By Amanda Schweikert, former Kiva intern
Back here in snowy Colorado, looking back at my four-month experience in Guatemala brings back fond memories of brilliant blue skies and warm people. The most vivid memories are not of life-changing events or the powerful nostalgia for the comforts of life back in the United States. What stick out in my mind the most are the at-times monotonous aspects of day-to-day life walking the streets of Panajachel, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells. The tuk tuks wind in and out of traffic and pedestrians at lightning speed, stray dogs dart across streets, chicken bus drivers load people in while yelling names of nearby destinations, women sell bananas and hand-woven textiles on the touristy streets and vendors tempt locals with fried chicken and french fries out of food carts. My daily trips to the bustling market, packed with overflowing piles of colorful fruits and vegetables surrounded by the smells of raw chicken, are thrills themselves. I learn that bargaining is truly an art. Riding on chicken buses is the definition of adventure, cramped between strangers, exchanging smiles at the craziness around us.
I recall the mosquito-bite covered legs, the spider as big as the palm of my hand crawling uncomfortably close to my pillow. I was tested during the constant autumnal rains during which I found myself trapped in a coffee shop for four hours, unable to escape, as the streets became overflowing rivers. Then I was spoiled with the color-drenched dusks in November during “sunset season” and the 70 degree temps in the middle of December. Waking up to the sight of the Atitlán, San Pedro and Tolimán volcanoes looking over the lake, protecting nearby inhabitants, gave me comfort. Realizing their permanence made the difficult days a little more tolerable and the good days all the more magical.
Above all, what I treasured and what I will try to carry with me is the warmth and spirit of the Guatemalan people. The people I met during my experience genuinely cared to listen and welcomed me into their homes without hesitation. The passion and drive of the businesswomen I met through my Friendship Bridge fellowship inspire me and further fuel my passion for non-profit work. Before leaving Guatemala in December, I received valuable advice from a mother of a student at the multicultural academy at which I taught, a woman I am fortunate to call a friend. She told me, “Lay one stone ahead of you at a time.” Making sure to plant the next stone firmly in the ground, I am looking forward to the next adventure and what I will discover along the way.