by Daniel Haywood
Yesterday, we woke up to a typical chilly Guatemalan morning.
The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the roosters were crowing and the dogs were fighting. We had our standard breakfast of eggs, beans, tortillas and fresh fruit, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The toast with peanut butter and honey really brings it home.
Most of our group quickly got ready to take a nice hike that was allegedly “mostly flat” to a sacred Mayan site. Those of us that were not feeling up to the hike opted to go to story time at the library.
The hike turned out to be a short and intense hike straight up a mountain, which was totally cool. We were all breathing pretty heavy when we made it to the top in 45 minutes, which turns out to be a new record.
We had to be quiet when we reached the top because there was a man praying by a fire, which was pretty cool. We walked through the site, which consisted of multiple outcroppings of boulders with ashy offering spots. There was a group of women praying at an altar with a little fire and some bunches of flowers propped up against the boulder.
I felt like I was intruding on this sacred place, so I tried to be as silent as possible and smile at the people if they looked at me.
We hiked a bit higher to the tip top of the mountain, where there were a few more rock altars and started taking pictures. The view was incredible! We could see the whole town of Chajul from up there and could also see for miles in every direction.
We saw mountains after mountains sprawling out in every direction, all covered in dense forests and the occasional corn field. It was beautiful.
Pedro Daniel (a Philantropiece scholar) told us the story of the mountain, which was pretty interesting. We walked back down to the big main site to look around some more and chill.
The guy was still praying over his fire. He sounded so intense and emotional, and I kept hearing him say, “Tanteush,” which means “thank you” in Ixil (the native language of Chajul). At one point he sacrificed some local moonshine out of a water bottle, which fueled the fire nicely. He was really into it, and it was the most intense praying I’ve ever seen.
We all sat around and took in the sights for a while, then started heading down.
The praying man eventually left, but he must have been praying there for at least an hour, all alone with his fire and machete. They all seemed to leave their fires going when they left. They were definitely not boy scouts. I guess it is ok since the fires were all sitting on rock slabs and are presumably protected by the spirit of the mountain.
The walk down was really easy, and nobody slipped too badly. We returned to the Philanthropiece building and most people went back to the Posada (our hotel) or to the library.
I stayed and interviewed Loupita with Jake (one of our group leaders) translating. We all had to interview a local leader about leadership and their work for ALED, and I chose Loupita because I had briefly met her at the Posada when she came to visit Laura.
The interview was awesome!
She had so much to say for each question, and she blew me away with how deep her answers were. Jake was also very impressed with how well spoken she was. I got much more from that interview than I had expected.
She had headed a project to place three big trash cans at strategic points in the city, because pollution and trash is a huge problem that greatly contributes to the disease and general unhealthiness in the city. She also works with schools, and her strategy is to work with the people by first telling them that she is not any more important than they are. She has a very gentle approach to leadership, which contrasts greatly with the heavy-handed style of the Guatemalan government and most men in authority.
Then ,we all had lunch at Philanthropiece, which was one of the best lunches yet! We had steak, rice, beets, potatoes and vanilla horchata. After we couldn’t eat any more, we headed back to the Posada for class.
We all chilled after class and worked on various projects until dinner, which was fried chicken! It was soo good!
After dinner we had Ixil lessons, which was really fun! All the letters are more like simple sounds, as opposed to the more definite sounds in English and Spanish. We learned how to say “good morning,” “how are you,” “very good,” and “and you.” They translated, respectively, to “tchaglaxh,” “kamtalaxh,” “b’ankuxhin,” and “kech axh.”
I know it reads like gibberish, but it makes a little more sense when spoken. After that, we chilled and talked and blogged. It was a great day.