Update from Kristine Johnson, BTS Volunteer currently in Guatemala
December 20, 2015

Hi everyone!

This past week was pretty busy for me: lots of studying, day trips, and getting to know my host family.
School went well and I got along great with my teacher, Rocael. The school I’m attending, called Proyecto LinguisticoQuetzalteco (PLQ) is quite progressive; it organizes many events for its students to partake in throughout the week and aims to teach its students more than just how to speak Spanish. For example, this past week I went on two day trips to nearby communities, participated in two conferences, watched a documentary, played in a soccer game, and took salsa lessons!
The first day trip was on Tuesday morning. Myself and three other students (all from the US), traveled to a place called Totonicapan to visit a ceramics collective. Our guide was an ex-guerrilla fighter and had some pretty amazing stories to share about his experiences during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala – it was such an honour to meet him! The ceramics collective is called COPACAT and is run by several artists who make the process look really easy! Below are a few photos I took that day.

We were able to meet all three artists in the photos above. There are several more, but the majority of the artists who make up the collective work from their homes. The man on the right is the head of the collective (so to speak) and he gave us our tour.
We were able to purchase items as well; I bought a small ceramic bowl. I wanted to purchase more, but because I’ll be traveling for 5-6 months, it didn’t seem practical to load myself up with tons of breakable ceramic items.

Here are a few pictures of what finished items look like:

As you can see, they make a variety of things, some small some big!
The second day trip I took was on Wednesday morning. This time we went to a nearby town called Almolongo. Five students (including me) traveled to a vegetable market and to the fields where the vegetables being sold were produced. As soon as we approached the market, all I could smell was fresh cilantro – it was heavenly! Almolongo is known for its production of vegetables, which are exported to many places both in Central and South America; vegetables are a huge economic driving force in the community. The community’s indigenous name is Almolonga, which means “a place near water”(I believe). It was given this name because there is a water sourcejust 5 meters below the surface of the earth in this town. Below are some photos of the fields we visited, some of which are literally on the sides of mountains!

Also at Almolongo, we visited some natural hot springs – what a treat after all the traveling and studying I’ve been doing! We stayed in the baths for about an hour before heading back to Xela.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of my host family to share with you, but I do have a few photos of their two dogs, Estrella (Star) and Lobito (lobo means wolf so they called her lobito meaning tiny wolf). They got Lobitoonly a few days ago – she’s the huskey puppy in the photos and she’s absolutely adorable!

On Friday, December 18th, there was a Christmas party at my school for all of the students and their host families. It was cool to have the opportunity to participate in some Guatemalan customs surrounding the holiday, but I was mindful of cultural appropriation as well. In Guatemala, it is customary to parade around the streets where you live with lanterns and small statues of Mary and Joseph. The idea is to celebrate Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, and that’s why Jesus isn’t present in the parades. As we walked throughout Xela we blew whistles and beat drums (some of which were made of turtle shells), to serve as a form of music to accompany the procession. After the parade, we stopped at the entrance to the school to sing a Christmas song, about Mary and Joseph, in two parts. People outside sang certain verses that alternated with verses sung by those of us outside. When the song was almost over, those outside were permitted inside to sing the final verse together.
At the Christmas fiesta, we ate Christmas tomales and drank Christmas punch made with many different fruits. There were also gifts given out to each host family who attended the party.
I didn’t take any photos at the fiesta, but I did take a photo of this huge Christmas tree in the main square of Xela.

On Sunday (December 20th), I hiked up a nearby mountain called El Baül. It was so nice to be outside and to exercise! Classes at the school and traveling involve a lot of sitting, so I was appreciative of the opportunity to hike. It wasn’t a very long hike to the top (maybe 30 minutes), but it was still great! At certain points on the hikethe city of Xela was visible, as you can see in the photo below.

At the top, there were families playing games, singing, and having barbeques. It was a remarkable spot! It seemed like the perfect place to enjoy a Sunday afternoon with your friends and family. I hiked up the mountain with a friend of mine named Kristian. She goes to PLQ with me, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know herover this past week.
Here are a few more photos from the hike:

And of course, some photos of me being silly on some monkey bars we found.

For now, that’s all the update I have. Still missing you all and thinking of you as I continue my adventure in Guatemala!