Departure Nicaragua

The five of us travelling from Nicaragua to Guatemala had finished one step team and were at the start of a whole new adventure. We left at 3am in darkness and arrived in sunshine with the green hills of Guatemala City making a warm welcome as we landed.

Departure UK

I was still in a daze when I found Mel and Tori in the ladies' at Heathrow's Terminal 2.  We quickly found Nikkita and Mollie, both with hefty backpacks as well. Now that the five of us coming straight from the UK were together, we began the long journey through check-in and security. Before boarding our flights, we had high expectations of watching the latest film releases, instead we had 7 hours’ worth of Cheaper by the Dozen reruns! When we arrived at Newark, it was like déja vu - having to collect our bags, check-in and go through security again, only this time we didn't have the British politeness!

Arrival from Nicaragua

Suzanne (our short term coordinator here) greeted us at the airport with a Latin Link sign - I know I for one felt like a minor celebrity. The taxi ride to the house showed all the colours of this vibrant city and the fast pace at which it moves - it turns out that is very fast!

The house we're staying in is hosted by two immensely generous people (Jacko and Jomara), and they gave us a helpful introduction when us weary travellers arrived. The lapse of time between our arrival and the other 5 from England really did feel like the calm before the storm, but it wouldn't be long before we were all reunited as a complete team.

Half of us were napping when they arrived so the hugs were overzealous and the hellos unnaturally high-pitched but to see the girls was a real joy (even though they were jet lagged and sleepy)!

Arrival from UK

After hours of travelling, we finally touched down in Guatemala around 21:30 - ¡Gloria a Dios! We were met by Suzanne, our Step Coordinator, and got in taxis to head to the house we'll be staying in with for the duration of our stay in Guatemala City. It was hard to take in much of our surroundings on the way, due to the loudness of our stomachs crying out for food, however, we could clearly see the strong influences from the US: from the yellow school buses to the massive billboard adverts. Arriving at the house, we met Jomara and Isaac, the lovely couple we'd be staying with and we were also reunited with the other half of our team who had come from another Step mission in Nicaragua. 

The Weekend

Saturday was a slow, sleepy day as half of us were jet lagged and the other half disorientated and tired from three weeks of mixing cement! Most of it was spent waiting for the rain to stop - who knew? A big food shop ensued as we have to cater for 10 people and somehow we survived (even with our broken Spanish). Nikkita and Sarah O got approached by an extremely friendly woman in the supermarket asking for their social media. It's clear to say that they didn't give it to her and let her down with apologetic hand gestures and shakes of the head saying "no puedo lo siento". Very bizarre. We shared food together which was well received as we were all ravenous despite not actually doing a lot that day!

The Sunday meant we experienced our first Guatemalan church. It was a very stripped back church which meant we could focus on God and not any of the extremities of more ornate church. Jomara introduced us which was followed by dozens of hello’s, handshakes and kisses by the congregation which was unexpected and sweet. We did our best to translate the (long) sermon but the focus of it is still a bit unclear - fellowship, marriage and contentment all made an appearance. What was interesting was that the people would chip in with points mid-sermon be it anecdotes or other relevant scripture. Intensely hungry, we all devoured our ham salad wraps and got to know each other from lunch onwards with ladles of tea and packet after packet of biscuits.

The in-country orientation was led by Jomara and was very detailed about what we'd encounter and be doing with the kids here. As well as that, she indulged why she's here which gave us deeper respect for how much she's sacrificed to serve. 

Terminal day one (Mon 31st July)

We had little idea about what the kid's work would involve or even where we would be spending these three weeks. The terminal (called so because it's right next to the central bus terminal) is where we are spending our weekdays here in Guatemala and it is a harrowing place to see. Our building is just outside the terminal as the terminal itself is actually a humongous fruit and veg, clothes, electronics and 'anything you can think of' market - apparently the biggest in Central America which is very believable! When we arrived we were greeted by joyous children, all incredibly excited to see us, which was unexpected and heart-warming.

We took tours of the terminal (5 on each tour). To say it was overwhelming doesn't cover it as we barely even scratched the surface on just how big that market is. We stuck out severely as non-Latinos which incurred many looks and whistles from the local men who were perplexed by us - perhaps it was the paint stained trousers? It is incredibly large and is segregated into sections but even so it seems impossible not to get lost amongst the fruit and veg (most of which we hadn't seen before and were intrigued by). The tour ended and we began our duties as helpers to the children, with some of us making paper people which the children drew on and the other half setting up lunch for the 15 or so children. 

The classroom is just big enough for the kids to eat and work but space is a luxury here - something entirely evident in the terminal where people live right behind the shop they sell produce in. They have an endless amount of energy which we are envious of as the intensity of the day has drained us somewhat of the ability to hug them every second! It is so clear that the work Jomara does here is valued by them as they were full of heaps of excitement throughout the whole day. 

We took them to a park in the afternoon in the sun which was a pleasure because there was colour and space for them to play, the exact opposite of the terminal (albeit it at a glance) where they spend so much of their time. 

Terminal day two (Tuesday 1st Aug)

The day followed the same pattern as the first but we knew more of what to expect than yesterday. The kids still clamour for us when we arrive which is sweet, especially from the children who we recognised from the day before. Today we talked about the creation story (with Victoria asking them in Spanish who created the world and in how many days - they eventually counted to seven) and helped the kids draw their own version of the story. So much is a cause of excitement for these bubbly children, even choosing what colour paper they wanted and what animals they would stick on. Rather selfishly it was also a good exercise to learn/go over the animals in Spanish so that we could help them fully instead of pointing. They seem to appreciate speaking to us in Spanish which is fun since for those of us who can speak Spanish, a bond is already starting to form as they spend the most time with them. 

Like the Latin American culture, timings aren't set in stone but the pace is simultaneously quick so once the children had finished their craft they were soon restless. Thankfully, Carlos (an amazing man who works with the kids every day with the same enthusiasm as if it was his first day) put on Disney's Moana for them to watch. Tired from a morning of craft, setting up meals and helping with shampooing for showers we all later admitted that we were grateful for the rest too! The film kept scratching however so we made a trip to the park just opposite the house since the sun had just reappeared (the weather is incredibly unpredictable in Guatemala City and we have been caught short in the rain already more than once).

The children left around 5, after which the bulk of us that didn't drop some of them back to the terminal let out a big sigh of relief as the jeers and chaos ceased. 

We come 'home' everyday to a lovely home cooked meal from two of the girls that stay home and carry out all the domestic duties - an incredibly valued role as we all have big appetites! 

Terminal day three (Weds 2nd Aug)

Today began with some of us picking up the children from their homes in the terminal. To see where they live and just how basic it is took most of the girls by surprise (understandably). They live just behind the stalls in the market place but the gaps between houses can only fit one person and the actual houses are room sized. To us it seems unsanitary, small and crowded but for them is their life and all they know as generations live together in the same space. Something we've noticed is that the smiles of the children as we pick them up does not reflect their living situation! 

The craft for the day was teaching the children the alphabet which they seemed to enjoy as it involved lots of different colours and interaction from us, not solely individual work. 

Terminal day four (Thurs 3rd Aug)

The morning devotion was led by Sarah Ope and Maggie on Psalm 139 which we have looked at a couple of times on this trip but still gain insight from as so much applies to us here on mission. Leading the day with a God-centered vision helps us stay connected as a group but also keeps our work more focused on showing them God's love for them. 

Sarah Ope, Steph and Maggie picked up some of the children from the terminal in the morning which meant they could also see where the children live as it's good for everyone to have a grasp of their situation. Like the days before we led the children in craft activities, today being the story of Joseph and the technicolour dream-coat. They all decorated a man with feathers, pom poms, pipe cleaners and coloured crayons. Some of the children clearly love to focus on something and channel all their attention on colouring within the lines which is encouraging. When we tell them that "está bien" (it is good) they look so proud.

After lunch we acted out a drama of the story wearing scarves as costumes and Sarah Ope (Joseph) was adorned with an immensely bright jacket as the 'technicolour dream-coat'. The kids love Sarah which is no surprise and we managed to keep their attention all throughout which was a real success. 

When 5 o'clock came we were all ready to eat and wind down from the hectic day but half the team had to do a lesson in the terminal for some kids and play games, with the other half cleaning the classroom area for Jomara. It ended up therefore being a very long day so it was only when dinner was ready that we started to feel ourselves again!

Terminal day five (Fri 4th Aug)

The morning was an early start as Zoë needed to go to the doctors to get her ear treated. Jomara, Beth and Maggie accompanied her there and waited for a long while (I'll reiterate that Latin American time is not normal time). Her ears are healed and she is back to her normal self - God has been very good to us!

The team in general had a later start as instead of going to the terminal, today we went an hour and 15 minutes away to a rural community to act out the Joseph drama again and do the craft. They seemed to enjoy it which was good as we are not actors! Before any of that, we dished out a lunch of burgers, crisps and juice for the families we were seeing. 

Where we acted out the drama and played with them, there was litter everywhere and was unhygienic but it just proves that children will play anywhere!

Together we drew with chalk on the floor, had skipping rope races and had a massive football match (boys v girls) where laughter and carnage ensued.

Saying goodbye to the children was hard as some asked when we would be coming back to see them so we had to say that we weren't sure. The drive back was doubled due to painfully slow traffic from start to finish. Most of us napped as night fell on the busy streets, but regained energy when we were welcomed by a delicious dinner of tacos by Beth and Steph. 

The group (bar Maggie and Mel) went to a prayer group with Jomara, Jacko, Suzanne and some members of the university's Christian Union. After a long day of work, it took all the energy out of them but to have interesting conversations with locals and give time to God ended the working week nicely. 

Thank you, Maggie Crisp.