The first five days of the trip were extremely informative, don’t get me wrong. However, for me, that was really all they could be. We have visited such a great diversity of people and organizations, who have shared their knowledge of Guatemalan culture and history. They inspired me with their tales of perseverance and optimism, but all this remained a one-way street. I could not help but feel that something was missing, that I was not giving back to these people in the way that they deserved. By that, I do not mean through service or donations. I wanted to create real, lasting bonds, the greatest form of giving back. It takes me a while to actually get out of my shell and get to know someone, so the few hours we would spend with each organization just were not enough to accomplish this. On top of that, the fact that I do not take Spanish class poses some challenges during conversation. These barriers make it very difficult for me to jump one hundred percent into the experience.

In the Mayan Catholic Church of Santiago Atitlan

For these reasons, my homestay in San Antonio was exactly what I needed. It really gave me no other option but to plunge into the indigenous culture of Guatemala without looking back, and I am very grateful for that. The experience granted me the time I needed to find ways to go past the wall of language with other ways of communication that strengthen relationships just as well. Very soon after meeting my host mother, Mrs. Perez, the first important form of expression, transcending all language barriers, became apparent to me: laughter. Immediately upon arrival at my mom’s house, she put me and my roommate Charlie to work clearing her garden of weeds. We must have looked so ridiculous out there struggling to wield the heavy hoes she gave us. Every passerby turned and chuckled at us; I guess they were not accustomed to seeing tall, American kids working out in a field. I’m not either. None laughed harder or more consistently, though, than my host mom. She would say something in her native language Kakchiquel and then start cracking up. I do not know the words she said, but I’m quite positive she was making fun of us. Although this happened to be the part of the trip where I felt the most out of place, it was also where I felt most welcomed. When they would laugh, I would also laugh, and it became a type of conversation that I could be completely comfortable with. This was also the first moment that I can say I truly shared with someone I had met here in Guatemala; one in which they would remember me just as much as I would remember them. This mutual feeling of friendship was what I had been yearning for the entire trip.

Exhausted, we finally finished weeding the yard, but there was no time to waste resting. We met an eleven year old boy named Carlos, who was hanging around our host mom’s house. Although we are still not quite sure whether or not he is actually related to our family, I liked him right away. I have a cousin from Guatemala with the same name, who turns eleven this year, which is too amazing to be a coincidence. It was with Carlos that I came to understand a second universal language. Charlie and I followed him down to a small square with arcade games and a fenced off court for soccer. He went straight to the foosball tables, and when we pulled out a quetzal, about seven small kids crowded around us eager to play. We ended up only managing the two teams and making sure that everyone shared, but it was absolutely worth it to see the joy we brought to those youngsters. After a few heated games, we moved it to the life-size soccer field. Playing amongst the quick Guatemalan children, who would far surpass me in skill in the future, I did not want to be anywhere else. We hardly exchanged any words, but we shared an experience that more than made up for the lost conversation. Other kids could tell how much fun we were having, and they were eager to join in. Pretty soon I had about twelve new indigenous buddies, all because of my newfound willingness to find bonds in places that words could never take me.

Looking back on the trip, I think most highly of the people I met in San Antonio. This is of course not because they were greater individuals than the people we had met before; it is because I finally seized the opportunity to create friendships and even form a family. Contrary to my hesitations in the beginning of the trip, I was able to do this without a translator at my side. I am proud to say that as I was walking around the city a few days after the great soccer day, one girl that was playing saw me, walked right up to me, and fist bumped me.

 

3 Responses to One Hundred Percent – by Kayvon Seif-Naraghi

  1. Shanna Seif says:

    I’m very proud of you for understanding what you were needing to do to form a bond with your hosts and to feel a connection to the native people of the area. Smiles and laughter, and apparently fist bumps, are the universal language of acceptance and friendship and sometimes that’s all we need.

  2. Amir Seif says:

    To make a real human connection specially with some one from a culture so far away is a great gift. I am so very glad you had it and even more that you recognized it.

  3. Sonya says:

    Your host mom was probably saying something like, “Look at these American movie stars, so silly! Handsome, but so useless in the field!”

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