Almost 6 Months in Guatemala - A Check-In

The best way to describe the moment getting on the airplane to Guatemala is, I felt like a plucked chicken! I wondered - what happened to me? Don't my talents and abilities, my education, my wits, anything matter to you, God? Why on Earth would you want me to go to Guatemala? This makes zero (0) sense! Where is my dog, my house, and my baby? Where is my office building, my team, and my trips to Switzerland? What about ME?

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!" Psalm 139:23  

Lately as I see more and more devastation in this country, including a friend and coworker being murdered in cold blood a couple of weeks ago, my mind takes me back to the U.S. -- the immigrants used to tell each other that the streets were paved with gold there, and now I kind of get it. There is a sense of enduring wealth, security, and prosperity on most streets in America, even the unkempt areas.

 Yes, I look back at the worst of what I've seen in America and it was still cleaner and safer than most places here.

Here in Guatemala, one the things that upsets me most is the disorder. Piles of rubble, general filth, and unfinished buildings or buildings that are falling apart everywhere along the streets. I am not really talking about Antigua where I live, which for the most part is stunning for tourist presentation purposes (in shambles, but stunning) - but almost everywhere else.

There is this near constant of utter chaos which my beauty, elegance, and simplicity-loving soul just recoils at. The people here are oppressed by constant fear of being robbed or murdered. The women can't even think about things like college with a religion that keeps them in constant cycles of pregnancy and bare-footedness.

My Life Before Guatemala

I am a lady who loves tea parties, rose gardens, pleasant conversation, pretty dresses, and gondola rides. I am old-school. I admit it. I want to go to galas and be surprised with a necklace of pearls. Yes, I want to "propose a toast" - I want to enjoy a sunset from a sailboat. I want to go back to Scotland and stay the night in a real castle, and I want a night at the Connaught after spending a day seeing Big Ben and other places I want to see in London and finding the address my Great Great Great Grandma Eloise once lived.

I worked hard to ensure I would have the life I desired in the United States, with the prospects I wanted, and the spontaneous trips I wanted. After realizing it wasn't going to fall on my lap, I drank so much coffee and worked myself to the bone. I worked through the nights with a day-light bulb, till my eyes went and I couldn't even look at the screen anymore.

One day my husband told me he felt the Lord was telling him we need to move to volunteer in South or Central America and he was getting an impression about Guatemala.

I hated this idea.

It wasn't glamorous, that's for sure. It didn't fit my plan which was finally coming together.

But I prayed for confirmation, and I got it. And I knew not going would be sin. So gave it all away, we did it.

What Life is Like Here in Guatemala

Now it has been nearly 6 months of living here in Guatemala. I find myself trudging at 7am to a bus that is a decommissioned U.S. school bus which is literally falling apart and speeding down the road on dangerous curves. My lungs which appreciate the clean air are instead breathing in thick volcano ash mixed with burning trash, mixed with vehicle exhaust, mixed with urine from men who commonly pee on the sidewalks.

I am here volunteering with my husband while we build our startup. Twice a week we go to this castle-like house that is a home for disabled orphans in a town called San Antonio Augas Calientes. It is like arriving to a different world where order and sanity exists as best it can.

And I am there just trying to love these orphans and make some kind of difference. There is one child named Alejandra who I thought might be helping, but I've recently pulled back significantly, concerned how I could be distracting her with play from her more effective therapies, and now my visits are less frequent.

On Sundays I serve on the worship team at my bilingual church, Shoreline Guatemala. It is a strong church full of inspiring people who are mostly missionaries. Yes, I have a strong community of ex-pats here. I live in a gated community that only outsiders can afford. I also demand strong internet so I can maintain bonds in the US and continue to build this business.

What's Next

Except for at church, I feel somewhat like an outsider who is shuffling on the outskirts because I'm not a Guatemala-lifer or a true "missionary" like most of the people I have met.

Am I supposed to want to stay here in Guatemala because I feel too guilty to go back, like somehow my contribution living here could help more?

I have been exposed to so much suffering and disorganization, so much tragedy and need for so many months, I'm sure when I get back to America it will all hit me differently and I will finally see how I've changed.

My country of The United States of America gives me - a young educated female - a chance to create a thriving business without fear. I can actually go to the grocery store alone, and count on certain systems to support me, my family, and my life. I don't have to live under the constant stress of being surrounded by a system that is crumbling, I can live with confidence that I will be respected and treated fairly, if not I have recourse.

I am determined to go back and make the most of everything I used to take for granted, and pour out on these new heart connections and new dreams of supporting friends and loved ones in Guatemala.

I believe that's where I stand now, and I'm more grateful than ever.

Content by Laura Gabriele