Turning towards home is a pivotal moment in any journey. It evokes bittersweet feelings that remind you of the impermanence of your endeavor. This is the last step before something goes from happening to happened. It is the metaphorical opposite of running up the blue peter and preparing to leave port. But paradoxically it’s a moment that brings anticipation, excitement, and maybe even relief. Because no matter how far we venture out or how obscure our travels become they often teach us more about who we are and where we came from than anything else. It is from the contrasts and reflections of our own experiences that we learn from those we meet. We find the unique differences and joyful commonalities between where we are and where we come from. But that can be exhausting work. As these students have learned life on the road is hard and, despite the unending support of community, sometimes you’re just ready for the familiar comforts of home.
By now GAP 2018 has officially returned to port for the last time. After three months of traveling North, South, and all around we’ve landed back in De Pere richer in ways we don’t fully understand yet. As we sort through our countless journal entries, photographs, and experiences from the past few months each of us will draw our own meaning from our time together. It would be inappropriate and inauthentic to make grandiose statements about what we all learned. But at a core level I believe each of us has started to build our own universal truths and have reflected on the who we desire to be in this world. It was early in our time in Chicago when we were challenged to discard the question “What’s wrong with you?” and instead recognize the truth of “What happened to you?”. We exist as a manifestation of our lived experiences. By now we’ve asked this of others countless times and its probably time we ask ourselves. Each of us returns more deeply connected than isolated, more at home on our planet than uncomfortable. I think that Mary Oliver summarized it best,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
GAP 2018 has ventured far and wide across the plains, mountains, lakes, and rivers. We’ve smelled fresh ground coffee, leapt shrieking from cliffs into water, navigated complex transit systems, eaten picante so spicy we can’t breath, laughed till our sides hurt, danced our pants off, played Uno till the sun rose, sat in court, seen incredible works of art, witnessed unspeakable hardship, heard stories of unimaginable injustice, found strength in the darkest places, and met people around the globe who are fighting to make things just a little better. If we’ve learned one thing from living, breathing, crying, and laughing in community it is that we do not exist independent of the world around us. We have a place in and are an integral part of that family of things.
What follows is a pictoral description of our last week in Guatemala. It’s a time where we traveled to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala City, Volcan Pacaya, and eventually back to De Pere. We began by flying across Lake Atitlan by boat and visited LEMA a women’s weaving cooperative that naturally dye’s thread and uses backstrap looms to weave incredible fabrics by hand. In Guatemala city we visited “Porque Estamos como Estamos” an exhibit that explored the embedded fibers of racism in Guatemalan society and spent time in the Martyr’s room hearing about the experiences of the families of those who were disappeared during the armed conflict. The room itself was filled with the actual possessions of a 14 year old boy who was taken and was laid out as it was he disappeared. That afternoon we heard about the plight of Human Rights Defenders and the important accompaniment work happening to support them from Robert Merkatante who founded the Human Rights Defenders Project. After three weeks living away the students tearfully said goodbye to their homestay families before we all closed our time in Guatemala by trekking up Volcan Pacaya and sleeping beneath its spectacular summit.