that almost all the people in the community had perfect vision! I wondered why and how this was the case, and it made me question our dependence on modern technology that could possible be ruining our eyesight, such as computers and cell phones.
  • The screenings made me realize how much we take healthcare for granted in America. We have access to good food, hygiene, people to take care of us, and medicines to take when we are sick. And yet, we refuse to take our bodies seriously, stuffing them with poisons and other harmful substances that we know are going to hurt us, but we pay no heed.
  • In the afternoon, we went to the school and taught the kids how to wash their hands in a super cool way! The kids really enjoyed the activity, but it took a LOT of effort to make sure they completed all the stations! In the end, they received a sticker and a photo of themselves. Many of them had never seen themselves in a photo, and so it made them very excited to keep something they could call their own! I was extremely happy to see them so happy...it made my day!
  • We also received a presentation by a local healer who healed bones using medicinal herbs. It was super interesting to see this because I have used some of these herbs when I'm sick!

SUGAR SHOCK!

THURSDAY MARCH 16TH
Sugar Shock game for the kids and their mothers
  • This was the last day at the Mayan community. I almost didn't make it due to digestive issues, but Parth and Dr. Pontes came back for me! Looking back, I am so glad I came.
  • Today, we went to the school and gave a presentation on sugar! The kids were very interactive, but the star of the show was Celesthe, who beautifully translated what we were presenting. We couldn't have done it without her! The children really loved the game, and like us, they were genuinely surprised at how much sugar was actually in the drinks.
  • In the afternoon, we gave the same presentation to the adults. They too were very surprised by the results!
  • In the end, it was time for us to leave the community. We really didn't want to leave...we were having so much fun with the kids! The Mayan community then said a little prayer for us, wishing us the best in our journey and for good fortune and wisdom to be with us, always. As a parting gift, they gave us a bouquet of flowers wrapped in a beautiful handwoven cloth napkin. Additionally, we were able to dress up in their local attire! Even though these people were "poor", their hearts were richer than anyone I had ever met.
  • After quickly stopping at the hotel to pick up our bathing suits, we drove to a Hot Springs location…absolutely beautiful view. The hot springs calmed me down and made me relax from the hectic schedule of the past couple days. It also made me realize the value of Guatemalan nature. Being in the mountains was such a breathtaking experience, and it dawned on me how much Guatemalans, specifically the indigenous people, depended on nature to survive. From the healing properties of the hot springs to the medicinal herbs, the Guatemalans were more "all-natural and organic" than we ever could be!
  • After dinner at a pizza place, which to be honest, was better than American pizza, we went to a salsa studio! We shaked-and-shimmied our way through the evening and digested the pizza we had just eaten! The Guatemalans knew how to have fun too :)
  • After everyone else went to a salsa bar, I decided to go back to the hotel and get a good night's sleep. ZZZZZZ
Guatemalan Culture
Fun time with the kids!

GUATEMALA IN RUINS, GUATEMALA IN A MOVIE

FRIDAY MARCH 17TH
Mayan ruins
  • We packed our bags and after an amazing breakfast, said our goodbyes to the people of AMA. The goodbye was bittersweet, as goodbyes always are. We thanked them for their love, and for taking care of us like their own children. The experience the people at AMA gave to us is unparalleled to anything I've experienced in the US. They made the trip worth it. Soon, we were on our way to Antigua!
  • But first, we stopped to see some Mayan ruins! En route was the Mayan ruin called Iximche. The ruins made me realize the history of Guatemala, which I really hadn't seen before. Although there wasn't much left of the ruins, the temples and foundations that were left were a remnant of how majestic the nation once was, before conquistadors came and ruined the country. I wondered what life was like back then. Were they struggling as people in the Mayan community were? Or was their life and health significantly higher in quality than we saw in the community? One will never know, but one thing was sure: the culture that existed back then still exists today.
  • My jaw dropped in awe as we entered Antigua. It felt magical, as if someone had woken me up from my sleep and transported me to a scene in a movie. Antigua was a such a beautiful, modern city. The cobblestone streets reminded me of old movie classics, and the street market was exactly like India's.
  • As we entered the gates of our amazing hotel, I got to experience the rich, posh side of Guatemala. The room was so luxurious. I took a nice warm shower and sunk into the feathery bed. Guatemala was starting to feel like a vacation!

IF WE WERE A MOVIE, YOU'D BE THE RIGHT CITY...

SATURDAY MARCH 18TH
The beautiful city of Antigua
  • OMG BREAKFAST. I have NEVER seen so much food just for breakfast. Let alone so many options for vegetarian people! There were vegetable smoothies, fruit smoothies, yogurt, cereal, crepes, tacos, soup, 20 types of bread, and so much more! I have never feasted in my life that early in the morning as I did that day <3
  • We spent Saturday just walking around, exploring Antigua! We had looked up places to go and sites to see before we had set out, and so we started the day by seeing the Santa Catalina Church and the San Francisco church. However, we soon became distracted and decided to just roam around aimlessly and see where our journey would lead us!
  • It led us to a chocolate museum! There was actually some pretty cool things in the museum...it sold chocolate soap, chocolate shampoo, and even chocolate condoms! Ahh, the creative side of Guatemala never ceased to amaze me :)
  • Next, we decided to go to the market. After much haggling with local street vendors, we got many goods to bring home to family and friends!
  • Soon, it was time for dinner, and so we joined the rest of the group. We didn't have to worry too much about the quality of food and water here, so thankfully, our health was safe!
  • While everyone else decided to go to a salsa bar, we decided to call it a day and go back to the hotel., where we packed for our departure the next day and got a good night's sleep!

LEAVING HOME TO GO HOME

SUNDAY MARCH 19TH
  • WE GOT TO EAT BREAKFAST AGAIN. Enough said.
  • We left for the airport in the bus, and we found out that Parth had lost his phone at the hotel, which was a real bummer. At the airport, it felt weird leaving the country, because this country gave us the feeling of a home away from home. The experiences we had with the people here were unforgettable, and some of these experiences you can only have with family. All in all, I wish we had a longer stay, but now, it was time to go. On the flight itself, I had to take Dramamine, and so I passed out for most of the flight. Same thing happened from Texas to New Jersey, but I was finally able to call my parents using data! Although I missed Guatemala, I felt comfortable being at home in New Jersey.
  • Unfortunately, the journey was not over. I realized I had left my backpack filled with all the souvenirs I had bought at the EWR Airport, and so, my dad went back to the airport to claim my bag…I was so happy when it was found! It was a reminder of all things beautiful in Guatemala, from the people to nature to our tour guide, Guadelupe (Lupe!)

QUESTIONS!

1. Based on the readings, lectures and observations during the course, please explain your insight into the sociocultural, economic, legal and political factors influencing healthcare delivery and practice in Guatemala.

Healthcare and delivery is severely based on the citizen's socioeconomic status. Although we read about it in the articles, it was amazing to see it occurring firsthand in the country. In the cities, you could tell the people had easy access to healthcare - there were pharmacies on almost every block, and hospitals every couple miles. Contrastingly, the people in the Mayan community had never seen a weighing scale. It is shocking to even imagine this divide, but unfortunately it exists, and that is due to sociocultural, economic, legal, and political factors. Many do not respect the ways of the Mayan indigenous community, thinking of them as inferior, unknowledgeable, and even incapable of success. However, being the community myself, I completely disagree. With the right access to education, these people can not only enlighten themselves of the issues surrounding health but also inform others around them. Simply put, with proper access comes proper health.

2. Based on the readings, lectures and observations, what are some of Guatemala’s health policy implications on issues of health equity and social justice?

What is interesting to see here is that Guatemala has a health care system that is functional and that can deliver. However, this healthcare system only delivers to those that can afford it. Through our readings, it can be claimed that the wealth distribution is VERY uneven, and this reflected in healthcare too. If a person is poor, he is not going to receive the same quality of care as the person next to him who has a chain of hotels in Guatemala City. What is even worse is that the quality of healthcare isn't dependent on wealth but also social status. The indigenous people are looked down upon in the country, so they too don’t receive the same quality of healthcare. Oftentimes, they receive no healthcare at all! I really believe the government should do something about this discrimination.

3. What similarities and differences do you see when comparing Guatemalan culture to your country of birth?

I was born in India but raised in America, and so I have many MANY comparisons to make! Guatemala, in terms of people, culture, and environment, is VERY similar to India. Most people walk, use a bike, or use rickshaws/Tuk-Tuks. The economy is heavily based on agriculture and tourism, as is Guatemala. Bargaining, the shops, the local versions of American fast food chains, all remind me of India. Some people in Guatemala, such as the people of AMA, remind me of America. These people were so kind, kind enough to take time out of their busy lives to make sure our stomachs were full. This is actually also a difference. I would say strangers in America are not as kind as they are in Guatemala. They care, yes, but not to the extent of pleasing others. The hospitality I experienced in Guatemala is unparalleled to anything I have experienced so far. Interestingly, one time, I was talking to Lupe on a bus ride about the seriousness of Mayan herbs, and she said that actually, many universities in Guatemala are taking the knowledge of Mayan healing very seriously, and thinking to use it alongside normal medicine. I find this interesting as even in the United States, people are going crazy over the healing properties of ginger, garlic, turmeric, and other spices, while I've known these spices as household items in the kitchen my entire life!

4. What was the greatest barrier/challenge related to this experience? How did you attempt to overcome the barrier/challenge?

For me, communication was the greatest barrier. I had almost no experience in speaking Spanish. I was afraid that this would hinder my experience before applying to the program, but in reality, it only made it more meaningful. I tried to overcome the barrier/challenge by speaking in Spanish as much as I could, and also by asking Lupe of what certain words meant. Through words such as "Quantos?", I was even able to successfully bargain in Spanish! I think, honestly, this is the best evidence of my "mastery" of the language. If you can bargain and bring an item down to less than 50 % of the price without even knowing the full range of the language, the possibilities are endless! I was very proud that day, and this motivated me to keep talking in Spanish, whether it was with the drivers or with the kids from the community. I still am trying to improve my Spanish, to the point where hopefully, I will be able to communicate with patients.

5. What did you learn about yourself as you interacted with the team and the Guatemalan people?

I learned gratefulness as I interacted with the team and the Guatemalan people. When you're in school, you get so swept up by the competitive nature of the environment around you that you lose sight and lose hope of the kindness that exists in the world. In Guatemala, a stranger will take time out to cook for another stranger. In Guatemala, I stranger will push you and keep encouraging you to take one more step a daunting hill, and if you're not feeling well, they'll give up whatever little whatever they have to make sure you feel better. Who does this? In our world, where can this kindness be found? Oftentimes, it is not even found in our own families. We have become so selfish that the condition of the person next to us does not even occur to us. Guatemala shredded all this pessimism. The kindness I have seen, the care, the friendly teasing, the family experience I have received on this trip is what I am grateful for. Friends will come and go, but the family we have bonded with in Guatemala will always stay with us. And so, I say thank you to every member of our team and the people of Guatemala for showing me what true kindness is, and to make sure I spread this kindness in the selfish world of ours so that the life of another beautiful soul may be enlightened!

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