I flew out on a Saturday night and arrived in Guatemala City Airport at 7:10am Sunday morning. After going through customs and getting my bag, I was told to look for a yellow flag with a big smiley face on it. I saw it immediately and was greeted by Nixon with a happy "Welcome to Guatemala"! He was my driver to Antigua, which took about an hour, so we hopped into his vehicle and off we went. Our first stop, Maximo Nivel in Antigua.
Now, I must mention that many people had cautioned me about personal safety before my trip. I asked other volunteers and their families all had the same message, don't get killed. Pretty drastic. Maximo Nivel prepared me with some very basic common sense practices: Don't carry your original passport, only a copy (which they made for me), don't carry all your money (quetzals), only what you can afford to lose in case you get robbed. If you get robbed, give them the money. Don't go out alone after dark and only in large groups after dark. Don't leave your drink unattended in case someone may slip something into it. Keep your money tucked away in a pocket which would make it hard for a pickpocket to grab it. Be sure and activate your situational awareness and don't wander around with your earbuds blocking all noise. Basically all the things I learned while roaming around downtown Chicago.
The next day I met Corinne (from Ireland) and we set off for San Lucas. We jumped on the local public transportation called the Chicken Bus for a 25 minute ride to the daycare. People were seated 3 to a seat and sometimes 1 person standing in the aisle. Everyone was considerate and no one was chomping on McDonalds or yelling into their cell phones, like we do in the US:
Everything about Guatemala was completely different from the US. Some of it I loved, some of it caused me great concern for the citizens. But the one thing that is exactly the same is the simple way that I connected with the kids and their acceptance of this silly woman that speaks no Spanish, but is happy to play with stickers, sing Itsy Bitsy Spider, serve breakfast and lunch, hug, kiss, cuddle, push on swings, play ball, blow bubbles and make goofy kittens with sidewalk chalk. I can honestly say that I got way more from this experience than I gave and I will always treasure my short amount of time with my ninos and bebes.
Gluten-free, organic fruits and vegetables, non-GMO foods, cable TV, these had no meaning down here. Seat belts, optional, child safety seats, didn't see one. But I had a hard time leaving, without all the many distractions and bright shiny objects, I really had a chance to be still in the moments. I really love that. I will really miss that.
Did I help? I don't know. Did I do any good down there? I'd like to think so, but I'm not sure. Did it open my eyes to how a different country struggles with simple and complex issues? Yep. Are we all just humans trying to survive on one big planet? Yes. Can we all help each other? Only if we want to. How do you start? You just start.
I plan on doing at least one IVHQ trip a year. There is no way that I can have a positive impact on the world if I don't even know the scope of the problems.
If anyone has done an IVHQ or similar trip, please leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you.