Ashlen Nimmo, MSW ‘16 — Reporting from Panajachel, Guatemala
This semester, Innovate@BCSW is following the experiences of four BC Social Work students who have embarked on international field education placements in Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Stay tuned during the spring for ongoing updates through student-crafted blog posts, video diaries, and photography.
Blog 3: Successes and Relationships
By Ashlen Nimmo
My automatic response when reading the prompt for this blog was to cringe; “successes and relationships” the instructions indicated. While I am incredibly grateful for the relationships I have been able to build with my co-workers, my roommate, and with other NGO workers here, feelings of loneliness are often still present, as I am reminded of how few local people I know, and how disconnected I often feel from the surrounding community.
Although I have felt very welcomed at work, beyond the doors of the office, I have felt much less integrated. I am constantly thinking about how, as a foreigner, I may be perceived and thus received. During Mass, as someone reads off the prayer intentions, including a litany of names of people who have migrated to the U.S. or are currently in the process of doing so, I am reminded of the ease in which I was able to come here for a semester, and the privileges I am afforded, simply based on my nationality. Differences in culture, language, dress, and experience, I suspect also impact how I am viewed, as might people’s knowledge of the U.S. through those who have migrated there, visited here, or are portrayed in the media. People do not just see me, but they see the country I represent and the host of assumptions that come with that.
Furthermore, the history of discrimination, oppression, and gross human rights abuses during Guatemala’s 36 year civil war is not to be ignored as an important factor likely impacting people’s openness in particular. With an estimated 200,000 people murdered or missing, and with acts of genocide committed against Mayan people, it is no wonder that many people in this region are quite reserved. It has been only 20 years since the war’s end, meaning that many people here lived through the terror of that period and have family and/or friends that were murdered. Even now, driving down the highway, one can find billboards showing faceless people and the words “The Disappeared…Where are they?” with a phone number to call. On the Day of the Identity, celebrated a couple months ago, our driver for work explained to me that, “we celebrate this day to remind ourselves that we still exist.”
Needless to say, the environment here is layered with complexities. I also know that in addition to external factors, there are aspects of my own lifestyle – where I live, how I spend my time, and the way I interact with people – which can serve to either facilitate or hinder relationship development. I try to really cherish those relationships I have built, especially with my co-workers who have treated me with nothing but kindness, I re-adjust my expectations, and I redefine what “success” looks like for me. So when the older gentleman that I frequently walk by changed his greeting from “Good morning” to “It’s good to see you,” that showed progress, because perhaps that signaled his recognition of me. These are the moments and the small wins that I hold onto.