I'm alive. I'm sure you have been worried. Please see previous blog posts to catch up on our experiences thus far.
Yesterday morning, we began our long drive through the mountains to Antigua for our New Year's celebration. After eating relatively rustic food for the first days of the mission, it was a relief to finally eat at a modern cafe. We had delicious sandwiches before walking down the cobblestone streets to the famous archway at the end of the street leading from the city square. After stopping frequently to take pictures at every angle, we finally reached a building known as the Yellow Church. Covered in statues of saints and painted a golden yellow, the church was a beautiful piece of architecture contrasting with the deep blue sky. We had time to explore the streets where vendors sold artisanal goods and textile products. Walking back under the archway, we came across an elderly native woman selling hand-painted oil paintings. Being the compulsive shopper that I am, I had to have one featuring the beautiful archway that we happened to be standing under. (Side note: I have proven to be the expert at haggling vendors into getting souvenirs for cheap prices.) After finishing our shopping, we made our way back to our hotel. The hotel has open atriums covered in bright orange and purple flowers surrounding a stone fountain. We all decided to make our way to the rooftop where we experienced quite possibly the most stunning views of the trip so far. With the weather being in the high seventies, we basked in the sun on the roof listening to music before getting showered and ready for the evening ahead of us. After dinner, we went downtown to celebrate in the square with thousands of Guatemalans, Americans, and other world travelers. After a long night of fun, we woke up this morning and took a walking tour of the city where we saw ruins of cathedrals and several exciting other churches. After the tour, it was time to check out of our gorgeous hotel and head back to the city of Panajachel where we had a nice dinner and got gelato (ice cream) for dessert. We closed the evening having a group pillow talk session for team bonding.
So far, I have already experienced so much and discovered and learned so many lessons about the world and myself. I sit and think about the life that I have been blessed with living in the United States and compare it to the limited means that the people that I have come in contact with here have. Experiencing their community in person really puts life into perspective for me. One of the most amazing sights to see is small children, even toddlers, wave at cars passing by as they stand on the side of a winding road on an incredibly large mountain. Something particularly notable happened today once we arrived back in Panajachel. We had all been craving ice cream on the long trip home and we decided to search for it when we got back. After looking on the main street for quite some time, we found a store that sold some to our liking. Grace paid for her ice cream when a small native boy confronted her asking for her to buy him one. Instead of buying another, she graciously gave him her own. Acts like these make this trip a life changing experience. I've realized how much that I take for granted every day at home and it has really opened my eyes. I knew that I was signing up for a life changing experience, but I did not expect it to happen within 48 hours. I could not be more grateful for the chance that I have here to study and learn about something I have a true passion for by some of the most distinguished doctors and compassionate human beings I have ever met. I also cannot imagine being here with anyone else than my fellow Xavier students. We have grown so close this past semester and we all have connected on such an awesome level. This trip is turning out to be everything I had hoped and so much more. I hope to carry these friendships and connections that I have made for the rest of my life.