Tomorrow is my last day here in Guatemala. I will go home with many memories and lessons from this trip as I did last year. This year, however, my familiarity with people and a short history in the country helped me see Guatemala not only as a place to receive help from our team, but as a place from which I have much to learn and in which there are many people that I respect.
It’s a fine line between idealizing someone and respecting them. I think when you come to a place like Guatemala, it is very easy to idealize. We don’t speak the language, we don’t know all the cultural norms, we don’t have a context for what we see. Idealization either puts us way below someone (as in, “I could never do what they do”) or way above someone (as in, “I’m shocked they actually exceeded my expectations!”)
On the other hand, respect takes time. It requires friendship and listening. It gives the other honor without putting them out of reach. It has its eyes open to flaws and doesn’t expect perfection while acknowledging good. It empowers us to be and do more.
Although I am theoretically and philosophically opposed to feeling superior as a citizen of the United States, it is still something that almost all of us carry along in our baggage. It is so easy to think the world revolves around us, that we set the norms for behavior, that we have some sort of market on intelligence and industriousness. I hate that about myself but I encounter it in my soul every time I travel abroad.
But this week I lost a few pounds out of that baggage. Here are just a few of the moments that fostered my deep respect for many people in Guatemala.
We did many interviews with Guatemalans this week – from upper class educated urbanites to illiterate people living in shacks. There were no duds and no wasted words. Each one sat up straight and spoke carefully, articulately and passionately. After doing a few interviews myself, I know it is not easy. I was impressed by their poise and presence in front of the camera.
On Thursday, we visited the family that I helped build for a year ago. Last year we were impressed by their three greenhouses that were growing tomatoes and peppers. Since then, they have taken a class offered through the US Embassy on agriculture (tax dollars hard at work making peace, not war!) and have built two greenhouse 10 times the size of the originals. They are working with different materials and varietals to see what will work best in their location. They have planted flowers and a garden and are looking to expand their dairy business. Not to mention, the parents are just incredibly wonderful parents to their three daughters. You just knew those three girls were confident in the love of their parents but also knew how to work hard.
And lastly, we had the most amazing support from the Habitat Guatemala staff. They made arrangements, worked ahead of us, helped lug equipment, learned how to set the video equipment up and always responded with kind graciousness.
There are no words to describe my respect and my gratitude for all I have received this week. Now home, on to Advent, two beautiful busy girls with hope to hold this gracious soulful space of wonder that I have found this week.