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Archive for the ‘love’ Category

Making Lidia Smile

Everyday in La Limonada there is something to smile about, something to cry about, something that brightens your day, and something that breaks your heart. If we are lucky, these things don’t happen all on the same day… at least not in this order.

There are so many situations that have impacted me… I hear a new story everyday that opens my eyes and heart just a little bit more. Lydia is a very special 9-year-old girl. I can honestly say that Lidia affects me every single day. She is the saddest little girl that I have ever seen in my life. I consider it a personal challenge everyday to make Lidia smile. Most days it doesn’t take much to do this. She is always in need of hugs, and willingly talks to me everyday. Lidia is patient when I ask her to repeat things because I can’t understand the Spanish the first time around. She’s a great student in my English classes. She’s just special all the way around.

This week, we got permission from Lidia’s mother to cut her hair short. She’s been infested with lice for months, and this is the best way to try to solve the problem… it’s an ongoing battle. The volunteer who cuts the hair of the kids at the Limon school gave Lidia the cutest haircut. All of the hair that she was hiding her beautiful face behind is gone now, and what remains is a sweet and sad little girl. With the hair gone from her face, it’s now easier to see just how hurt this girl is. I explained Lidia’s story to some of the folks visiting from River’s Crossing Church in Cincinnati this week. When the women from this group met Lidia this week, they were moved by her beauty. Lidia received gifts of new headbands to show off her new haircut, which also helps to keep the rest of her hair out of her face. I’m so moved by the generosity of folks who come to visit us here in La Limonada. One of the women mentioned to me that she could really see how much I love Lidia, and how lucky she is to have me in her life. I disagree. I am the one who is lucky to have this child in my life who only wants to be loved.

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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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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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For Diane…

This blog is dedicated to my friend, Diane… who I love and miss very much.

I try to end each day by thinking of my favorite part of my day. During my first day working in La Limonada, I had the chance to assist one of the teachers in her class at La Limon. The class filled up with about 15 kids between the ages of 7 and 8. The last child to come into class was Helen. Helen is being sponsored by my friend, Diane Moore. It took me a few minutes to realize who this child was… she wore a Hannah Montana shirt that was bright pink. I remember Diane telling me that she knew that the child that touched her  heart last year was a girl who loved pink and liked Hannah Montana. After seeing only one picture of Helen, last summer… I knew that this was Diane’s sponsored child.

After a few minutes, I told Helen that Diane is a friend of mine and that we go to the same church. Helen’s face lit up and she wrapped her arms around me. This was definitely the best part of my day. Helen asked me when Diane was going to visit her again. I promised her that I would work on that.

So Diane…. this is for you.

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Because Nice Matters

Since the news is out that I’m leaving CFI at the end of the month, some of my good work friends have started checking out my cubicle for trinkets and treasures. Believe it or not, I actually own things that I don’t need at work. One of my co-workers said that it was old-fashioned (she’s quite a bit older than me), but she wanted me to “will” her something and then leave something behind for the new person that would eventually take my place at work. This didn’t have to be a “thing” perse… it could be words of wisdom or something tangible. I became intrigued by this idea. As it turns out, I inherited this enormous plant when a pervious co-worker left the company. So, why not follow the lead?

I walked over to my co-worker with a post-it that says ” Just Be Nice”. She took the gift and put it on her phone, prominently placed so that it couldn’t be missed. She thanked me and said that she really liked how simple of a message it was.

Love for others is really this simple. Look someone in the eye that you don’t know and say ‘hello’. Don’t just give a homeless man a dollar, ask his name… he has a story. Everyone deserves to be loved. Love is all we need.

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The Beauty of Grace

I met so many amazingly beautiful people, and heard some amazing stories of love and survival. One that touched me the most was the story of Grace. She was born in the La Limonada ghetto, and is only about 16 months old. After she was born, Grace’s mother was extremely depressed. Tita and team went to the mother to encourage her to take care of her newborn daughter. The child was pale and thin. One of the teachers of the schools went with Tita, to try to help this mother with her child. After some convincing, and a doctor’s visit, Tita and Monika were able to convince the mother to let them help with the newborn. At this point, the baby had not been named. Monika asked if they could name the child ‘Grace’.

Tita and Monika were able to convince the mother to let them take Grace home with them, to help her get healthy. It’s been about 14 months since Grace went home with Monika and Tita. Grace’s mother sees her everyday, to babysit her while Monika (her surrogate mgrace1other) teaches at the schools in La Limonada.

Monika’s fear is that someday she will go to pick Grace up from her mother, after school… and the mother will not want to give her back. The fear is that if Grace is left with her mother, that she will get swept into the poverty of the ghetto. Girls raised in the ghetto are prone to drop out of school early, and also early pregnancy.

I have had thoughts of this situation everyday, since I met Monika and Grace. Monika has become the mother that Grace was lacking. I know that Grace is in amazing hands, and God has truly given an amazing give to Monika. I truly believe that someday Grace will do amazing things for the schools and the people of La Limonada. I believe that God has given her a gift of an amazing family, with Monika and Tita.

 

Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it ok
There’s always one reason
To feel not good enough
And it’s hard at the end of the day

I need some distraction ooh beautiful release
Memory seeps from my veins
Let me be empty and weightless and maybe
I’ll find some peace tonight

(Chorus)
In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you feel
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

So tired of the straight line
And everywhere you turn
There are vultures and thieves at your back
And the storm keeps on twisting
You keep on building the lie
That you make up for all that you lack
It wont make no difference
Escaping one last time
It’s easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
This glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

(Chorus)
You’re in the arms of an angel
May you find some comfort here
Some comfort here
~Sarah McLachlan

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