Tag Archives: Guatemala

The Aftermath of Agatha


Guatemala has been on my heart these past seven days. Maybe partly because I have friends who live there and people dear to me who lost loved ones in the mudslides. Maybe partly because I am moving there in two short weeks and these photos frighten me. Or maybe because disasters like this remind me just how fragile life is.


Besides the gigantic sinkhole in Guatemala City much of the aftermath of Agatha has not received much attention on the evening news. It always amazes me how quickly our sensationalized media moves on to something bigger and better. We tune in for the first breaking news coverage of Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti or the sinkhole in Guatemala, and then just as quickly we tune out and move on. But these families and people in the photos cannot just tune out. They’re living in it.


I read recently that the tropical storm Agatha has caused more damages in Guatemala than Hurricane Stan in 2005 or Hurricane Mitch in 1998. They are still getting more accurate information as the days go by, but currently the figures are 120 dead, 111,964 evacuees, 29,245 in shelters, 13 bridges collapsed, and many roads blocked by landslides or floods. One of my friends, who works building water filtration systems in the villages near Antigua, lost 4 of his relatives in a mudslide on Sunday.


I am not sure if the Red Cross has set up anything or if there is any international aid going there yet. I will let you know if there is a way to help. My friend emailed me on Tuesday and said right now they need volunteers to dig and move mud. Maybe I’ll spend my first weeks doing just that.


The photos were from a sobering sideshow found here.

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Buried Under the Shoes


Somewhere between the boxes and the piles and the packing I lost a little bit of my excitement. I’m hoping its temporarily buried under my mountain of shoes (yes, I know, guilty as charged: so, I may have a slight shoe fetish. And no, I will not be bringing any of these to Guatemala. When you’re 5’8 and already tower over most Guatemalans no need to add another 3 inches to the mix)

I wish I felt bounds of joy about my upcoming move, but instead I’m sitting on my bed surrounded by stuff–and with that stuff comes stress and fear and this wave of questions. The main one being, “ahhh, what the heck am I doing?”

Moving and Packing

I am moving this weekend– leaving my home of the past 2 1/2 years, saying good-bye to two incredible roommates and packing up my hodgepodge of belongings– to go live with two of my favorite people in Santa Barbara who have offered me their guest bedroom for three weeks until I leave. So, now is the time to start packing.

Packing has a way of bringing up and sorting out what’s important. Old CD’s, letters from ex-boyfriends, and articles from grad school (many still unread) are intermixed with camera batteries and saved receipts organized in envelopes with black writing that says “2007-2008.” I have a costume box with feather boas and hot pink sunglasses and 80’s crop tops because you-never-know-when-you might-just-need-a-costume, right? These things don’t quite make it to the important side.

What’s important are people. Friends and roommates. My parents and sisters and brother. And then there are the kids from kids club and my students. And these are the things I can’t pack. I get sad about leaving these people. Sad that I am going to be missing out on part of their lives. And I get sad that sometimes it feels like I am leaving alone, while everyone else gets to stay here together.

Not Alone

Maybe that’s part of the catch-22 about sending out support letters. I’ll be honest it’s a humbling process mailing out a letter to family and friends not only admitting that I need your help, but also admitting that I actually can’t go through this next year without your support and care. I realize I have gotten pretty darn good at doing most things in life on my own and as a result this confident, self-reliant, independent spirit has been fostered deep inside. But I am learning that maybe I also need to leave room for the humble, meek side that admits, “I can’t do this alone. Will you help?”

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dance. sing. floss. travel.


I would say I do 3 out of the 4 quite well. My dancing, flossing, and traveling skills are adequate. My singing on the other hand– is lets just say, not one of my finer qualities. (Imagine Cameron Diaz at the karaoke bar in My Best Friends Wedding– and that’s me on a good day.)

I went to a FREE yoga class at Lululemon on Sunday morning. Sitting on my purple mat, with my legs folded and arms gently resting on my knees, I tried to appear relaxed as I waited for class to start. After some long, droning, always slightly uncomfortable breathing, the instructor started the class with a question, what is your intention for your practice? (which in non-yogi language simply means, what are you focused on right now?)

But I like the word intention. It implies something about purpose, focus and well, intent.

I started asking myself, what is my intention right now?

My intention has been letting go.
Preparing to leave.
Getting excited for a new opportunity.
And feeling scared to death of the unknown.

Letting Go

I’m going to Guatemala-again! But this time I’m actually taking a year off of teaching. My school district approved a one-year leave of absence. So, I am letting go of a job that I love, friends that I cherish and a community that feels like home because I believe in taking risks, being bold and listening to that still, small voice inside that says “go” even when you don’t know where you’re going.

It’s been a year or so of processing, thinking and praying. I’ve justified and allowed myself to make every excuse in the book about why this move doesn’t make sense. This was by no means in my 5-year plan. But I am learning that life isn’t necessarily about 5-year plans. A life of convenience, comfort and control is not a life that I want to live.

Intention

I have been to Guatemala four times and every time I want to stay longer. Something in my heart longs to be a part of the culture and the language and the people. And I am finally listening to that. I leave June 21st. I’ll be serving with an organization, Mission Impact, that I have worked with before. And I’ll also get to study more Spanish. You can find out more about what I’ll be doing here.

Until then, this next month is dedicated to three of my most time consuming enemies: packing, organizing, and moving.

Maybe my intention this next month shouldn’t be to dance. sing. floss. travel…but rather, to change. balance. enjoy. trust. Maybe Lululemon will put my motto on their next reusable bag, hmm? Maybe.

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La Dulce Vida


After an incredibly long day of traveling involving all forms of public transportation (planes, taxis, chicken buses, the back of a pick-up truck and yes, even a boat) Jen and I made it to our first destination and this creative, handmade sign sat on our table: La Dulce Vida.


I ordered a liquado con fresa (Guatemala’s version of a strawberry smoothie) and sighed with contentment. Sitting in this quaint open air patio next to the lake, I realized yes, this is the sweet life. Traveling in Guatemala is not exactly convenient or easy. Life is not catered to tourists. There is no posted bus schedule. The bus “system” (If I can even call it that is in question) still remains a mystery to me. Sometimes there are big spiders in the rooms. And hot water remains a luxury that only some families have. I know I am not doing a great job at “selling” the high points of Guatemala to you, but I guess my point is that even with these modern inconveniences, some part of me just loves it here. When I am in Guatemala my best self comes out.


I believe there are certain people and places that bring out our “best selves”- you know, the person you wish you were all the time, but often gets buried somewhere between the stress of work or piles of laundry or waiting in line at the grocery store. ugh. Those situations do not always bring out the best parts of me. But something about life in Guatemala brings out my best self– the self that is patient when things don’t go according to plan; the self that is just as eager to listen as to talk; the self that is willing to try something new. It brings out the self that is content to just sit and smile and meet someone new, and maybe most noteworthy, I find that this self is filled with gratitude.


Guatemala reminds me that the process is just as important and maybe even more important than the product. I am not even sure what “product” I am referring to per se, maybe its the abstract feeling that is always sitting restlessly inside of me, longing and searching and wondering whats next. It’s this internal and maybe external feeling that once I get there (wherever there is) then I’ll be content, or happy or _________ (fill in whatever adjective you choose) But something about being in Guatemala, reminds me that I am exactly where I need to be.


Traveling with one of my best friends, meeting new people, visiting old friends, learning about a coffee farm and seeing kids from the schools where I worked last year would have made the trip worthwhile. But there is something deeper, far more significant that happens in my heart while I am in Guatemala. Somewhere between the laughing and exploring and resting and waiting and dancing and learning is this deep sense of fulfillment. Life is Good*

*more to come.

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Following My Heart

I tend to be someone who makes decisions with my head- I think about and analyze and sometimes over-analyze what I should do. Or I weigh my decisions on the scale of efficiency- what’s the most practical or efficient way to get this done. And not that those are inherently bad ways to make decisions, but sometimes I can neglect or overlook my emotions or my heart.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about learning to follow. And part of that means learning to listen to and follow my heart. So as the end of summer school was near I realized I had two free weeks before my one of my best friend’s weddings and I started thinking about what I wanted to do. I had a complete list of what I should do and what I could get done if stayed in Santa Barbara, but some part of my heart just felt this tug to go back. To go back to a country that I love. To visit dear friends and enjoy a simpler and slower pace of life. To wander around cities without a map and sit in coffee shops and soak up more Spanish. To go back to a place that for the past two years has shaped part of who I am and forced me to see things with a different perspective.

So I am following my heart…back to Guatemala. And the best part is that my roommate, Jen is coming with me. I am SO SO excited. Can you tell? I am excited. I leave in T-3 hours and I cannot wait.

More posts to come from Guatemala…

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The Coming Back

I’m back….back to grocery shopping and grading papers, back to the putting away, the picking up, and the sorting through the stuff that we call life. I don’t always like the coming back. Even though I’ve been to Guatemala three times I consistently fail to remember how hard it is to come back.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of good things to come back to: dear friends whom I love, wonderful roommates, a home that’s a few blocks from the beach, a job that is fulfilling AND enjoyable, not to mention being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet again. (Trust me this is a luxury that many central American sewer systems cannot handle). But there is something, something about Guatemala that is hard to bring back with me.

The people.
The culture.
The language.
The richness of simplicity.
Having time to linger over meals.
Freedom to wander and wait without a sense of urgency.

Surprisingly, I am able to find joy in what I would normally classify as inefficient or impractical. I have been able to see and experience first hand what happens when a country chooses to value relationships over accomplishments. Guatemalans will sacrifice any task at hand to be with a person. It’s a beautiful thing, really. And one that I am often guilty of neglecting when I am in my-north-american-practical-efficient-to-do-list-gotta-get’er done mentality.

The highlight from the trip was working with the 17 teachers from the two schools, Proximos Pasos and Vida y Esperanza. Now, I tend to always like teacher-type people (probably because I am one) but I get easily frustrated with some teachers when all they do is complain about the school, the students, the administration, etc, etc. I was so encouraged by these 17 teachers because not once did I hear them complain. And if any of you have sat through any type of conference you know that it can be draining and tiring (even the most exciting types when the speakers bring games and candy)

yes. this is me trying to teach a review game complete with candy prizes : )

We spent four days talking about learning styles and different ways to engage students in the classroom. We modeled some different techniques and activities for introducing new vocabulary and some review strategies to aide in memorization. We gave the teachers time to practice and had them share some of their ideas and struggles.

Perhaps what was the most interesting for me was getting to hear some of their stories.

I met Edgar: a 20-year old, who wakes up at 4am everyday to help his uncle as an ayudante for his bus company. He does one trip from his village to the capital and then takes a 40 min bus to the school, where he teaches 28 2nd graders. When school day ends at 1pm he goes back to work with the bus company and gets home around 8pm. Then does the whole thing over again!
And Joselino: He’s a 26-year old, talented musician and excellent teacher who walk around always humming a tune. He spent over 10 hours gluing empty egg cartons to the cement walls of his classroom just to improve the acoustics!

And then there’s Vivian: a 20-year old women, who stands barely 5 feet tall, but she manages and teaches 31 kindergartens and Pre-K kids with the grace and patience of someone twice her age. She takes 2 buses to get to and from work each day and she spends her Saturdays studying English.

And I could go on and on.

I have the utmost respect for these men and women, many who are between the ages of 21-24 and working for less than 12 dollars a day.

As I was talking with Wally, (the principal at Vida y Esperanza) he shared his monthly struggle to make sure the school has enough money to pay its teachers. Mirna, (the principal at Proximos Pasos) expressed how she often has to choose between “Do I pay the teachers their salary or pay the electric bill?” (She often opts for the former). And where I feel so humbled is that we are not talking about thousands or even hundreds of dollars we’re talking about 80 queztales a day (which is roughly $11.50- that’s how much I spend on a sandwich and a drink for lunch).

It just keeps things in perspective. I have access to money and resources that many Guatemalans will never know, but on the other hand they have mastered the fullness and richness of loving people. While I was there I spent some time thinking and praying.

Maybe I should to move to Guatemala? Maybe I could teach here at one of the schools?

But…no.

I felt a very real, yet subtle reminder that I am supposed to be in Santa Barbara right now. I have students and kids and friends who I care deeply about. I spent one day wondering around the quaint, tourist infiltrated streets of Antigua. In the heat of the afternoon, I parked myself on a bench right near the fountain in central park. I sat silently and watched as a little boy, no more than 8 years old scrubbed and shined the shoes of an elderly man on the bench across from me. The little boy came over to me next and motioned to my shoes. I explained empathetically that my black and white converse didn’t need to be shined, but we started a conversation.

He asked me, “De donde eres?”

Soy de los estados unidos.

He looked intrigued. Normally, someone would follow up with “Que parte? or “Cual estado?” But this little boy asked me, “Por que vienes?

That question made me think. Why do you come?

I answered, “estoy visitando solomente.”

I am visiting.

Yes, I was visiting. And I know, without a doubt I’ll go back.

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Guatemala…tercera vez!


Yes, I am going back! This trip wasn’t exactly planned or expected, but it’s hard to turn down an offer to go to Guatemala. About 3 weeks ago I got an email from one of the schools where I volunteered last summer. The principal wanted to know if me and another teacher (who went on our trip last summer) would come down to do some teacher in-service training. Before I even knew exactly what “teacher in-service training” required, I said yes. I am not usually so decisive. Typically, I tend to gather all the facts and find out as much information as I can and then, and only then, do I try and make the best decision. It’s really not always the easiest way to do life (sigh) but, its often my m.o.

But this felt different. I just knew. No part of me had to think about it or calculate or ask any questions. I knew in my gut and in my heart. I wanted to go. I sometimes don’t give space to listen to that part of me- that part of me that “just knows.” But when I do listen to it, that part inside that just knows without a doubt, almost with childlike simplicity, I am always surprised at freeing it feels.
So, I am flying to Guatemala in 1.5 hours. I will be working with the two schools where I volunteered last summer, Proximos Pasos and Vide e Esperanza. The Guatemalan school calendar ends in October and then they start a new school year in January. Tim, a veteran teacher and former principal, and myself will be doing the in-service seminars  before the school year starts. What is encouraging is that I have met most of these teachers before. They are highly motivated, hard working, inspiring young men and women- many only 19 or 20 years old. They are often in a classroom with 30-40 kids and little or no supplies or curriculum. They are my heroes. They emailed Tim and I a list of areas that they would like training on; things like reading instruction, classroom management, holistic education, etc, etc. I am not sure if I am qualified to teach on any of those areas per se, but I am willing to try and learn along the way.
If you’re a person of prayer, please pray for safety as we travel and a sense of unity that bridges cultures and languages and….
Oh, they are announcing my flight. Lacsa 641. I probably should listen. 
I will write more for Guatemala…..adios!

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