Friday, June 3, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Homeward Bound

     Amidst our travel back to Guatemala City, we made a couple stops. Below are some pictures from our adventures.
Mayan ceremony being performed during our visit to the ruins

From our stop at the Mayan Ruins...

Though this is a very blurry picture, it accurately portrays our trek through a mud slide (you can see the rushing river of mud out the bus window) on our way to Guatemala City.  
     And a final anecdote as told by La Profesora (Mary Grant). As we departed from Hotel Chalet Suizo, we had two vehicles provided for us, a 15-passenger van and a pick-up truck for the luggage. Mary rode with Amadeo in the pick-up. As she entered the pick-up, Amadeo (Piloto de la Paroquia de San Lucas) said "Me permite" and then put his arm across Mary's lap and safely tied her in with a make shift seat belt with a 2 foot piece of rope. She asked Amadeo what had happened. He explained that the buckles were stolen while the truck being re-painted. The owner of the "taller" (repair shop) claimed that the truck had no seat belt buckles when it was left for the paint job! This is a perfect picture of the culture we have been a part of for the last three weeks. We have developed an awareness of the poverty even amidst the beauty of this country and the humble people we have met. The people here are faced with hardships that many of us couldn't imagine, but they retain a passion and a drive for life that has left a significant impact on us.
     So as we sit here in the airport, we are reminded of all that we have learned and how thankful we are to be headed home!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Professor's Perspective...

Greetings all,

     Our students asked me to blog today from the perspective of an instructor. As such, I need to forewarn you that this will be far more boring than previous blogs. This course has been a real eye opener for me. I have led student groups to Guatemala from James Madison University, Western New England University, Cornell, and Harvard. This group of students is the best yet. It says a lot about Furman, liberal arts and Engaged Learning.
     This is the first time I have had the opportunity to take another faculty member who speaks Spanish, Professor Mary Grant. Better yet, Mary is a professor in our Modern Languages Department. I feel the two of us and Chrissy Carpenter of the Study Away Office have provided an excellent learning opportunity for our students when compared to previous trips that I have led.
      For me, the best part of the course was for the students to see how sustainability works in the developing world. We had a great mix of students, including majors in physics, music, environmental science, accounting, business, spanish, and education. I feel the mix of students provided some significant synergisms. According to the course syllabus, if we are successful, the students will be able to: explain and understand global sustainability; understand the workings of non-profit organizations; recognize effective project management tools; compare and contrast effective global sustainability techniques; and converse effectively in foreign culture. While all are important, I feel the first (explaining and understanding global sustainability) is the most important and the least understood. My latest research investigates the relationships between investments in environmental sustainability, economic development and public health - the three pillars of sustainability. I feel this travel course provided our students unique opportunities to see these constructs and their relationships up close and personal. The students were able to talk with successful labor leaders, politicians, former guerrillas, and leaders of unique non-profit organizations. We also provided joint and mutual learning experiences with students and professors from Stanford, Cornell, Rice, and Loyola. I have planned for our final presentation to be with the Minister of Environment of Guatemala.
      I join our students in applauding the excellent support from Furman's Departments of Modern Languages and Business and Accounting and our Study Away office. Their generous assistance and willingness to support an extremely tailored and flexible pedagogy has made this all possible. In no way could I have ever provided this level of learning experience in the classroom. Finally, Mary, Chrissy, and I thank our students for their great attitudes and willingness to be flexible in such a different world. One student recently shared that she was amazed that my Guatemalan friends who live on dirt floors and do not have access to running water can be as happy as Americans. That feeling alone would make this course worthwhile.

-Bruce Clemens

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Another Day Full of Surprises

     Wednesday night part of our group headed to La Parranda for Salsa dancing. We enjoyed seeing the night life in Guatemala but little did we know the floor was going to be packed with sweaty Gringos, of which Stuart was the sweatiest. The Guatemalan teachers sure knew how to move, and at one point they busted into a breakdancing dance-off. We can't wait to come home and teach you our Salsa knowledge!
     Our time in Guatemala has been marked by a number of learning experiences ranging from how to make a column to the history of the recent Civil War here in Guatemala to the engineering involved in getting water to indigenous communities. Additionally we have learned an intangible lesson of flexibility.
     Today was a day we had been looking forward to because we had plans to go to the hot springs. The hot springs are located about 45 minutes outside of the city Xela where we are now, so our bus was to pick us up at 9 am. Loading the bus at 9 am, we thought we were headed straight for the hot springs, but little did we know we first had to make two stops.
     First stop - Bus parks on the side of the road and we are motioned to follow our professors. Completely clueless, we walk through an unmarked door into rent ma courtyard where we met Victor Racanjof, a current mayoral canidate. He is a mayan representing the people's party. This was just one surprise.
     Second stop - We arrive in a park where once again our bus parks, we gather our backpacks, and we exit the bus. Assuming this park is where the hot springs are, we quickly find out we are wrong. Instead this is a beautiful overlook to see the city of  Xela. We are once again blown away by the beauty of this country. Alongside this view is a playground, but it is not your typical playground. There was a 45 foot slide where we college students joined a bunch of 5-10 year old Guatemalan children. A few of us even got air! It was a blast! I am pretty sure the Guatemalans had just as much fun laughing at us as we had laughing at each other.

View of Xela

     Around 12 o'clock we reached our final destination - Las Afueras Georginas (the hot springs). Only a couple of us were able to brave a step into the hottest pool, but we all enjoyed relaxing in the second hottest pool as the clouds rolled in and a few raindrops cooled and pelted us.

Boys in the hot springs

     We had a most enjoyable day, surprise and all!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Town, New Sights

Dear readers,

I apologize for the delay in posting over the past two days! Wrapping up our time in San Lucas took our attention away from the blog for a little bit. No need to worry though, we are all safely in Xela, Guatemala's second largest city.

After a winding bus ride around the lake and over the mountains, we arrived here yesterday around lunch time. I think we were all shocked at the sight we saw when we drove into the town center. Let me give you a visual. Here is a picture of our view in San Lucas:

And here is a picture of our view in Xela:

Do you notice the contrast? Both are very beautiful, just in very different ways. San Lucas is quiet and slow-paced; Xela is full of big city hustle and bustle. Different as it is, being able to visit and experience this part of the country only adds to our time here. We are definitely getting to experience both parts of the country. I think most of us were sad to leave San Lucas yesterday morning, I know I was. Friendships were built and memories were made that I know I'll never forget (that sentence sounds cheesy...but sometimes you just have to do it).

This morning after breakfast, we drove out to Agua del Pueblo to help Stuart and Michael begin their summer research. We started the morning with a short meeting about the organization and how it runs and then we got to work. The rest of the day was spent sifting through dusty binders and looking for data from previous water projects. It was a change of pace from the work we did in San Lucas but still interesting to see the work the organization has done.

To conclude, I'm sure you all have been itching to know who one our soccer game on Sunday afternoon. Say hello to the Black Magic Campeones (Spanish for "mushrooms"). Look for us in the next World Cup.

Intimidating, aren't we?
Well, that's all for today. Tonights agenda: free salsa dancing lessons in the town center. I'm sure there will be an update tomorrow about how things go down.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Behind The Scenes...

Today, I'm going to take you to the places only those living in Guatemala for this May X course dare to venture. Hold on to your hats. 

 So, here we are in this lovely land with only one week left until we board the plane and are homeward bound. Above you can see the view from our hotel roof where we occasionally have night time fires prepared by eager hotel staff and discuss the deeper meanings of life. I cannot release what those deeper meanings are, but trust me, they're deep.  

This photo captures our food scraps which turn into a gourmet meal for the local chickens. They eat pretty much everything. They even eat chicken scraps. Worrisome? Maybe.

If you have been following our blog, you know that recently we had three of our own avid dishwashers struck by lightning. Above you can see the scene of the incident. The only reason people are smiling and washing in this picture is because there are no stormy clouds in sight. All of the visitors to the Parrish take turns washing dishes and I must say that the Furman students have been very thorough washers. I'll eat off a plate they wash any day of the week. 


We have a star in our group! Rebecca McDaniel, a rising sophomore majoring in Music, received the opportunity to play the Marimba in this morning's Mass service. This was truly an honor for her and everyone was very impressed by her talent. We were all very excited to see her step out on a limb and work hard to blend in with the Sunday band. MUY BIEN, REBECCA!

Today is a free day so our group spent a fun morning at the market. If you're wondering what kinds of things you can buy at the market, refer to the comprehensive list below.

1. chickens
2. pirated DVDS
3. fruits
4. vegetables
5. snails (still squirming)
6. crabs (still kicking)
7. undergarments
8. stray dogs
9. flowers
10. shampoo
11. perfume
12. buckets
13. rodent traps

After the market we signed up to play a fun game of 6 on 6 soccer at the local field. The anticipation is high and the trash talk has already started. T minus 30 minutes until game time.

As a staff member of the Office for Study Away and International Education, I consider myself privileged to be a part of this course and see how each of these students has grown and changed on this trip. I look forward to the upcoming week and facing the new challenges alongside the faculty and students. 

-Chrissy Carpenter

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Playin' in the Dirt

     Today, after a delicious breakfast of black beans, oatmeal and the most wonderful strawberry jam you have ever tasted, we headed off to work at the Reforestation Project. Saturday is the day of the week that the children come to work on various projects on the farm and it was so fun to come along side them and help them get things done. To be short and sweet, we were playing in the dirt all morning! From stuffing recycled paper bags with dirt to planting tree seeds to digging holes and sifting soil, we got to interact with the kids every step of the way. One nice thing about hanging out with children is they don't care how bad your Spanish is and as you stumble through conversations you end up learning a lot about each other. Being the only one in the group with absolutely no Spanish background, it was fun to bond with the kids over popular songs and our dirt covered hands.
     This afternoon we had a very special experience. We all piled in the back of a pickup truck and headed up the mountain to a small town of about 1,500 people called Panamaquip for a Saturday evening mass. Father John, a priest at the San Lucas Mission, drove us up before leading the worship service. We parked the truck and hiked up the road to the small church that was made for less than 100 people and was quickly packed with eager church goers. We didn’t notice until after we were sitting that all the women were sitting on one side of the church while our entire group had mistakenly taken seats on the men’s side of the church, but Bruce assured us that it was ok. Father John gave a wonderful homily about our place in the kingdom of God, which I would not have understood at all if it hadn’t been for Carrie’s whispered translations in my ear. All the scripture readings were done by younger women of the community, who I assume were those with enough education to read Spanish eloquently. As communion started in this packed little church perched high on a mountain it began to rain and the cloud actually came into the building.

-Maddy Parks