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My Year In Photos

Sounds lame, but I have been sick in bed for about three days now. I decided this morning that I wanted to share part of my life over the past year by showing all of the photos that I have taken and never posted. So, I hope you enjoy them… because I have really enjoyed compiling them for you.

Front page news…

OSAMA BIN LADEN DEAD

Admittedly, I have been naive to the goings-on of stuff in the States. I prefer to focus my mind and soul on the goings-on here in Guatemala. I have all that I can think of and emotionally deal with here in my work and home.

However, with the glory of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Yahoo News, CNN News, Fox News, and every other news source on the planet, this was not something that I was going to be able to ignore. Facebooks is a nonstop stream of celebration today over the death of an evil man. I remember the same reaction from the world after Saddam Husein was captured and killed. The world is, in fact, a better place without the Osamas, Saddams, and Hitlers in it. But is this a cause to celebrate? Keep in mind, we have just killed another human being. Some will say that he has been punished for his crimes. But the fact is that this man will never face criminal charges for what he has done to the world. In fact, buy killing him in this manner, we may have just martyred him.

Bin Laden was a hero in the jihad commuity. He’s claimed to be a religious man, who only has the best interest at heart for his followers. His death doesn’t shut anything down. CNN News has posted seven questions that will be important in the days after the death of bin Laden… you can read them here. The most interesting of these questions to me is “Can you kill a symbol?” The answer: “Men die, symbols don’t.” This is a fact.

Let’s take the evil of this… let’s use Michael Jackson, for example. Michael Jackson is the ‘King of Pop’. We know that Jackson had his problems, we know of his crimes against children. Does that make us not listen to his music? When “Thriller” comes on the radio we still reminisce about the first time we saw the video, or about having seen the Philipino prisoners dancing out the song on youtube, which you can watch here. Jackson’s music will always remain a part of our generation, though his crimes were horrible. Jackson is a symbol… symbols don’t die.

My thoughts also go to the thousands of victims of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan. Kony is accused of kidnapping, brainwashing, and turning thousands of children into soldiers used  to torment men, women, and children all over the Sudan. Kony is reported saying, “I am not the devil, but a human being.” Joseph Kony claims to be a very religious man.

Some would beg to differ. I would beg to differ.

How any one person can possess so much evil and hatred for the world at large is not something that we as human beings with souls and consciences are meant to understand. I’m convinced of this… and as someone who doesn’t understand this hatred, I don’t feel that it’s my place to celebrate this death.

I’m sorry world… but I can not in good conscience celebrate the death of another human being. Maybe it’s the hippie in me. Maybe I just have a big heart. Maybe I have seen the aftermath of too many families broken apart by death, hatred, shootings, drunkeness, abuse, etc. But I can’t do it. Some would argue that this man was ‘less than human’, to be able to commit such crimes. I believe that these men have no souls, as a person with a soul could never foster such hatred for others.

NOTE: Know that I am not discrediting the pain and suffering that the families of the victims have had to deal with… I also have the upmost respect for the men and woman who have dedicated their lives to serving in the military. This is in no way a means of discrediting their efforts…  this is just my opinion.

‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live…’ Ezekiel 33:11

Semana Santa

I had the great pleasure of spending Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua, and just got home. I’m now exhausted from my vacation.

Antigua itself is a beautiful city, and has actually become my favorite place in the world. However, Antigua changes a lot for Holy Week. Already a tourist city, Antigua transforms itself into an extravaganza of religious icons and attractions. The streets swarm with tourists from all over Guatemala, and the world. Already popular cathedrals are bombarded with tourists, and everyone has a camera. I think that I am now in hundreds of pictures taken all over Antigua.

Walking the streets of Antigua this week has been quite the experience, about like walking through the streets of New York except nobody is in a hurry and everyone is eating street food, conversing casually with friends, and hanging around in the park with their kids. Everynight, and sometimes in the afternoons, the processions stop everything and everyone from moving around. People are naturally drawn to the procession line. A swarm of men dressed in bright purple robes take over the streets of Antigua, holding the procession float. The main float is about 30 feet long and has the image of Jesus dragging the cross. The floats are decorated with flowers, lights, candles, and other adornments. I learned this week that the churches of Antigua have about a dozen of these floats and each one is designed to replicate the image of one of the stations of the cross . Behind the Jesus float is a band consiting of tubas, clarinets, oboes, picalos, and drums playing a somber song. Following close behind is a procession of women carrying a smaller float of the Virgin Mary.

The most interesting part of this week for me were the alfombras. Alfombras are carpets that are made in the streets for the procession to walk over. They are made of sawdust that has been dyed different colors, flowers, candles, and whatever else the designer puts into them. These creations are sprayed with water to keep the sawdust damp so that the wind doesn’t carry it away. My awesome spanish  teacher, Willy, took me on a small tour of alfombras that were close to the school the other day. The details that go into this project is amazing. Families spend anywhere from 8 to 18 hours building these street carpets, which are dedicated to the path of the processions. Where one alfombra gets walked on, another may be built again if another procession will be on the same route.

Viernes Santa (Holy Friday) is the biggest day of Holy Week. Families come from all over into Antigua to see the processions, which seem to run all day long in various parts of the city. Last night in Central Park, thousands of people gathered to see the largest procession of the entire week, which was televised on several networks.

While the quietness of Antigua, something that I have really come to love, was disrupted by this holiday week… it was quite an amazing experience to be a part of it.

Death and Taxes

Well… the day has come that I have been regretting for a year. What happens to my taxes??

I just filed everything… I owe a grand total of $1,501 to both the federal government and the state of North Carolina.

Well friends… I’m asking that you pray, send happy thoughts, good juju, great karma, and whatever else you have hidden in drawers, books, or in boxes under your beds. Honestly, this makes me seriously nervous.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support for my amazing life in Guatemala, and the great work that we are doing here in La Limonada. I couldn’t do it without you.

Much love and hugs and all that good stuff.

Home Coming

Picture a boy about 14 years old, tall for his age, and extremely handsome. This boy is extremely charming and has a gorgeous smile that captivates everyone who meets him. All he knows is the streets of La Limonada, violence, a neglectful parent, his brothers and sisters, and the gangs. This boy, who we will call ‘H’ grew up going to the Limon school in La Limonada. From the time he was a small child, he had always been able to come to the school for a healthy meal every day, he learned to take care of his hygiene, he had a great number of people who loved and cared for him. At the end of the day, though, ‘H’ had to return to his one room home, a neglectful mother, and several siblings all sharing the same bed.

Eventually, the streets caught up with ‘H’… he joined the gang, and shortly after, was caught robbing and put into jail. ‘H’ also had a gun on him at the time of his arrest that was used to commit a murder, not of his own hands. His time in prison was undetermined, some friends and I spoke of this very thing this morning.

This morning on our walk to the Limon school ‘H’ greeted us with a big smile. He was released from jail last night and was accompanying his mother to deliver his nieces and nephew to the school for the morning session. One by one, the teachers of the Limon school came to work this morning to find ‘H’, a free man standing in front of us… no longer the boy that we knew a year ago. His smile was the same, but his demeanor was different. He was hardened, he kept looking over his shoulder, he was kind of shifty. His mother sitting to the side beaming at his presence, a permanent smile on her face. Every move ‘H’ made, was closely monitored by his, suddently-overprotective, mother. I couldn’t stop staring at her, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

As the morning went on, my concerns grew for ‘H’… as did the concerns of the other teachers that I spoke with. Was he planning on staying in La Limonada? Luckily, ‘H’ knows that he’s not entirely safe in these streets that he played in just a year or so ago. His time in jail did not release him from the gang, and we learned that he was planning to stay with his mother for just a day or two before finding a new place to live. One of the teachers asked him what his plans were… if he thought of going back to school (since he has just a 2nd grade education) or to find work. He didn’t have any answers to these questions, at least not yet.

Please keep ‘H’ and his family in your thoughts and prayers, that he will continue to move forward and not find his way back to the streets of La Limonada.

Lessons In Teaching

I have been very lucky this year with my English classes. I have had constant support of the teachers at la Escuelita Limon, I have two friends that I meet with weekly to bounce ideas off of and to learn from, and my classes are twice a week this year… so I’m really seeing how the kids are learning so quickly.

I’m currently spending two weeks in Antigua, attending the La Union language school for the third time since my move to Guatemala last January. Once again, I have Willy as a teacher. Willy is a great teacher, and I feel like I really learn a lot from him. Teaching is definitely his gift. Willy is also learning English, and has been teaching himself for well over a year or so. During the last half-hour or so of our Spanish lessons, I teach English to Willy. This is where I have learned to appreciate how difficult learning English truly is.

For example, yesterday I spent twenty minutes explaining the difference between someone who is ‘creepy’ and someone who is ‘sleazy’. This is very difficult to do, as neither of them translate into Spanish, and therefore are not in the Spanish/English dictionary. Also, as I have learned with the kids in the ghetto, the English language makes no sense in some aspects. In Spanish, the word sounds exactly as it is spelled… in English, not so much. We have the weirdest rules. My problem is that I don’t know how to explain what any of them are. Yes, when there is an ‘e’ at the end of the word, the previous vowel is strong. Double letters almost always sound the same… foot, cook, pool. How do I explain the difference between ‘read’ (present) and ‘read’ (past)? My answer is a standard “porque si“. There is just now way to explain some of this stuff.

The good thing is that Willy now understands how difficult learning Spanish is, with the rules that make no sense… and he feels my pain.

Anyway, I am really grateful for my time in Antigua… it’s a much-needed break from the city, and it’s nice to be able to walk around and hear some English being spoken here and there. It’s great to not have to take the bus for a while… and I love that I can walk around freely at night and not be too worried.

Home Visits

Many people who come to visit us here in Guatemala are affected by visiting families in their homes in La Limonada. This week, I had the privilege of visiting three homes in the ghetto. I think that it’s important to describe living conditions of these families to folks who have never visited La Limonada. Every home is so different. Some homes have just a dirt or concrete floor and a bed, while others are made up of two or three stories and have furnished rooms.

We visited the home of S and A this week, two students at the Limon school. When we entered the home, we found that there was a lot of concrete bricks and pieces of wood lying around. There was a toilet in the middle of the room and a la pila that wasn’t being used. The girl’s mom answered the door and invited us into her home and explained that the family was renovating, and asked us to please excuse the mess. The girls were so excited that their teachers were visiting. They ran around us in their bare feet, stepping over rocks and bricks. We were invited down a new set of concrete stairs to an open area that served as the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. Next to this area was one room that the entire family, including the dad (who was at work) lived in. This room was no larger than 12′ by 12′ and was serving as the families kitchen, dining room, living room, and bedroom. The girl’s mother pulled stools from under a table and invited us to sit and talk with her. Beans were cooking in a pot on the stove next to where we sat, making us hungry for lunch. We talked about how the girls were doing in school and how the family was doing. We had the process of the renovation explained to us. The girls happily sat on our laps and showed us the homework that they were doing for the public schools that they attended. All in all, it was a really great visit.

The next home we visited was of a young girl in the Limon school. Her mother invited us into the home where the temperature was at least fifteen degrees warmer than outside. This was due to the mid-day sun hitting the corrugated tin roof that sheltered the home. The walls were made of red and white wrapping paper… Yes!! Wrapping paper was being used to decorate the home, which is not insulated. The paper was merely taped and stapled to the wood beams that held up the structure. The floor was made of dirt and concrete. The home had at least three rooms, all of which had dirt floors. The house was dark, and smelled of lunch being made. We learned that the grandfather, who lived in this house, had fallen the day before while working at his church. It is assumed that his wrist is broken. However, when he went to the hospital the x-ray machine was not working, so he was sent home and told to take something for the pain and to come back another day. The family was worried about how they would come up with the money to pay for the x-ray and medication that would follow… a total of about Q110 (about $13.75). We prayed for this man, who wore a large smile on his face despite his pain. He asked us to pray for him because now he can’t work.

The third home we visited was large and had a full kitchen with a washing machine in it. In this family, both of the parents work. Their youngest daughter attends the Limon school and her public school, while the oldest daughter attends 2nd basicos (8th grade). I was happy to visit this family because their youngest daughter is a wonderful student in my english classes. She’s always very excited about speaking english. The mother told me that her daughter loves english, and she hoped to have her take english lessons eventually. We were welcomed into this home and all given a giant piece of watermelon. We laughed and talked for nearly an hour. We asked the parents what was they were in need of. The oldest daughter is in need of school books. Books are not provided in school here in Guate as they are in the States. So far, the family has only been able to afford 2 of the 4 books that are needed for this school year, and the school does not permit students to make copies of the text books needed. I asked what happens if they can’t afford the books and was told that the student wouldn’t be able to complete assignments or homework and would be graded either way. Wow!!

For children in Guatemala to make it to the 7th grade is kind of a big deal. Public school education stops at the 6th grade here. After that, school gets expensive and books and uniforms are not provided to the children anymore. This creates a huge financial stress to families that are not well off.

Consider the comforts in your home. Carpet. Furniture. Microwaves. Insulation from the cold and heat. Water that won’t make you and your family sick. Privacy. Now imaging your life without these things. For some it seems impossible. This is how people live every single day in La Limonada. I ask that you please keep these families, and the entire community of La Limonada in your thoughts and prayers.

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