Today was our first day working at the Chico Mendez Reforestation Project and to reach the site we were working at, we had to climb atop a hill. Halfway there, our entire group stopped and sat, fascinated by the view ahead of us. We were staring out at a massive valley which was occupied by the second largest city in Guatemala, Xela. The guide, Odi, proceeded to tell us a story about the history of the city. Many years ago, the valley was a large battlefield where an indigenous group of Guatemalans were fighting the Spaniards who were trying to take over the land. The armies of the two opposing cultures could not fight, it had to be leader against leader. Unfortunately, a solider from the Spanish army shot the indigenous leader with an arrow and he died. The Spanish took over the land and built the second largest city in Guatemala. Looking over the city after hearing about the story, I was amazed at the history spread over the valley. It’s incredible to think that 500 years ago, a battle took place that changed the course of history forever. Now, their culture isn’t just Mayan but Spanish too. The people adapted and grew even when they thought all hope was lost for their land and their country. To me that embodies the human race. 500 years ago, the river ran red with blood but now it runs blue with water.
After a long morning of working at the Chico Mendez reforestation project, our group focused on understanding the difference between the terms ‘house’ and ‘home’. Our group established that the term ‘house’ refers more to a structure that is built, and a place that provides protection and a roof over our heads. As grateful as we are to have these houses, we concluded that living in a ‘home’ is a place where memories, love, and family are created. Just like the saying states, ‘home is where the heart is.’ This easily relates to our experience of currently taking part in homestays. Our group agreed that our homestays are more of a ‘home’ rather than a house because they are kindly opening their hearts and doors by welcoming us into their lives for the next 7 days. We are not just there to live in the structure that is providing us with shelter, but we are here to learn and experience a life out of our comfort zone. We are here to become a part of their home and family and embrace something completely culturally different and amazing. This idea of ‘home’ is exactly what our homestay families are providing us with…a loving place where we feel safe enough to call our home away from home.