That’s all I could smell when I stepped out of the Guatemala City airport. It’s an interesting smell, but you get used to it. Everybody found their luggage with no complications so we headed to the mission house. It’s about an hour and a half van ride, but of course with rush hour type traffic at all times you can expect it to take longer, as it did. When we arrived at the mission house all I could think was how much I missed being there. Although I had only been once before, it’s something I fell in love with right away. Our leaders for the week--Ryan & Melony--gave everyone their room assignments so we could get settled in before dinner. The first night we always go to a chicken joint in town that we know is safe. I must’ve hit my head on the ceiling of the van 4 times on the way there, with no speed limits there's speed bumps everywhere. Not to mention the mile long dirt road leading to the mission house. At this point it still hasn’t set in that I was actually there. The culture is so different a you just get lost in your own amazement. After we ate we made the trek back to the mission house and let me tell ya, I hit the pillow hard that night.
The next morning we had a very early start. I got up at five thirty, which would actually be six thirty at home so it wasn’t that bad. I took a shower and then went into the big room where we do devotions and worship for a bit before we start our day. After that everyone made a lunch and finished getting ready so that we could head to the village. This year we’d be building 12 houses, which was different than previous years where we would build 15. I think it’s because it took so long to get to the village, we needed all the time we could get. After the cramped hour and a half van ride we separated into groups. The first job site I was on had two flat spaces for new houses. While we waited, we started interacting with the family’s, especially the kids. One of my friends Abby speaks fluent Spanish, which is nice because it makes it easy to communicate. We connected with these two little girls right away, they were sisters. Abby started talking to them, telling them who we were and what we were doing. They became our little buddies for the whole week. Once everyone was in their groups and tools were divvied out we got to work. The first step is always the worst, digging the post holes. Once that's done and over with we put up the frame. Each house has 1 window and 1 door. We had a couple people putting together the doors and windows so that when we were ready we could just put them in place. That day we got most of the first house done, and so did the other groups. Three houses down, nine to go.
The nightly routine is usually the same. Once we got back to the mission house I showered and just relaxed for a while until dinner. My mom and my grandma worked in the kitchen to prepare meals for us. They make sure to make enough so that everyone can have seconds and even thirds, which is good after a long day. After dinner we just got to relax. Rhylee Abby and I went up on the roof. It’s nice and cool at night and it's a great spot to just chill. Everyone slowly migrated to bed and by 10:30 lights were out.
The next day was about the same thing. We got up, did devotions and worship, packed a lunch and then headed to the village. We ended up getting two more houses done, and poured the concrete floor for the 2 that we finished the day before. That day was also the first day of VBS (Vacation Bible School) for the kids of the village. From what I heard that went well, but I wasn’t there. Like I said, the nightly routine is usually the same, although I did go to bed earlier that night.
Sunday. The day I had an experience of a lifetime. I had signed up for a horseback/hiking trip up mountains and around an active volcano. It was one of the craziest and coolest experiences I've even been a part of. We started the adventure on horseback, up to the top of a small mountain, where we’d dismount and hike down the other side past the volcano. Along the way we came up to a little shop, literally less than a mile away from this huge active volcano, that sold small souvenirs made from volcanic rock. They told us that the volcano had erupted in 2012 and that we were walking on the what is now lava rock. After hearing the story behind the volcano and buying some stuff we headed to a heat pocket where we could roast marshmallows. We all found little sticks and basically roasted marshmallows over a lava pocket that was under the rocks. Just up the trail we climbed a big hill where we then slid down the volcanic gravel on the side of the mountain all the way back down to our horses. I took a nasty spill at the bottom, but I wasn’t hurt too bad. That adventure took us to about 2 o’clock. We then had the opportunity to go shopping for a while until we headed back to the mission house.
Rhylee, Abby and I became really good friends. I’ll never forget the awesome nights on the roof with endless laughter and fun.
Monday most people went back to the village, but a select few including myself headed to an orphanage to help out with some housekeeping and loving on some cute kids. They had some big logs that they needed cleaned up before inspection. My dad really seemed to connect with those kids. They were all over him, I started to think he was gonna try to take some home in his backpack.
Tuesday I was back in the village. For most the day I worked on the houses, but I also went to VBS to see what all that was about. Abby led VBS with our translator, so really anyone else who was there was mostly there to play with the kids. After that we continued with the houses until they were finished. The men of the village assured us that they would get the concrete floors poured in time for the next day, which was dedication day. Tuesday night was different, instead of going back and waiting around until we ate, we went and did a food distribution to local families. Although none of those people knew me, I ended up with a hug from most of them just out of thanks.
Wednesday is always the hardest day, the day we have to say goodbye to all of the new friends we made over the past week. When all the houses were finished, we asked all of the families to be present at their homes and wait for us to arrive. We went to each individual house and gave them lots of housewarming gifts, things like blankets, a broom, and also an electric solar powered audio bible. We also gave them a picture of the people who paid for the house that we built for them. After praying upon them, we took a picture to bring back to the people who paid for the home. Abby of course was in tears all day considering she could actually talk and connect with a lot of the people. The last house we dedicated was for the pastor of the local church. It was the coolest thing because instead of praying for him and his family, he prayed for us, and even sang us a farewell song.
Guatemala was definitely one of the most life changing experiences I’ve ever been a part of. It taught me a ton of life lessons that I know I’ll never forget. I already have plans for my next trip to Guatemala and hope to go many more times in the future.