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Archive for April, 2010

I have been thinking and praying for a while about reaching out to the women on the Limon side of the ghetto. Not just the mothers of the kids in the schools, but the women in the community of La Limonada, at large. After a staff meeting last week at Mandarina, my unspoken goals were redeemed. Tita announced that Mandarina was going to start a group for women… exactly the thing that I was wanting to do at our school. I spoke to Tita after the meeting and let her know that this was something that I had been wanting to start for a while at Limon. She told me to go for it. So, this Monday, I announced to the teachers at Limon that I intended to start a group for women on Wednesdays, during our lunch hour. The group would meet for thirty minutes and would be an opportunity for women to come in to the school to talk, pray, and share together. Signs were made and taped to the school’s two doors, inviting the women of La Limonada into our school.

Finally, my desire to reach out to the community with something that I truly care about. I immediately got nervous. What could I share with these people? I’m not biblically educated. I’m a novice in my relationship with God. What could I possibly have to offer? At Tita’s request, I read John 4, the story of the Samaritan Woman at the well. I chose to not take the religious aspect of the story, but the social one. Jesus broke social barriers by being a Jew who spoke to a Samaritan, something that just was not done. By being the first to break the barriers, Jesus was met with hostility by the woman. Eventually, the woman becomes a disciple of Jesus. Barriers have been broken and services to God are honored.

I chose to use this example by twisting it a little bit… using the group as the break down of barriers between the school and the community by welcoming the women into the school. For thirty minutes we kept the door to the class room that faces the street open… something that is rarely done at the school. The cool breeze came through the class room as I shared my thoughts with the women that came to our meeting (and the teachers who chose to stay). I told them that I believe that the women of La Limonada are the power and strength behind this community. I say this because they are producing future generations of children that will grow up here. They are the leading examples of strength and love. The schools are just here to help out. All in all, the meeting went very well. The women were comfortable opening up to us, and I was satisfied with the turnout of three for our first week.

On another note, just after the morning session was released today, the gang members decided to hang out on our front porch. This was our opportunity to go and speak to them. I hung back, as being a gringa, I wasn’t sure of how well received I would be. After a few minutes, I joined the group talking outside. One of the guys asked if he could have my eyes, because he says that they are beautiful. “Ojos de gato” (cat eyes) is a phrase that I hear very often, sometimes several times a day. I was pleased to finally meet the guys who have been hanging around the school. They were very welcoming and respectful. One of them went home to get his infant son to show off to us. Needless to say, he was a beautiful.

It was a very good day.

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I usually refrain from writing about any spiritual or religious experiences in my blog. I feel that my relationship with God is personal, and brow-beating my views into other people is not a thing that I’m into. In return, I usually receive the same respect. However, so much has been going on for me spiritually, that I just have to share.

I started teaching English classes at La Limon two months ago. I feel like I have been in Guatemala much longer… it has become my home and I love it here. In the time that I started working in La Limonada I have fallen in the ghetto and injured a foot that I broke several years ago by slipping on an orange peel (on the Mandarina side of the ghetto… thank you very much), sprained my other ankle just a few weeks later, gotten a nasty sinus infection, been threatened by a man with the worst case of road rage that I have ever seen, heard gunshots around the school on more than one occasion, and finally have somehow acquired an intestinal parasite. Some would say that I have bad luck. I would say that I have bad luck. One of my roommates made a joke once that maybe God is telling me that I should take a desk job.

With gang activity up on the Limon side of the ghetto, we are experiencing a lot of changes in the kids. Some of them are so unaffected by what they see everyday that they are emotionally closed off. At the end of the day, we are finding that some of the muchachos are sitting on the steps of the school huffing, gambling, and openly smoking pot and sniffing glue. This is life in La Limonada, and we are not surprised when we see these things. However, the activity has been getting closer and closer to the front door of our school. Since the guys usually hang around on the corner of the bridge or in an area close to the parque, any other spot is kind of conspicuous. I mentioned to Tita that the muchachos are getting closer and closer to our doorstep, literally. She told me that they are crying out to us. They have never had any interest in hanging around the school before. While the guys are hanging around the schools, I’ve noticed more people from the general community are coming around during the day too. To watch over us? I don’t know.

When I saw the muchachos sitting on the step to the school the other day, gambling and huffing, I was tempted to go downstairs and talk to them. Everything in my body told me that this is what I was supposed to do. I didn’t do it. What would I say to them in my broken Spanish? How would they react to a gringa approaching them? Would I feel threatened by them? So many questions went through my head. When the kids started pouring out of the doors of the school, the muchachos dispersed. I don’t know where they went, but I didn’t see them again until the next day. Once again, their activities were practically on our doorstep. I yelled a cheerful ‘Buenas Tarde’ to them, and was greeted in return with the same.

I talked to one of my roommates about the activities that are happening around the school with the muchachos. I then told him that I know that I have been rewarded this place in Guatemala, this life that I have fallen completely in love with. I want to be proactive in confronting the actions of the muchachos close to the school… but I have so many doubts about being capable of delivering what I want to say to them. I feel compelled to reach out to these guys and start an open line of communication with them. After talking with Donnie about this yesterday, I told him that I feel that God has me exactly where I’m supposed to be… but that he wants me sick. Donnie’s response was that it seems that God does have me where I am supposed to be, but that the enemy is causing these illnesses and other distractions to keep me from doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And with that, here is this blog post.

We are fighting a spiritual war here in La Limonada. There are casualties to this war every single day. I have never prayed for peace so hard in my life.  I know that we, the teachers at Limon, are capable of changing things on our side of the ghetto. We are the ones who hear the horror stories of what life is like at home for a lot of these kids. We are the ones who walk through the gang members on the bridge to get to class. Our kids are the ones who have to decide if they will turn to a life of drugs and gang activity. These decisions are being made every single day. We need your prayers. We need your happy thoughts. We need your good karma and juju. We need you. We need you, because La Limonada needs us. Please keep the teachers at Limon and Mandarina in your hearts, thoughts, and prayers. We can’t do this job without support from our families and friends.

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Watching people shop for clothing in La Limonada is interesting. Sometimes it’s a very organized affair, someone with a blanket and the clothes are folded neatly and up for grabs.

However, sometimes it’s different. Sometimes there is just a pile of clothing for people to shift through. On these instances, this is what it looks like.

I know that I will remember how easy it is to ascertain whatever we want when we shop in the States. Wal-Mart. Target. Everything that we want is right at our fingertips. Consider this.

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Monthy Rations

Every month impoverished Guatemalans receive food rations from the government. For the last several months, I have watched families from La Limonada come out of their homes early in the mornings to receive their rations. These rations include 20 lbs. of rice, 20 lbs. of dry black beans, 5 lbs. of corn meal for tortillas, and 2 bottle of oil.

When I realized that rations were being passed out, I asked a woman who was seemingly in charge of the team if it would be okay to take pictures of the men distributing the food. Gina introduced herself to me in English, saying that it would be okay to take pictures of the men.

Gina and I talked for several minutes about how the rations are passed out. She then asked me about the program at La Limon. I told her about how the program works, the children receiving a meal, lessons in hygiene, and assistance with their homework. The teachers at the schools also support the kids emotionally and spiritually. Gina was impressed by the efforts to keep the children off of the streets and away from the gang activity. She then told me that she would be praying for our efforts, and that she would see us next month.

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Today we had a massive rain storm. I’m talking hail, lightning, thunder, flooding… all of it. It was awesome. We had to cancel class for the rest of the day because the rain on the tin roof was so loud that we couldn’t hear each other. The kids were happy to not have English class today (just more for them next week, muuhhhhahaaahaha).

My good friend, Sofi, called me into her classroom because one of the windows was leaking and her room was beginning to flood. We quickly moved the furniture from the windows and rolled most of the carpet. Hilarity struck, as it always does in a small crisis at Limon. We got the water cleaned up, and patched some broken windows with plastic that we had lying around. I realized that the windows are not caulked, and we have some minor repairs that we really need to have done. I’m hoping that we get a mission team with handymen on it. That would be awesome!!

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I’m slowly, but surely, beginning to learn that things in the ghetto are not always what they seem. I had a scare outside of the ghetto this week, which had put me on edge a little bit. Since Tuesday, I have been overly cautious about some things. Today, I realized that it’s time to let some of these things go.

Today was my day to teach English to the 11-12 year olds in Lucia’s class… which happens to be my favorite class, and one of the most difficult classes that I have. In the middle of reading class, we heard gunshots in the street behind the school. Some of the kids ran to the window, and we quickly got them back to their seats. Several minutes later, we heard many gunshots in the street. Lucia, Trish, and I quickly got the kids to the floor of the class and moved them into the class facing another street. Some of the kids were perfectly calm, while the adults were on edge. We quickly learned the reasoning behind the gunshots.

Apparently it is common practice for gunshots to be fired during a funeral procession, which is what this was. We tried to deter the kids from watching out the windows as the procession of people carried the white casket up the 125 steps leading to the street out of La Limonada. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it myself. I had never seen anything like it.

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This week is Semana Santa in Guatemala… Holy Week. Basically, everything is closed for Good Friday and Easter. The busses have stopped running. Stores are closed. Usually busy coffee shops are deserted. Guatemala City is a ghost town. The entire ‘family’ went on vacation to Panajachel, a beautiful lake that is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. Going to Pana gave us the chance to bond, gave me the chance to spend some time with people who I rarely get to visit with, and everyone had a good time (and got a little sunburned).

On our first night in Pana, we went to dinner at a fantastic restaurant. During our meal in the open air, street vendors would cruise through the restaurant trying to sell bracelets, purses, table runners, scarves, etc. Nine times out of ten, our response was a very stern “no gracias”. The persistent ones kept asking, the rest gave up. At one point, a boy came into the restaurant to sell his goods. On this particular night, I’m not sure if he made any sales. However, the boy left the restaurant with a bag full of our leftovers. He happily sat across the street from the restaurant eating pizza from the bag.

The next day, we decided to return to the restaurant for lunch. Once again we were approached by many vendors from the street. Some of them were very annoying. Another boy came into the restaurant, selling bracelets and purses. We greeted him with a seat at our table, passed down as much food as we could and purchased a good amount of jewelry from him. The boy looked overwhelmed, but ate nachos and pizza that was placed in front of him. He made quite a bit of money from our group of fifteen people. At the end of our meal, we bagged the leftovers and sent him on his way with more food. I later saw him sharing the food from the bag with two other boys.

Later that night, I was reflecting on the experience. We never really leave the ghetto. We never forget about the work that we have been sent here to do. We are so blessed by all that we have. Tita expressed it best by telling me that she “can not have a blessing without sharing it with others”. We are truly blessed to have this amazing life and to be surrounded by so many amazing children in La Limonada everyday. We may have left town for a few days, but when we returned and were in the vicinity of the ghetto everyone lit up. I was so happy to see Astrid (my sponsor child) walking at the market with her family. I’m so looking forward to returning to work on Monday, and to be surrounded by our kids again.

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