31 January 2011

a wedding!

Nothing like a wedding to welcome a stranger into your family... So on Saturday night, I went to the wedding of my new host Dad's brother!

My host parents said we'd leave at 4:30, so I got ready, and at about 4:40 went into the kitchen to signal I was ready to leave... Then I started watching TV because it was 4:50... then 5:00... then 5:15... Then finally at 5:30, my host parents surfaced, and we were off in the pickup (a nice change, because my other family had no vehicle)... But only after getting some gas (less than 1 gallon... and all the while the engine running...).

When we arrived to the venue (a restaurant), we realized the ceremony had already finished (by this time it was after 6) Wah Wah. So we parked the pickup, and my host mom started shyly making the rounds, saying hello to the 60ish guests, before we took seats at the one big U-shaped table. Soon, dinner was served (4 plates at a time- truly Guatemalan style), and I managed to spill beans literally all over my skirt. Smooth. Luckily, we were sitting outside in the dark, so no one knew except for my host mom who helped me to clean it all up.

After about an hour of eating, the bride and groom (and 1 other couple) danced to about 1 song, and then at 7:30, they got into their car to ride off into the sunset on their honeymoon. The rest of the guests hung around chatting inside, (with more and more people coming and expecting food up until we left!) and eventually at around 10 we said goodbye.

It was fun, but definitely awkward, because not only did I not know anyone in the extended family, but I barely even knew my host parents! Haha. I was certainly glad I could go, though... it was definitely a unique experience.

Hope all are well,
bendiciones, juli

Note: My host mom is not really smiling because earlier that day one of her front teeth fell out eating corn on the cob. Seriously. I didn't have the heart to ask if it was a real tooth or a denture...

28 January 2011

new address!

Also, here's my new mailing address--
Juli Smith
Apartado Postal 315
Antigua, Guatemala CA

Again, Please do NOT send BOXES (mailer envelopes instead) or anything that is super duper important, because stuff takes its time to get here (2-3 weeks)... but sometimes never makes it :(

PS: There are still 2 YAVs in Xela, so any mail already on its way there will eventually make its way to me through them.

Thanks, friends!

a new home

Well, friends, I've made the move!
I'm now living with a family outside of Antigua in Ciudad Vieja (the 'old city' that used to be the capital of Guatemala way back when). It's a VERY different set-up here; I have way more space to myself and a lot less people living in a very small space and sharing 1 bathroom- it's a big change, but I'm adjusting. My host parents are both in their 60s and make their living by selling snacks and lunches to 2 nearby coffee fincas. They're very chatty, and though they've hosted many foreigners before, they seem genuinely interested in who I am and why I'm here, so it hopefully won't take too long to settle in with their family. Also, a few of their adult-children (a little older than me) live down the same alley as us, so there are always a lot of people and kids around, and yet my room is separate, so I can still have plenty of privacy. I even have windows in this one, so I can know when it's night and day!

I'll officially start work on Monday at Faith in Practice- helping out around the office, warehouse, and guest house until/ between accompanying and translating for groups- which will be starting in the middle of February- Very exciting! Of course, starting a new job is always awkward at the beginning, so I'm trying to pass quickly through that phase to where they know what I can do/ what to do with me.

Otherwise, I'm just re-acclimating myself to Antigua, learning a new bus system, and trying to find my place in my new living environment-- Apparently there's a wedding to go to tomorrow, so I'm sure that will help speed things right along. :)

Hope everyone is doing well, and that all that snow isn't too much of a bother!
bendiciones, juli

Also, here's a cool prayer that I found from Julia Esquivel, a Guatemalan poet...
"You illuminate our darkness and fill our saddness with hope.
Because You are stronger than I, I have let myself be captive, and Your love burns in my heart.
The thirst for Your Truth has made me a pilgrim, from city to city,
Until the day Your Word is fulfilled, and we are reborn in Your image and likeness.
Captivate me, Lord, until the last of my days,
Wring out my heart with Your hands of a wise Indian,
So that I will not forget Your justice,
Nor cease proclaiming the urgent need for humankind to live in harmony."

24 January 2011

a time for everything

¨For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven...
A time to weep, and a time to laugh...
A time to keep and a time to cast away.¨
- Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 4, 6

Well friends, the time has come for a change for Juli-- a big one. This Wednesday, I´ll be moving to Antigua, Guatemala --a 3.5ish hour drive from Xela where YAVs Laura and Andrew live, and my director Marcia-- and where we started our Guatemalan journey with language school in September.

This has been a really hard decision for me, as I´ve spent nearly 4 months now in Xela, living with my huge and never-dull host family, working at the elderly lunch program, and searching for another part-time project to do. During these months, I´ve talked to 8 organizations-- none of which seemed like good matches because the positions either weren´t what we thought they´d be, didnt´t fall within YAV regulations, or just plain old didn´t interest me. Seeing so many doors close on me, and the frustrating irony of being bored in one of the poorest countries in the world has been extremely trying for me- but I´ve learned a lot about myself and my true passions, so I can see value in this time.

So, 2 weeks ago, my director Marcia asked if a change to Antigua to job-search there might be better... And after our retreat last weekend, I stayed overnight in Antigua to talk to a few people. Here´s where the story gets happy. Marcia´s neighbor took me to his organization, Faith in Practice- an organization that has teams of doctors come to rural Guatemalan villages to do free medical exams during week-long trips. For those who need surgery, they also have surgical teams come down and have their very own (small) guest house where people can stay, free of charge, pre- and post-op. I´ll be accompanying and translating for this trips probably 1 or 2 weeks per month, and then helping out around the office/guest house for the remainder of the time- helping around the guest house, preparing the medical-supply boxes for the trips, data entry of who/what they saw, etc.

After interviewing with FiP, I felt different; not confused, or discouraged, or defeated, but hopeful- like I really could do that and enjoy it a whole lot. So, after a lot of thoughtful prayer and reflection on my time here in Xela, I -with the help of my YAV team- decided that moving seemed like the best idea for Juli.

On Saturday I told my host family- which was hard, because though they´re not perfect, they´ve been very kind to me and it will be hard to leave them, but they took it well; more surprised than anything else. We´re all sad that our relationship has to end early, but I assured them of several visits over my next 6ish months here, so I´m confident this won´t be the end.

So there you go, world. A time of change. I´m looking forward to what God unfolds for me in this next chapter- and as always, thanks so much for your continued prayers and support, world.

bendiciones, juli

20 January 2011

monterrico, ooh que rico!

Hello, world!

Sorry it´s been a little while... Things around here have been fairly tranquilo as Christmas break dragged on for me and we continue to search for new work projects for me to do for the rest of my YAV time here...

However, we did have another (monthly) YAV retreat at the beach this past weekend! Monterrico! Even though Guatemala is NOT known for its beaches, (If you are a surfer, or a beach connoisseur, don`t come here) Monterrico is warm and clean... so for us, it was a lovely getaway! The beach was black volcanic sand, and the waves were SUPER strong!! We really didn´t want to go in past our knees for fear of being pulled out to our death by the sea! Because of this, all the hotels around have pools, so we spent most of our water-time in our hotel`s pool, which was a very pleasant change from Xela`s frost in the morning. Also, there are a LOT of mosquitos (and other flea-LIKE biting pests) down there, so we came back with many recuerdos of our time there.

Saturday night, our first night, we were able to do a sea tutle race. I didn´t know what this was, and was picturing some sort of disturbing cock fight, but never fear world- it was totally (mostly) PC. It´s the end of sea turtle egg-hatching season, so everyone there paid to have a baby turtle, which we then all let go of at the same time, màs o menos, to see whose got to the ocean first. Mine was definitely a squirmer, so sadly he wasted most of his energy before hitting the sand... but it was fun, and the money goes towards the turtle conservatory, so hopefully little Johnson is the 1 in 1000 that makes it... I bet he is.

Other than that, we did our usual retreat activities; sharing stories from the month, relaxing, discussing the assigned reading (Omnivore`s Dilemma-- you should read it), and utilizing the abundance of hammocks at the hotel. It´s a good time.

On Monday morning, we took a sunrise canoe boat-tour of the mangroves in Monterrico. Yes, that´s right- sunrise, as in 5:30am... but it was totally worth it! The mangroves are full of trees whose roots grow from above into the water, and loads of water fowl whose names I don´t know in English, and it was really really pretty. We also got to see many fishermen and see the sun rise on the Pacific-- not too shabby.

I got back to Xela last night on an eventful shuttle ride (which took 2x longer than normal and included the standard tire change and a road-side pickup on the highway), many bugbites, and just a hint of a tan, so it was all worth it.

Hope everyone´s doing well. Thanks for following along, world!

bendiciones, juli

05 January 2011


John 6:5-6
¨Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Philip, ´Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?´ He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.¨

I was reading John the other night, and this passage really stuck out at me. At this point in the year, I´ve completed almost 5 months in Guatemala, and to be honest, world, it´s definitely been a series of ups and downs- sometimes more downs than ups. Fleas, parasites, semi-abusive family situations, elderly people that can´t afford to feed themselves-- don´t exactly lend themselves to an easy adjustment... In the midst of it all, I´m sometimes tempted to feel hopeless, like God has left me, or I´ve strayed from God´s will or something like that, but this passage points out what a lie all of that is.

Peter was surely wondering the same thing, and when JC asked him how they could feed the growing crowd, it wasn´t because He didn´t know. He created the people, created the desire in their heart to hear Him speak, brought them to Himself on the hill that day at lunchtime- He knew they would come and He knew they´d be hungry.

Sometimes I act like I think Jesus doesn´t know where lunch will come from; like my future is some unsolved mystery- I have no idea why I´m here or what this year in Guatemala is preparing me for, and I convince myself that surely if III don´t know, the God of the universe must share that uncertainty. But this passage shows that God knows (and has known since He created me) where lunch will come from ((a huge awesome miracle, by the way)) and how my life story will unfold.

The very next thing that follows in the book of John is Jesus walking on the water towards the boat where the disciples were shaking in their boots at a huge storm that suddenly hit. In the middle of the scariness, Jesus walked toward (not away from) the disciples in the most impossible of ways, and said, ¨It is I, do not fear.¨ In the middle of the storm, the mess, the confusion that is this year, Jesus is coming toward me, and has known all along what the end (and the journey TO the end) will look like.

Take courage, friends- God is big, and always has a plan for us for lunch.
bendiciones, juli

PS: After my google image search, I am majorly craving PB&J.

03 January 2011

feliz año nuevo!

Hello friends, and welcome to 2011!

And I know what you´re thinking... the missionary life reallllly looks hard here, doesn´t it?? Well, this was my extended Sabbath break...

So I went to the beautiful Lago Atitlán for new years! I went with a college group from Illinois State Univ that was volunteering for a week at the nonprofit school that YAV Katharine works at-- I went to ¨help translate¨ aka take a break and get a free shuttle bus ride to do it. It was beautiful.

So Atitlán has long-since been known for its strong hippie influences, and let me tell you world, we stayed in the most hippie dippie of hostels- as in, some patrons chose to not wear shoes, there was no electricity in my room... but who cares- it was in Santa Cruz and RIGHT on the lake- talk about idyllic (and $4 a night)! We arrived on the 31st, and since it was a University-sponsored trip, they had a no-alcohol policy, so we had a dance party until 11:50, counted down, and then (of course) set off some fireworks... The owners´ kids were probably about 7 and 9, and don´t worry friends, they got right in there with the roman candles and bottle rockets. Good stuff. Then, Katharine and I went out on a dock and watched the hundreds of fireworks going off all around the lake under the stars--- Is this seriously my life??

On January 1st, we rented a kayak and went out on the lake, boated, swam, and (small) cliff jumped-- what a wonderful way to kick off this new year! In the afternoon, the group went touristing around the lake, and Malea (my friend/trip organizer from Katharine´s school) hung back as ¨emergency contacts¨ to relax... it was glorious. It was so sunny and warm- we spent virtually all day lounging in the hammocks... Much needed R&R. We did go on an epic quest to get Juli a coca light- mainly because we were bored... we went to about 8 tiendas (little family-run stores) before we found 1 store that had 1 dusty can that was probably from the year 2000. Oh well, it gave us an excuse to go to the top(ish) of the mountain -- suchhhh a beautiful view!

Sunday, the group headed back to Xela and Katharine and I poked around the lake some more (using ferry boats to get from one town to the next), and then went to visit the foundation through which her US family sponsors students for school. We stayed over night with Benedicto and his wife Maria, and learned all about the amazing things they´re doing in San Juan La Laguna. Very nice to meet them and some of the students. .. Inspiring things are happening there, world.

Thennnnnnnn I remembered I was in Guatemala. Mom, you might want to stop reading. We took the 6am public bus back to Xela (about a 3hr ride with all of the stops)... and after about an hour, the bus stopped and the driver said the road is ¨cerrado¨ (closed) and he can´t go any farther and is returning to Atitlàn. Oh good, thanks... So everyone gets off the bus, and we walk through a corn field to get to the highway nearby (I wish I was making this up). We get to the highway, the 60ish Guatemalans (and 3 white people) that were on the bus... and we just stand there, trying to flag down buses, microbuses, or pickups that are going to/towards Xela. Good idea. Meanwhile, vehicles keep trying to turn to go where we came from, but the road is ¨closed,¨ and traffic is building up in the opposite direction... and kind of tapering off coming in ours. Good. The reason for this? ¨Saaaaber.¨ (Translation: who knows. More accurate translation: There is no real answer.) We saw several big trucks FULL of Guatemalans standing up going in that direction- and later learn that it was a national ¨manifestation¨ to protest the nothingness the president is doing by blocking highways all over Guatemala… I´ll let you decide how affective that sounds.

In any event, after about 45 mins roadside, a mostly-full public bus stops, picks us up off the side of the highway, and eventually we make it to the bus terminal in Xela... Thank you, Jesus for this miracle.

Hope that everyone else´s new years stories have happy endings! Bendiciones to all, faithful readers!