Travel Postcard: Tecpán & Xetonox

18 de Junio 2017 – 21 de Junio 2017

Hola amigos,

I welcome you to the beautiful city of Tecpán located in the municipality of Chimaltenango. We’re finally settled into our new accommodation for the next 5 days and have familiarized ourselves with the local neighborhood.

The streets are bustling earlier in the morning as children dressed in red uniforms rush to get to school in time. Afternoons are relatively moderate in traffic and noise-level however, the late-afternoon to evenings are when Tecpán comes alive. From mere observation, I noticed that all the shop owners, local residents, children, and even pedestrians enjoy standing outside their personal establishments (businesses, homes, churches, etc…) in order to people watch. At first I thought it was strange, but then again I caught myself evaluating that situation from my “American perspective,” and I regressed. This time, I came up with a positive observation – Guatemalans value being outdoors and invest their time forming connections with locals, neighbors and tourists. What a beautiful exchange of cultures and ideas!

Today’s morning agenda consists of hiking the active Pacaya Volcano. This volcano is amongst the 3 active volcanoes in Guatemala. Pacaya erupts frequently and its largest eruption occurred on May 27th, 2010 – my 15th birthday! How gnarly is that?!

Although the weather is definitely not in our favor, with bulky clouds, warm winds, humid temperatures, and an oppressive rain-forest like atmosphere, our group is determined to complete the hike within 2 hours or less. To our surprise however, as soon as we stepped outside our accommodation around 7:15 a.m. we noticed families gathering to assemble an intricate piece of art which included fresh pine needles, rose petals, saw dust and balloon-adorned archways. Upon asking our guide José, he mentioned that this particular morning everyone was preparing for Corpus Christi. The priest of the Catholic church was going to walk with baby Jesus along the pine & rose petal “carpetas,” in order to celebrate

Volcan de Pacaya – stands tall at 8,373 feet above sea level. Papaya is one of the three active volcanoes that erupts on a daily basis along with Fuego and Acatenango.  The trail is a scenic one accompanied by the horse “taxis,” stray dogs and local travelers. Our group trekked the volcano at a pretty quick speed, however for optimal enjoyment I’d recommend going at your own pace, stop every now and then to take in the views and make sure to find the perfect spot for your upcoming Instagram post. Humidity levels and a change in atmospheric pressure due to rising elevation can be discouraging at times. But rest assured, that if you pace yourself steadily or decide to ride a horse taxi to enhance your journey, you WILL make it to the top! Believe me, its worth the it!! Here are some pictures below from our trek.

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Carpetas- composed of fresh rose petals & pine needles. The aroma is transcending!

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Carpetas – composed of colorful sawdust. Reminiscent of the rangoli that my family and I create each Diwali. Look at the intricate details, its incredible. 

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Greenery on steroids! When the clouds move out of the way the scenary is beyond gorgeous. You can even see corn plantations in the foreground of the image. 

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Victory smile once I reached the top! Always reppin’ my Alma Mater. Go Aztecs!!

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Standing at the center of the crater amongst the ashy remains of archaic eruptions. 

After some much needed rest and sleep we prepared for the week ahead. As part of our study abroad requirement and program requirements, we teamed up with a local community and elementary school to take part in a solidarity project for the next week. The solidarity project consisted of re-painting the entire school – inside and out. On one of the days we broke off into teams and prepared a hand-washing 101 workshop for the kids. What an interactive experience it was! The kids were so eager to see us everyday- their eyes beaming with happiness and light. Their smiles so genuine and pure. Their embraces (abrazos in Spanish) so warm and welcoming. Like many of us mentioned throughout the trip, we were all astonished at how close we formed connections with the kids and their families. It felt like a home away from home.

The clock displayed 8:30 a.m. as our large bus pulled up in front of the school. Yellow and white balloons strung across the tall fences. Boys stood patiently in front of a row of firecrackers, awating the signal to create a majestic explosion. The students, parents, teachers and director cheering us on as the gates opened and the welcome procession began. We felt like royalty walking into through the gates that morning. It was an amalgam of emotions. Happiness, excitement and gratitude all wrapped together with a crisp bow. One of the biggest lessons I learned from that morning was that we must practice gratefulness. As the maxim goes: “gratitude is the best kind of attitude.” The people of this community, although from the perspective of an American may not have all the luxuries we are accustomed to, they are happy in their own way. Happiness for a Guatemalan equals family, community, a sense of togetherness. Providing for their children and living off the land is a common theme we encountered.

Fireworks popped in the background while upbeat folk music streamed out of a rusty boombox in the foreground. The welcome ceremony was embellished with a string traditional Mayan dance performances by the students of pre-school, 1st grade, 2nd grade and3rd grade. The cherry on top of the cake was when the honors students walked with the Guatemalan flag and the entire school sang the national anthem. Like a finely pitched choir, the echoes of the words bounced off my ears. I rest my hand on top of my heart and an unfamiliar sense of pride is evoked within. What a sight that was to see! A feeling that is almost indescribable.

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Xetonox Students, Grades 2nd-3rd 

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Trying to teach the kids how to make hearts with their fingers was not an easy task. As you can tell, some of them were not interested. Haha

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Teaching the kids how to pose for the camera. Clearly they are naturals. “Say Queso!!” 🙂

Education System & History of Tecpán

Majority of children grow up with a predictable future in mind. For generations, their ancestors have walked similar roads as them. Today’s children of Guatemala face a harsh reality. Many only receive an education as high as the 6th grade. Beyond that, their communities do not have the financial means to run schools that would teach them at a middle or high school level. Regardless of their talent, knowledge, and willingness to learn, the demands of their lifestyle and getting food on the table become a top priority. Assuming adult roles, children learn how to farm, run the household, take care of their younger siblings and help their parents in other duties starting from a young age. When I first found out about this, I was a bit shocked to say the least. Visiting from a country where public education is so readily available and the means to obtaining higher education are established, traveling to a country where kids don’t have the same opportunity was heart-breaking. It’s still a reality that’s hard to accept for me.

Our professor, Dr. Garrity from the department of Child & Family Development ignited an interesting conversation one evening about the early socialization of children. One of the main questions was: are children working or learning skills that allow them to be productive members of their culture/society? We conversed and debated amongst our peers and believed that children being socialized from an early age was important, but it

was equally as important to provide them time to enjoy and participate in their own childhood. Playtime was a big concern that we addressed and tried to create time for during our visit to the school.

Spending time with the kids of Xetonox school made me truly appreciate my college degree and made me want to use that degree to change lives. I hope to one day teach students around the world. Like a globe-trotting educator! I want to inspire kids around the world to focus on gaining an education and breaking barriers that limit their growth. To the future Professor Ashna, I hope to meet you soon. 🙂

Thank you for joining me once again in the beautiful country of Guatemala. To all the students out there, I hope that reading about the circumstances of students in other countries makes you appreciate your education. Use your knowledge to improve the future. Be open-minded & willing to learn about the situations of others but don’t forget to act on those observations.

Educate & Empower!

Mucho Amor

Ashna

XOXO