Jesuit Portland students will never forget a chicken bus, a court, and the Chocol community in Guatemala

June 2019

A chicken bus, a court, and a community to never forget. 

All 17 of us Jesuit students arrived at the PDX airport with our parents on Saturday, July 8th. We were a sea of purple sporting our Courts for Kids shirts as we hugged our families goodbye. Some of us were nervous, excited, and/or apprehensive as we walked through security and onto the plane that would soon take us to Houston, and then to Guatemala, an unknown place for everyone on the trip. It was a long flight filled with anticipation which only grew through our layover in Houston and the whole flight until we landed in Guatemala City at 11 pm.

After spending the night in the Hostel, Los Volcanes. We found ourselves on a chicken bus,  speeding through windy roads, before stopping at our next destination, and our partnership community, Chocol. Before we knew it we pulled into a beautiful home where a kind and  generous family hosted us for the week. 

After we got cleaned up and set up our rooms, we walked through the community to the school noting how everyone we passed watched us go by and said hello, Hola, or good afternoon, buenas tardes, to us. At the school we were wide eyed as the community welcomed us with open arms, as well as an entire extremely talented school band. There were children banging on drums, blowing into trumpets, and dancing around with banners. We immediately felt welcomed and all of our previous worries subsided. After the band finished welcoming us we were sat down in a classroom and only had a minute to take in our surroundings before a swarm of energetic lovable school children rushed into the room hoping to get to all of us. The next hour was filled with bonding games and songs, both American and Guatemalian, as well as laughter. Although nervous at first, it didn’t take long before the school children began grabbing our hands and trying to dance with us. This was the first time interacting with anyone in the community and it set an incredible precedent for us students with very little Spanish speaking skills, that we had nothing to worry about as long as we could be as patient with ourselves as they were with us. That night, after getting our first taste of Chocol we all went to sleep with nervous, but excited, anticipation of what the rest of the week would bring us. 

The next day we began work, and although none of us knew what to expect, we were all determined to put our best foot forward and start off the court strong. What none of us really thought about though, was how much the community was willing to put in for their court too. We were humbled as we saw how much work had already been done and continued to say humbled as the mothers of the community cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us daily putting so much love into their food. We were also incredibly humbled by the men and children of the community who worked side by side with us to build this court, and who are still contouring to work on completing their court, even now, long after we have left. 

While working on the court we were split into three group and we rotated constantly to make sure we stayed hydrated and had a break from the sun. Many of us also used this break to connect with the kids and play games with them. Even after our first day of games and songs the kids were still a little shy, both from Chocol and us Jesuit kids, but in the end, throughout the whole week, we made bonds will always be remembered. Even with our very limited spanish as well as their very limited spanish, since these kids were still in grade school learning spanish as their second language (this is a K’iche Mayan community where K’iche instead of Spanish is their first language), we used put in our best effort to get to know these children with help from our peers & leaders. 

We spent breakfast, lunch, and dinners eating the most amazing food and trying new things we had never even heard of before. The women in the community worked tirelessly to make sure our needs food wise were met and we appreciate everything they did for us and all they tried to accommodate for. They truly poured themselves into their food and tried to immerse us and teach us about their culture through it. Some of our favorite meals were the eggs and beans for breakfast, the chicken soup for lunch with a potato and a native type of squash on the side and Guatemalan style pancakes for breakfast with honey instead of maple syrup. But every meal they cooked we loved and of course the corn tortillas they made us for every meal, honestly a lot of corn. We didn’t even know you could cook corn so many different ways. 

When we weren’t working, we also got to play lots of games with the kids. Our favorites were playing with basketballs and teaching them volleyball. We also had an amazing water fight. 

At night after we finished working for the day we did a number of things. After our first night of worked we played super fun soccer and basketball games with the kids in the local sports facility. The second night we spent around a campfire, indoors since it was all thunder and lightning outside, and we taught them campfire songs and how to make s’mores. We also had the amazing opportunity to listen to them sing one of their own local songs. Lastly for our final night with the community we had a talent show showcase our very own talented singers, basketball players, and most importantly maciranna dancers. In this talent show the Chocol community gave us the honor of watching some of the children dance three of their special ceremony dances in traditional clothing. It was such an amazing opportunity that left us feeling even more embraced by the community which we didn’t even know was possible.

After about 3 and a half days we finally finished the court  and everyone was overjoyed. We had all worked so hard to get it done and we did it! 

Because we finished the court ahead of schedule, we had the opportunity to do fun activities around Chocol. We went to street shops and got tasty fruit, visited a beautiful look out over lake Atitlan. We also went on a little hike to go see some caves that had once been used as hiding spaces and tunnels for natives escaping the spanish and more recently for native Mayan ceremonies. The rock walls were black from ash and more of the tunnels we caved in on leaving only small openings that people used to make shrines in to their God’s.

Through out the week the family we were staying with accommodated for us in so many ways that we saw and probably more that we didn’t see. They gave us three of the rooms in their house and didn’t mind our laughter late at night. Even when their water wasn’t working for showers they spent hours heating up water for us in big metal pots to each have our turn bucket showering with, and when one of the boys clogged the toilet they were patient with us learning how to throw the toilet paper in the trash instead of the bowl. They were even patient with us when we grabbed a stick, covered it in tape and labeled it the “Duce destroyer” to well, destroy our duces before we bucket flushed. Leaving them was one of the harder goodbyes and we will all remember their generosity and kindness.

Our last day in the community was the opening ceremony for the court. We all got dressed up and head to the school to sit for the ceremony. After hearing the principal speak, a public official speak, and everyone sing the National anthem, we had the honor of seeing four woman perform transitional dances. This is incredibly significant because it is very rare to see an adult show any amount of their faith to foreigners since faith is seen as very private in Guatemala and not to be shared outside of extended family and close friends. By showing us three completely different traditional dances for the three different places in Guatemala these four ladies were from, they were telling us that we are considered close family to their whole community. One of our Peace CorpsVolunteers even said that throughout the whole six months she had been in Chocol, Guatemala, she had never seen an adult do a traditional dance. Close to the end of the ceremony we were also gifted beautiful hand woven bags that continued to show us how much we meant to this small community. It was a heart warming experience that we will never forget.

When it came time to say goodbye our hearts felt heavy. We began to cry realizing that this would probably be the last time to see our new friends. Us Jesuit students handed out our family photos and bracelets we had made for the kids and when we didn’t seem to have enough to give to them to fill the hole we were leaving behind, we grabbed random items in our bags and gave them to the kids. The kids grabbed onto these as if we were giving them each a piece of our hearts even when the item was as mundane as a pen or hair band. The kids in return wrote us sweet little letters, gave us bracelets, and stuffed animals. The things that meant the most to them because they wanted us to know how much we meant to them. Although we were only their a week the bonds that we made with this community will last longer than just a memory, they will stay with us forever. 

After hoping back on a chicken bus the day after the opening court ceremony, we made our way down to Lake Atitlan to a gorgeous Hostel for our second to last night in Guatemala. There we spent the day visiting the communities around the lake and learning to bargain in the market. We found so many things to bring home to our families that were hand woven of made with traditional Guatemalan designs. After having Guatemalian American food for dinner we made our way back to the hotel and finally got the chance to take a much needed shower after days of bucket showering. 

The next morning, after an incredible breakfast, we went back to Los Volcanes, the first hostel we stayed at and spent the afternoon and night there. At the end of the night we did something called “the hot seat” where everyone took turns sitting in a chair while we all complimented traits or qualities we saw in them that we found admirable. It was a great way to get to know each other or express how we had gotten to know each other, even on our final day together. 

On June 17th we completed our international journey after a sprint through the Houston airport, security. and Customs to not miss our flight, and than onto Portland, completing our 10 hour flight and 10 day trip. Full circle. On this experience, we Jesuit students not only formed unbreakable bonds with the community of Chocol, but also with each other from Jesuit and our incredible leaders as well as our Peace Corps Volunteers. We all can not been more thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing experience and it has impacted our lives in a way that has made us better people capable of seeing the bigger picture in a world full of small screens. -Tatum and Ziggy  ( who both got to spend their birthdays on this trip and could not be happier to have spent it anywhere else in the world.)

“It was a little hard to connect with the kids because of the language barrier but I realized soon that language is not what is needed to make a relationship- love is.” – Gwynn

“Patience is a virtue I sometimes struggle given I am a little impulsive and a go, go, go type of person.  These people in the small community have taught me that you can make much deeper relationships if you have the patience to stop, listen, and be in the moment.” – Tatum

“The people of Chocol community might be poor but they are extremely rich in joy, happiness, and love. The community has shown me that impoverished parts of the world might be much more joyful than those that are rich in monetary wealth.” – Patrick

“This trip has changed me and I would even say has given me a big piece of my identity I’ve been trying to find.  I have learned about love, unconditional love.  Love that when received make you feel whole and warm.  I always thought this type of love could only be given between family members or close friends, or that it had to be shown in big ways.  But here I have seen love in every detail of this town.” – Emma

“I have also learned that it is possible to love many more than family and close friends, because of this community, everyone loves each other, as demonstrated by the locals’ love for us after barely even knowing us.” – Mati

“Despite living in poverty, this community is always smiling, dancing, and laughing.  The people of Chocol believe one is poor is he/she does not have friends or family.” – Aidan

“I truly learned how to live life to the fullest.  The Guatemalans dance and sing openly- without any judgement.  They make everyone feel like they’re important and what they say matters.” – Madeline

“The main thing I understand more clearly now is the type of person I want to become.  One that isn’t afraid to get attached even knowing that sometimes I’ll have to let go . . . I want to be less judgmental- Guatemalans aren’t judgmental in the slightest and it makes it easier to live life to the fullest.  Being here has also helped me become more in the moment and realize time isn’t the most important thing- love is.” – Ziggy

“This trip has shown me the importance of simplicity and community. . . I have learned that as long as you have family, a good work ethic, and love your life will be full of joy.” – Sydney

“I have learned that living simply seems to be a lot happier.  Simply meaning no judgements, being kind to everyone, and not caring about living luxuriously.” – Sam

“I learned that you don’t need tangible items to be happy.  In the US, we see people with all the items in the world, but we see them not happy. . . All you need is a family and people you can connect deeply with.” – Kade