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Mayan Homestay Experience – “Lemar”, cual es tu sueño?

When we were making decisions to travel through Latin America, we decided that we’d take shuttles/buses whenever we have to cross borders. Having to transport our equipment, bicycles and ourselves safely across immigration was simply not worth the risk.

And so, we got into Lake Atitlan, Guatemala from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico; via one of the shuttle vans, kindly sponsored by Bamba Experience. In addition to that, Paul, one of the co-founders of Bamba Experience arranged for us to stay with a local Mayan family, to “initiate” us into our Guatemala travels, to experience the life of a local indigenous family.

We were “assigned” to live with the local founders of the “Mayan Homestay Experience” program, the Jiatz family.

Our host family: Danielito, Malesa and Ingrid Jiatz

Our host family: Danielito, Malesa and Ingrid Jiatz

How do you say, “Elder Sister” in your language?
“Lemar.”
“Lemar”, thank you for our first dinner in Guatemala
Home-cooked, nothing less
It warmed more than just our hungry stomachs
It comforted our tired souls from a whole day of travelling, too


A wood-fire stove
With wood carried on your back
Up a hill, up many steps, until you bring them home
“My husband works very hard in the city…for the family.”
“Lemar”, we wished you know –
That you work very hard for your family, too


An “olla (pot)” from your “abuelos (grandfathers)”
It is very special – You use it only for beans
“My abuelos ate beans every Tuesday and Thursday
So did my parents
Now, we eat beans every Tuesday and Thursday
And in the future, my daughter will cook beans in this pot, and eat beans from this pot
Every Tuesday and Thursday, too.”
“Lemar”, thank you – for letting us be more than parts of your traditions
Thank you – for letting us be a part of your family


Handmade tortillas made together
“You make good tortillas. They are round!”
Beans from an ancient pot. On a wooden stove for a whole day.
And fresh cheese.
“My parents ate only beans. They could not afford cheese.
I like cheese. I can afford them now.
Here, have some.”
“Lemar”, thank you – for sharing everything you put on the table with us

"Come with me for a walk."

“Come with me for a walk,” you said
“To where?” We asked.
“I want to show you my home.”
“Isn’t your home here, in this casita, Lemar?
“Come.”

"This - the lake here, is my home."

“This. The lake. The mountains. This land here – is my home.”
“Lemar”, thank you – for sharing your beautiful home
And your beautiful heart with us

The idea behind Bamba Experience’s “Mayan Homestay Experience”, was to give travelers an opportunity to have a genuine experience of living with a Maya local family to experience their culture and customs; and in return, the host families “ganar un poco dinero (earn a little money)” to better their lives.

Lemar, you have given us so much. What has this homestay program given you in return?” We asked the morning before we left, during our last breakfast with the family.

“I have a stove to cook on now.
I used to cook on the floor, with an open fire… even when I was pregnant with Ingrid and Danielito.
I have a bathroom now.
It used to be a hole in the ground.
I have water and hot water now.
I used to go to the public tap and carry gallons up this hill. And if I need hot water, I heat it over the open fire.
I have everything… but.”

“Lemar” kept quiet for a long long time. We kept quiet, too.

“When we had nothing, my husband and I worked together. We built this house together, we brought the children up together. Then my husband started this program – he worked very hard, studying English and working with the tour companies. Because he works very hard in the city, we have everything. Now, I have everything, but… my husband is not with me. I don’t see the world he sees, I have never traveled out of this town, I don’t know about the colorful markets he brings tourists to, I no longer live in the world he lives in. Sometimes, I feel sad.”

Not expecting anything like this, we tried to break the awkward silence by thinking of something nice to say. Our reactive selves went, “Quick! Say something inspiring! That’s our job – to bring hope!” So thinking we could cheer “Lemar” up by giving her something to look forward to, we asked her, Lemar, cual es tu sueño (what is your dream)?”

“Lemar” gathers the dishes and stood up. I don’t want to think about that. When I have thoughts like these, I need to quickly take them out of my head.” There was another long silence before “Lemar” sighed softly and carried the dishes over to the sink.

In humbled and almost-ashamed silence, we helped her with the dishes as she cleaned the kitchen, washed Danielito and changed his clothes and went about her daily chores.


“All of a sudden, our project felt small, our dreams felt small, I felt small. The question “What is your dream?” became inappropriate. I have not for one day in my life gone hungry because of the circumstances of life. Who am I to ask a mother who is struggling to make ends meet what her dream is? Me living my dream does not give me the permission to be cruel. In front of poverty, “I Believe That Dreams Can Come True” became ridiculous, I became ridiculous.”Tay

That day as we left San Jorge for Panajachel, we received an email reply from one of the places we sought accommodation at:

“We set out on this journey, wanting to bring hope to the people we meet by sharing the light and truth through our stories. But sometimes, the truth is almost too much to bear. Surely, surely there is a way to bring light to poverty. I may not be Oprah who can grant people their wishes and help them fulfill their dreams. Does that mean that because I cannot do anything “concrete” for them, I do not have the right to ask, and to listen – to what lies within their hearts so deep?”Val

Little did we know, this sense of “small-ness” was only going to grow BIGGER…


Help us share one more story –
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