¡Buenos días a todos!
I am writing to you from Nueva Concepción, a fairly large city on the south-western side of Guatemala, about twenty minutes from the Pacific Ocean. I have not yet had any time to snap photos to share with you, but I thought I'd still write a short update about the first few days.
After arriving in Guatemala City on Tuesday, I stayed at the Hogar (the Orthodox orphanage in the city) for about an hour before leaving for Nueva Concepción. I thought that I would be able to stay longer and see some of the people there that I met in 2009, but it turned out differently. It was the first moment that required a particular virtue that is paramount here: flexibility. As I am starting to see, each day will unfold in unexpected ways without a set schedule. How contrary to my impulse as a busy, plan-oriented American!
At the Hogar, I was greeted by Fr. John Chakos (a missionary priest from Pennsylvania who is living here), by Fr. Andres (the leader of the community of Mayan Orthodox), and by a young man who attends to Fr. Andres. The four of us spent Tuesday afternoon driving to the seminary--a three to four hour drive. On the way to the seminary, we stopped to have lunch, and can you guess what I ate for my first meal since returning to Guatemala? Chinese food! Fr. Andres loves it, so instead of beans and rice I had a plate of chop suey--authentic Guatemalan cuisine!
The seminary is quite lush, with all sorts of tropical trees and flowers. There are also many animals there, both the small, wild ones that roam freely (lizards, etc.) and the farm animals owned by the seminary. I have really enjoyed seeing the unique wildlife here and experiencing the different climate. It's really cold here! *wink wink* Because of the toasty climate, the buildings are quite different from those in the states: many of them have one side that is completely open without any doors or walls, and others are closed but have open spaces between the ceiling and the top of the walls to promote air flow. My bedroom at the seminary, for example, doesn't totally fit into the category "indoors." The floor is made of tiles but it is moist and feels almost like the ground outdoors. Insects can easily pass in and out of my room. The sounds from outside are just as loud in my bedroom and sometimes seem even louder. In short, I'm not living in Michigan anymore!
My schedule each day is not defined, but there are still two fixed points: morning and evening prayer. On Wednesdays and Fridays at 5:30am, we celebrate the Eucharist in the Divine Liturgy (and, of course, on Sundays as well). On the other weekdays, we celebrate Matins at 6:00am. In the evening, we have a Vespers service at 6:00pm. Breakfast follows the morning service, and we eat a plate of rice and very black beans, sometimes accompanied by small tortillas. Dinner follows Vespers, and the food varies. So far I haven't had any of the stomach issues that typically follow from exposure to new bacteria, but I don't want to jinx myself!
Beginning tomorrow, life at the seminary will change dramatically because Metropolitan Athenagoras, the Greek bishop of Mexico and Central America, will arrive for a fifteen-day stay. It will be the bishop's first visit to Guatemala, and the priests here will take him to different villages that are part of the large, spread-out Orthodox community. If things go according to the plan, I will accompany the priests and the bishops in their travels. Fr. Andres wants me to take photos of the visits, so he jokes that I'll be the official, "National Geographic" photographer.
Because the next two weeks will be so hectic, I cannot tell when I will have internet access. With any luck, I will be able to keep in touch with you. Until then, thank you for your prayers and for being interested in what is happening here in Guatemala. You all are in my prayers. Have a wonderful day!