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dancer blog

from Guatemala

By March 24, 2010June 16th, 2013No Comments

from Marisa Martin

On my final plane ride back to New York (2 days late, I might add) from what turned out to be the experience of a lifetime…

It is only appropriate that Dido’s “Sand in My Shoes” came onto my iPod as soon as I took out my pen and notebook to write. “Two weeks away, feels like the whole world should have changed, but I’m home now and things still look the same.” I’ve always loved that line, but today I feel that it is truly fitting to my life. I can honestly say that in just 12 days, my life has been changed and when I return to New York, I will be seeing the same world through different eyes. Enlightened eyes. Still curious, but more assured of what else they want to see in life. Dido continues to sing about how during her time away she has fallen in love. Although she is talking about a man, I can relate. I, too, have fallen in love – not with a single person, but with many people and with the culture that fuels their lives.

The people of Guatemala (many of whom are Mayan) are like no other I have encountered. Many words come to mind: open, generous, accepting, loving, accommodating, driven, family-oriented, appreciative, passionate. These people, however, could never fully be explained. Their true essence is something that must be experienced. The Spanish word for happy is “contenta,” something I found to be absolutely fitting. While their idea of happiness is being content, Americans (as a whole) are always looking for the next best thing, always wanting more. We too often adopt the attitude that what we have isn’t good enough. (Thanks to Scott for pin-pointing the right words for that on our “first” last night.) The Guatemalans, however, have perfected the art of appreciating what they do have. Many of these people have a sheet of tin as their roof, tap water that is a recipe for sickness, and a past to make any heart break. In spite of all of this (as Helen pointed out in Xela), most of them are probably happier than the majority of New Yorkers. They embrace the richness of their past. They take time to spend with their families. They honor their elders, looking to their “old” stories as new inspiration. Above all, they appreciate what they have and they love with all that they are. Just spending less than two weeks among them, the Guatemalan people have made me rethink what I value and what I want out of life.

Though we were there to teach and share what we had to offer, I truly was the one that learned, and I know my fellow JUNTOS-ers would agree whole-heartedly. Somewhere in the midst of teaching in classrooms, holding hands of the orphaned young and wrinkling old, an omnipresent volcano, rides in the back of a red pick-up truck, new food, triumphs and mishaps of the Spanish language, performing for close to 900 people in a beautiful theater, sick stomachs, hurt bodies, tired eyes, emotional hearts, hug attacks by an entire school, watching our kids perform, and growing closer to one another – we fell in love. It’s hard to return to a place that will have stayed the same when I have changed so much. How does one bring a new heart into an old environment? How to stay grounded in what I truly believe in when so many of my daily activities counter-act it all? “Two weeks away is all it takes to change and turn me around.” Hopefully, even thought it was short, my time in Guatemala was powerful enough to become a presence in my everyday life – my thoughts, feelings, actions. But judging by the significant change I felt as it was all happening, I think it’s safe to say it will do just that. Wish me buena suerte!

– Marisa Martin