Despite all the hype about successful people being up before the sun, nothing is made easier by starting your day before 4am. But that’s the rare hour at which our Guatemalan adventure began in Milwaukee. With high fives at the airline counter and a celebratory Kringle (it was someone’s birthday) our group turned south ready to explore a new culture, be uncomfortable, and learn what it means to be part of a global community.
We shared that early hour headspace with Apple CEO Tim Cook (a chronic 3:45am riser) and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi (she prefers a 4am wakeup before a cup of tea and exercise) and if our first week in Guatemala is an indication we have also become extremely productive people. Emerging from the airport in warm Guatemala City our senses we were bombarded. New smells, sights, and sounds whirled around us in a dizzying cacophony of motion, noise, and people unlike anything we’d experienced in our journey across the United States. From the commotion of the city we bounced over volcanic passes and wound through small towns to arrive in San Miguel Escobar, a sleepy community set beneath endless coffee fields on the slopes of the towering Volcan Agua.
We quickly got the lay of the land from our partner organization De La Gente. Meaning “of the people”, De La Gente is a locally-based non-profit that works with local coffee farmers and artisans to improve their quality of life and community by creating sustainable economic opportunities. Based in San Miguel they work with 5 farmer-owned cooperatives that ethically generates high quality award-winning coffee that is sold and roasted internationally. Additionally the organizations provides opportunities for growth to farmers and artisans through micro-finance, trade-specific education, and peer mentorship.
In our first week we enjoyed hand cooked meals at multiple cooperative farmer’s homes, spent time walking the coffee fields with Felix a weathered coffee growing pro, roasted and hand ground or own coffee, hiked to a nearby artisanal chocolate factory, learned to cook Guatemala’s national dish Pepian, navigated Antigua’s busy market, and began our class “Colonialism, Cultural Imperialism and Hegemony in Central America” with Dr. Laura. Needless to say it has been wonderfully busy. All of us are grateful for the strong connections and deep sense of camaraderie we’ve built with each other over the past few months.
On Friday the students moved in with their host families and began the true cultural immersion portion of our time in Guatemala. Living with coffee farmers all over town the students are quickly becoming part of their host families. From late night Uno games to shared laughs over morning coffee each of us are gaining a deeper perspective on lives that seem so different from our own back in the US. In our own ways we are each finding that so much of what’s important is universal. As a new week starts we’re all holding onto that 4am energy as we prepare to dive deeper into Latin American history in class and travel across Guatemala to see the ruins of the ancient Mayan city at Tikal.