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Archive for the ‘beautiful nightmare’ Category

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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I just saw pictures of folks that I know in La Limonada celebrating Christmas. The walls are made of concrete, cardboard, and corregated tin… but the smiles are real and heart-felt.

In these photos I saw children smiling and faces I know celebrating with family and friends in the La Limonada community. I have to remember my focus in life… it’s easy to forget when I have a two month vacation filled with every luxury. The feast probably didn’t have fine wine and a huge turkey. The families didn’t sit around the TV and watch football or basketball. They didn’t sit around and stare at trees trimmed with lights and ornaments, hoping that Santa Claus would visit that night.

This Christmas, I realized how truly blessed I am… I have a loving family. My vacation has included lots of time with my amazing niece, Kassidy. However, I know that the kids that I am close to in La Limonada have not had excess this Christmas. I don’t know what to do with this knowledge. I love these children, and want the world for them.

I’m really looking forward to going home.

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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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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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The Limon side of the ghetto has been experiencing an increase in violence in the past month. The team at La Limon has decided to start doing something about this. We have decided to begin making home visits more of a priority, after the Semana Santa holiday. Today, I got to go on my first official house visit on the Limon side. The mother of one of our older students had a baby this past Saturday… the name of the child has yet to be determined.

“W” is a tough cookie. He is one of the smaller boys in his class. He is approximately 12 years old. His father is apparently serving a 30 year prison sentence. His favorite name for me (and apparently for April) is “gringa”. Usually, I am acknowledged on the day of English class with a sideways stare that accompanies a snide “gringa” with a head-nod. On good days, he says “hola gringa”. Those are good days in class with “W”. This kid is smart… not only street smart, but is a decent student too. Today “W” gave me the chance, for the first time, to like him. It was a good day.

“W” welcomed us into his home that he shares with his mother, grandfather, and 5 day old baby brother. We were welcomed into the home with hugs and offers of a seat on the beds. The house has no windows. The perforated tin roof has a plastic piece that allows natural light to enter the dwelling. The house smelled of fried platanos and the dog that was hanging around our feet. “W” was mostly smiles… when he wasn’t combatting April with the name “gringa”, and she back with him with the name “little boy” (in English so that he didn’t know what it meant). We visited “W” and his family for a bit and passed around the new addition of the family, with mom looking on proudly. It was a beautiful time.

On another encounter in the ghetto this afternoon, the mother of one of the younger (and probably most adorable kid that I have ever seen) students asked us to pray for her in the alley way on the way to our home visit. She had recently found out that she is 2 months pregnant. However, she had been taking shots every month for birth control. She had the shot last month, and now the doctors are concerned that there may be a problem with the baby. She has been ordered to bedrest. She is the mother of two other small boys, both under the age of 6. This makes it virtually impossible for her to remain in bed. I’m concerned for “R” and her health. She has a beautiful spirit, and a gorgeous family.

Coming back from lunch break this afternoon, Monika (one of the teachers at La Limon) took us on a tour of another barrio… the one where she grew up. I was excited to check out this new and unexplored barrio. This barrio has a public school, a private school, several churches, and wider roads. I was confused as to how this area seemed so advanced over the Mandarina and Limon areas. I admit that I was excited at the prospect of a new escuelita being built in this area, someday. I would really like to further explore other barrios in La Limonada at some point.

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I am fortunate this morning to have some time to reflect on things that I’ve seen and heard in the ghetto in the last two weeks. My mind absently goes back to the unhappy things… while I know that there is joy around every corner. I figure the best way to handle this is to get them all out.

While walking through the ghetto from the Limon side to the Mandarina side last week, I saw a boy who was no older than 13 sniffing glue. He was standing over a hole in the walkway, lighting two other bottles of glue on fire while 2 more boys were inhaling the fumes. The boys were maybe 6 years old.

One of the girls that I am close to has been physically abusing her sibling. I learned that, of course, she had been physically abused herself.

During a class yesterday, I realized than an 8 year old boy can’t even write his own name. He was unsure of how to hold a pencil correctly. He can’t read, and when I asked him if he wanted to learn to read he told me that he didn’t. I told him how important it is to be able to know how to read, and he grudgingly agreed with me. I’m going to try to make a point of spending extra time with this child.

On the Mandarina side of the ghetto, there was a baby locked in her house while the mother was gone. When some of the teachers went into the house to check on her, the child was covered in feces and the house (in Tita’s words) was “how pigs live”. All of the children in this home are now attending school at Mandarina, and the baby is being cared for by the teachers during the daytime hours while the mother is working.

We have welcomed a male onto the team on the Limon side. Wade is from Australia, and has been a blessing to us. We are all excited to have him. I love it because he knows less Spanish than I do. He also has a hilarious laugh… (Beth, he might have you beat.)

We have a wonderful team of musicians staying at the Lemonade House, from Colorado. They are full of energy and hilarity. I particularly love that they are so close that they write songs about each other… sometimes not so flattering ones. My favorite was about the bad breath of one of the girls.

On the way to the ghetto yesterday, I saw a man stealing a cup of goat milk… directly from the goat. The owner of the goats was down the street retrieving some strays that got away. By far one of the best things that I have seen thus far aside from all of the dogs on rooftops. (I’m working on a photo collection of the dogs on rooftops for a future blog.)

I received an amazing gift this week from friends at home. I want them to know how much I love them and appreciate them. This was an answer to a prayer that I had been sitting on. Thank you.

My students are beginning to welcome me in English as I get to school in the morning. This is huge, considering how resistant some of them were about having an English class to begin with.

One of my toughest students spent this past weekend with Shorty, and I woke up Sunday morning to find him sitting in our dining room. He gave me the stink-eye. I made him breakfast and we played pinball on Inna’s computer. On Monday afternoon, he ran up to me and wrapped his arms around me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. However, he was very pleased to hear that English class is cancelled this week. I guess you can’t win them all.

Me and Astrid

After a lot of thought and prayer I have decided to sponsor a child in my school. A small sacrifice from my comfortable living for a very special girl. Astrid is 12, and an incredibly bright student who loves to draw. Due to her home life, she is emotionally closed off. Last week, I received a letter from Astrid thanking me for being her “madrina”. She now seeks me out and hugs me almost everyday.

I get more hugs in one day than I can count. Several of the kids tell me that they are my ‘hijos or hijas’… my sons and daughters. My classes are full of intelligent kids who love to learn something new. And of course there will always be that kid who doesn’t care (this is an international problem).

I look forward to everyday that I spend in La Limonada. The happy things, no matter how small, always out-weigh the sad things. I find reasons to smile everyday. But there are also reasons to mourn. Being here has helped me grow in my faith, my compassion, my emotional strength. I am so thankful. I love my life.

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The last 24 hours have been a roller coaster of emotions. I started yesterday morning with the news that Cherie had purchased my plane ticket home to visit my family in May. I was so happy… not because I want to leave Guatemala, but because it’s been over 3 months since I have seen my nieces, and I miss them so much.

After a productive morning at Limon, I made an unexpected house visit with Tita, Inna, and April. The visit was to the sister of a person I work closely with at Limon. The family issues that this girl is taking on are amazing. Her father left the family to be with a prostitute, who is also practicing witchcraft (the evil kind, not the happy-hippie-nature-loving kind). The father says that he wants to return to the family, but he feels drawn to the prostitute when he is not around her. The girl has also decided that she no longer wants to go to college, which would most likely be her only way out of the ghetto later in life. She has started dating a gang member.

I ended up getting the story behind one of the most intelligent students that I have met… who also happens to be in my favorite class. She’s been beating her sister, who is two years younger than she is. I asked Sofi if I could sit in on the conversation that was going to take place with this student. I needed her to know that she is so bright and beautiful. She has so much potential. She cried. She cries at the school because she doesn’t cry at home. Her mother has left her and her sister with a relative. Her father is dead. Before her father died, he beat her. Once, dragging her from the shower to do so.

On the walk from the Limon side to meet the rest of the team on the Mandarina side, I saw a boy sniffing glue. He couldn’t have been more than 14. Not only was he sniffing the glue, but there were two bottles of glue in a pothole that he was lighting on fire so that the smaller boys could sniff the fumes.

During the Life of Hope meeting last night, I watched Shorty talk to the gang members in a small house on the Mandarina side. About 6 gang members showed up for the meeting last night. It was as if he were speaking only to them. One of the gang members was so into the message that Shorty was delivering… his face lit up, he was smiling and laughing. He was consumed with what Shorty had to say. It was an honor to watch this transaction between Shorty and the members of this community.

I went to bed exhausted, at 8:00 pm. Emotionally drained from my day. My sprained ankle acting up, as I haven’t given it a fair chance to heal… I just keep going. That’s what I’m here for.

This morning I received an email from home. A good friend is in her 7th (I think) month of pregnancy. The baby hasn’t grown since the last doctor’s appointment, and she now has water on her brain. Her survival is not looking so good. This may be the third baby that my friend has had to deliver that will not survive. I can’t stop thinking of her pain.

All of these situations need our prayer and support. Please take a moment today to send happy thoughts, prayers, good juju, whatever you’ve got.

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