Friday, January 29, 2010

Now It's Official: I Am the Published Home Correspondent

Today, the articles I've been writing are finally starting to be published on the NPH website! It's official! I am the Home Correspondent, and I'm actually doing work!

Now, these aren't of incredibly high-caliber journalism, and they aren't incredibly clever either. My job is to make sure donors, potential volunteers, NPH godparents, and other interested parties can check in and see what's going on here. NPH articles are meant to be informative but enjoyable to read, and they serve as PR for the organization. They sort of have a style all their own.

But by all means, read them if you'd like! I'm planning on posting them all here, so help yourself. :)

Farewell to Our Volunteers - NPH Guatemala says goodbye to nine volunteers.

New Volunteers for 2010 - Meet NPH Guatemala's new volunteers.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gotta Start Somewhere

I know I've mentioned "secciónes" before. Every volunteer is paired up with a section of kids here at NPH, and they are sort of "yours" for the year. According to your contract, you have to eat dinner and spend time with them twice a week. In reality, you probably end up seeing them much more often than that.

To a section of kids, a volunteer becomes the cool friend they're pretty excited to have. You're a new face -- and more importantly, you're not their teacher assigning them homework or their caretaker telling them when they have to go to bed. In their eyes, you're basically an automatic superstar.

My girls are between 12 and 15 years old, and they automatically think I'm cool because I know the words to songs by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Rhianna (oh, and High School Musical too, although I didn't just admit that). I didn't have to work too hard to get this far, but it would be nice if we could talk about things other than Zac and Vanessa's off-screen relationship.

However, my Spanish so far has been a little rocky with them. When we hang out, it's a lot of them talking and me just sitting and trying to keep up. (That's right, I said I do very little talking. Clearly this is a new experience for me haha.) But, I decided that I  have to start somewhere.

So, I decided to make it my goal to learn all their names as fast as possible, and this week, I made it!

I know all 21 of them apart from one another! I think it's helping too. When they say hi to me now, I think it catches them by surprise that I respond "Hi, _______!"

I'm so proud.

And now, just to practice, I'll name them all off from the photo, haha.

Back row, left to right: Yocari, Adela, Marta, Estrella, Yohanna, Dañia, Fidelia, Juana, girl who isn't in their section so I don't actually know her name...shoot, Irma, Xela.
Middle row, left to right: Reina, Rosalia, Odilia, Maria, Stela, Katerin, Celeste, Carmen.
Bottom row, left to right: Georgia, Ana Patricia.
Missing a.k.a. sick: Ruth


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Volcán Fuego

From the NPH home, we look out every day at two gorgeous volcanoes: Volcán Agua and double-peaked Volcán Acatenango. There is a third volcano too, Volcán Fuego, but we can’t see it from our location because it’s hidden behind Acatenango.

Fuego is still active (just in the puffs of smoke kind of way, not in the spewing lava everywhere kind of way), and it’s a normal occurrence in this area of the highlands to look up and see smoke billowing from its peak.

I just witnessed this for the first time the other day, so here are a couple of fun pics! Remember that Fuego is hidden behind Acatenango, so that’s why the smoke is off-center.


Looking out from my office towards the arched entranceway to NPH.

Semi-creepy photo taken by one of my co-workers from behind the statue of  NPH's founder.


No Hay Corriente

“Mañana, no hay corriente en todo el hogar de 7 a.m. hasta approx. 14:00.”

What a great sign to come home to last night. Wow, we are really on a roll this week with the utilities.

Yesterday it was the water freak out, and today “There is no electricity in the entire home from 7 a.m. until approximately 2 p.m.” Yay.

I’m writing this at 8:33 a.m. on my quickly dying laptop, and really, things could be worse. (Sidenote: For the first time in their lives, the Guatemalans were exactly on time. As soon as the clock hit 7:00, out went the lights.) Anyway – no, I won’t be doing much work today without a computer, internet, or way to recharge the camera, but I’ve actually been surprised at how easy it’s been to not have electricity (although it’s only been an hour and a half – so I guess I shouldn’t speak too soon).

So far, I have a serious new appreciation for:

-The thinly-curtained windows in our room. Normally, these let in every annoying speck of light while we are trying to sleep in, but today, that sunlight was crucial for getting dressed.

-And, our gas-powered stove! Normally, I almost have a heart attack every time I have to light a match and stick my hand into that flame of gas around the burner, but now, I think I realize that those stoves are actually pretty awesome.

Alright, time to save some battery power. See ya when the lights come back on!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No Hay Agua

No hay agua. There isn't any water.

This is about the last thing you want to hear in a home of 400 people who live, work, and play in the Guatemalan sun and dirt all day long.

But last night, we got a call from one of the girls in our house who had gotten word that a pipe had burst at NPH. "Start filling up everything you can find with water!! The water is going to run out overnight, and who knows when it will come back tomorrow! Hurry!!"

It turned out to be a false alarm. A pipe really did burst, but they fixed it right away. The water stopped working in a few places at NPH, but never in our house.

Still, haha, the life at NPH.

Buckets and buckets of agua.

Work, Play

I would consider myself a work hard, play hard kind of person.

I think that for the most part, I usually apply that mantra to most of my life adventures, and I think I would say that this Guatemalan adventure is no different. At least, I hope that’s how it will be.

I want this to be a year of hard work in my job – with my writing, with my reporting, with photography, with promoting NPH, and with just getting out there and finding what can be found.

But at the same time, I want this to be an incredibly fun year. I want new friendships and adventures and unbelievable stories to tell when I come back. I want to spend time with the kids here, as well as the other volunteers. I want to explore and understand this gorgeous – but crazy – nation, and relax in a year free from rent, life plans, and cubicles.

So, goal = balance work and play in Guatemala. Good. Hmm.

I realized right away that this adventure isn’t like study abroad. Studying abroad, I considered travel and food my top 2 priorities, and I considered homework or anything like it optional. (Ok, so not optional, but definitely last-minute. We all know I’m too much of a wuss to completely blow off assignments.)

I also realized right away that this isn’t a normal office job either. Yes, I have an office, an 8-5:30 schedule, and free coffee in the kitchen, but I’m not actually supposed to be working all day long. I’ve quickly learned that they don’t want me in the office all the time; they want me wandering around to find out what’s going on at NPH. I also can’t follow the “time is money” mentality anymore, because it doesn’t exist in Guatemala. Nothing moves quickly here, so I’m learning to fill my entire day with tasks that I normally could have churned out before 11 a.m. Frustrating? Yes. Surprisingly calming? Also yes.

So, it’s not study abroad, and it’s not an office job. It’s not all work, and it’s not all play. It’s some tricky combination. But luckily, the NPH volunteer program tries to help us out when it comes to finding the balance. Our “contract” involves both work and play, and here’s an idea of what is turning out to be our pretty busy schedule:

We have our jobs. As Home Correspondent, I am “in the office” Monday to Friday, from 8 to 5:30 – a 42.5 hour work week.


Twice a week, we need to eat dinner or spend time with our section for at least 2 hours.

Twice a month, every volunteer must complete a “family project.” It means we hang out with a family of brothers and sisters from NPH – making pizza, visiting the town of Parramos, watching a movie, really whatever they feel like doing.

Once every 6 weeks, all the volunteers get together to host a Kermes (or carnival) for the entire home – all 350 kids.

And then there is a whole slew of holidays and house events. Guatemalans love to celebrate everything in style.

As you can see, not a ton of free time! But, it’s exciting. January has started off slow with our schedules, but everything kicks into gear in February (which is already next week – whoa) with our first family projects and Kermes. The schedule is a little intimidating right now, but I know it will be fun.

A lot of work, but a lot of play. :)

P.S. Birmingham people, I almost titled this entry “Work, Play (not the venue in B’ham)” haha.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Guess This Means I'm In the Club

When I started working here in the office at NPH, one of the leaving volunteers told me that "Doña Eugenia -- she takes care of you."

Doña Eugenia is sort of like the "office mom." She cleans, makes sure there is always coffee and tea in the kitchen for us, and (once you've, for lack of a better word, been "accepted" into the office's family) she randomly brings you little presents of food and fresh flowers. She is awesome.

This morning, I bumped into her in the kitchen, and she offered me a piece of the pastel de zanahoria (carrot cake) she was slicing up and passing out to the office. Yum, so good.

And just now, she came into our office with vases of fresh calla lilies. It's normal for her to give one to Vilma, the full-time employee who works across me from, but today I got a vase on my desk too!

I guess this means I'm in the club. Love it. :)

Bye Bye, Casa Cinco

The good news: we have finally all moved out of Casa 5 -- the visitors' house where 9 new volunteers have been crammed 3 to a room for the past 3 weeks. We are in our new, permanent house, with our new, permanent rooms! We can finally stop living out of suitcases, and I can finally start decorating my walls with the obnoxious number of photos I brought from home!

The bad news: the visitors' house had way better amenities. The visitors' house had a microwave. No microwave in our house. The visitors' house had a sink in the kitchen. We don't; we have to go outside to the back of the house to use the outdoor pila (stone trough for washing dishes and clothing). And, the visitors' house had an automatic coffee maker. Take a look at what we have instead.

Yeah, now I know I'm an idiot in the kitchen, but I definitely wasn't the only person who sort of looked at the black cone-shaped piece of plastic and thought, "What am I supposed to do with this?"

It sounds easy enough. Just pour a pot of boiling water through the filter with the coffee. Well, think again. You have to use one hand to hold the filter in place the entire time, or else you'll have hot water and soggy coffee grinds all over the kitchen. You also need to have the patience of a saint. In about 20 minutes, we had enough for maybe one small cup of coffee. Lastly, you need some seriously seasoned taste buds. The coffee is b-i-t-t-e-r. Even the strongest of our coffee drinkers had a tough time drinking it without making a semi-disgusted face.

Letizia and I still have the keys to the visitors' house.

That's it. We're stealing that coffee maker.

Making coffee sin coffee maker. Not for the faint of heart.

Supersize Me, Por Favor

This weekend, Sam and I had one of those “Oh, we’re not in the United States anymore” moments.

Saturday morning we took one of the beloved chicken buses to Chimaltenango (or just Chimal, for short), the town 20 minutes away where we can find a grocery store and mall-like commercial center. We went just to grocery shop but then decided to take a detour over to the Taco Bell in the food court next door.

Pathetic that we visited a U.S. fast food chain? Kinda. But hey, when all you see is rice and beans three times a day, recognizable fast food chains are about the best thing that could happen to you.

Gross that we chose Taco Bell? Kinda. I never eat Taco Bell back in the States, ew. I’m just not a fan. So Saturday I stuck to a safe menu decision – a Pepsi and Cinnamon Twists. Pretty delicious.

But anyway, back to the point. We both ordered “mediana” sized drinks, deciding that we were really craving those fountain sodas and would splurge on a medium cup. So when they handed us our kids’ meal sized cups, we politely reminded them that we had ordered medianas.

“Um, those are medianas.”

What??? Saddest day ever.

Our “medium” Pepsis were about the size of the palm of my hand, and when we looked to see what a small cup must look like, I kid you not, it was probably no bigger than a Dixie cup.

We realized all of a sudden, that oh yeah, everything is ridiculously huge in the U.S. The average medium-sized drink in the States is probably close to a half gallon. Geez.

Oh well. Next time we’ll just have to make sure we order the Super Grandes.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The NPH Guatemala Philosophy

Yes, you know I'm working at an orphanage, but there's more to it than that. NPH is not your average orphanage. At the very least, life here for these kids is probably a lot different than what you're picturing in your mind at this very moment.

Well, allow me to set the record straight...and let you in on life at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos Guatemala.

NPH Guatemala began in 1996, the year the Peace Accords were signed to end the 36-year Civil War in Guatemala (the longest civil war in Latin American history). The Civil War nearly ruined the country, leaving 200,000 dead (in a country only the size of Tennessee) and another 50,000 missing (or fleeing the country).

Today, NPH Guatemala is home to roughly 350 children between the ages of infant and 26.

When new children come to NPH, the home must accept all brothers and sisters under the age of 16, no matter how many children are in the family. If it's a family of 10, they all come together. No one is refused.

Once in NPH, children can never be put up for adoption. The idea is that stability is what's most important for success. NPH believes that you can't feel safe if tomorrow your younger brother or best friend might be taken away. When they enter NPH, they are told that this is their family now.

During their three years of middle school, each student is required to study in one of our five talleres, or workshops, and graduate with a certificate in their trade. The five talleres are the panadería (bakery), the carpintería (carpentry), the herrería (iron or welding workshop), the belleza (beauty salon), and the cosería (sewing workshop). The belief is that while higher education is priority #1, it doesn’t always guarantee you a job (even in first-world countries, thanks economy). NPH wants each of its kids to have a trade they can fall back on if needed. The talleres also exist to keep the NPH house self-sufficient. All bread (to feed all 500 children, volunteers and employees) is made daily in our bakery. All furniture (beds, desks, benches, lamps, even toy trucks) for the home is made in our carpentry and welding workshops. Anyone can get their hair cut, colored and done up for free in our belleza, and clothes – from the school uniforms to pajamas to extravagant quinceañera gowns – are made in our sewing workshop.

NPH will provide all children with free schooling (including university level), as long as they want it. But in between school levels, the kids are required to complete años de servicio (years of service). After finishing middle school, they have to serve one año de servicio before they can attend high school. After high school, they must serve two años de servicio before they can attend university. The idea is that NPH will provide kids with top levels of schooling, but they have to earn it. An año de servicio must be spent doing some kind of work that gives back to the NPH Guatemala house, helping run the very place that raised them. Many students work as caretakers for the younger kids, help teach in the classrooms, or work in the talleres. The año de servicio students are some of my favorite to see around the home. Watching the 17 year-old girl run the entire bakery herself or the 18 year-old boy tote around two infants all day long and look like he’s loving it makes it clear to me that these “orphans” might be way more prepared for the real world than any of their privileged American counterparts.

And finally, many of the children here still have regular contact with their biological families. I’ll admit, this is still one of the harder things for me to grasp. Children come to NPH not necessarily because they are orphaned, but often because they cannot be fed, clothed, and educated properly by their own family; Guatemala still remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America. NPH believes that it’s important to allow all children to keep these familial ties if they want to. The home hosts two or three days a year when family members can come visit NPH, and nearly two-thirds of the children here leave during Christmas break to spend three weeks with their biological families.

So there you have it, a little insight into the unique philosophy that is NPH.

It’s really hard to put into words, and I know it sounds incredibly cliché, but when you’re here, you don’t feel like you’re at an “orphanage.” On average, these kids seem happier, more responsible, and more competent than kids their age in the U.S. So without even thinking, my mind just decides they must have had a "normal" upbringing – just like me and everyone else, right? It sounds stupid, but sometimes I look around and think I’m just working at some Guatemalan boarding school or something.

It literally is a daily thing for me: to remind myself where they’ve come from, to realize I really can’t even fathom it, and to just sort of be in awe.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Finally, Some Photos on Facebook!

I uploaded photos to Facebook! However, it took me like 2 hours on my internet connection, so this might only happen once a month or so. There are 2 albums right now -- one from San Pedro and one from Antigua. Next task: take photos of NPH so I can show you all where I live! Be on the look out for that one!

(Note: You can view the photos at these links whether you have Facebook or not.)

Click here for photos from San Pedro.

And here for photos from Antigua.

Happy viewing!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You CAN Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

...At least when it comes to typing.

I complained in an earlier blog about how the Spanish language keyboards were impossible to use and how I couldn't stand them. Well, I am now eating my words.

In my office, my computer obviously has a Spanish keyboard, so that's what I type on the majority of my day. But, I have noticed during the past few days, that when I try to type on my own laptop at home at night, I type all the wrong keys. My hands have re-learned Spanish.

And so here's a fun run-down of some of the Computer 101 that I have had to re-teach myself. Enjoy!

  • The @ symbol for email addresses (oh so crucial when I need to log in to Facebook, duh) is not on the number 2.  Instead, it hangs out with the letter Q. When you want to use the @, you hold down a new key -- the alt gr -- that's to the right of the space bar and then hit Q. It took a while to get the hang of that one.
  • The quotation marks are with the 2, the / is with the 7, and the parentheses are on the 8 and 9.
  • Both the question mark AND the apostrophe have moved to the right of the zero. That one was especially tricky to remember.
  • To create accent marks, you hit the button to the right of the P (nothing happens) and then hit the letter you want to type. It magically creates an accented letter!
  • Something I think is genius: the button to the left of 1 has the symbol for degrees (°). So handy!
  • And of course, there are extra keys, like the ñ the ¡ and the ¿
  • Oh, and the Shift keys are tiny. That's one thing I don't like very much.
I've also had to re-learn some of the keyboard shortcuts. Now...

  • Control + B is Find (Find = Buscar)
  • Control + G is Save (Save = Guardar)
  • Control + N is Bold (Bold = Negrita)
  • Control + K is Italic (Italic = Cursiva = sounds like K?)
  • Control + S is Underline (Underlined = Subrayado)
  • Control + E is Select All (not exactly sure why)
Fun, huh? Guess I'll have to re-learn U.S. keyboards in a year. :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Guatemalan "Time"

Most people realize that the United States operates on a slightly more OCD-type of daily schedule than much of the rest of the world, especially when it comes to work and school. We like our deadlines and our quotas, and we like punishing people when they don't make theirs. We value punctuality and organization, and tardiness is frowned upon. We like when our companies run like well-oiled machines, and we probably don't even mind the pressure it creates.

Well, the country of Guatemala does not operate this way. It's not that this fact itself surprises me. I knew to expect it, and I experienced it in Greece too. What's hilarious, is just how unorganized this nation is sometimes. Here's our (all the American volunteers get a big kick out of it) favorite example so far:

The 2010 school year "started" yesterday. Note the quotations around "started."

As of this past Friday, NPH's school hadn't finalized the schedule for English classes. Nearly all 350 students here are required to take English classes, but somehow the schedule just couldn't get put together. Apparently, three months of summer vacation isn't enough time to figure it out. So, no big deal, says Guatemala. We just won't have English classes Monday.

Or Tuesday.

Or Wednesday.

We'll let you know tomorrow (Wednesday evening) if Thursday is a go.

After talking to our Volunteer Coordinator, we learned this is standard in Guatemala. Nowhere in the country is the first week of school expected to actually include schooling. It's sort of just a free week. Teachers needn't worry about having classes ready, and students needn't bother with showing up and expecting to learn.

Oh, Guatemala. (But aren't the kids just adorable in their school uniforms??)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Don't Freak Out, But We Had an Earthquake Today

The title pretty much says it all. There was an earthquake here today. But, it was tiny. No one was harmed and nothing was damaged. When I Googled it, the news did say it registered as a 6.0, which is fairly strong, but it was really deep under the earth, so we only felt slight shaking.

But yeah, it was the craziest feeling ever. We were all in the middle of an assembly this morning to kick off the first day of the school year, and all of a sudden the entire building started shaking. It only lasted maybe 5 seconds, and it wasn't very strong -- the assembly kept right on going.

It definitely happened though. Everyone started looking around at each other and motioning that the room was shaking. I've never experienced an earthquake before, and it was just such a strange feeling -- to have the entire earth move underneath you. Welcome to Guatemala!

Antigua weekend…and feeling like a normal person

This was our first free weekend, and man, was it much needed. It seems like we’ve been physically and mentally stressed every day for the last two weeks, so we new volunteers were ready for a break!

The answer: Saturday in Antigua.

We’re really lucky in that NPH is only about a 20 minute chicken bus ride (Cost of bus ride = 3 quetzales. Exchange = about $0.35) from Antigua, which means we get the best of both worlds in Guatemala.

Here at NPH and in the town of Parramos, we are surrounded by the typical Guatemalan lifestyle. The town consists of a church, a park/central square, a few tiendas (imagine very tiny convenient stores with bars that make them look like jail cells), and about one restaurant-ish establishment. We live pretty modestly, eat tortillas, rice, and beans every day, don’t have great internet access, and see no other foreigners.

Antigua, however, is a completely different world. Twenty minutes on the chicken bus, and I can buy shoes at Aldo, use the wireless at Bagel Barn while enjoying my cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese, visit the fanciest McCafe I will probably ever see in my life, and jam to Rhianna in crowded discotecas.

So it was off to Antigua!

Saturday morning I met my William and Mary friends Sara and Abby at the McCafe in Antigua!

The outdoor area of McCafe, complete with fountains and free computers for internet.

The courtyard of McDonald's and McCafe. Yes, that's Volcano Agua in the background.
I told you: crazy, right?

Sara is in Guatemala for work right now, and we all lived together in the infamous G-Unit our sophomore year. :) It was so fun to catch up and explore the city together. We saw all the sites, splurged on amazing food and margaritas at Frida’s for lunch, and snuck into the 5-star Hotel Casa Santo Domingo to see what all the talk is about. Antigua is gorgeous, with cobblestone streets, a beautiful Parque Central area, and 3 volcanoes bordering the city.

Arco de Santa Catalina. Once part of the giant Convent of Saint Catherine, the arch was built so sisters could cross the street unseen.

La Merced church (Our Lady of Mercy), famous for its decór that incorporates Mayan deities.

Parque Central with Volcán Agua behind 

Church at Parque Central

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, once the center of Spanish power in the region

City Hall

Artisan market...and ruins everywhere

Lunch with Sara and Abby! G-Unit!

A visit to Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, built in the Santo Domingo Monastery.

Super fancy hotel. Rose petals everywhere!

The hotel takes up an entire city block and includes museums, pools, ruins, a spa, restaurant and bar, and dozens and dozens of gardens and courtyards.

I could definitely get used to this place.

Sunset over Volcán Acatenango

History lesson: Founded in 1543, Antigua served as the administrative center of basically the entire Spanish empire in the area – stretching from Mexico to Costa Rica. Along with Mexico City and Lima, Antigua was once one of the most important cities in the Americas. Then, in 1773, after earthquakes had repeatedly destroyed the city, the government finally decided to relocate to Guatemala City (Guatemala’s current capital). And then the cool thing: because the government left and only the poorest inhabitants remained behind, there was never enough money to tear down buildings or build new ones. As a result, Antigua’s churches, universities, government buildings, etc. were incredibly well-preserved for another 200 years, and in the1960s and 70s laws were passed to ensure Antigua stayed that way. That means that today, Antigua is one heck of an awesome city to visit.

After Sara and Abby left to head back to the capital that night, I met up with the volunteers, who had made their way to Antigua for dinner. We were craving something a little less rice-and-beans, and we found the jackpot with a restaurant considered Antigua’s best pizza joint. The rest of the night included barhopping, some salsa dancing at La Sala, and then some more dancing at a crazy crowded discoteca that can best be described as having the same ambience as a frat party at William and Mary (read: disgustingly sweaty, but fun once you just give in to the grossness).

Me and Sam! Out in Antigua!

So to wrap up: it was such a fun day! This morning another volunteer and I were saying how something as simple as pizza dinner and out for dancing made us feel like normal people again. A day spent in a really cool city with really cool people = everyone seems to be refreshed and re-energized for this next week. :)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I Just Updated the Blog with Photos!

Today I went through and finally added a few photos to old blog posts. Go back and look at them!

(Facebook albums of more photos are on the way...)

NPH Haiti

I know I don't have to tell you about Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti. I know it's all over the news, wherever you are. We've been keeping up here in Guatemala too, especially since 1 of the 9 NPH homes is located in Haiti -- the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

We've learned that the 350 children at the NPH home live 15 miles east of the epicenter and are safe. NPH Haiti's pediatric hospital has suffered structural damage but has seen no casualties. NPH Haiti's administrative and volunteer center, however, was located in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. The entire building has collapsed and communication has been nearly impossible.

The collapsed building in Petionville housed the entire administrative office, including the office of the NPH Home Correspondent, Erin (a fellow volunteer from the U.S.). Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the earthquake hit, Erin and I had been exchanging several emails as I introduced myself to the other Home Correspondents throughout Central and South America. It's terrifying thinking about that.

We have also just learned that several of CNN's coverage photos are of the NPH building. You can see 2 here (click to view photos 4 and 11), and looking at NPH's blue logo amid the destruction is just unreal.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

If Someone Tells You It’s Hot in Guatemala, They’re Lying

Like most people who venture to this part of the world, the other volunteers and I assumed we wouldn’t need many warm clothes this year. I am way south of Florida, and not too far from South America. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be hot here most of the time, right?


It’s freezing here.

Every day between approximately sunset and noon, it is absolutely freezing. (It’s because we’re in the highlands, so it’s the elevation making it so cold at night. Daytime is just fine.) We’re not talking just a little bit chilly either. I mean thick socks, multiple sweatshirts, scarves all the time, and sleeping in winter hats. Today, I even wore dance pants underneath my jeans all day. Not kidding. It is seriously painful to be up moving around at night or in the morning. Brrrrrrr.

To combat this, we have a new trend in our volunteer house: hot water bottles. The 2 volunteers from Austria each brought one with them, and the rest of us have been eyeing them jealously all week. Then today, I had the best surprise EVER! Cheryl, another volunteer, went to Antigua in the afternoon and texted me that she had a present for me. When I came home from my seccione, a hot water bottle was waiting for me on my bed!!!! Its reddish color sort of makes it look like a whoopee cushion, which is hilarious, but I am so so so pumped to sleep tonight with it wrapped up in my covers.

It’s the little things, haha.

The group with our "bolsas de agua caliente"...

...and then I stole everyone else's for myself.

You Might Be Wondering: What the Heck Is My Job? Guatemalan office!
Ok, here you go.

I am the Home Correspondent for NPH Guatemala. NPH is an international organization with sites in 9 countries, and each site is required to have a Home Correspondent. To copy straight from my job description, “The main task of the Home Correspondent is to provide the public, NPH International and fundraiser with any required information. The responsibilities of the Home Correspondent include writing articles, annual reports, website updates, calendar updates, directory updates, and photos.”

So, it’s only day 2 right now, but I think I can expect a normal week to involve writing stories (news stories, profiles of employees, volunteers, kids), updating calendars and directories, taking photos of tons of different events around the home, and managing all of these updates on the NPH Guatemala website.

I’m excited for the job. I virtually have no boss (the National Director is the person I consider “boss”), and although I technically work an 8:00-5:30 office schedule, I’m expected to be out and about taking photos and covering events as needed. I have no daily or weekly quotas – just story and photo numbers I need to meet every month – so as long as I get my work done, I basically make my own schedule. And yeah, did I mention INTERNET?? All the other volunteers are very jealous haha. Ooh, and other perks: I get a fancy camera and video camera. Not too bad!

Now, I am still pretty nervous about the fact that all activities/events/interviews/methods of getting information for stories will be in Spanish. Hmm. This should be fun.

So that’s the job in a nutshell! More questions? My new little office area is nice enough, but it’s certainly no SPC! (No prop sales here haha) :)

One other lovely item: the school year here still doesn’t start for a few weeks, so there are constantly kids running in and out of our offices touching things and asking questions. I’m going to need some serious adjustment time before I get used to 10 year-olds constantly hovering over my shoulder while I check email or repeatedly breaking the hinges on my scanner because they won’t listen to me when I say to stop playing with it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: patience. (I’m working on it.)

Finally, an Update from NPH!

HI!!!! I’ve missed you, blog! (And all you readers, por supuesto.) I’m currently sitting on my couch listening to some Taylor and cuddled up with my new hot water bottle (more to come on that in another post), and I figured now was the perfect time to catch up on some blogging. I think I’ll make this a series of posts – instead of one giant one, so enjoy. :)

Well, I’m here! I left San Pedro the Sunday after New Year’s, and I survived the 3-hour chicken bus ride back to Parramos. Travel via chicken bus in Guatemala definitely deserves its own important blog, so remind me to talk about them sometime in the next few weeks. Our Orientation kicked off Sunday night with a dinner, and it has been nonstop (a more serious use of that word than you can ever imagine) since then.

The Volunteers: my “generation” of volunteers is 11 awesome people big. Two guys, 9 girls. Four Americans, 2 Austrians, 4 Germans, and 1 from Spain. Three caretakers, an occupational therapist, a psychologist, a counselor, 2 English teachers, a project coordinator, sponsorship coordinator, and home correspondent. Me, Sam FH (yesssssssss together at last), Cheryl, Tressa, Daniela, Maria, Jonas, Abdul, Janna, Mona Lisa, and Letizia. Our conversations sound a little something like this: “¿Sabes donde está my instant oatmeal? Danke.” We are joining a group of about 8 volunteers who started their year in July or earlier and are staying on, and everyone is incredible.

My "generation" -- the new volunteers.

The whole group.

A happy family already.

Our Orientation week was the longest week of my life, and we were all drained and cranky by the end. We learned a TON about the people/places/philosophy at NPH though, and what Orientation would be complete without icebreakers? (Yes, all you OA’s, we actually played Train Wreck in Spanish. Sam and I almost died when they announced the game.)

Now we are in the transition week for our actual jobs, and I have more or less completely taken over as Home Correspondent. There is still some shuffling going on in the office, but I finally have my desk and computer and – get this – nonstop internet access. Life is good.

I have also been assigned to my “seccione,” which is the group of kids I am assigned to eat dinner with and hang out with at least a few times a week. My seccione is girls between the ages of about 11-14. Tonight was my first official night hanging out in the section, and in those 2 hours:

1. They were in awe of the footies (Hannah, those really good HUE ones we have!) I was wearing with my shoes. They told me I must be really fashionable (hah), and then proceeded to show me a “moda” catalog they had that featured footies. They wanted to know how many I had, what colors, and how much they cost.

2. They discovered I could do the splits and other random but sometimes semi-impressive stretches and dance moves. About 20 of them gathered in a half circle around me while I paraded around stretching and dancing and looking like an idiot.

3. And, we finished the night with a conversation about the cast members of High School Musical and whether I knew them personally.

I was exhausted when I came home. They already think I am absolutely nuts, so it’s definitely going to be an entertaining year.

Alright, enough for this post. Last thing: the 11 “nuevos” (new volunteers) are currently all crammed into one of the visitor’s houses, and it will be a few weeks before the old volunteers move out and we can move into their rooms. When that time comes, all volunteers live here on the NPH site in pretty adorable little cottages, with 8 people to a house. I’ll give a better update once we’re moved in.

Glad I’m back and able to update!