For our last night in Guatemala, we went all out with Lupe and had such a blast! One of the reasons I had so much fun (besides all of the fantastic people I was with) was because a man, whose name I forget, came up to me and asked me to dance. At first I was wary but after deciding that he was harmless and simply just a good dancer who wanted to have fun - I decided to say yes. So much twirling was involved, I could barely keep up but he was so accommodating and friendly. He genuinely wanted to share his salsa skills with us and also danced with many of the other girls in our group. He didn't care whether or not we were good at dancing or even really knew how. He was just there to have a good time and that stood out to me. However, I am happy that we previously had a salsa night with professional instruction so I was able to keep up. He even offered to buy me wine, which I kindly declined but thanked him for dancing with me.
Day 10, Sunday March 19
The most bittersweet of all days.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to Guatemala, which we had grown to love so much! We enjoyed another delicious breakfast at the hotel, bright and early, and then boarded the bus by 8AM to head to the airport. As much as I didn't want to leave, the week had been exhausting (the good kind) and I was ready for home sweet home. We had plenty of time in the airport to collect any last minute souvenirs and have lunch before boarding the plane. In the airport, I realized I still had some remaining quetzales, though not much, so I searched for something small to buy. I finally found a cute pack of cards that had the Guatemalan flag on each one but they were slightly more money than I had. I figured - hey, I'm still in Guatemala, right? So I can probably still bargain with the cashier. That is exactly what I did and she was willing to let me purchase them for about a dollar less than priced. I chucked to myself at the fact that would never happen in the U.S. That was one part of Guatemala I wished I could take!
While on the plane to Texas, I ended up sitting next to a physician and first year med student, from a medical school in San Antonio. Wow, I was thrilled - not only was it unexpected but made me enthusiastic about doing the same thing in the future. We were able to converse about each other's trips and I found out that their trip was similar to ours. They even had been in Antigua at the same time as us!
Upon arrival in Texas, we had a long layover so the first place Aisha and I headed was to buy food. Where else? We finished off our meal with yummy frozen yogurt and after picture taking and chatting, it was time to board our flight for Newark.
Up close and personal with frozen yogurt
I truly enjoyed my time in Guatemala. I couldn't have asked for a better experience, more wonderful and kind professors, a more fantastic group of students who became like a big family, or more amazing Guatemalan people that we met everywhere we went - from our bus driver to the sweet cleaning lady I had the chance to talk to. To the adorable children from whom I purchased hand made goods from as well as children from the village, to our incredible tour guide and friend, Lupe! That does not include everyone but I am thankful for all hose I had the chance to meet and connect with. I wonder, will I ever have the opportunity to return to Guatemala?
It surely is not adios forever, it is hasta luego!
Guatemala City -> Houston, Texas -> NJ
- The way healthcare is delivered and practiced in Guatemala varies from region to region. When I first arrived to Guatemala City and then to Panajachel, I noticed that the cities did not appear to be as poor I had imagined them to be. However, I learned that the wealth distribution in Guatemala is extremely unequal. This means that there is a majority of low-income people while the top 1% minority of the country controls much of the wealth. So even though Panajachel was beautiful, it could be even better maintained if those who cared most about the city were financially able to afford it. Additionally, those who have more money would be able to afford proper health care, while the poor may have to rely more on each other. The culture and social life of Guatemala was incredible to me because there was such a sense of community and friendliness wherever I went. All of these sociocultural, economic and political factors work together to form the ways healthcare is viewed and practiced. It makes sense that in places like the village we visited in Ostuncalco, the health information was highly limited and practices that would be well known in the U.S. were not known there. Nonetheless, a benefit of having such a community is that each person will take responsibility for other members in that community, whether that person is sick or hurt. Ladies will take care of other pregnant women or ladies in need of care because they have knowledge passed down from generation to generation which is so valuable and important. Further, when the bone-setter spoke about natural methods of healing via medicinal herbs in the village, I saw that numerous women listened carefully and took notes. That is another way that healthcare is promoted and practiced in these parts of Guatemala. Overall, there are many systems of healthcare in Guatemala but most of the systems need improvement and training. Health care clinics, like the one that we held in the village, and classes, such as the sugar shock and hand-washing groups, are one small way that the people can become more informed.
- Guatemala has a universal health care system but benefits are difficult to provide and guarantee to all citizens because of limited resources. Sometimes those resources cannot even be accessed by all. Guatemala is still a developing country and therefore, the healthcare system leaves significant room for improvement. It is clear that standing inequalities have no clear endeavor to change for the future. With that being said, the healthcare system does not properly meet the needs of the Guatemalan people so the implications on health equity and social justice are unfortunately not the best. Health equity, defined by Heathy People 2020, is the “attainment of the highest level of health for all people” — and is certainly not true for Guatemala. Health equity ties into the concept of social justice in that if health equity is achieved, it implies that no one is disadvantaged based on their social status or standing. Though health policy exists, it alone is not adequate enough to fix the health needs of the people. However, an important concept that the Maya people do have, that is unique to their culture, is the idea of curanderismo, a system of healing defined by traditional practices that address all the needs of the people who use it. Although the Guatemalan people may not have ideal access to health care, they do have methods and are not helpless, as some may think. There are many benefits to naturalistic healing.
- When comparing Guatemala to the United States, where I was born and raised, it is easier to see differences in culture versus the similarities. However, I believe it is important to culturally understand both in order to develop personal understanding of that culture while also building respect for it. Traveling and visiting a country for yourself is most definitely the best way to grow more aware of it. In the United States, people tend to be more individualistic whereas in Guatemala (specifically the village I was in) there was a huge sense of community. Upon arrival, I would see the women gathered in a circle cooking lunch around the fire. It was really nice to see that aspect of the culture and I think life is better when you have others to lean on. Language is another big difference between the two countries. Spanish is spoken by 60% of Guatemalans while Amerindian and Mayan languages are spoken by about 40%. However, over 80% of Americans speak English. Many of the people in Guatemala do not speak English, though some speak a little. Not many English speaking people in the U.S. speak Spanish either. The diet is also fairly different but not so drastic that I had trouble enjoying the food. All the foods eaten are foods that I would eat in the United States but perhaps prepared differently or made with other spices. Since I am a cheese lover, I noticed right away that cheese is not eaten as a regular part of the diet. Beans, however, are even served with breakfast which surprised me as I had never experienced that before. The prices of goods were also significantly less in Guatemala. In Antigua, I saw a hotel advertising a room for $8/night and I saw beers for $1. In touristy shops, costs were the same, if not more expensive, for some items. As for education, both the US and Guatemala provide free education funded by the government and have primary, secondary and tertiary educational levels so it was wonderful to see that the kids were in school upon arrival at the village. This does not necessarily mean that all children will reach the highest level as education as most children do in the U.S. Finally, the biggest difference is the level of poverty experienced, which also ties into matters of cleanliness. It came as a shock to me that their toilets were literally a hole in the ground. There was no sink to wash hands, although the mother of our house filled a bowl with water and poured soap over our hands. Their feet and legs don’t stay clean because the ground is so dusty. In general, the atmosphere is completely different from that of the U.S. They do not have any of the advancements that we have here that make life so easy for us (though some have vehicles) but because they don’t know anything different, they seem happy, and that is what matters.
- When I registered for this trip, I initially thought that a challenge I would face was getting sick on the trip. I am prone to get really exhausted and sick as a result and I wasn’t sure how my body would handle traveling and the unfamiliar country, even though I had been to Haiti before. Though I got minimally sick, I think the biggest barrier/challenge turned out to be the language. I have taken a year of Spanish in college before but I definitely did not know enough to have a full conversation with a native. I wished that I could speak fluently so I could have deeper conversations then just hello, how are you, and what’s the cost of that item? Being able to speak the language more beyond the basic level would allow me to get to know individuals at a more personal level and I truly hope that one day I can learn the language fluently and go back to these countries and reach these people further. Other than the language barrier, I didn't feel that anything else impacted me as a challenge as I feel that I can generally adapt well to new situations and surroundings.
- I learned just how much I value this kind of service to others. It has been my dream from the age of fourteen to become a physician and travel to parts of the world who don’t have quality health care. Since I believe that health services are one of the best gifts someone can provide to another human being, I want to be able to make a positive difference in the lives of other people because I believe that serving others throughout one’s life should be a priority. I absolutely love to travel as well, and this trip strengthened that desire. This trip also taught me that not everything will be inside my comfort zone but that I can handle that and be happy even when things are not as I'm used to. Guatemala was an incredible stop along life’s journey and one that I will never forget. I am so grateful and feel so blessed to have been able to be part of such an amazing group of people, each with different backgrounds, life stories, and goals but with one thing in common, and that is eagerness to use their capabilities and energy for those who are less fortunate. Last but not least, the Guatemalan people taught me so much about hospitality, community, selflessness and contentment…but the list could go on. The people taught me that it's not about what you have but that it’s what you do with what you have and that is what I strive to live by.