Explorin' with Lauren

Hi everyone! I am sorry I have not updated my blog in a couple of weeks. I have been on the computer a fraction of the time that I am on it at home, which is good in some ways, but challenging in others. I have a lot to update you on!Two weekends ago now, I travelled with my host mother and her children to her hometown of Huehuetenango where they spent the weekend visiting with her mother and family. I continued another hour on the chicken bus to a small town called Ixtahuacan (chicken busses are so-called because they tend to squeeze as many people on the bus as possible, making it feel like an overcrowded chicken coop and also because people do often transport live chickens on the bus).

I visited Ixtahuaca three years ago when I first arrived to Central America to begin my term of service with the Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) and I truthfully never thought I would have the opportunity to visit again. I spent the weekend visiting with my friends Todd, the Central American coordinator for BVS and his wife Caty, who was born and raised in Ixtahuacan. Todd and Caty have a beautiful daughter named Marcy and are expecting another baby due late September. My friend Sarah, who is currently finishing up her BVS service in El Salvador, luckily happened to be in Ixtahuacan that weekend on her way to Mexico to renew her visa. It was wonderful to be able to reconnect with old friends from such an important time in my life.

The short bus ride between Huehue and Ixta was absolutely breathtaking. Ixta is nestled in the lush, green Guatemalan mountainous countryside. The views from Todd and Caty’s home were no less stunning. It felt so refreshing to be out of the city and surrounded by such natural beauty.

After dinner Friday we went to watch a performance at the school where Caty teaches. I have never seen such elaborate costumes, well-choreographed dances and talented young performers. It was truly a spectacle and a delightful evening. We were all ready for bed by the time we finally made it home at 1am! A late night in Ixtahuacan!

Saturday we all slept in and woke up to a wonderful breakfast of beans, eggs and fresh, hot tortillas. After breakfast Sarah and I played with the kids (Caty’s youngest sister and nieces came over to spend the day with us) and helped with some chores. Later on we all went to pick the corn which we would have for an afternoon snack known as ”elotes locos” or ”crazy corn,” which is grilled corn smothered with ketchup, mayo, salt and lime. I know it sounds different, but it is actually quite delicious! The afternoon was spent harvesting vegetables and medicinal plants, which Todd and Caty sell at the Sunday market.

Being outdoors and working with my hands in the earth brings me so much peace and working alongside Todd, Caty, Marcy, their niece Elvia and Sarah made the experience that much more enjoyable. Our special dinner, which included beautiful, big, red radishes picked that day, felt well-earned. Sarah and I even helped Caty make the tortillas!

Sunday morning Sarah, Marcy and I met Todd and Caty at the market where they had their booth set up since 4am! They sell not only the vegetables and medicinal plants from their land, but also traditional Mayan clothing, pottery and other odds and ends. The market was an exciting place with many sites, sounds, smells, textures and colors. Caty’s youngest sister, Marta, who I met three years ago, took Sarah and I to find some breakfast. We had some delicious tamalitos, tacos, and atol (rice milk). After breakfast we hung out at Todd and Caty’s booth, watching the people come and go and took a trip to see the cathedral where I bought a necklace with a cross on it for myself.

Soon it became time for me to board the bus and head back to Huehue where my host family was waiting for me to head back to Xela. It was sad to sad goodbye to my friends in Ixta, but also felt very blessed for the time we were given to share. I was happy to meet back up with my host family in Huehue and travel back to Xela together with them, sharing our stories from the weekend. I was grateful for a restful weekend, the chance to see old friends and to visit a part of Guatemala that is not usually visited by tourists, where life is  little simpler and slower than in the city and where God’s presence is so easily felt in the beauty of the land and the warmth of the people.

 

Sarah and Marcy

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Last  Saturday we took a trip to a place called Momostenango where we learned about the age-old weaving process that is used to make all of the beautifully colored woven fabrics that you see all over Guatemala. We visited the home of Doña Telma and Don Luis (yes, their names are Thelma and Luis and they are a sweet little old couple that comes to our school on Fridays selling their goods). There we learned how they shear the sheep, refine the wool by hand, and then spin it into yarn on a spinning wheel that is over 100 years old. Next they dye the yarn using all natural dyes made from plants found in Guatemala. Finally they take the yarn to a loom where they weave it into blankets, carpets, jackets and other products adorned with intricate designs.  The patterns are not written down anywhere, rather they are passed down from generation to generation.

The entire family contributes to the weaving process. One of the sons who was demonstrating how to use the loom explained that he began to learn to weave when he was eight years old.

After the demonstration it was time for shopping! Our group bought many gifts and souvenirs to take home to friends and family and to remember our day in Momostenango. Doña Telma made us fresh, hot tortillas over an open fire which we enjoyed with beans, cheese, guacamole and salsa. The perfect end to a delightful day. Telma and Luis continue to make to hour trek to Xela every week to visit the multiple language schools there and to sell their goods in order to support their family. After this experience I have a whole new appreciation for the time, skill and labor that go into creating the vibrantly colored clothes and fabrics that Guatemala is so famous for.

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     Last Saturday was a very important soccer game for the people of Xela. Their soccer team, the Xela Ju (pronounced Sheyla Who) won the national championship. From 1938-1940 Xela was independent from the rest of Guatemala. Xela still has its own flag and anthem, called La Luna de Xela Ju, or The Moon of Xela Ju. The moon appears to be exceptionally large in Xela and for this reason is the symbol of the city.

     Every year there is a national soccer tournament in which 24 teams, from the 24 departments, or states, of Guatemala compete for the title of national champion and the coveted trophy. Xela has won this tournament four times in the past twenty years or so, each time receiving a small moon on the collar of the team´s jersey. This past Saturday they made it to the championship and fought against the team from Guatemala City for the ¨Quinta Luna,¨ or the fifth moon.

     I went with four of the girls from our group to watch the game near the central park, where it was being played on a large screen. The park was packed with people excitedly cheering on their team. It was also being played in every bar, restaurant, mom and pop shop and living room in Xela. We chose to watch it in a bar right off of Central Park. Though I am not usually a sports fan, it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement. The odds were against Xela, but they ended up winning in an intense shoot-out. People went wild! There were firecrackers, shouts, flags flying every where, people dancing in the street, live music, painted faces and horns honking. The was pandemonium throughout the city! 

     I am so grateful to have been here for such an important event for the people of Xela. When going to teach English in the local public schools this week, the game was the first thing the students wanted to talk about. Soccer, or ¨futbol,¨ is a passion all over Central America, and Xela is no exception!

    More to come on our trip to the weaving cooperative in Momostenano last weekend! 

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Photo taken during the soccer game. 

     Hi everyone! It has been a long time since I blogged, but I thought since I am going to be in Guatemala for five weeks it would be a good time to get started again! I arrived to Guatemala City last Friday, along with eleven students from the University of Dayton. This trip is part of the UD Campus Ministry Cultural Immersion Program. We will be living in studying in the second largest city in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango, better known by its Mayan name, Xela (Sounds like shayla).
     The first weekend we all spent together exploring Xela, learning where our Spanish schools are located and getting orientated to our new surroundings. Xela sits in a valley and is surrounded by verdant mountains, including the dormant Santa Maria Volcano, which we hope to hike eventually. The rainy season has just arrived, so it rains every afternoon and into the evening. It is nice when you are inside with a cup of tea listening to the rain fall on the tin roof, but not so pleasant when you have to walk everywhere!
     Sunday afternoon our host families came to pick us up from the hostel where we were staying. My host family is really nice and I am very happy to be staying with them while in Xela. My host mom´s name is Pilar and my host father´s name is Jose. They have two beautiful children, Diego, 7 and Fatima, 4. Diego is very affectionate, sweet and intelligent. In fact, he is the ¨Senor Presidente¨of his second grade class! Fatima is a little bundle of joy. She is intellectually challenged, so she cannot speak, but she communicates, with smiles, gestures, giggles and hugs. Last night Pilar and Jose went to an engagement party and asked me to babysit. I was thrilled to be able to help out!
     The other students and myself started school on Monday. I am studying at a school called El Nahual with three other UD students. It has been really nice walking to and from school together everyday and being able to talk about all of the new experiences we are having. Nahual is a Mayan word for protector. The Mayans believed that every person has a Nahual that guides and protects her. We have one-on-one Spanish lessons for four hours every morning. My Spanish teacher is named Francis and she is really nice. We are working on refining my grammar, learning new vocabulary related to medicine (to help out with medical brigades in the future) and theology (to continue to volunteer with and maybe someday work with Latin American immigrants in the Catholic Church). She also takes time to explain interesting cultural and historical facts about Guatemala and Xela, which I really enjoy learning about. 

     Our school also provides educational cultural opportunities, like salsa lessons, cooking classes, movie nights and our weekly community lunch where we cook alongside our teachers and fellow students and share recipes and cultures. For this past community lunch our teachers took us to the local market to buy the ingredients. The market was full of fresh fruits and vegetables, vibrantly colored traditional clothing and people bustling about. We also ventured by the meat section, which was not a pretty sight, and the section where they sell beautifully hand-woven clothes that many of the indigenous women still wear here.

     In the afternoons we will be teaching English at local public schools. Many of the parents in the schools where we will be teaching do not know how to read or write, so getting some of the students to understand the importance of education can be a challenge, but one that we hope to tackle in the time we will share with the students. So far it has been an extremely rewarding experience and I look forward to continuing to work with these very poor schools while I am here in Xela.

     I must end here for today, but I will continue to write about the different experiences we are having here in Guatemala. I hope that you all are well and enjoying the new life all around you this Spring. I would love to hear from you sometime! 

Blessings and love,

Lauren

UD Group in Atlanta airport

View on walk home from school

Maggie and Me

Diego and Fatima

It’s hard to believe that 6 months have already passed since I’ve been here. Things are going well at the home. I feel more comfortable and at “home” with each passing day. I can feel my relationships with the kids and staff growing and deepening.

One hard lesson that I am slowly learning here is to take my time. The tendency to rush through things seems to be engrained into my core. A perfect example took place this past week when I took the children who celebrated  abirthday this month to buy new clothes- something that I am privileged to do at the ed of each month. I feel like pulling my hair out when the kids and the workers in the store lazily peruse the racks and slowly walk back and forth to the dressing room. At one point I behaved badly and took over the worker’s job and rapidly went to look for a bigger size for one of our girls who was trying on jeans. At the same time we only had a limited amount of time as we had to be back by 5 for dinner and it was getting late!

Ah…that mystical state of balance that I seem to constantly be searching for…

There is something to be said for being punctual, but there is something to be said for enjoying the experience too. “It’s the journey, not the destination” kind of thing. This is one reason I am glad that I am here for two years. I think with the greater quantity of time I really have the opportunity to maximize the quality of what I will contribute, as well as what I will take away from this experience.

A new development that here is that as of about three weeks ago  a new girl has been staying with me in the volunteer bunk house. She was brought here temporarily until something else can be figured out for her, but since there is no room in the girls dorm, she is staying with me. It is both nice to have company and a bit akward  to have this long-term “guest.” One grows accustomed to living alone and having a routine, but I am certain God has sent her to the home and specifically to live with me for a reason. I am not entirely sure of that reason yet, but one possible reason might be to stop me from my frenzied running around working and be reminded of the real importance of working in an orphange.

She really is a sweet girl. She has hard a hard life, like most of the kids at the home. The oldest of 5, her other siblings are living in another home two-hours from San Pedro that is soon to be closed. She was removed from that home after being sexually abused by the director (who is now in jail, thank God). Her mother died three years ago and from the sound of it, her father is an abusive alcoholic. He has tried to visit her a number of times but we are legally prohibited from allowing any visitors to see her.

It’s different translating reports about cases like this, or even giving English classes and playing soccer with children with similar backgrounds, than living under the same roof and sharing in the daily rhythm of life with such a child. Our lives, upbringings and cultures couldn’t be more different, but here we are living side by side. Getting to know her better, I see we have similarities too. We are both the oldest and love our younger siblings very much, we both like movies and cooking. She is helping me perfect my tortillas! We talk and joke and laugh. She is a joy. Yes, I know God has said this young girl into my life to teach me something and though I may not know exactly what that “something” is yet, I have faith that everything in life happens for a reason.

Other than that things continue to go well. I celebrated a birthday this month and was woke to the little ones singing outside my bedroom window. I feel truly blessed and privileged to be here at the home and am looking forward to visiting my other “home” next month for Thanksgiving! In the meantime, many blessings and lots of love to all of you who took the time to read this!! Hugs from Honduras!

September 23, 2009

I have been living at Hogar Emanuel for five months now. I no longer say living and working, because my outlook on what I am doing here is changing. I think that I came into this volunteer position thinking it would be like every other “job” I ever had, in which I would work my hours and then have my free time. I could see from the beginning that would be difficult to do that when I live in the place where I work, but I stubbornly persisted in trying to have a definite boundary between my work and personal life. It is finally clicking in my thick head that this is not like every other job I have ever had. It’s way cooler!

I am not looking at what I do as “work” anymore, especially the time I spend with the kids. This is my home for the time being. Something we talk a lot about in BVS is accompaniment, or simply living along side the people. This is a brilliant idea in theory, but in practice has surprisingly been one of my biggest challenges. I ovbisouly still have a lot to learn. I constantly have the mindset of go, go, go, do, do, do and find myself getting agitated when people want to stop and talk. Imagine that. It has also been humbling to live the along side the children in the home- to eat the same food, to ride with them on the school bus to my yoga class, to help in the laborious process of making tortillas for 80 kids, (or anything for 80 kids for that matter!), sharing my TV, my sunblock, my nail polish remover, my toothpaste. I know it sounds selfish, but I have to admit this was hard for me at first. The irony is even though sometimes I feel like life it hard here, I have so many privileges that these kids don’t , such as living in the biggest house on the property while they sleep in dorm rooms with bunk beds, being served bigger portions of food and not having to wait in live for seconds, going out whenever I want to, sitting in an air-conditioned room to do my computer work, etc. And I know that I have a family and a home and plenty of opportunities waiting for me back in the United States. There is no comparison. And the even more ironic thing is, is that these kids are the lucky ones. I have heard it said that Hogar Emanuel is like the Hilton of children’s homes in Honduras, and it is true. Our kids have three solid meals a day, health care, clothing, quality education, a social worker and psychlogist. They go on trips, they receive birthday presents, they have parties. In short they are doing pretty good compared to the children living on the street, or in impoverished, abusive homes or even in the extremely poorly run state orphanages. It is all relative. Lesson: be grateful for what I have!

English classes are still going strong. I have two classes now on Monday and Tuesday afternoons after homework and chores. Recently I showed the movie “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” with Jim Carrey (great movie by the way!) in Spanish with English subtitles and then had the kids write down words in English and look them up. I am totally winging this teaching thing, but the kids seem to love it so I am going with it….

Monday nights I cover one of the educators on her day off in the casita (little house) with the little girls, ages 3-7. Surprisingly, caring for these 12 little ones is one of the least stressful parts of my week. I think the reason is because my “job” is literally to just be with them and all they want is someone to love on them. That’s easy! They pretty much know their routine and are amazingly self-sufficient for their ages! 

I also have started soccer practices with the older girls at the home, which has been very fun! We had our first game two Saturdays ago and won- 3-2! I am rediscovering my love for soccer and staying in shape too!

Speaking of staying in shape, as I mentioned earlier I am still attending my yoga class three times a week and I absolutely love it! I have been teaching some of the postures to the little boys after I read them a bedtime story! They love it too!

I’m not sure if it has been widely publicised in the U.S. but the ex-president of Honduras, Mel Zelaya, came back to the country a few days ago after being ousted in June and the country is in an uproar. There was a curfew for two days straight in which all the staff were stranded at the home and the kids didn’t go to school. The country was basically on lockdown. Today things have begun to normalize a bit- the curfew has been taken away and schools, hospitals, grocery stores, the airport have all reopened. Please keep the people and leaders of this small, but noble country in your prayers, that they can peacefully resolve this political problem.

Thank you all for love and prayers that give me the strength to keep on, keeping on. Hugs from Honduras!!

     Well I know i has been a good, long time since I last added to this blog, but I am not ready to give up on it yet! I have spent the last three months getting settled into my new project at Hogar Emanuel.  It hasbeen quite a journey so far!

      I have experienced an earthquake, the swine flu (well not personally, but the threat of it) and a coup d’ tat (although some say it wasn’t a coup) in my short time here in Honduras! I have survived a skin parasite and numerous small, we’ll call them stomach disturbances.  Living in 100+ degree temperatures and loosing electricity during downpours has become commonplace.  I’ve learned to eat mangos straight off the tree, make tortillas and even drink coffee, which is very popular here, even among children! I have even tried liver….twice! Not bad for a former vegetarian! I have been adjusting to living and working in the same place, to make sure to make time for and take care of myself, to speak Spanish, to make friends and to balance how I spend my time.

      I have been teaching two classes, which have been successful- an English class and a cooking class. Teaching is a sheer pleasure when the students are eager to learn and you take enjoyment in what you are teaching. 

      The English class started on a whim really and now there are about 12 regular students who come to my house every Tuesday afternoon for class.  We have homework and tests and I always try to end class with a game.  The class has become so popular I had to start another one on Mondays! The students are delightful and always end up helping me with my Spanish too!

      Cooking class takes place on Saturday afternoon and I rotate turns between the different family units at the home (3-8 year old girls, 3-8 year old boys, 9-16 year old girls, 9-16 year old boys, teenage girls, teenage boys), which gives me the chance to get to know the kids better and gives them all a chance to participate in the class. The ingredients are always generously donated by the director of the home. We have made snickerdoodles, brownies, pizza, jello and hamburgers. We always make enough to share with all the other children.

     Other than classes I attend outings, help with homework, take pictures, squeeze in art projects wherever I can, make murals and birthday cards, host volunteer groups, translate documents, read bedtime stories and provide love and support to the children…among other things. I really do a little bit of everything adn though I stil stubbornly persist in making to-do lists and schedules for myself, I really never know eactly what a day is going to hold. You never know when you are going to get stuck in a traffic jam, the electricity is going to go out, or a visitor is going to pop in.  I have a saying that I jokingly use to get through some of these wrenches that get thrown into life here, “just another day in Honduras!” Flexibility is of the utmost importance. In fact, the mascot of thevolunteer groups that come down here to work is Gumby, for this very reason!

     My life outside the home you ask? What life? Just kidding. Though my social life may not be what it has been in past times I am OK with that.  I do take a yoga class, which I love, three days a week. I also have been attending and Evangelical Mennonite church, which is doing a pretty good job of keeping me spiritually fit, emotionally balanced and mentally healthy.  I have met some wonderful people through the church and had opportunities to go on outings, work a church BBQ and even visit the small hometown of one of the families from the church. I am hoping to attend a women’s retreat at the end of this month!

     I have been doing a lot ofreading in my spare time. The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC- a program very similar to BVS that has a number of volunteers placed throughout Honduras)  has it’s headquarters at the church I attend with a terrific library stocked with books in Englishon subjects like peace and justice, Spirituality and travel, as well as novels like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and my personal favorite, Barbara Kingsolver! Oh yes, life it good! MCC has also been good for meeting other American volunteers.

     Well I will end here and include as many pictures as I can, since pictures speak a 1000 words! Thank you all for your love, prayers and keeping in touch! It is your support and God’s unconditional love that I have had the strength to keep going when things have been rough; when I have missed home, felt overwhelmed by the need that exists here in the home and in Honduras in general or when I think I am going to pass out from heat exhaustion! It is with this support and love that I have peace, joy and a song in my heart…