You’re a good friend. Eres una buena amiga. At jun kilaj wixbil.

Tatiana Dalton and Alex Northrop
August 23, 2018

Whatever language we use to describe them, relationships are central to a sense of community and personal well-being. Reflecting on our first months at Pueblo a Pueblo, we find that friendships and partnerships are also important to our work here in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala.
“Pueblo a Pueblo” translates as “village to village” or “people to people,” and this name is a testament to the organization’s commitment to collaboration. Founded in 2001 to address the widespread poverty, illiteracy, and poor health that afflict Guatemalans living in the Lake Atitlán region, Pueblo a Pueblo considers community engagement to be a key element of its work.
As PiLA fellows, we spend our days reporting on Pueblo a Pueblo projects through graphs, photos, and testimonials, hoping to earn the trust of those who contribute to our programs as donors and sponsors. We spend our days drafting, editing, and formatting, hoping to convey the powerful synergy created when Pueblo a Pueblo’s staff and resources meet community partners’ passion and hard work.
However, while we often describe the outward success of our organization, we rarely get the chance to express the warmth and generosity of our co-workers at Pueblo a Pueblo. From soccer matches after work to shared pitahaya in the office, to dusty bus rides to visit community partners in their homes and schools, the sense of community we enjoy at work every day is an encouraging reminder of Pueblo a Pueblo’s founding principles.
We pour plenty of our hours and energy into our work at Pueblo a Pueblo, but our eyes, ears, and hearts stay open even after we’ve left the office for the day. We’re lucky to be in Santiago Atitlán for plenty of reasons—for one thing, there are frozen bananas dipped in chocolate sold on every block—but our first months in town have been marked indelibly by the PiLA cohort, past and present, that calls Santiago home. It means a lot to have someone to invite you to lunch on your very first day in town or introduce you to the market vendor they visit for fresh produce, especially when that someone is a thoughtful friend who has followed their passions to the same town on Lake Atitlán.
Our Santiago PiLA community forms only one thread in a web of relationships that will support each of us throughout the upcoming year. As we’ve wandered through our first meals in cafeterías, first trips to the market, and first times getting just a little lost on our way to work, we have begun to hear other words that create pockets of comfort amid all the newness. “Cualquier cosa que necesites, no dudes en decirme,” says a new friend from Tuesday night pickup soccer—“Whatever you need, don’t hesitate to ask me.” “Debes venir con nosotros un día de éstos,” says a landlord, who feels more like an adoptive mom, as she leaves for the market—“You should come with us one of these days!” “¡Xatu’la!” says María, who makes tortillas on the corner, when you come by yet again for your lunchtime fix. “You made it!”
If you’ve ever been new in town, you’ve probably experienced a version of this—a gradual broadening of your personal circle, a willingness to wear your heart a little more on your sleeve each day as the ground becomes more and more solid under your feet. Most new neighbors won’t greet you in Tz’utujil, it’s true—that’s bound to happen pretty much only here in Santiago or in one of the other handful of towns where this Maya language is spoken—but finding your place among new neighbors and friends is a process wherever you are.
We have a lot of work days and weekends left here in Santiago, lots of lunches and dinners and cups of coffee still to be had. We have a whole lot of gratitude to pay forward, too—plenty of conversations to initiate and invitations to extend to those who have done so for us already. The months that remain of our time in Guatemala will present countless opportunities for each of us to be “jun kilaj wixbil”—a good friend—to the people and the place that have given us such a warm welcome so far.