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As briefly mentioned in my last post, I had the opportunity to visit Guatemala at the beginning of this month to attend the first ever Latin Link conference in Central America. The conference ran from 1st - 4th May, but I arrived on Sunday 30th April, and hung around till the 5th of May, which gave me time to see a few more interesting bits and pieces.

See my photos on and videos at the end of this blog.

Though I'd known about the conference for some weeks, I was not sure I'd be going, as I was in a wrangle with LL over whether I should travel by air (more expensive but only a 2 hour journey), or by coach (24 hour journey but cheaper). Well, in the 11th hour, it was eventually agreed that the coach option was infeasable, so I bought my tickets and went by plane.

Visiting Guatemala comes hot off the heels of me visiting Cuba just two months earlier, and I'd hardly got my rucksack unpacked before I was filling it up again. Although Guatemala may not be quite as prolific as Cuba, I found myself very quickly developing an affection for this country.

Chicken buses, indigenous clothing, green grass - sights which I'm just not accustomed to in Mexico City, all enchanted me as I settled into Guatemala. It was also nice to be breathing fresh air again. On all these things though, I'll let the photos speak for the beauty of this country.

Little britain

One of the greatest treats of visiting Guatemala was not just about having the opportunity to visit another country and culture. Within 30 seconds of me walking into a room on the first day and being introduced to the British-born team-leaders, I was being offered a cup of tea. Yes, a real cup - made with PG Tips. I couldn't believe it. In Mexico, they just don't get tea. It's something herbal you drink without milk. So what joy it was to meet other Brits, have a cup of tea and not have people look at you funny when you put milk in it.

Then there was the humour. That sweet British cynicism that's so easily mis-interpreted across cultures. It's funny, cos Mexican's often describe british culture as 'cold' and 'unfriendly'. It's understandable - and I would agree to some extent. But I think one thing they don't get is our humour. I was recounting to my team leaders about how every Sunday our Church in Mexico has a 'welcome' song that we sing at the end of each service. By the second verse of the song (which eveyone knows off by heart), people start turning round and hugging each other, and this is how the service ends. Very sweet I hear you say. How lovely. And compare that to the Anglican 'peace', and the Brits are the misery capital of the world. But multiply this Latin American saccarine by every single Sunday, and it starts to feel a bit much. And that was just the reaction I got from the team leaders when I told them this story. "Oh my goodness" they cried, "that reminds me of the dreadful welcome song we used to sing in Costa Rica". Upon this, they began to bellow out the words of this song in beautiful mis-harmony, recalling 'friendlier' times. It was nice to be back in cynical company!

Getting back on track

Although I couldn't be further from home, meeting other British Christians working in Latin America really helped make me feel as though I could be home. We could relate stories together, and pray for each other. It was also uncanny for me as each of the four team leaders knew my home town of Bedworth in Warwickshire, as they themselves had mostly come from the Midlands area. It seemed truly ironic to be talking about Bedworth whilst we sat in a restaurant surrounded by native central american indians.

However, the retreat was not only a time to relax and take a deep breath, but was also very useful for me from a work point of view. This was my first opportunity to meet Ian Darke, a member of Latin Link working in the field of Christian publishing throughout Latin America. After having only a vague idea of the needs of the Christian Church in Latin America for web development, this was the first time I really had to talk with someone who could give me guidance on where my skills might be in demand in the future. It was also a chance to talk about Milamex, the mission where I currently work, and compare what they're doing with other initiatives within LA.

One upshot of this time in Guatemala has been a slight re-prioritising of my tasks in the short term. I had been planning to invest some months in improving my programming skills to launch a feature-complete website for Milamex later in the year. I have now re-juggled this a little, to provide a feature-limited version by about August this year, and work on building in back-end functionality after its launch. This is now the plan I am currently working on, and it was in part thanks to the retreat which gave me the space to re-think my game a little.

Returning to Guatemala

At the end of the week, Chris and Nikki Adlam, Latin Linkers working in Antigua invited me back to visit again some time. As Mexico borders with Guatemala, apart from the arduous 24 coach ride, it's quite easy to go and visit. It may also be an opportunity at trying my hand with working with street children, a project they are involved with in Guatemala City. Although I think God has given me gifts in web development that I am currently putting to use, it can feel a bit dry stuck in an office, away from the real world that is crying for God's help, so this would be something that might be good for me to try out. Besides which, I could also climb the local volcano dominating the skyline of Antigua that I didn't get chance to climb this time.

As throughout Latin America, Guatemala has massive social, economic and moral problems. It feels good to be working with charities that are trying to combat these issues, and helping to share the message of hope that comes with the Christian gospel. But also Guatemala and its people is a beautiful country to visit, and if I get chance to take Chris & Nikki up on their invitation, I will.


Below is a selection from some of the many videos I took during my stay in Guatemala. For the best file-size to quality ratio, I've used quite recent compression formats, so ensure you have QuickTime updated with the latest version.

3 Comment(s):

Blogger Martin said...

Strange thing to notice, but heard a bit of The Police "Message in a bottle" on that last video. Did you get much in the way of English music down in Guatemala, and do you get much back in Mexico, or is it mainly local, or Spanish language music? Thursday, May 25, 2006 2:03:00 AM  

Blogger Tim said...

Yeh, strangely, music from North America, Europe and England is everywhere. One of the most annoying tracks I heard from Europe being played when I arrived last year was the Crazy Frog - there's just no escape it would seem, anywhere in the world. I regularly hear artists such as Dido, Coldplay and Robbie Williams on the airwaves too. But perhaps most popular of all is the Beatles - people just can't get enough of them here - still - 40 years later. Take the John Lennon statue in Cuba, as just one example. I told my lovely Dentist in Mexico recently that my uncle was from Liverpool, and she had to touch my arm, as though somehow in doing so, she was touching the Beatles.

There's plenty of Latin American music too, both traditional and modern that you hear in the streets, but there is a strangely dis-proportionate amount of English music played here, for a continent that otherwise has little cultural relations with Europe. Thursday, May 25, 2006 10:21:00 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree that there is a big choice of singers now but as for me i appreciate Robbie's collection. it's really great, unusual and passionate Tuesday, July 11, 2006 9:06:00 AM  

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