This Wasn't Where We Thought We'd Be

This blog post first appeared over at - you can read more about Allison there! 

I’m struck by how similar I am to people who appear totally different from me; those who’s lifestyles seem foreign and locations seem far away.

{In case you missed it, this week I’m in Guatemala with a group of bloggers and an organization I love called Food for the Hungry. For more details about why were here and what we’re doing, you can read my first post. You can also follow our group on Twitter and Facebook by searching #fhbloggers}

I haven’t always felt this way. In the past, when I’ve traveled to developing countries, I’ve been struck by how different I was from the people who I met there, how they way they lived life on a daily basis didn’t look anything like how I lived life. I’ve focused on their dirt floors and lack of running water or electricity, and the simplicity of “stuff” they had, and thought about my closet back home, packed to overflowing. 

I’ve always come home feeling grateful for what I had, and maybe a little guilty for complaining about it, and newly inspired to share my resources.

But this time, something is different.

This time, instead of seeing how different I am from the people I’ve met since we’ve been in Guatemala, I can’t help but see how similar we all are. I don’t really see myself as “luckier” than them for having all the things I have (I’ve been giving them up anyway, and feel lighter without them). I do feel grateful, but its a different kind of gratitude.

I feel grateful for what I’ve shared with the community where I’ve been for the past 24 hours, grateful for what they’ve shared with me, and grateful for the time we’ve spent together.

I don’t feel sad for them. I really like them. They’re so much like me.

Today Darrell and I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon and evening with Maria and Domingo, one of the couples in the community where Food for the Hungry works, and hear a little bit about how the organization had impacted them. The conversation started off pretty much the same as it would if we were meeting new friends at home (aside from the translator). We introduced ourselves, talked about the weather and sports and there were several awkward silences.

But as soon as Maria began to share story, all I could think was how much we had in common. She talked to us about how she had met her husband, when and why and how they had gotten married, and how they lived with her parents for the first few months of marriage so her husband could finish school.

Now, she told us, they’re working hard to pay off debt and support their three young children so they can move to a bigger house someday soon. “This wasn’t where we thought we’d be, but we’re making the most of it” she explained.

All I could think was: I relate.

Later, as the family started to make dinner, I offered to help and she let me break the green beans into pieces and put them into a giant pot for boiling, and we talked about how freeing it has been for the community to learn how to grow their own vegetables so they can feed their children nutritious food. And despite the fact that our surrounding circumstances are dramatically different, I couldn’t help but think about how the questions we ask are so similar — What is the best way to make sure your family eats nutritious food? What is the most affordable way to do that?

We watched as her daughter washed and drained the corn, and then ground it into a fine flour, and then they let us help them form the tortillas they would cook over the open fire. Darrell and I both put the moist flour in our hands and copied what she showed us, patting gently and turning the circle in our hands until it was flat like hers.

Hers turned into perfectly flat circles. Ours crumbled and fell apart. And after a few minutes, the entire family burst into laughter — not because our tortillas looked so bad (they did) but because they said they aren’t used to seeing men in the kitchen.

It’s okay, I told them. Darrell doesn’t really cook at home, either.

I guess my point in saying all of this is that my time in Guatemala, and my participation with Food for the Hungry, feels more gratifying than any “mission” trip I’ve taken in the past. Because my attitude has changed. It isn’t about saving people, or about a circumstance that makes me feel guilty for how I live back home.

It’s about creating a genuine connection with the people in the community here. Me sharing what I have with them, and them sharing what they have with me.

It doesn’t feel like charity. It feels like friendship.

If you have the means to sponsor a child in this community, I would challenge you to take advantage of the opportunity to work with a great organization inspiring lifelong change with the people of Guatemala. And I would challenge you to think of it not as charity, but as friendship, as a relationship with the beautiful people of this community, who are working hard to create the life they’ve always wanted, the life they never knew they could believe was possible —

Much like you. 

All photos taken by Jessica Taylor.

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