Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In closing…

Of all the things I could say about our trip and my experience, it was that it was one of the best times of my life. It was the most empowering, rewarding, eye-opening and exciting experience. And, I wish everyone could take the time to step out of their normal life for awhile to do something similar.

In closing to all of these blogs, I thought I would simply share some words that were given to me in Guatemala…

“Service is the rent we pay for life.”

Having done some, I now truly believe in it. And, I truly believe that giving to others is a guaranteed way of finding happiness, love, fulfillment and peace in life. To those of you who are considering it, I hope you have an amazing time as well.

Be well,


Across Guatemala and Back…

During our one week of travelling around Guatemala, I felt like I watched the whole world whiz by my bus window. As I’ve mentioned in other blog entries, I love car rides. I just love watching. I love the moments when you catch a kid laughing on the side of the street, or a couple embracing, or the beautiful views that suddenly appear when you turn a corner. I loved being stuck in traffic, but not the 401-kind of traffic in Toronto…I’m talking about hundreds of cows being herded down the street and just not being able to go anywhere until they’ve crossed.

Despite sometimes being too hot and a little bit claustrophobic, I loved seeing Guatemala the way we did. We covered so much distance in so little time, yet I still feel like I truly saw as much as possible. I even felt that because we saw so much, and we were in such diverse places that it was like being in multiple countries. After a month of living in Antigua, which by the way I am convinced has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it was exciting to get into the bus every morning and drive to a new and unknown area of Guatemala.

It felt like one minute I was driving in the highlands and winding through beautiful mountains, and then the next I was in the jungle ziplining and visiting Mayan ruins… only to end up suddenly back on the coast, enjoying the beach and the sound of salsa music drifting through the air.

I swam in limestone pools and tanned on the rocks like the hundreds of lizards in the jungle. I spent a beautiful and lazy afternoon tubing down a river with girls on my team who became the closest of friends. I met amazing backpackers at a great hotel in Coban called El Retiro. I saw monkeys. I stood at the very top of a Mayan Temple and felt like I was on top of the world, in every sense. I found a little known waterfall and jumped off with almost no hesitation, almost.

I could go on forever about the last week, but I think you get the point. I did so much in such a short period of time I left Guatemala with the feeling that I could do anything. And, I think I probably will.

Hasta Luego,


The Last Day of Work!

Our last day was the perfect end to our month of volunteering. In the morning, Teresa and the Board of Directors hosted an inauguration for the building that the previous Developing World Connections trip built, which we were able to finish painting and use for our programming. I was almost brought to tears with pride and joy when Teresa handed me a pair of scissors and we cut the ribbon together to officially “open” that part of the library. To be part of something like this truly touches your heart every day and on our last day I know we all felt overwhelmed with all sorts of emotions. It was also an amazing morning because we were also able to be part of the graduation ceremony that Open Windows had for the computer class students. After interacting with some of these kids for a month, it nice to be able to acknowledge how hard they have worked and how much credit they deserve for being such good students in the face of many obstacles.

Then, of course, in the afternoon we threw a party! Teresa told us one night at home that her dream was to buy 100 kids McDonald’s and that if she had the money to do it she would. When she said that, we all looked at each other and immediately said we would do it. It may sound unimportant, but I share in her way of thinking and understood immediately why she would want to do so. I remember being very little and having my Dad take me to McDonald’s to get an ice cream cone after scoring my first soccer goal of the season. Or, coming home for lunch in grade one and my Mom surprising me with a happy meal. Yes, I know it isn’t the healthiest option and there is a lot to say about the corporation, but the joy that it brought to the kids… well let’s just say it was more than worth it when we did it. It may have been my favourite part of the trip actually.

I was surprised when we handed out the burgers because a lot of the kids looked so excited and so thrilled, yet they wouldn’t dare open it up or take a bite. I asked Teresa what was wrong and she said that the kids were saving it because they wanted to share it with their whole family, or their brothers, or their friends, or anyone special to them. Hearing that was heartbreaking and a huge learning moment for me. Would I have done the same as a child? Many of these kids had never had a burger before, let alone McDonald’s. There certainly isn’t one in their small town, and even if there was, they probably wouldn’t be able to afford it.

All in all, I’m just thrilled that something so simple and affordable to us was so exciting for these kids and that we had the opportunity to share in one of Teresa’s well founded dreams.

Hasta Luego,


The Last Week of Work!

Our time in Antigua just flew by. I don’t think any of us can believe that we have completed our work here and are packing up to tour around the country for one more week. It’s an exciting feeling to be done, but at the same time I don’t think I’m ready to part with this place or the people. Somehow, I feel like Open Windows has become sort of like a family for me in Guatemala, and it will seem odd when our bus driver doesn’t pick us up for work in the morning or my few favourite kids at the library don’t ask me how I am doing or when we are going to go play soccer.

In the end, I’m proud to say that our project was a success. After weeks of painting, cleaning, helping to build and teaching, I can say that every one of us poured our heart into the experience because of the thought of making the lives of those kids better.

The library looks amazing after we attacked every wall we could find with paint. When you come down the street, you can’t help but notice the library first now after we painted it the happiest and brightest yellow you can find. I swear, I may go crazy if I’m in another yellow room though (it was the colour Teresa wanted for almost all of the library). Anyway, I’m happy that the kids have a bright, clean and safe place to learn and play.

I know that the kids were sad to see us leave and not have us around for soccer practice, music lessons and all of the other activities we participated in, but my hope is that our efforts were sustainable. I hope that the older students and even some future volunteers will be able to pick up where we left off and keep these kids active and having fun.

Hasta Luego,


Roasting Marshmallows on a Volcano

So, this has officially been an exciting and unpredictable trip. To date, there have been three earthquakes since I’ve been here (which is a weekly thing in Guatemala) and this past weekend we successfully climbed Pacaya volcano. I won’t lie, during that intense 2 hour hike I just kept thinking over and over again that we actually better be able to see real lava. I mean the oozing, red lava that you can imagine gushing over the side of a volcano, and especially because Mary packed a big bag of marshmallows to roast up at the top. Well, we did see lava, and it was completely worth the effort. The marshmallow was absolutely delicious and hilarious at the time. This past weekend would have been May 24 weekend at home, so as I took fun pictures with Joelle and our mallows, I thought of all my friends gathered around a campfire at a cottage doing the same thing. I think it’s fair to say that my experience was a little more unique. One for the memories, that’s for sure. The only bad part, it was actually so hot that my new running shoes melted while we were up there! I guess picturing that can give you a great idea of just how hot it was.

After that we headed on to the black sand beach at Monterrico and stayed at the best little spot, Café de Sol. It was like having our own private hotel and beach to lounge at for the weekend. After a week of hard work and more physical labour at Open Windows, it felt amazing to jump into a pool and just relax.

I think my team could agree that so far this trip has been the perfect amount of work and play.

Hasta Luego,


Monday, June 1, 2009

My Soundtrack to Guatemala.

Music has always been a huge part of my life. When I gave my team five questions to answer on the day that we arrived to help them reflect on who they are and what they find important in and essential to their life, my answer to the question, “what is one thing that you packed that you think you can’t live without” was iPod. If you ever catch me on the street in Toronto I definitely have my iPod on. Same thing when I am working out at the gym, grocery shopping or reading at a coffee shop. I have songs that remind me of certain days in my life, of friends, of family and especially of my best travel memories. The word memories doesn’t even really describe it though. It’s more like moments.

We went to Lake Atitlan this weekend and after a long and amazing bus ride winding through the mountains and volcanoes, I turned to Lisa and said, “Have you ever had one of those moments that are just perfect, and then the perfect song comes on your iPod at the same time too and it is just that much better.” She burst into a big smile and said “Yes! I love that!” Lisa and I went to high school together and have been close for years now, so I actually knew that she would get exactly what I meant.

We spent hours driving around the Guatemalan highlands this weekend and I love every minute of it. I’m also a huge car-ride-loving person. So, I thought maybe it would be fun to share my soundtrack, instead of just writing about my experience. Each one has atleast one line that I love. And, some I just love… because they came on at the right time, when I was in the right place..

‘Better People’ – Xavier Rudd

“Giving food to the hungry or to the needy, giving life to a baby, giving care for free. There is freedom around us. We have everything we need, and I will care for you because you’ll care for me… There’s good people around with more good to do…”

‘Ain’t No Reason’ – Brett Denen

“Keep on building prisons, going fill them all. Keep on building bombs, going drop them all.”

‘All About You’ - Classified

“Life… its all about you. So, every morning when you wake, before the first step that you take just thinks its all what you make it and you’ll make it through. is all about the things you’ll never figure out… it’s all about the people you allow and the memories you keep.”

‘Running’ – Danny Michel

“Run. I’m running all the time. I’m running to the future… with you right by my side.”

‘Chocolate’ – Snow patrol

“This could be the very minute I’m aware I’m alive. All these places feel like home”

‘360’ – Asa
(the song I do yoga to on the roof… when the sunsets over the volcanoes)

“All you are looking for is with you. Open your eyes. Soften your mind, ears and mouth…as I song my song… as you hear my words. ”

And, ‘Square One’ – Coldplay

“My song is love…”

Love from Guatemala,