Thursday, March 10, 2011

Julie's view from the van

Hola! Buenas tardes! We are in our second day in Guatemala. After the other half of our group arrived, we all made the journey from Guatemala City to Panajachel, the village where we will work with Heart to Heart. The fourteen of us from Xavier, plus the four medical professionals who came with us, are all packed into two vans (I knew we would get close on this trip, but I didn’t realize it would be so soon!) Since the journey will take about three hours, this is a good time to reflect on my experiences thus far.
As we ascend higher and higher into the mountains, I look out the windows of the van and am astounded by the breathtaking beauty. The further we go, the less I notice the mountains and the more my attention is consumed by the surrounding poverty. So far, I have seen dilapidated houses, men passed out drunk right in the middle of the sidewalk, people begging you to buy whatever it is they are selling, and many more sights that just tear at your heart. At the same time, though, I have seen beauty in the poverty. I have seen women who you could just tell were best friends carrying baskets on their heads; I have seen families farming their fields together, putting in countless hours of hard work; and I have seen kids playing together in a field, kicking a ball around and laughing as though they were the happiest kids on earth.
Observing all of these sights has caused a million questions to race through my brain. One recurring question that I can’t seem to find an answer to is: why them and not me? Why did I have the privilege of being born in a country where having a house, a car, a job, and new clothes is so common that it is easy to take these things for granted? I could have just as easily been born into a country like Guatemala where not having a car is the least of your concerns because you are more concerned with where you are going to get your next meal. Being born in America really was just pure luck; it’s like flipping a coin—heads, you are born in America, tails, you are born in Guatemala. Although I still do not have an answer as to why I was born in America instead of Guatemala, I do realize that it just as easily could have been me who was born into the Guatemalan poverty. If it weren’t for the luck of getting heads when I flipped the coin, I could have been the one begging people to buy whatever I was selling, just to earn a couple of bucks a day.
Reflecting on the luck of being born in a desirable geographical location, I can’t help but think back to this morning when the first half of our group to arrive had the opportunity of meeting two Guatemalans from the Jewish community—Mario and his 32-year-old son Jonathan. Mario explained to us how in 1934, after Hitler had just come into power, his father immigrated to Guatemala from Hamburg, Germany because he wanted to escape religious persecution for being Jewish. Just as the Guatemalans are randomly born into their poor living conditions, so too was Mario’s grandfather randomly born into an oppressive living situation. Unfortunately in Germany, no one did anything to help the Jews, so six million people died in the Holocaust. We cannot go back and change the past, but we can learn from it for the future, which is why we must do something to help the Guatemalans. Because all eighteen of us on this trip have been given many privileges, we have an obligation to help those who are not as fortunate. My perspective on life has already changed after just one day of being here, so I look forward to the days ahead.

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