Lists everywhere…lists for packing, our dogs, our house, our cars, lots of goodbyes, and finally our travel arrangements. It all became a blur once we touched down in Guatemala City. Our life went from very hectic to very simple in a matter of a few hours. It has been an adjustment for sure, but even after leaving our precious family, friends, and dogs, we have been able to remain full of gratitude for this amazing opportunity to serve with Global Ministries.
When our plane arrived, we saw a sign with our names on it, and after about four hours through the mountains, we arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xelaju), Guatemala. Here, we were greeted at our school by the director of Proyecto Linguístico Quetzalteco (PLQ, Acronym in Spanish). This is when the learning begins. Our actual intensive language learning commenced the following Monday. With a notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other, we started in. It is not like a typical class. No English is spoken. You must hold onto the few Spanish words you know and try to piece together what you think they are saying in your head. As I listen, read, and speak, I keep hearing words and phrases I can’t understand. Yet, by the end of the week, I realize I understand more! It’s very strange how learning a new language has so many ups and downs. One day I feel like I am soaking it in and comprehending so much. The next, my brain starts getting tired, and it becomes more difficult again.
The school has a great system of rotating teachers, so I have the opportunity to hear different accents and experience different teaching styles. Some teachers like to practice verbal conversation during the entire class, some like to do writing exercises, while others like to practice reading and pronunciation. It is a gift to learn from our teachers. Our school also has amazing trips each week to various parts of Guatemala like volcanos, natural hot springs, Mayan ruins, and lots of beautiful ancient churches.
In order to help us learn even more Spanish and about the everyday culture, we eat our meals with our host family. There is a lot of conversation, and our studying can continue outside of the five hours inside the school. When discussing Lola (the family parrot), I asked our housemother if she slept with “cucharas” because there are no heaters in the houses. After a good chuckle with the whole family, she explained to me that the word I was looking for was “chamarras” which means blankets. It turns out, I asked if Lola sleeps with spoons. (To further illustrate the struggle, chamarra means jacket in Mexico!)
Here in Xelaju, there are no heaters, and, in the mountains, it is cold enough that coffee and hot tea become necessary for survival…or at least that’s what people here in Guatemala live by. It only took two days before I agreed with that logic and have been drinking tea and coffee for weeks now, a habit that was never in my daily routine in the USA.
Along with the great opportunities to see Guatemala and the beautiful things this country offers, there is the aspect of hospitality and community, which is different from what I am accustomed to. Here, it is common for someone to show up at your house and automatically be welcomed with a space at the table and food. If there wasn’t enough after the meal was served to everyone, it’s customary to take some off your plate to share. On top of the food and a warm drink, it is also common for people to stay the night or for weeks at a time to just enjoy the company of others.
This month we will travel to Ecuador to begin our journey there. We are excited to meet our new colleagues at FEDICE (Ecumenical Foundation for Development, Integration, Training and Education, by its Spanish acronym). It is such a great opportunity to work with FEDICE, whose main mission is to work with different communities in Ecuador to improve living conditions for families and their neighborhoods! They have programs in place to help with agriculture and livestock projects, microcredit financing, and more.
We’ve been so blessed in this experience so far. Blessed by the people who have opened their homes for us, the church here who was extremely loving and welcoming, and by little encounters every day of welcome. Yes, we are enrolled in school here, but we are also learning so much from the people we meet and the lives we are so fortunate to cross.
Dustin Riebel serves with the Ecumenical Foundation for Integral Development Training and Education (FEDICE) in Ecuador. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, WOC, and your special gifts.