Day one in Antigua, Guatemala. Our team, the Spicy Iguanas, had just met our fourth member, Chantal Soldini, who took us out to lunch. Numerous lighthearted anecdotes about cultural idiosyncrasies quickly transpired over filling Middle-Eastern food and ginger ale. Eventually these led to heavier topics – how foreign volunteerism damages local jobs, how individualism pushes aside collectivism, how traveling to developing countries to paint walls for a week hurts more than it helps – until the conversation came to a momentary lull.
The room was silent, save for whirring of the wall fan and the indecipherable chatter from the back kitchen. Chantal leaned back in her seat – the scratched, wooden chair that aligned snugly with the corner of the grubby aqua wall. The remains of the beef shoarma and an empty Canada Dry glass bottle, both of which had been consumed just moments before, sat on the metal table in front of her. Chantal stared vacantly into the distance just beyond her unfinished meal as she spoke quietly. “I just want to know when people will stop seeing Guatemala only as a country that needs outside help, and start seeing it for the dignity that it has.”