Jen's Entry #1

"Hola todos"

ĦHola a todos y todas!

Here is the first of what will hopefully be monthly updates of my time in Guatemala. This one will be a long one as everything is new and interesting. We are doing, seeing, feeling, thinking so many things, it's hard to Keep track. As my dear friend Charity said in her first update, "It's hard to narrow a massive life change down to a few paragraphs."


Jen Thalman in Momostenango

Charity started the list of things we are seeing here that you won't see in the US.  She said I could steal it and add to it.  So here are some highlights, for details click on TYDSITUS (pronounced "tid-sit-us") "Things you don't see in the US".

Jen's additions to the List of TYDSITUS

* Fresh cheese that you buy in a cornhusk  
* People cooking over open fires in their kitchens.  

* Cinnamon sticks as long as my arm
* Old US school buses painted every color under the sun used to go  between towns and cities (There is even a small Fairfax County school bus here. It hasn't been painted over yet.   I've seen it twice) 
* Jen drinking black coffee. (Milk is expensive, so most families donıt use much and if they do, it is  often powdered.)  

* Lots of other things I can't think of at the moment.  We will be adding to the list as the year moves forward.

Below is my website where you can keep track of our goings on in Guatemala.  My mom is maintaining this page for me.   It has journal entries, Prayer requests, links etc.  It will have soon pictures and a reading list (right mom?)  

Ok, so now to the good stuff.  First and foremost let me introduce my friends here, as I will be talking about them quite a bit, I think. There are 5 YAV's here in Guatemala. Charity (on left in tan) is from Northern Idaho. She just finished her studies and Lewiston College where she studied English and Theatre. She is a reporter at the Lewiston paper as well!  Brian (navy blue shirt) is From Dallas, where he also just completed his studies in disaster relief.  Scott and Gabby (the other two, not me) are our resident "marrieds".  They are from Austin and both left corporate jobs to come do this YAV thing in Guatemala.  
We are currently living in the city of Quetzaltenango -about 4 1/2 hours by bus on a two lane mountain road west of Guatemala City.  Quetzaltenango is also called Xela, which is a shortened version of the Mayan name for the city.  We are guided and watched over by Joe and Selena Keeseeker who are our site coordinators. They have lived here for 2 1/2 years and are wise and supportive in every way.  Martin, Victor and Lydia work with Joe and Selena.  Martin lives with his family of 8 in Cantel just outside of Xela where He also makes bags, jackets and shirts out of typical Guatemala fabric. He will also be the host Dad for Gabby and Scott. Victor lives about 2 1/2 hours away from Xela by bus and commutes in every day.  He is also a pastor.  Lydia lives in Xela with her two children and also makes and sells handmade aprons in the local market.  

In short, I love us! God has granted us a great support network here (not to mention the 60 other YAV's in 11 other countries).  We are able to laugh, sing, process, discuss, support and help.  I really do feel blessed that we have this time to be together to learn about each other and to support each other through this transition.  I am well taken care of, thatıs for sure. We are all just a little bit kooky, which makes for a lot of fun. Itıs interesting that Joe and Selenaıs and Xela have become my new comfort zone.  Soon it will be time to move from that, too.  In four weeks I move to Malacatan, down the mountain near the border with Mexico, a place I know nothing about.  It's exciting and scary at the same time.  But who would have thought that Xela would enter in to my comfort zone.  I will have faith that Malacatan will also soon be within my comfort zone and I will find the support I need there too.  

The rest of this newsletter is an excerpt from my journal.  This is just a highlight; really, as it would take a month to report all that has happened.  I hope this and future updates give you an idea of what we are doing, seeing and experiencing.

August 30 ­ Fuentes Goergines
After lunch we went to Fuentes Georgias, a hot springs not far from Xela. We drove up a steep winding mountain road to get there. On the way up we saw many indigenous women walking up the road carrying heavy loads on their heads.  There were many plots of land with crops growing -- cabbage, onions (scallions really), carrots, beets and other veggies.  The field was way up the steep -- I mean steep, like practically vertical -- mountainside. Selena told us that the farmers often have to tie themselves to something to keep from falling down the mountain.  I don't know how they even get up there to tie themselves to anything.  If they fall they would easily fall all the way down the mountain to their deaths.  Just growing food for some is a life theatening endeavor.  Could you imagine if everytime you went to grocery store you feared for you life (Those of you in the D.C. area have a little bit of understanding about that after the sniper thing last year).  Iım amazed at the amount of work people do here.  There is no resting.  

As we climbed closer to the top of the mountain, the crop fields grew even steeper and steeper. The colors were brilliant. The brown of the dirt was deeply brown and the multitudes of greens were profoundly green.  We climbed and climbed into the clouds. Martin drove with care around the sharp steep turns until we arrived at the top.  

Enjoying the natural volcanic hot springs
From Left:
Martin, Charity, Brian, me, & Selena

View from the top

We piled out of the van and up the stairs.  It was so beautiful, like a paradise.  We were walking with God among the clouds.  There are bungalows there where you can stay the night, but they turn the electricity off at 10:00pm.  Each bungalow has a fireplace., though. We reached the springs.  Steam rose from the warm green water.  There were happy people swimming, laughing, and playing.  We saw some of the first gringos (This is generally a term of affection here as opposed to an insult) there aside from ourselves, of course.  We quickly changed in the not so pleasant bathroom and dove in; well, walked into actually.  It was too shallow to dive.  It was amazingly warm and wonderful.  There was a mossy rock cliff that went straight up out of the spring.  There were plants around the springs with leaves so huge you could use them for a blanket.  I asked Martin what they were called but he didnıt know.  We spent about an hour literally basking in the beauty of Godıs earth.

Enough for now ­ I hope to have many more updates to share with you over the next year.  Thank you all for your prayers and support.

 Love, Jen

PS -   Here are some pics of Jen's new digs...

Casa de Jen

Jen with new friends

And they all said, "Hace calor!"