Friday, December 31, 2010

Adios 2010

It's New Year's Eve, and we're going out in Antigua tonight to celebrate! Rumor has it that this year the city government is trying to squash the all-out street party that New Year's Eve in Antigua has become over the years, so everyone cross your fingers that they're unsuccessful!

Hmm. I realized: the entire 2010 year has come and gone, and I never spent one minute of it in the U.S. So weird.

Enjoy tonight's celebrations, and see you in 2011! :)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

YES, I Like Taylor Swift

Only a little late for Christmas (thanks, Guatemalan postal system), about a dozen holiday packages finally arrived at NPHG for us volunteers from family and friends around the world! As Katie and I were tearing open ours at the kitchen table, this is the conversation that took place:

Me: Finally!!! My mom sent me this box forever ago. I really hope it has food. AND I think she was going to send me the new Taylor Swift CD!

Katie: Oh, is that for your section of girls?

Me: (Slight pause)

Katie: Or for you, haha?


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Coming Back

I love this quote. Always have (since the day Helenaki mou opened that card from her sister in that apartment in Athens, Greece). Always will. Now, more than ever, feels like a good time to remember it.

"Because in a sense, it is the coming back, the return, which gives meaning to the going forth. We don't really know where we've been until we come back to where we were. Only, where we were may not be as it was because of who we've become, which is, after all, why we left."

November/December Magazine!

Another issue is out!

And with only four weeks left, I think this could very possibly be the last one Leti and I and the kiddos ever put together. Weird.

Also, enjoy this pretty new format by Issuu. (Gracias to John at NPH Peru for the tip!) Click on the tiny white arrow on the right to flip through the magazine. Click on the actual pages to view full-size and zoom in.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Miss Popular

Look who was named the world's 8th top destination for 2011.

Aren't we Miss Popular. :)

Tía Duty: Check.

At 12 p.m. today, I officially ended my December-long tour of being a tía. We made it! (And we may or may not have celebrated with a spiked coffee at 12:15 p.m.)

It's kind of funny how I spent this entire year thinking that this intense, exhausting, crazy month of being a full-time tía was looming ahead. For 11 months, December seemed like it was the biggest deal. And now, it's over. It came and it went and it felt like almost nothing at all. How did that happen?

I was telling a friend the other day that sure, tía-ing has its horrible moments, but there are a lot of really great moments too. So at the end of the day, it all sort of balances out. I don't think I really look back on this month in specific good-or-bad moments -- it just sort of felt like one big blob of an experience.

An experience I would like to repeat any time soon? Probably not. But an experience I'm glad I did? Yeah. Yes. Definitely.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lessons in Tía-hood: These Kids Are (Usually) Tough

All month long, I've been dealing with a group of preteen and teenage girls who spend a lot of their time talking back to me, giving me attitude, and going out of their way to do the opposite of what I ask them to do. So when I went into these past few days of the Christmas holiday sort of feeling like they were any other work days, I mistakenly assumed the kids would be acting that way too.

But that was dumb.

Friday was Christmas Eve, and about halfway through that night's special dinner, all our girls started to cry.

It started out with one, but when one preteen girl cries, they all begin to cry. So within about 20 minutes, we probably had about seven crying girls who didn't want to talk to us, didn't want to talk to their friends, and just didn't want to be there at all.

The truth is that my first thought was "Why are they all crying?! These girls don't cry. They talk back and bully each other and tell jokes and make fun of one another. Why the heck are they crying?"

And then my brain kicked in. Carrie, you dummy.

It's Christmas Eve. They're kids. This is supposed to be the most exciting day of the year for them -- wasn't it like that for us growing up? And they're here. They have families outside who they aren't allowed to see, or they don't have families at all, and all of their friends left them and went home to their own families this month -- and they're here.

The whole thing was sort of a smack in the face as to where I really was: sitting at a table with a bunch of kids who act so tough all year long, but on the biggest day of the year show you they aren't always so tough. They're just kids. And they're kids who, despite this gorgeous NPH campus and the incredible opportunities that come along with it, aren't blind to their reality. They understand exactly what life has handed them.

It was sort of sad to realize that on Christmas Eve in the middle of a fancy dinner. I won't deny that. But then it was sort of amazing to see that 30 minutes later, not one of them was crying anymore. They were all running around, releasing high-pitched little-girl screams, and picking on each other -- as usual.

They may not always be as tough as I think they are, but in the moments that would likely send you or I into a full-out week of woe-is-me depression, you gotta hand it to them. These kids are tough.

They Keep Getting Us Confused

Every day, Jess and I both show up to tía duty in navy hoodies with green writing. It's cold here! And I only have one good hoodie with me in Guatemala.

We've been making fun of all the girls for getting us confused this entire month, but after seeing this photo from Christmas Eve...well, I guess I can see where they're coming from, haha.

A Christmas Eve Video by Marta

Christmas at NPHG

Hello! I'm back, spent the past 72 hours straight of the Christmas weekend being a tía, and have lived to tell you about it! So, here's how we spent La Navidad at NPH Guatemala. :)

As is normal in Guatemala, we had all the big Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve, or La Nochebuena. The actual day of Christmas is low-key and usually spent sleeping in and relaxing. It kind of reminds me of New Year's: New Year's Eve is the big party. New Year's Day is the recovery.

After having mass in the afternoon, Christmas Eve festivities started off with La Pastorela -- an annual Christmas play that the volunteers put on for the kids. It's the nativity story -- but injected with humor. So, this year's Pastorela involved some reggaeton jams, some intense angel-devil dance-offs, and some poking fun at the kids.

 The angel Gabriel speaks to Mary
 The gang of devils try to sweet talk the shepherds.
 Angels bust a move in the dance-off.
 And the devils bust out sparklers!
 And Wendy/Mary gives birth to the baby Jesus.

Following La Pastorela, we had a special Christmas dinner. The kitchen made a delicious feast of turkey, scalloped potatoes, stuffing, veggies, and dessert. It was heaven to the American volunteers, but it was a little too rich and a lot too foreign for most of the kids. About a dozen ended up puking outside the comedor, -- aw, hahaha.

 Marta feeds the baby doll who played Baby Jesus, haha.
 Yohana chows down. (She did not puke.)
 The kids also got to take photos with Michael (a.k.a. Santa)!
HAHAHAHA, Bryan looks like he wants to murder Santa.
Group shot with Santa!

The rest of the night was then spent waiting for midnight -- and Christmas -- to arrive. The house built a huge bonfire, so kids spent the night playing music, roasting marshmallows and hot dogs, chatting by the fire, and running around like the little lunatics they are.

 Massive bonfire!
 And more sparklers.
 Me and Marta!
 Me and Yohana!
 Me and Sam!
 Vilma and Yohana

At midnight, everyone set off fireworks! And in addition to our own little firework display, our location up on a hill let us look out at all the dozens of colorful firework shows popping up from the surrounding towns. An awesome Christmas view. In total New Year's style (see, I told you), at the stroke of midnight everyone also yelled Feliz Navidad! and then exchanged hugs with everyone else. Then as the party dwindled down, me and a bunch of exhausted girls headed back down to the section (and I had vela that night).

And the best Christmas present of all? We got to sleep in until 9 a.m. the next day! Feliz Navidad to us. :)

Friday, December 24, 2010

¡Feliz Navidad!

I'm taking care of the girls these next three days straight, so in case I don't have another chance to say it:

¡Feliz Navidad!

Merry Christmas Eve, Merry Christmas, Feliz Nochebuena, Feliz Navidad, and happy happy happiest of holidays.

Whereas Christmas used to probably be one of the laziest days of my entire year, this time I'll be spending my second Navidad in Guatemala (weird, right?) trying to keep track of 11 crazy niñas. There will definitely not be time for lazy.

I'll be back again next week, so until then, wherever you are, Feliz Navidad. :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lessons in Tía-hood: They May Look Cute...

They may look cute, but holy CRAP can they be devils. One moment ya can't stand 'em, the next moment ya love 'em. A lesson in tía-hood.

We Call Her "Cenicienta"

The other day, someone decided to have a little fun doing her daily aseos (chores) as well as some made-up ones (we do not, in fact, make our kids scrub the floors on hands and knees).

And now, we call her Cenicienta (Cinderella). :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Are You Excited to Come Back?

Are you excited to come back? The next five weeks' most popular words.

Each of you out there, at one moment or another, is probably going to ask us that. "Wow, an entire year has gone by. So, are you excited to come back?"

When you ask us, we'll want to be polite, and we'll want to keep the awkwardness to a minimum, so we'll tell you what you want to hear. "Well yeah, I'm excited to eat Chipotle and Dairy Queen Blizzards. I'm excited to sleep in a nice bed. I'm excited to see people I haven't seen in a while. Hot water faucets will be nice, and so will central heating, and so will reliable internet and transportation."

And while all those individual things might be true, our answer to your question isn't the truth.

Are we excited to come back?

No. We're not.

We're not excited to just pick up everything and leave behind a life in which we've become so comfortable. We're not excited to get back and feel like no matter how much you try, you just won't understand what we're feeling. We're not excited to try to explain the past year to you and know that words could never really make anyone get it.

We're not excited for how lonely we are going to feel when we aren't around the kids and the friends we have lived every single second of this year with. We might also really like the person we've become while we've been here, and we are not excited to go back and risk turning into someone else again. We are not excited to get back, have no idea what we are doing next, and feel completely lost. And we are not excited that even when we do figure out what comes next, we already know it won't be able to compare to what we've just finished.

So, we know you're going to ask us. And that's okay. You've kept up with us this whole time, and that means more to us than the fact that you might ask the same uncomfortable question we've already been asked a hundred times.

But just so you know, as a warning (and as an advance apology), if you ask us "Are you excited to come back?" and we give you a yes...well, no offense, but we're probably lying to you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How to Evict a Gecko Who Sneaks Into Cassie's Room

1. Find him hiding under the bed.

2. Cover him.

3. Scoot him.

4. Slide a folder underneath him and lift him.

5. Remove him from the house and the general vicinity.

6. Set him free over the wall at the bottom of the outside stairs.

Just another weekend spent removing bugs, large geckos, and other creatures from Casa 6. Yep, all in a day's work.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I've Come Up With a "Pro"

As time winds down here and we all start freaking out more and more, all we can really think about are the 1,000 reasons not to go. But because we are leaving, whether we can accept it or not, we've been trying to remind ourselves of the good things that will come along with moving back Stateside.

Nicole has a running list of "leaving pros" taped to the inside of her locker -- foods, good internet, no more constant water-borne sicknesses -- and I've come up with one of mine:

No longer living a house where seven other people's dirty dishes fill up the backyard pila. 

Gross. Really gross.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Me

Today is December 19.

Exactly one year ago, I arrived in Guatemala -- December 19, 2009. Three hundred and sixty five days (and almost as many blog posts) later, here we are.

How on earth does an entire year go by so fast? A friend once told me that this must feel like the fastest year of my life, and yeah, I think she was right.

So Happy Anniversary to me, and muchísimas gracias to all of you guys. Seriously, thank you thank you thank you for keeping up with me this long. :)

Lessons in Tía-hood: Kids Puke

Last night I had vela (my turn to sleep in the section with the girls), and I woke up at 4:45 a.m. to someone yelling my name.




I now know just what a parent feels like being woken up at all hours of the night. It ain't pleasant.

"My stomach really hurts. I feel like I'm gonna throw up."


"Well you should get out of bed and go to the bathroom. Come on."

So the sleepy kid and the sleepy me walked to the bathroom, and I held her hair back while she tried to decide just how sick she felt. The entire time, the only thoughts running through my brain were: Please don't throw up in your bed. Please don't throw up on the floor. Please don't throw up on yourself. Please don't throw up on me. Oh God.

Thankfully thankfully thankfully, it was a false alarm. No one got sick. And we got to go back to bed for a little bit longer before today's 5:30 a.m. wake-up time. Phew.

But I had been expecting the absolute worst. So today's lesson: kids puke.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In Any Language...

We're one week away from Christmas, so however you say it, Happy Holidays from Guatemala. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010


Since it's Christmas vacation, the girls and I do a lot of jamming out to songs on my iPod and iPod dock (that present has really come in handy over the years, Dad). So, here are their top three most-played songs right now. At any given moment, one of these tunes is likely stuck in my head, so it's a good thing I like 'em too!

Danza Kuduro - Don Omar ft. Lucenzo

Que Vida La Mia - Reik

Looking for Paradise - Alicia Keys and Alejandro Sanz

Note: All of these videos are kind of ridiculous. I'd suggest listening to the song without watching the screen. That way you won't be distracted by the weirdness of these vids haha. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Contact Lenses: A HUGE Hit

My girls here are obsessed with contact lenses. The idea of putting this little piece of plastic into your eyeball completely fascinates them and totally grosses them out all at the same time. They don't know anyone who has ever worn contact lenses, and they've certainly never seen an actual contact lens.

Well, not anymore.

They've discovered I wear contact lenses, and on Monday when I had vela (slept in the section that night), they literally spent the entire day bugging me:

"Can I watch you take out your contact lenses tonight? Can I? Can I? Can I? Will you pleeeease make sure you tell me when you are about to take out your contact lenses tonight? Can I watch? Huh? Can I?"

YES. Good Lord, girls.

So right before bed, I announced that I was about to take my contacts out, and a half dozen girls came zooming across the room to kneel down in front of me. It was hysterical, and luckily Jess grabbed a camera to take some priceless pics.

The next morning, I had the same crowd when I put my contacts back in my eyes, and I've already had requests to repeat the showing next time I have vela, haha. They are so funny.

 Everyone trying to get a good view.
 And now they are grossed out just looking at the contact.
And, of course, everyone wanted to touch it. I'm sure that's horrible contact lens etiquette. Sorry to all ophthalmologists out there. Oops.

Story Update 28

Pequeños Leave for End-of-Year Vacation - Children spend three weeks with outside family members.

Melany - One of the newest members of the NPH family.

Letizia Marquinez - (Spain) Art Therapist, Volunteer Testimonial

Lessons in Tía-hood: Teenagers. They Won't Listen to You, But They Will Listen to Their Friends.

The other night when me tocó vela (when it was my turn to sleep in the section with the girls), everyone got into their beds without putting up much of a fight, but one girl just couldn't quite stop with the chitchat.

"Girls. Quiet please. People are sleeping."

Chitchat chitchat chitchat.

"Julissa. Silence please."

Chitchat. Chitchat. Chitchat.


Chitchat. Chitchat. Chitchat.

Yocari -- practically the leader of my group of girls -- chimes in: "Vos, Julissa. Shut up."

Not another peep. That figures.

No More Mush

This blog post has been a long time coming. Leeah and Katie, are you paying attention? :)

First, let me break down the breakfast situation here in Guatemala.

Cereal is expensive. Granola bars are even more expensive. Milk comes in boxes and tastes a little bit weird. We don't own a toaster. I don't get myself out of bed early enough to make eggs or an omelet before I get myself to work. Gosh, it's a hard knock life.

The result: I eat mush for breakfast every single day. Every. Single. Day. For the past 12 months (it will be exactly one year on Sunday).

Mush is basically demoted oatmeal. We can buy a pound of it in Parramos for 3-5 Q (40 to 60 U.S. cents), and that can last you around a week. From there: Pour flakes of mush in a bowl, add a little powdered milk (not too much -- that's expensive too) and boiling water, and mix. Add in sugar, cinnamon, peanut butter (yes, peanut butter), or berries. Eat and enjoy.

So in case you've been wondering about the gourmet breakfast foods I'm enjoying this year, now you know. Three hundred and sixty five days of mush...and counting. I think I might never want to see a bowl of oatmeal again after this year, hah. :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Faith in the Future

Dear Kelly,

You still hold the title of best mail-sender out there. The 2011 calendar is perfect. I'm sitting at the six-weeks-left-in-Guatemala mark, so you have no idea how much I needed to hear those words.



Quote of the Day

Mine and Jess' quote of the day every day we're on duty as tías:

Did we act like this when we were their age?

Lessons in Tía-hood: Selective Following of Directions

For almost 48 hours straight, it felt like I was pulling teeth to get my girls to get out of bed in the morning, wash their dishes, or shower so we could walk to Parramos to play soccer.

Then last night at the posada, I asked them one time to "Line up please if you want your hot chocolate," and every single girl jumped into line behind me. Nicole said I looked like a Mamma Duck, hah.

Lesson: These kids' ability to practice selective following of directions is incredible. But, I guess sometimes is better than never!

Lessons in Tía-hood: The 14 Year-Old Might Make the Peace Offering First

A series of things I'm learning through the frustrating, exhausting, sometimes adorable, yet-still-the-best-form-of-birth-control-ever experience of being a tía this month to 11 girls between the ages of 10 and 16.

Marta, who all year long has been one of my absolute favorites in my normal section of girls, seems to have developed an attitude problem this month. After lots of back-talking, lying, and trying to run off without permission, I let her have a piece of my mind, and I think it freaked her out.

"Listen to me. Do not lie to me again. You know the rules, so do not try to get around them. And when any of the tías asks you to do something, you'll do it. Got it?"

As one of my favorites, I was really mad at and disappointed in her for not being more cooperative. And as someone who's never yelled at her before, I think she was really mad at me for not not being best-friend-Carrie and letting her get away with things. Needless to say, we both spent the rest of the morning giving each other the cold shoulder.

Then after lunch, she came up behind me with a drawing I'd seen her making earlier and held it in front of me. Léalo, Carrie. Read it.

She'd written me a note, saying: Carrie, thank you for your support and I'm sorry if I've behaved badly with you. Will you forgive me? I am going to try to behave better.  

Lesson: A 24 year-old and a 14 year-old are both being immature over an argument and are resorting to the silent treatment. It turns out, the 14 year-old might make the peace offering first.

Lesson: Even if I yell at them, it doesn't mean they won't still love me later.

Las Posadas

A favorite Christmas tradition in Guatemala, as well as in Mexico and other Latin American countries, is the tradition of the posadas. Here at NPH Guatemala, we held our first posada of the Christmas season last night.

Traditionally, posadas are held each of the nine days preceding Christmas. We do have nine posadas scheduled for this month at NPH, but I guess we decided to get an early start and do the first one last night? (Is that cheating?) The number nine is significant because it represents the nine months of Mary's pregnancy with Jesus.

Our posada began after dinner last night, with everyone huddled together outside, holding candles and trying to make out the words on our songsheets. Two kids dressed up at Mary and Joseph led the group as the posada's procession began.

 Mary and Joseph up front.

As is custom, our little line of posada-goers walked together in a group, singing traditional posada songs -- and trying to make sure no one caught anyone else on fire with all those candles in the crowd. Staying within the NPH campus, we slowly passed from one building to another. (Traditional neighborhood posadas have the group passing from house to house.)

During a posada, at each house (or in our case, building) the group comes to, they stop to ask those living in the house if there is room for Joseph and very-pregnant Mary to stay the night. Through a dialogue of back-and-forth singing, the group is turned down at several different houses. They continue on, and the procession group grows larger as those from each house join in.

 Moving from house to house.
 A stop at the first home.

Finally, the posada reaches the home that says yes to Joseph and Mary's request. The entire posada group enters the home (our ending place was the comedor), and then -- that's right -- you have a party to celebrate! Our party included piñatas, hot chocolate, and goodie bags of candy, peanuts, oranges, and caña (sugarcane) for everyone.

Nine candlelit processions that end in nine parties with nine goodie bags of treats? No wonder the kids love it! So I'll go ahead and say it too: I think I like this tradition.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In It for Life

Last night a few of us went out for drinks at one of two bars -- if you can really even call them bars -- in Parramos. And after maybe a beer too many, Nicole, Sharon, Celeste, and I found ourselves in a conversation about "Hey, I wonder when NPH is going to open up a new house. We could totally just do it ourselves. Nicole, you got Montessori. Carrie, the office and our PR. Celeste, raising baby leaders. Sharon, whatever else we need. Hahahaha."

Now we obviously weren't serious (I don't have plans lined up to move to South America anytime soon), but maybe we sort of were.

The thing about the NPH organization is that once you're in it, you're in it for life -- if you want to be. The number of people who become a part of NPH through a volunteer year during their early 20s and then go on to stay at NPH homes, or work at NPH fund raising offices in their home countries, or heck, even go on to become National Directors of an NPH home (3 current National Directors started out as volunteers years ago), is staggering.

I once read a testimonial of someone who started out as an NPH volunteer and later made his way up to assisting the National Director of one of the homes. He said something like, "I never thought this organization was going to become my whole life, but you can't plan life, and it has."

I liked what he said, and I like what it means. Who knows where any of us will be 10 years down the road, but it's cool to think that an NPH-related job could be a very real possibility -- if we wanted it to be. 

So maybe when we're 40 we'll all be toasting beers again saying, "Remember that night in Parramos when we totally called this?" :)

Quema del Diablo

Every year on December 7, at 6 p.m., in the country of Guatemala, people stop what they're doing and celebrate La Quema del Diablo -- The Burning of the Devil.

Sounds slightly crazy, right? Well, ...right.

Quema del Diablo is a major Guatemalan tradition, and last night at NPH, we had our own little celebration. The celebration of La Quema del Diablo consists of clearing out all the trash and garbage and junk -- all the bad stuff sitting around -- from homes and creating a huge pile of it outside. Then, a devil piñata (or in our case, a devil scarecrow creation) and fireworks are added to the pile, it's all doused in gasoline, and then at 6 p.m. en punto, we light it all on fire.

Yeah, kinda weird.

But the idea behind La Quema del Diablo is that by getting rid of all the garbage one has, you're making sure to drive the devil out of your home. Through burning, you get rid of all the bad things that happened in the past this year, and you make room to prepare for the upcoming Christmas season.

Oh, and about the burning, environmentalists in recent years have given Guatemala a lot of crap about how badly they are adding to air pollution by burning giant piles of garbage. So, the garbage-burning has lessened, and this year at NPH we just burned our devil-scarecrow along with some wood and kindling.

Hmm. Only in Guatemala.

 There's our devil.
 The burning begins...
 ...and continues...
...into a full-on quema del diablo.