Monday, November 14, 2016

Travel Journal: Volunteer Jitters...is that a thing?

Rio Dulce, Guatemala - View from the bridge
A lot of people blog about how amazing it is to volunteer but no one really talks about how it feels to walk into it. I am on a bus now traveling from Guatemala City to Rio Dulce to start my first experience volunteering. I'm typing with my hands crooked because there is no space. Angelo and I didn't get to sit together because we were the last ones on the transfer shuttle and then the bus. We are always last to figure out what's going on. We didn't see our luggage being put in the bus either so I'm just hoping for the best. Worst case, I have a spare outfit and all the important stuff with me. 

Lush green mountains and hills are surrounding us. We pass a small town on a mountain side now and then. Buildings made from concrete and painted every color in the rainbow. The fog rests in the valleys and the clouds turn grayish blue against the bright sky. Pink, purple, and yellow wildflower bushes line the highway, the same kinds you'd find in San Diego. Except here they are surrounded by bits of trash. There are women in traditional dress walking along the road with babies and baskets. They wear incredible embroidered skirts and tops. It's a humble silhouette but feminine. A land of shiny black hair and warm burnt sugar skin. They braid ribbons in their hair and wrap animal skins around their waists tied with rope to create an extra warm skirt. It's a bit chilly this time of year at a cool 62 degrees. Palm trees and fruit trees create makeshift fence lines between properties. Tires piled up keep the metal roofs in place and white trucks are everywhere. Occasionally an American school bus flies past painted with the finesse of a muscle car and decorated with sexist stickers, called Chicken Buses. I can only assume the name comes from the way they pack people in. We are rounding cliff sides and it's a bit scary but I take comfort that these guys drive this road back and forth 3 times a day. Guatemala is beautiful, I'm happy to be here, happy to be headed to my first volunteer experience. 

I'll be working for an orphanage/education center for kids between ages 4-16 on a river in the Guatemalan jungle. Most of the kids come from surrounding...

Mayan villages. They often go home on weekends or holidays but there are a few kids that live on-site full time. The older kids help out working at the facility. Volunteers who stay long term are assigned one of a few jobs. The one with the most responsibility is sort of in charge of the kids - their houses, schedules, hygiene. I really hope I don't get that one. I definitely don't feel qualified for something like that. They also sometimes teach certain subjects like crafts, physical activities, and English or Spanish (some kids grow up with a local Mayan language). I'm really hoping I get to just clean or cook or something...who knows. 

It will the first time since college that I've worked 22 days straight without time off. Will it be like work? How many hours will I work? And what in the world will I do with my time off in a rural village? This is my first time being surrounded by children. I even have shifts of sleeping in their house in case they have a problem in the night. Will they drive me nuts? Will I just be a scary white lady to them? Will I be able to understand them or struggle constantly? This is my first time living with no hot water, often no running water, limited electricity and only very little internet when I seek it out 20 minutes up river. 

3 months eating meals I don't choose. 3 months fighting mosquitos. 3 months hoping I don't contract the apparently rampant lice. 3 months living in the jungle with scorpions, monkeys, snakes, and the dreaded kissing bug. Language barrier. No temperature control. Perhaps very little privacy. But hey! I won't have to worry about my outfit or wearing makeup.

I think patience is a skill I'll be putting to the test. I'm really glad Angelo will be there with me. Also, I know there are other English-speaking volunteers to share the experience with. Mostly though, I really hope I can make a positive impact. I will feel pretty bummed to know that I put myself through what I think will be quite a bit of discomfort to not really anyone's benefit. That's the risk though, just have to try it out and see. If I can make a difference, that, would be really awesome.

I'm definitely nervous. I'm excited to separate myself completely from consumerism, politics, wars, all the things that eat away our precious time. I hope I have daylight for yoga. Freedom for a run here and there. I won't dare to hope for an English bookstore. 

Wish me luck friends. I'll keep in touch as much as I can.
Ellie