martes, 31 de enero de 2012

I feel fine

Wow, this week is hard to sum up.  I feel like it has gone in every direction.  The only way I can think to go about it is chronologically.  It’s been real good though.

Tuesday was my very first day not-in-training but working-with-all-the-responsiblities tía.  I’m not going to lie, this first day was rough.  I got there at 6am but the kids were already up and getting ready so I had that feeling of “oh no I’m late.”  And then I found out that I wasn’t actually supposed to come until 8 and that the next day I was to come at 5:30 and I was all sorts of confused.  I spent the day trying to keep up with the tíos with all the cleaning and laundry and whatnot.  I struggled with not feeling useful and doing things wrong.  It was my first time washing clothes by hand.  There were good moments, like going for a walk with the kids or reading a book.  However if I’m to be honest here for a moment, I had to choke back some tears at the end of the day.  What had I got myself into?

                And then I got back to the volunteer house, took some deep breaths, and remembered that this wasn’t supposed to be easy.  I’m not here to feel a certain way or to be a hero or to be comfortable.  And I thought more about my simple and wonderful purpose – I’m here to love these kids in whatever capacity that means.  Wednesday, dark and earlier around 4:45am, I got up, had some coffee, and prayed over the day.  My attitude was so much better and instead of letting myself get stuck on the little things, I noticed the moments when we laughed or hugged or connected.  I got to chatting more with the tíos.  They told me that everyone on their birthday gets doused in water.  I told them I wouldn’t tell them my birthday.  However there’s an info sheet about me in the house, so we raced over there and I scurried to find my sharpie to scratch out my birthday.  (He got to it first, but since it’s in September I’m hoping he’ll forget…).  So, it was still a long day, but a very good day.  I enjoyed being with the kids and starting to break the ice with the tíos.  It was amazing how both days were so similar in structure and the people I was working with, but how prayers and attitude change made a world of difference.
Me, Emerson, Francisca, and Izabel

 Thursday and Friday I was able to rest.  It was really nice to read and write and work on some projects.  Lucky for me Shawn had a shortened day on Thursday because he started at 5am.  That afternoon we headed out to Antigua and had a lot of fun.  We went to this museum about jade in Guatemala.  Guatemala is known for jade and we learned about how for thousands of years the indigenous populations have used jade to signify wealth and royalty.  It was really cool.  I also got really excited because there’s this chocolate shop/museum! We stopped by because it smelled so good.  Here you can find out about the history of chocolate in the Americas and find out how it’s made.  Then you can make your own chocolate, grinding the beans and everything.  One day we’ll definitely have to go back.  There’s also a coffee and Mayan music museum I want to go to.  Needless to say, it was a good afternoon and a nice break from being at NPH.

Friday felt like Christmas for many reasons.  For one, I got to move into my permanent room!  I love the volunteer house I’m in (there’s three).  I’m in the seemingly quieter, cleaner house and I really enjoy the people who are here.  And it felt so great to finally unpack all of my stuff and put up pictures.  I feel all moved in and ready to make this my home for the year. 
New room!
Then all the volunteers who left gave their clothes and miscellaneous items to the new volunteers.  I tried on a bunch of clothes and shoes and got some good quality lotion.  Magically four or five pairs of pants fit perfectly.  The big event of the day however was when I had a quick informal meeting with the Erika volunteer coordinator.  She had an update for me about the change in my position.  She showed me a job proposal that she had already discussed with the house director and asked me what I thought.  The integrated special education class needs an extra hand because right now there’s just one teacher and 8 kids who are across the board in ability levels and a few that might simply leave the room.  The idea of helping out at the school just sounded perfect.  In these last few weeks I’ve been learning about myself that I really enjoy having goals of learning or developing skills.  The setting of a classroom and having lessons everyday seemed to really fit my interests and is also a real need.  I got so excited when the volunteer coordinator shared this idea with me.  There’re a few different proposals for the afternoons.  One is the recreation workshop that I mentioned a blog or two ago.  Another would be an occupational workshop for the kids with special needs in their home.  This workshop is still being organized, so I wouldn’t be starting it for a while, but the basic idea is that I would work with the tíos and tías to teach and develop basic manual skills with the kids such as sewing, cooking, and everyday tasks.  Erika told me she was going to arrange a meeting with all parties involved and that I might start on Wednesday.  Wow, talk about things changing fast!

So the rest of the afternoon I enjoyed sharing my excitement with my new housemates and getting settled in.  Then we all headed over to Erika’s house in Parramos where she invited us to have dinner.  Oh my gosh, the food was riquisisisisimo.  She made lasagna and her husband made this salad with fantastic dressing.  There was guacamole and pico de gallo and a delicious cake to celebrate a volunteer’s birthday.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have free food from NPH every day, but after you’ve had several of those meals and then get treated with some good home cooking… – wow, there’s no other way to react other than to eat and eat and eat.  After we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, we ended the day with a piñata and chewing caramelos on our walk back home.  In conclusion – Friday felt like Christmas.

Saturday and Sunday I had another shift as a tía.  It seems like the more time I spend there the better it gets.  Saturday was cute, because every section came up with a performance to do in front of everyone.  It could be a dance or some kind of gymnastics business.  In the morning my section practiced a dance, coming up with the moves and outfits and everything.  We even made some pom poms.  Then in the afternoon everyone went out to the fútbol field and watched the performances.  Here’s a section showing their moves.

     Sunday was a very relaxed day.  The kids got to sleep in and some of the tíos and I went for about a 3 mile run before waking them up.  It was such a refreshing way to start the day, though I’m definitely a bit out of shape and need to go more often.  In the morning we went to the playground by the school and then watched a movie as a treat.  Nobody here usually watches t.v. or movies and so once a week over the weekend is special.  Later in the afternoon we went to mass together with all the sections.  That pretty much sums up the weekend.  Although it was a little sad because I couldn’t go out with the other volunteers to Antigua or Chimaltenango, I enjoyed being with the kids and it was good.

After getting the kids up and ready in the morning on Monday, I started my two day break at 8am.  One of the años de servicio and I decided to go for another run and that was really good.  We only ran 1/2-3/4 of the run, but it was really good chatting as we took a walking break.  She is a very friendly and ambitious 22 year old.  She really likes working with kids with disabilities and wants to go to school to become a speech therapist.  We talked about family and life and what snow is like in Chicago.  I’m going to start hanging out with her to chat in English too.  She really wants to learn and it’ll be fun.

After doing some grocery shopping and laundry Monday morning, I got a call from Erika telling me about the meeting that we’re all going to have in an hour.  I was excited and relieved that this meeting so easily came together.  I was a bit intimidated as the director of the school, director of all the sections, special education coordinator, special ed teacher, and director of the home for kids with special needs all came together to specifically talk about me and this new position.  I was like “come Spanish, don’t fail me now!”  But the meeting went really smoothly.  Everyone was in agreement that the teacher needed an extra hand and that I would be a good fit.  In addition it was decided that I will start Wednesday of this week, which is tomorrow.  I am so excited!  I know the next year will bring its challenges with whatever I do here at NPH, but I feel so much peace and confidence that this is the right position for me, that the kids will benefit, and the teacher too.  Everybody wins.  With this position I will also have a more normal schedule Monday through Friday   7-5.  I’ll be able to participate in some other volunteer responsibilities that tías usually don’t do.  I will have another section to hang out with and have dinner with a few times a week.  I’ll be doing family projects which is when brothers and sisters from different sections get to hang out and do something fun for a few hours.  I’ll get to be a part of these events called Kermes where the volunteers organize activities for all the kids once every two months over the weekend.  I’m excited that I’ll be able to participate more as a team with the volunteers.  All around, it’s very good.

Last night my house did a welcome dinner.  We had a tasty German-ish dinner with potatoes and cheese and something like spinach.  Here’s a picture of all of us together
From the top to the right me, Edith from Germany, Sam from the U.S., Nicole from Germany
Bottom left to right Karla from Guatemala, Bianca from Germany, Veronica from Austria, and Charlotte from the U.S.
And we are missing one Elena from Italy who took the picture.

And next week I'll let you know how this new position is panning out :)

lunes, 23 de enero de 2012

You say goodbye, and I say hello

This week was another week full of transition, not as much for the new volunteers but for the old.  The group of 12-ish volunteers starting last January spent their last week training us, saying their goodbyes, and packing up to go home.  It’s been an emotional time for everyone and even the Friday night assembly for all the kids to say goodbye, the despedida, made a few of us new volunteers tear up.

The new volunteers are now trained and moving into their new rooms.  Today, Monday, is the first day for many on their own in their position.  It’s exciting and has that feeling of, “ok, let’s get started.”

This has been a really good week.  When I think back to the last time I blogged on Saturday, it seems like forever ago.  The rest of the weekend was really nice.  I’m really thankful for how well all of us seem to get along.  Saturday night a few of us went to a coffee shop and talked for hours on issues ranging from poverty to sex education to our relationships with family and friends.  After this conversation I think we all felt refreshed and pensive.  I knew (like I think all of us) that I will have people I can talk to and connect with throughout this whole year.  It’s so good.

Here are some pictures of me and the other volunteers in Chimaltenango and Antigua.
Janelle, me, creepy Shawn, and Charlotte
At the Artesan market in Antigua

Out to lunch

Monday and Tuesday I spent with my kids.  Now that I’ve been spending more time with them, I’ve felt more freedom to do some different things with them rather than just observing.  Monday I was able to go to some Special Education classes/therapy with an amazing woman who’s been volunteering here for 6 months.  She is a calm peaceful middle-aged woman from Germany.  She reminds me a lot of my mom and has been more or less my mentor in my position.  She previously served as the Special Ed Coordinator, but now her position has changed so that she’ll be doing small group classes in the Montessori school.  She’s been so great with checking up on me and asking how I’m doing at the home.  I’m so glad I get to work with her and it’s so easy to ask her questions.  Anyway, so this week I worked with her and some of the kids making music with different instruments, reading books, and visiting the goats (another benefit of having animals here).  Then one afternoon I took a couple ladies for a walk to the library and we read Aladdin together.  We really enjoyed this and I started to hope my position would include lots of trips to the library.  Another thing I think we’ll do a lot is go for runs.  Several of the younger kids just love to run around the soccer field laughing and racing each other.  It seems like every time I’m at the house they ask “vamos a correr?” Reading and running, some of my favorite things J

Wednesday through Friday we learned more about NPH rules and policies and the roles of NPH International.  It was nice to have a change of pace and its good that the volunteer coordinator has been here for awhile and has everything so organized.  During this time, every volunteer chose a section to be a part of.  A part from a volunteer’s job, each of us also has a section that they spend time with every week.  Sections are just the groups like older girls, younger girls, older boys, younger boys, babies, kids with special needs etc.  There’re some 12-14 sections I think.  Because I am a tía I don’t really have a section apart from where I’m working which is with the kids with special needs.  However, if I end up changing my position in a month or two for the recreation therapy, I might get a section as well.  I would definitely choose the boys between 8-10 years old.  I love how mischievous and playful they can be.  After everyone chose their sections, everyone spent the afternoon with their kids.  Shawn chose the special needs section which I’m really glad about, for both selfish and unselfish reasons.  It’ll be great to have another person to spend time with the kids and give them more attention and all that jazz.  For me it’ll be great to have a volunteer to work with.  Because Shawn’s from my culture and is accustomed to working with people with disabilities in the states, I feel like we can talk about our impressions, thoughts, and struggles and be understood.  He will join us for dinner twice a week and maybe visit on the weekends sometimes.

After talking with Vilma, my supervisor, and Erika, the volunteer coordinator, I’ve got my schedule figured out at least for the first month.  There are two groups of tíos that trade off shifts.  I with be working with the shift that starts this Tuesday (hence why I am writing this blog today instead of working).  I will start at 6am and finish around 6:30/7pm when they go to bed.  They sleep A LOT.  So, I will have this schedule for Tuesday and Wednesday, then get Thursday-Friday free, then work Saturday/Sunday etc.  It’ll be kind of hard not having free time when the other volunteers have free time, but its good thing I’m an introvert and cherish my alone time.  As of now I won’t be doing night duty at least until I get more used to things and the behaviors and needs for the kids.  I’m secretly hoping my doing night duty won’t be necessary…

Because some tíos are on vacation, I’m going to be responsible for two boys with their personal care, chores, etc.  I like both of them a lot and they are very different. 

Here’s a picture of Leo

He’s really sweet and loves to joke around.  He goes to school in the mornings so I won’t see too much of him, but the time I’ve spent with him he seems awesome.

                                                               And this is Juan Carlos

I love his strong and energetic personality.  He loves to talk and get into things and he can be really sweet.  He can also be a big hand full because he likes to pinch, bite, and pull hair.  He’s usually not angry when he does these things, and redirecting him to a different topic or activity usually helps a lot.  I hope it goes well with him.

I took a couple more pictures of my kids. 
Emerson is the sweetest and very affectionate. 

Francisca loves to run around and give hugs. 


Paty and Delmi love reading books and are really easy going.  It’s such a good group.

Another major event this week was finding out what houses we are going to live in and with which roommates.  I’m very excited for how this turned out as well.  I’m going to live in the house with Bianca, who is the mentor-ish type lady I mentioned earlier.  Then another older volunteer is there who is very sweet and easy to talk to.  Even if she’s on her way somewhere, she’s always stopped to chat with me and is always very encouraging.  My roommate is another middle aged German woman who is a doctor at the clinic.  She seems like a very calm and clean person.  I know that going home will be relaxing and this is so important after a day running around with kids.  I like all the other volunteers there too.  There are a few more Europeans, three Americans, and altogether 9 of us.  We also have a volunteer from Guatemala who is really nice and is a social worker.  I’m really excited because my house seems pretty serious about speaking in Spanish especially since the Guatemalan volunteer doesn’t know English or German.  Although it can get really frustrating, I know that sticking with Spanish as much as possible is the best way to soak up this experience.  The room I’m moving into still has the old volunteers so I’m planning on moving in next week.  I’m really looking forward to putting all my stuff away and not be digging through my luggage all the time to find things.

This past weekend was very chill.  Saturday a group of us went to Antigua to shop, stroll, and read in a coffee shop.  There’s one café I really like that I think will become my usual place.  It’s got that college town/European/American feel to it.  When I need a break from how everything is different than what I’m used to, I know I can go there.  Also, lucky for me, the NPH library has all the harry potter books in Spanish.  It’s been my goal (New Year’s resolution?) to both read in Spanish and read Harry Potter.  Since I’ve never read through the series, I think it will be fun.  I’m starting on the second book J  I can’t express how much I love libraries.

Until next week!

sábado, 14 de enero de 2012

First week of Orientation

So, we finally made it to Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos Guatemala.  The first thing that struck me was the size and quality of this place.  Coming in you first see the clinic and office on the right and then the classrooms on the left along with a basketball court and playground.  The driver dropped us off nearby the volunteer houses.  I was surprised by how big they are. 

Here’s some pictures of the decent sized kitchen and living room.

Here’s my temporary bedroom.

Shortly after Shawn and I got there, another volunteer from the states arrived.  The three of us together went through the oo’s and aa’s of being here and also those awkward moments of not really knowing what to do.  The volunteer coordinator was running around getting us things like sheets and pillows and many volunteers and staff saw us and stopped by to say hello.  Everyone was really friendly.  The general consensus from the volunteers is that the jobs are really really hard but really really good. 

We arrived on Friday but we didn’t start orientation until Monday.  That means for our weekend we mostly wandered around the property and explored Parramos which is a really close by town.  It was nice and relaxing, but by Sunday we were ready to get started.
Here's a couple pictures of the campus
These are the volunteer, visitor, and director houses

Here's the school

Sunday afternoon and early evening all of the other volunteers arrived.  There are 11 of us altogether one more is coming the next Monday.  There are 5 from the United States, 2 from Austria, 3 from Germany, 1 from Italy, and 1 from Guatemala.  Now it’s really hitting me how much of a cultural experience this will be.  Right now we are all staying in a house temporary until the other volunteers finish their year and train us in our positions, and then head back home.  When we move permanently each of us will have one roommate who is not from the same country or have the same position (this really encourages sticking to Spanish!)  I have to say I love how we all have to fumble around with our Spanish to get to know each other.  With all of us from different places, it’s kind of our only option.  The other volunteers seem really nice and have interesting positions here.  I’m looking forward to getting to know them more.

After a welcome dinner on Sunday, we finally started orientation Monday morning.  Although all that team building, processing business is not always the most fun or intriguing activity, it was good to spend the morning talking about our expectations and fears and first impressions.  Other volunteers joined us and talked to us about their experiences.  I started getting really scared about being a tía for the kids with special needs because everyone has been telling me how hard and exhausting it is.  Let’s be honest here, I started to tell myself to forget about sleep for a year.  But… I was running away with my imagination and I know I’m supposed to be here and I know that working with these kids is exactly what I need to do right now.  This has definitely been a time to do some self reflection and adjust my attitude.  I’m here for the kids and not to be comfortable.

Anyway, after all this we were introduced to the top three directors and learned a bit about all the departments.  After lunch we took a tour with the volunteer coordinator and that’s when I really started thinking that places like this is what is going to change the world.  I really like how the kids are brought up here.  They are given food that they themselves grow.  We saw all the pigs, goats, cows, and chickens along with a green house and garden with carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, cilantro, beats, corn and other things I can’t remember.  They are fields to play volleyball, basketball, soccer, and places for art and music.  The kids eat organic food and they get the satisfaction of working for it (also doing their own laundry/cleaning).  They get an education and also can be trained in a trade. We saw the workshops for carpentry, bakery, sewing, metal work, artisan work and culinary.  They also give the kids opportunities to go to a university.  This place isn’t just for a child to grow up and then get thrown into the outside world.  They are training them to have professions and to get back to their communities in much needed ways.  Then of course there is the mission of love and belonging. I had read about all of this before, but just seeing everything hit me harder that this is how we tackle the cycle of poverty.

The next few days we continued visiting offices and learning about what different departments do.  There were the psychologists, social workers, therapists, schools, the clinic, and the workshops.  It was a lot of information to take in.  Then, the moment we’ve been waiting for, we started in our positions!  Thursday, Friday, and then Monday and Tuesday all of us are split up to get trained and observe our departments and positions.  I was very excited to finally meet my kids.  They are nothing short of fantastic.

I had been getting nervous, but when I met the children I’ll be working with for the next year for the first time, my worries pretty much melted away.  Of course some of the kids have interesting or trying behaviors but mostly they all seem really sweet and unique and overall the most open hearted children.  This one boy especially has the best smile and always runs to greet me when I come to the house.  The time I’ve spent at their house he’s rarely left my side.  The past two days I’ve mostly just been observing, playing, chatting, and going to meetings.  There’s one girl who loves to talk and we chatted for a long time about NPH, family, the States and Guatemala, and lots of things.  Lucky for us, there’s a sand volleyball court nearby the house and we were able to hang out in the sand.  It was a really cool sensory time in the sand especially with the nonverbal kids I want to get to know more. 

At one point during these two days I did start getting overwhelmed with just meeting so many people and taking in so much information.  Especially when everything is in Spanish, I don’t want to miss something important by accident.  But, overall I’m very excited and I have a feeling this year is going to be good.

The other tíos and my supervisor all seem really nice.  There are 8 tíos and 4 pequeños (the kids who grow up at NPH) who are doing their year of service.  Each pequeño gives back to NPH through a couple years of service working in different departments before they continue their studies in high school and college.  The schedule seems pretty fair.  I think it will be a good mixture of working hard and having rest.  Each tío works for two days straight and then has two days off.  Two tíos each night sleep in the same room as the kids, one in the girls’ room and one in the boys’.  It seems like a good system.  Some of the tíos are around my age in their twenties and then others are a bit older. 

I’m really curious about checking out the different therapy appointments with the kids.  They each have their own schedules with school and therapy.  So far there’s physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and art therapy.  There also was a recreational therapy program, but some positions with the volunteers have been changing so this therapy position will soon be vacant.  There’s been talk that maybe in a few months, I might start leading recreation activities for kids in the mornings and then continue as tía in the afternoons.  I don’t know, we’ll see.  I like the idea of variety and being active.  In either case, I hope to be creative with activities with my kids either in therapy or at home.

I know one thing that I will definitely be struggling with and growing in is the transition between life at Camp Courageous and everyday life here.  At camp, every week was a special week out of the year.  It was vacation.  Every day we could do something different and exciting.  We had an activity scheduled every hour and were on the go from morning until it was time to sleep.  I think I forgot that normal life is not like this…  And also there’re all the culture differences I think.  In just these two short days, I’ve already been thinking and asking “Ok guys, what do you want to do?  What activities do we have?  Maybe we can go here or go there or what?”  But I’m starting to realize that being an everyday life caregiver is more laid back and mostly contains tasks like doing laundry, washing dishes, and simply being.  This is going to be my challenge.  Of course I believe being engaged in learning, exercising, and in a sense working is important, but it’s good as well to step back and just be.  As I was mulling these things over inside my head, my real objective stuck out to me.  I’m here to love these kids.  In whatever capacity that means or could be, it’s as simple as that.

The other volunteers have been getting along in their positions too.  Some of them seem pretty tough because the person training them hasn’t been around for some reason, or because there’s still a need to come up with school schedules so they haven’t been able to start working with the kids yet.  For sure the next couple weeks we will all get into the groove of things and understand our responsibilities.  We are all enjoying our first free weekend.  With the other volunteers who have either been here for 6 months or a year joined us for dinner on Friday night in Antigua.  It was a good time and Antigua is such a nice city.  We had Italian food (pesto pizza for me!) which was a nice break from rice and beans.  Tonight (Saturday) we’re planning on going back to Antigua to hang out and go to a concert.  It should be fun.

Next week is our last week of training.  We have two more days in our department and then three more days of workshop type things. 

Ahh, I feel like there’s so much I’m leaving out.  I have so much more to talk about and so many thoughts about what I’m experiencing.  Unfortunately it’s impossible to include everything.  Until next week!

viernes, 6 de enero de 2012

Spanish Class

Always whenever I go somewhere new or different and I don't know anyone, I expect to be a little awkward, get a little lonely, and to tell myself to take some time to adjust and get used to transition.
But, by golly, so far everything has been great!

Here's the school. We would have class outside in the yard.

Monday marked my first day of classes. After an easy going morning of breakfast, reading, and lunch, I strolled over to the school and spent the first few hours talking and learning about the good old past subjunctive (which did not leave out the delightful imperative) with the director of the school. If I hadn't engaged too seriously in Spanish conversation since arriving in Guatemala, this conversation really kicked my butt. It was good.

Here's my teacher, Shawn and I at the top of Cerro de la Cruz.  It was a nice little hike and gives a great view of Antigua.

After class we talked and I decided to switch my classes to the mornings instead of the afternoons. This way I could go to the afternoon activities which were really fun according to the other students. Plus, I wanted to get out and try new things.

This was at a really pretty bird watching park called Paraíso Azul

It was quite the hike up Paraíso Azul but it was definitely beautiful
Monday evening, I got a drink with the other girl who lives in the same host family. She's from Germany and so were her friends who met up with us. They talked about how they came here, what they loved about it, and of course dating Guatemalans. Over all its amazing to me how I've been crossing so many cultures besides Guatemalan culture since being here.  Along with many German travelers I've met a student from Norway and another from Australia. Also the school has a pleasant mix of ages. Although most of us are 20 somethings, there are some who are older with adult children and grandchildren. Its inspiring to get to know this generation that takes on adventure and learning and traveling.

Tuesday through Thursday I had morning class from 8-1 with a different teacher. He's very good and we've had really good conversations. I like the way he teaches. After brushing up on a few grammar rules or concepts, we would read an article and talk about it. We've had some pretty dense conversations about divorce, poverty, alcoholism, illiteracy, and foreign business. Although I'm taking a class to better my Spanish, I feel I've learned so much and have really thought about important issues through our talks.

In the afternoons, a few other students, some teachers, and I have gone on different hikes to see what there is to see in and around Antigua. I really enjoyed all the walking and nature. It’s been perfect.

In the evenings I've had fun hanging out with the other students. One night we played Spanish scrabble and another night we went to see X-Men. If I didn't stick around the school where other students lived, I spent a relaxing night at my host family's house.

Overall it’s been a really great week. This afternoon Shawn (the other volunteer) and I are going to the orphanage. I'm really excited to see what the orphanage is like and to meet the other volunteers. I really want to meet my kids, but I don't know if that will happen this weekend or after all the orientation business. I'm really curious and I'm really excited.

Being in Antigua and taking a language course for a week has been great, but I feel like moving to the orphanage is the real start to this year. I will be going to my new home for the next 13 months for the first time. I will finally get to see, feel, and smell this place I've been thinking and dreaming about for so long. I will finally meet people I've either only read about or emailed. It’s that strange realization that even though I'm going to meet strangers, I know they will be a huge part of my daily life from now on.

P.S. Hope you enjoy the new background Shawn :P

domingo, 1 de enero de 2012

Arriving in Antigua

After the several month long process of applying, interviewing, waiting, and doing all the paperwork, going to Guatemala to serve in an orphanage for a year suddenly became a reality.  Yesterday I hopped on a plane and found myself in a sunny, warm, everything-is-in-Spanish world full of strangers and hopefully future friends.

With this blog, I hope to record some good memories, challenging experiences, and just to share my adventure abroad.  I’m really excited to be a caregiver for kids with disabilities.  Combining my interest in Spanish/Latino culture with working with this population couldn’t be more perfect.  Well, anyway, here goes the beginning of my year.
Landing in Guatemala City, I met a pleasant woman with my name on a sign.  Her family was there to pick me up and bring me to the language school I decided to attend a week before starting at the orphanage.   We chatted for some time and I began to realize 1) that my Spanish needs a lot of work, and 2) I was going to get lots of opportunity for that. 

About an hour or so later we arrived in Antigua.  I had heard so much about this city; the tourism, the beauty, and a lot of good things.  It is beautiful but different than I expected.  It doesn’t have a big city feel, but the buildings are smaller and brightly colored in orange, yellow, and red.  When we arrived, there were people all over the place for the New Year’s celebration.  I could see people buying and selling fireworks and congregating in the central park.  We passed by the school I will be attending on Monday and a minute later we were at the doorstep of my host family.  Immediately they were very warm and friendly.

Exhausted from the travel they showed me my room and gave me some time to rest and unpack.  All afternoon and evening I could hear fireworks outside.  After a few hours I joined the family and had a really great conversation with my host dad.  I appreciated his patience with both speaking slowly and giving me time to struggle through sentences instead of finishing them.  We talked about other students (they’ve been hosting students for 20 years!) and family and God and life.  We talked about the importance of being grateful for everything one has.  It was a wonderful conversation.

At midnight everyone went around to give hugs and kisses saying “Feliz año!”  Then one of my host mom’s granddaughters brought me to the roof where we could see fireworks going off in every direction.  These were nice fireworks that I’ve only seen in shows put on by the city or township back at home.  It was really neat just to spin around slowly and see fireworks everywhere.

I slept pretty well last night and woke up to a rooster crowing (I’m pretty sure).  After having a nice breakfast of tomales , pan dulce (sweet bread), and coffee, I spent some time journaling and then headed to mass with the family.  I’m not very familiar with the Catholic tradition and I really enjoyed seeing the church and the congregation worship.  The priest talked about how crazy it is that Jesus came to us as a needy baby.  It was a good message on the paradox of the Almighty in total vulnerability.

That afternoon I had started getting a little antsy about exploring Antigua with the parks and ruins and interesting streets.  However, I didn’t want to go on my own as getting lost was both not a good idea and a habit of mine.  Luckily I was able to meet up with a guy who is a student at the same language school and also will be a volunteer at the same orphanage.  We spent the rest of the afternoon together.  He showed me around to central park, pretty churches, and old ruins.  There are a lot of ruins in Antigua.  They are mostly of old cathedrals that the Spaniards built in the 16th and 17th century.  It was a beautiful day to walk around.  The sun was bright and warm and I think the temperature was around 70.  I kept forgetting it was January.  Before heading back we stopped by the super market to pick up a few things. 

It was a really great day with my host family and exploring the city.  Tomorrow I’ll start my first day of class!  I hear the teachers are really great and the activities sound really fun.  My hope is to blog every week-ish so you’ll hear all about it next time!