Our time in Santiago Atitlan passed quickly, and by the end of it I felt completely refreshed. For the first time in months, I spent time with myself, reading, writing, praying, and thinking about my life and faith. It was completely refreshing.
We spent 40 minutes each morning and each evening walking through the town, between our hotel and the hospitalito. The area is in what America would consider extreme poverty. Everyone there lives on very little—they sell items in the streets, they beg, and they make due with what they have. Our group had many discussions surrounding the Guatemalan people’s happiness: first, “oh they have so little!” and then “but they seem more content…” and finally “we only think we know what they are missing because of the greedy culture we’ve been raised in.” It’s near impossible to say if the people there are truly happier than us, but I feel confident that the people we experienced live more peaceful, faithful, and tender lives than most people I know.
The town also has endless stray dogs. A year or two ago, the government issued a mass killing of the dogs—they spread the word that if you have a pet, you had better keep it inside, as they were distributing poison meat on the roads. They spent weeks driving around picking up dead dogs, evidenced by the fact that there were significantly less stray dogs than the last time I visited. Still, most of the stray dogs were dirty, scrawny, and full of bugs.
As we made our way through town on Wednesday, a dog suddenly appeared beside our group. Trotting along, he looked healthier and happier than most the dogs we saw, and he stuck with us not just on the walk to the hospitalito, but ALL DAY. He spent his day following us back and forth, resting in the cool dirt, and laying by our side as we ate lunch. We named him Gilliam.
I kid you not—that dog did not leave our side all day. He walked us back to town, almost getting hit by cars or attacked by dogs at every turn. This was the most stressful walk we had, by far. And then, along the way, he left us.
And that is the story of Gilliam and his dedication to our group.