We finally arrived at the Guatemala City Airport on Wednesday afternoon and were greeted by Sergio, our translator, and a crowd of about one hundred people waiting outside. We then embarked on what ended up to be a six-hour bus ride through burning sugarcane fields and past a rubber factory before winding up at our hotel. Exhausted, we quickly found our beds and settled in for our first night in the country.
The next morning, it was finally time to get our hands dirty. We were woken to a pancake breakfast by our amazing hotel and restaurant owner, Julio, stocked up on filtered water, and hopped on a chicken bus to take us to the village.
You heard me right.
A chicken bus is a colorful, modified school bus that transports people and products throughout the Central American countries. And when it comes to capacity, the limit does not exist. In Guatemala, one cannot be wasteful of time or resources and this applies to everything. Chicken buses pick people up at a minimum speed of 20mph and it seems where Americans can fit two people, the Guatemalans can fit four.
The other typical means of transportation, which we soon found out, was in pickup trucks. Each day we all crammed into the back of a pickup truck and went speeding down the highways and dirt roads to reach the village.
Once we finally arrived at the two worksites, we got right to work.
My site was 90% located in the sun, which I knew could lead to trouble if I didn't keep hydrated
(I did end up getting sick from heat exhaustion, but was lucky to be one of the healthiest on our trip). The work on the site had begun without us, and we were given the task to continue digging a ten-foot deep trench for the foundation. This took the entirety of the first day and part of the second, but what kept me going was the village children cheering us on from the sidelines.
They were intrigued by the gringos and didn't hesitate to come talk to us. Their smiles could light up the darkest of rooms and they were eager to keep up with us. When we needed a break, they would pick up our shovels and start digging. When we asked them to help us with our Spanish, they asked us to help them with their English. It was amazing to see these young children so happy and hopeful with the life they had, considering they didn't have much.
Houses in the village were made of tin walls that were crammed together for miles. I remember walking through the village and being shocked with how many people could fit in such a small space.
But what amazed me more was the people. Everyone I met had a smile on their face and was so grateful for everything they had. It was uplifting to see the children playing with one another and taking care of their neighbors. Guatemala may be the second poorest country in the nation, but it is one of the happiest. Those children changed my mindset about my life. Now each day I try to acknowledge how grateful I am to have been lucky enough to be born in the United States and given the opportunities I have.
Day 3 involved building the foundation. From scratch.
Like I said, it's amazing what these people can accomplish given the resources they have. Our team wheelbarrowed pounds of black sand, white sand, rocks, and an occasional child to our site in order to start mixing the cement. Once the sand was completely mixed together, all you had to do was add water! Continuously. From here on out our day was very defined:
Cement chain. Rock chain. Mix. Repeat.
By the end of our final day, we have the majority of the foundation built, with wired posts put up in the corners. I was extremely proud of the work our team had accomplished considering our limited stay in Gautemala, but I was mostly proud of myself and what I had accomplished both mentally and physically.