Family Atmosphere for Guatemala Trip Participants
By Jonathan Pearson on Saturday, August 31st, 2013
In the living room of the home base in Xela, Guatemala for the participants in the National Peace Corps Association’s (NPCA) current Next Step Travel – Guatemala (NST-G) program, there’s a map of the country we are visiting. Attached to the map are several thin strips of pink paper with names written on them: Orlando and Maria…Don Renee…Maria Luisa.
Those strips mark the hometowns for members of the support staff here in Xela. It is representative of the fact that there’s a family atmosphere on site, and the interactions and connections that are occurring reach well beyond those between the visitors from the States.
“(The staff) is very friendly, thoughtful and welcoming,” said Kaye White, an elementary classroom teacher from Westchester County New York. In between the group’s school service projects, social activities and occasionally going online to check in back home, Kaye noted her long conversation with Nayo, one of the staff who lives with his family near Xela. ”Nayo shared a lot about his family, and gave me insight into the challenges people face (economically) in making things work.”
“We’re getting a look at the real stuff,” added Carolyn Carter, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) from Montrose Colorado, who served in Honduras in the 1960′s. Carolyn was feeling sick a few nights ago, and noted how supportive the staff was the next day. ”They checked in and asked my how I was doing. They made chicken soup and helped me recover.”
It’s not just the chicken soup. Asking any of the participants about the food here is akin to asking an RPCV about their Peace Corps experience. They might never stop talking about it! Philippines RPCV Tony Vanietti of Palm Springs California worked for 25 years in public health and nutrition in two U.S. states and three foreign countries. ”It’s wholesome, healthy food.” Tony said he’s pleased the cooking staff is preparing mostly local food and regional specialties, and notes the significance goes beyond the quality alone. ”The hospitality I have experienced here is reminiscent of agrarian societies. You are part of the family. They’ll share their bounty and are pleased you enjoyed it.” Adding to the atmosphere is that staff will join in on the meals and conversation – after being certain their guests have had their fill.
Along with seven Guatemalan staff, NST-G hired recent Guatemala RPCV Tara Tiedemann to serve as the tour guide. The Colorado native who currently lives in Antigua, Guatemala is getting equally high praise for her energy and expertise. ”I marvel at Tara’s unflinching optimism and cheerfulness,” said Morocco/Ghana
RPCV of Greeley, Colorado. ”For those of us who are returned volunteers, you know she survived in her village. She knows what we have been through and her knowledge of the country is great.”
Cheerfulness was also a word used by fellow traveler and Ethiopia RPCV Carol Beddo of San Jose, California. “There’s a cheerfulness about the place due to staff. The housekeeping is exquisite. Every traveler wants that and we have it. The itinerary is excellent and yet it is not too much, too fast. I say that as a person who has been in that situation.”
Earlier in the week, all of the NST-G participants agreed that even though they had been in Guatemala for only four days, it felt like they had been here two weeks. Under the quiet, steady guidance of program director Orlando Arizandieta, each day of the trip is mesmerizing, and each day somehow seems better than the last. That was due in no small part to the staff at the NST-G home base.
It feels a little bit like home. It feels a little bit like family.
Learn how you can join future Next Step Travel programs in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala: travel.peacecorpsconnect.org. NPCA’s Next Step Travel program provides hyper-local small group travel: an RPCV-facilitated itinerary featuring unparalleled local access, cultural immersion, non-extreme adventure and volunteer opportunities. Most trips offer both a 14-day and a 10-day option, unless otherwise specified. All trips are accompanied by an NPCA Host.
Join our Next Step Travel (NST) country group, a place to ask questions, get program details, & meet other Next Step Travel travel-with-a-purpose travelers. This group is a place where alumni, future NST participants, and those who are interested in NST can have an open forum to share photos, videos, discuss programs details, and make new friends! Guatemala: https://www.facebook.com/groups/NextStepTravel.guatemala/