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How many times have you thought this to yourself? You see a homeless person or a man with a sign at an intersection that says “will work for food”, and you avoid them at all cost. Here in Guatemala we have kids juggling at intersections, a guy who looks like a pirate who goes from car to car, and people selling gum, candy, or other things on the bus.

Just don’t look them in the eye… right?

I hate to break it to you, but they are still there. You can ignore them, but the problem doesn’t just go away.

Today on the bus ride home a woman got on the bus with her daughter, who was about three years old. The child was dressed in torn pajamas, and the mom carried a box full of chocolates. The woman paid her one quetzal (Q1=about twelve cents) for the bus ride and sat her daughter down next to a man wearing a business suit. The little girl was eating a huge ear of corn still wrapped in the husk. The mother spent most of our ride home trying to sell chocolates on the moving bus while people got on and off around her. She told her story of her hard life (as much as I could understand), and waited patiently for anyone to buy a chocolate for Q1. The little girl happily talked nonstop to the man in the business suit. He half-acknowledged the child and smiled politely, but got off the bus without buying a chocolate.

How many times have you pretended to see past a person in need. You roll up your car windows at the intersection. You say that you have no spare change, but you take the kids to the McDonald’s drive-thru so that they can get one more toy that they don’t need. You justify this by saying that “those people” will probably spend the money on alcohol or drugs.

Personally, I never give out money. However, I always have food with me. I always keep crackers or a piece of fruit in my bag for the people at intersections. There are times when I will see one of my students begging at an intersection. They are just as happy to say hello and get a smile and an orange as they are money. When I lived in the States, I always kept a pack of bottled water and some apples in the car for people who I encounter.

Consider the actions you take. Consider the people that you are ignoring… they are people. Say hello. Ask them how they are. Have a conversation. Shake their hand. Wish them well. Be human. Look them in the eye.

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I wanted to take this opportunity to update everyone of what’s happening here in Guatemala. Our new Lemonade House (located just 5 houses away from our old house) has been without internet. If we are lucky, and sit very still in just one location, we can snatch the occasional signal from Tita’s house. But this is a rare thing and I’m coping with having limited internet access. Basically, I’m getting lots of reading and knitting done. 

Big changes have been happening here in the house and in La Limonada. We started going back to the ghetto the second week of January to find big changes. New buildings and houses erected, the kids all seem to have gotten a foot taller in the two months that I have been gone, and we have lots of changes going on in the schools this year. Everything has been a flurry of activity.

I was happy to get back to teaching this week… it feels like I have waited forever to get back to the kids. I love walking in the ghetto to find the kids and families recognizing that the school is up and running again after the holiday break. We started visiting families this week again, and its like we are celebrities for the community. We can’t go anywhere in La Limonada without kids running to us with hugs or finding that you have a new child climbing on your back when you turn around. Classes went pretty smoothly this week for me, and my kids seem eager to get to learn some more english to share with the visiting gringos this year. Some of the kids have already asked me if their ‘padrinos’ (sponsor) will be visiting them this year. To this I have to tell them that I don’t know and that we should pray for this.

A quick update on my little Lidia… she’s not so little anymore. I came back to from the States to find that she has grown at least four inches and looks more like a young woman than a little girl. Her smile is contagious and she has really come out of her shell. During class this week, she was super excited to share that she knew the answers to some of the questions that I asked in english. That just makes me so happy. I spoke with her mother and grandmother this week to tell them how much she has changed in the last  year. They thanked me for opening my heart to her. In reality, Lidia is the one who has opened her heart to me. She is a beautiful and intelligent little girl and I truly treasure her friendship.

More good stuff happening… My roommate, Donnie is getting married in Nicaragua next month to the lovely Eva. We will be traveling down to Nicaragua for his wedding on March 5th. Please keep Donnie and Eva in your thoughts and prayers for this happy occasion.

More to come…

Takin’ Care of Kerry

In the last few weeks of being in the States I realized how much I have grown in the last year. Good stuff. However, I also realized that I was not taking care of myself at all which, in turn, has burned me out. So this year, I am going to make an effort to take care of myself in all aspects of my life.

Physically: I’m lazy. I’m not going to sugar coat it because I will want to lick the sugar. This year I am going to make a conscious effort to exercise three days a week. I won’t commit to more because I know myself, and that just won’t work. What I will be doing, I’m not sure.

Emotionally: I know exactly who I am… an emotional mess. When I don’t deal with my emotions in the right way, I completely shut down. This is not good. So when I have an emotion, I will express it appropriately.

Spiritually: I was not good to myself spiritually last year. This year I have a group of people who I will be communicating with constantly to keep me on track. This will also be helpful to discuss the goings-on of Guate life with non-Guate life people.

Spanish: My lovely roommate, Rebecca, offered to help me with my Spanish last year… but I declined. She has agreed again to help me. So I will be setting aside time with her to do this.

Knitting: I will no longer be carting tons of yarn across the border. The other day I donated a very large garbage bag full of yarn to Goodwill. I have decided that I will only be keeping yarn for projects that I am currently working on. Right now, that would be four projects between now and June when I return home for a visit.

Stuff: I don’t need stuff. When I left Guate in November, I only had the clothes on my back and my computer. I came home with a bunch of stuff, filling two duffel bags. I didn’t realize how much clothing I had left behind in Guate. So, this week I will be cleaning out my closet and bringing a bunch of clothing to the ghetto for the folks there to pick through.

Friends: I have them… I plan to spend more time with them here, even if I have to get on a bus to do it.

Space: I will be taking time this year to have for myself. This may mean leaving the house for a day or two and going on a tiny vacation somewhere.

Blogging: Several people have told me that I am not blogging enough anymore… I promise to work on that.

Stay tuned.

Self-Reminder

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.

Two Month Vacay

I do NOT miss working at an office job.

I get to do so many things that I couldn’t do if I had an office job. I have been filling my days with visiting family and friends. I have been spending a sickly amount of time with my sister-in-law, Ashley… one of my favorite people on the planet, and mother to my absolute favorite person on the planet. Ash and I have been spending lots of time together, which is superfun for me. I’m getting to spend extra time with Kass too… which she doesn’t love as much as I do, but probably because she’s three and a half years old.

I have been making a little extra money by babysitting and cleaning a few houses here and there. Just for the record, I hate cleaning. But it felt amazing to have a task that there was an end to… and feeling good about your work. I never got this feeling at my office job.

I have been able to spend a lot of time alone… one of the things that I love doing most. I have been able to relax in coffee shops in Raleigh and Wake Forest with my knitting and the Harry Potter books (I just started reading them, I’m on the third one and love it).

I have been able to visit the mountains of NC… especially Asheville. I plan to do this again before heading home to Guate the first week of January.

Fundraising is going okay so far. Still have more to do and have set myself up with a work schedule for next week. I have to start cracking down… just three weeks to go before I head home.

Empathy

I apologize to my family if this brings up sore feelings of the past. I love you.

em·pa·thy: [em-puh-thee] the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Today was a sad day for me. First thing this morning, one of the kids who I have gotten to know this year showed up to the school crying and holding her head. When we removed her hand, we saw that she had been covering a gash in her forehead and a good-sized lump. This amazing girl had been abused by her older brother, who she defines as crazy. I have only seen the brother one time earlier in the year. As he was yelling things at her that I didn’t understand, she took me by the hand and lead me away from her home while she looked at me with sad eyes and said said, “perdon, Kerry” (forgive me Kerry). This is the extent of the interaction that I have had with this boy of about fourteen years old.

This morning I heard that once again this girl’s brother punched her in her head with his fist while wearing rings. This conversation between her and I happened just a half hour after we past her house while her grandmother was sitting outside the house yelling at everyone inside. This is real/normal life for this amazing 10-year-old girl. While we talked today, she told me of other times where her older brother has physically abused her. This opened a whole can of worms in my heart.

How do you tell a child that this is not normal? How do you tell a kid who has never known any better that, no… it’s not normal for your family to violate your body, heart, spirit, and mind?. It’s not normal for the people that you are supposed to trust the most to make you feel like the most terrible person alive. How do you tell a child that it doesn’t have to be that way? That it won’t always be that way? I wanted her to understand that just because members of her family act this way, it’s not a reflection on her in any way. She is not less than amazing because of her circumstance.

I struggled… was it my place to tell this girl these things? I didn’t know what else to do…

So this morning I sat with this intelligent, beautiful, and clever ten-year-old girl and told her the story of my childhood. I explained to her with the help of our school psychologist (and my very good friend) Sofi, that I also grew up in a home full of abuse. I told her that when I was her age I was afraid everyday. Afraid to get out of bed, to talk, to argue with my siblings, to do poorly in school. My step-father (my mother’s second husband) was very abusive toward my brother and I. With this history of my life, my sweet student looked at me and I told her that it will get better someday. Someday she will be old enough and strong enough to leave that place and can decide how to approach her abusive family. Someday she will realize how amazing and intelligent she is and will have the opportunity to further her education to become the person she wants to be, and not be stuck in the place that holds her captive now. I told her that if she ever wants to talk about what’s happening in her home that she could come to Sofi and I, and we would listen to all that she had to say.

With these words, she smiled at me and wrapped her arms around my neck. In English, I told her that I loved her… which she repeated back to me. I needed her to know that things can get better. She left my company in better spirits and smiling. She knows that the teachers at the escuelita love her.

Today in La Limonada…

~ I went on two home visits for two of my favorite kids and learned that they are getting into trouble together. I also found that their homes are very beautiful despite being in the ghetto.

~ I watched two grown men fight over a glue bottle… while each of them had glue bottles in their mouths.

~ My english classes went very well. My students are definitely learning something, and that makes me feel amazing.

~ I got sucked into playing basketball. One of my students kept calling himself Michael Jordan, which was just hilarious. The baskets were partially filled paint buckets, with sand.

~ I watched one of my former students walk past me with a glue pack in his pocket. He was trying to hide it from us.

~ I learned a bunch of new words in Spanish, all from some songs that were playing in one of the classrooms.

~ I was nearly decapitated in a game of dodgeball.

It was a very good day.