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Dragons students hand-carving a dugout canoe. Photo by Micah LeMasters, Indonesia Semester.

Instructor

The sun rises and you can already hear people in the distance starting their day, a few dogs barking and that one rooster that is actually a little late at 6 am.

As I walk out of my house I stop to admire the surreal view, the volcanoes are still covered with clouds at the top but the sky is actually clear, deep blue with a tint of purple-orange, its a cold morning.

It takes me 20 minutes to get to Antigua, its market day and it is already busy out here, buses are filing up quick or unloading people, baskets, chickens, a goat!

The street vendors are also starting their day. Some are juggling different products, offering a variety of things that you could need early in the morning. From orange juice, sweet bread, chuchitos and atol, to headphones, yo-yo’s, crazy glue, pens, coloring books, etc.

Not too far from the bus stop a man holding a Bible and a megaphone is starting to warm up and vocalize, he will be standing there all day getting the most out of his vocal cords.

Around the corner, on the street that takes you directly to the back of the market, 3 young guys are running with huge loads on their backs. Three nets filled with at least 250 fist sized avocados each, that were harvested yesterday up on the fields of the neighboring town, San Juan del Obispo.

The stand that sells imitation crocs is just opening, they also have left over Christmas lights at a super deal that you can’t let go (it says in a little sign), small radios and combination locks are part of the inventory.

If only you were able to decipher what that smell is! is it fruit? is it burned rubber? is it fried chicken? roses? is it cat food? spices?… all of the above?

Do you need sun glasses? movies? a mango? chocobananos? shark oil to cure everything?

Half a block down the street, a bakery is just opening as well. As the metal door rolls up, the big glass boxes are revealed, they are filled with delicious and fluffy bread, “pan francés” and “pan dulce” are the top sellers.

The small door right next to the bakery is where you will bring your bicycle if you need a quick fix or a paint job, also where you would find credit for your pre paid phone and some used tools for sale.

I got everything that I needed in more or less 2 hours, I could have done it in less but I enjoy walking around taking mental pictures inside of the busy market. Market days are colorful and contrasting, more like a painting that would hang somewhere between Impressionism, hyperrealism and pop art. My hands were busy so I couldn’t take a digital version of those mental photos.

On my way back home, I went to visit and walk with the students to their first day of Spanish class. A beautiful spot surrounded by epic views of the volcanoes and coffee plants is the perfect classroom. My lungs were filled with fresh air as I walked up and down back in to town.

If you ever visit this town, maybe you will also see that dog stretching in the middle of the street, not bothered by the cars or motorcycles, The king of the streets of San Miguel!

“Tortillas los 3 tiempos” reads on a sign on the wall (Tortillas for the 3 meals of the day) and its actually my next stop. Inside, two ladies are making tortillas by hand. Enough tortillas to fill up a huge basket and everyone’s bellies! In those baskets they will keep them warm and sell them 4 or 5 per 1 Quetzal. I got 3 quetzales.

I finally made it back home after all of that, it must be noon I thought! But when I checked my watch its was only 10:30 am.  This feels amazing actually! it’s a sunny Monday morning and I feel so awake and energized. Inspired by 3 students experiencing this side of Guatemala and surrounded by so much life and beauty.

Although the town of San Miguel is not as busy as a Monday market in Antigua, it is still just as beautiful and colorful. Also the market it is something that students will experience with their familias, when they go shopping early in the morning in the near future, probably a Saturday. Cant’t wait to hear that story!

Just a few days before, when Nell and Biz met their host families for the first time, Zoe was already experiencing her first mini excursion at the lake. I remembered when I worked as an Instructor for the first time, my first Dragons Program. I was nervous about leaving a student with a new family, I was a little worried and even-though I fully trusted our familias, it was something that I was not used to. Having worked as a guide before, my brain was having a hard time letting things flow in a “dragonsy” way, I was trying to make things feel better by over doing what ever I could do to make students feel comfortable…I didn’t fully understand how powerful it is to let your feelings flow (and theirs too) and teach you something.  Now, 11 years later, I have seen those first awkward and challenging days (for both, families and students) many times, I have also seen students grow, evolve and become a more powerful, aware and open version of themselves many times.

I understand this powerful time better, a very important moment when you are pushed out of your comfort zone,  you might understand the concept of “safe” but it feels so different in a new place for sure. And for a reason that is hard to explain, the small details feel like huge steps.  Spoken language might not be the easiest way to actually communicate something.

I love what I do, I love to connect with our students experience and support them in their learning process. I always try to open my ears and my eyes to how they are flowing through this process. Challenges are good, they make you grow. But feeling supported is what makes everything take shape and turn in to an experience at its full potential.

In this opportunity I feel blessed, because all three students are open, communicative and proactive. My time with each one of them is always productive and feels so real, so powerful. There are small and big challenges every day, and that is what you would expect from an experience like this. There are many ways to flow with those challenges, but one thing that I always like to remind students is that we are not here to “Go with the flow”, and this is why:

Think of a raft going down a river, you certainly cannot go against the current, you have one main direction yes… but if you just “go with the flow” it is very uncertain where you will end up. You might hit a rock, flip over, get stuck in an eddy, etc.. or not.  Instead, if you study the current, understand the power, identify and acknowledge potential obstacles so you can be prepared for what the river has for you, you will have more control of the raft.  So in theory you are going in the same direction as just going with the flow, but you are using the current at your advantage. You are “Flowing with the flow!”

Making friends everywhere you go, getting to know the history of a place and its people, learning about the culture, the challenges and goals of a community, and understanding what are the values. All this gives you context and it is the equivalent to studying a river before you go river rafting.

Our three explorers support each other as well, go on runs, go to the local gym together and study Spanish (in their free time) together.

Seeing all three of them in their individual experiences fills my heart with so much love, so much inspiration and happiness.

And at the end of the day, when the sun sets again and I get my own dinner going at home, I think of Zoe, Nell and Biz , enjoying time with their familias, probably enjoying a beautiful bowl of beans, or a tamal, or pollo, or sopa, or pan dulce, or pepián, or atol de haba…. or all of the above!

Juancho