Charlotte Newell Guatemala Diary -- Day 1


Every time I'm waiting in the airport before I leave to go abroad, I like to read one section of Walt Whitman's Song of the Open Road. I've never actually read the whole poem (it's super long) and right now I'm on the third section. It's kind of nice to read something new every time, and even though I haven't read it all, it's safe to say it's my favorite poem ever. If you've never read it before, you should check it out. The earth expanding right hand and left hand, The picture alive, every part in its best light, The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted, The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road.

O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me? Do you say Venture not – if you leave me you are lost? Do you say I am already prepared. I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?

O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you, You express me better than I can express myself, You shall be more to me than my poem.

I think heroic deeds were all conceiv'd in the open air, and all free poems also. I think I could stop here myself and do miracles I think whatever I meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me. I think whoever I see must be happy.

So that's just something I like to do before traveling. I usually read through it a few times to internalize it and just get myself into the traveling mindset. Because even though I love traveling more than anything else, I still get nervous as I'm driving to the airport and waiting at the gate. No matter how many times I do this, I still get that stomach-tightening, mind-numbing strike of fear that's almost debilitating and I have to do something to distract myself. If not for the fact that I was getting dropped off at the airport instead of driving myself, it would've been so easy to just say “Nah. I'll lounge around in my pajamas today instead.”

But then one day would turn to the next and then I'd waste away my life in my pajamas and miss everything the world has to offer. We only have so much time on this earth – not nearly enough time to do everything, although I know I'll try my best – so I really believe we need to take advantage of it not just for ourselves and our own experiences, but also to benefit others. Which is why I came to Guatemala. Kind of. I wasn't actually here to directly help people, but more to do work for a foundation that I strongly believe will be able to impact other people's lives for the better.

Landing in Guatmala was amazing. I didn't have a window seat (which made me a little sad, because window seats are the best) but I managed to peek out the window and see the plateaus as we were landing, which was really cool. I'd never seen any plateaus so it was a cool new thing. Then Charlie picked me up from the airport. Charlie is the taxi driver who works with the monastery, and he's really nice. He drove me to the monastery and dropped me off.

When we got there, my first thought was 'Wow. This place is nice.' We walked in to where they eat and there were beautiful clean tile floors and really nice architecture. It was gorgeous. I met both of the madres, who were very nice, and then went to the church, which is about a minute's walk away from the main compound where the kids live (the monastery functions primarily as an orphanage as well).

There is a room in the back of the church with a bed and bathroom, which is where I ended up staying the night. It was a very simple, modest room, although it would be silly to expect anything fancy. That being said, there was still a really comfortable bed and running water, so it had more comfort than I really needed.

Guatemala OrphanageI spent the rest of the day working with a mission group from the US. They were mostly doing art classes with the kids from the orphanage and other stuff like that. It was nice, but I didn't really like it. That's not what I was there to do, and I felt as if I wasn't really being helpful. It's an orphanage and they've got their regular daily routine going on, regardless of whether I was there or not. And honestly, I'm not sure I fit into their work that well. I was just there, helping some kids glue paper together, which is really not even that helpful. What I was doing there at the monastery is not First Thing's mission. It's the opposite of our mission and if you're really going to help someone, you have to have a relationship with them and you have to be able to communicate with them. While I could communicate with those kids (many were surprised that I spoke any Spanish at all), I didn't have a relationship with them, and I certainly wouldn't have a lasting relationship with them, even if I were staying there for more than one night.

That being said, the work that the monastery does is wonderful. While their accommodations are way nicer than I would've expected, they're for the kids. It's not a bad thing that it's so nice because these kids deserve it. The monastery exists to help these kids and give them a better life, which is a beautiful thing. They have their mission, and they implement it well. I just wasn't really going to be that helpful in implementing its mission, so I felt uncomfortable taking up their resources, even if I did make a donation before I left.

Regardless, there is one important thing I learned very quickly in that first day: my Spanish needs a lot of work. I can communicate, and I don't think my accent is too terrible, but my vocabulary is just not good. I speak French as well and I keep mixing up the two, which makes me so angry! When Charlie dropped me off at the monastery, I wanted to ask him how much I owed him, which is really simple. I looked at him and asked “combien?” That does mean “how much?” but it's French. So he looked confused and just said “Sí.” Which really confused me because 'yes' is not an actual answer to 'how much?' So we went back and forth like that a couple of times until I finally said that I needed to pay him, and he then told me how much.

As I left and walked to the monastery, I was thoroughly confused as to why he didn't answer me. What makes me feel especially stupid is that I didn't even realize why he didn't understand what I was asking until the next morning. Way to go, Charlotte. I'd like to say it got better throughout the trip, and I think it did, but only marginally.