Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Year Ago

Today's blog really has nothing to do with Guatemala. But, it is about me being here, sort of. It was inspired by a blog post by the wonderful Katie Melick, and I hope she won't hate me for stealing her idea. :)

This weekend marks another May, a entire year since graduation. In May of 2009, it felt like there couldn't possibly be life past college, hah. In May of 2010, my brain can't decide what it feels. In some ways, it's like I never left Williamsburg. Yet, it amazes me when I realize that last May I had no idea what the next year had in store for me.

To practically plagiarize from Katie, Just one year ago, I had no clue how much I would do in just a year.

A year ago, I had no idea I'd spend time living in New York City.

Or in Birmingham, Alabama.

Or in Guatemala. For an entire year.

I had no idea I'd end up loving each of those places in their own very different ways.

I didn't know that along the way I'd (finally) find myself on a career path I loved and felt was exactly right.

I didn't know I'd be learning to cook from a website full of recipes.

Or teaching a waltz.

Or speaking Spanish all day long.

Just a year ago, I hadn't even met some of the people I now keep in touch with best.

And I hadn't spent much time thinking about what I was good at and what I'm really not good at.

A year is nothing. I know that. It flew by. Just one year. But, I think, that if you do it right, you can also pack a lot of real, substantial, impacting experiences into 12 months -- so that when you look back on them you think, "Wow. All of that happened in just one year?"

Wonder what I'll be saying in May 2011. :)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Semuc Champey, Part 3 of a Few

The caves!

This cave tour was one of the coolest things I have done in my life! A few minutes away from our hostel, we took an adventure through the K´an-ba caves. Picture this: no lights, just candles you hold in your hand. Swimming through underground rivers that weave through the caves. Not being able to touch a lot of the time, so you end up treading water and swimming with one hand while holding the candle above your head with the other hand. Jumping off of a cliff inside the cave system and having to trust the guide when he tells you to "to jump where I'm shining my flashlight and you'll be fine." Oh, and rope climbing and rapelling down underground waterfalls. No big deal.


Semuc Champey, Part 2 of a Few

The Park!

Semuc Champey is a series of gorgeous rivers and pools and rock formations. The water is cool and clear and just incredible. We spent hours swimming and jumping from pool to pool.

We also hiked up to the mirador, a hot, humid trek straight up the side of a mountain. From the top, the view down at the pools is amazing. I'll just stop talking now. The photos will do it better justice. :)

Semuc Champey, Part 1 of a Few

Ok, my blog post rambling is getting a little out of hand. I hate reading never-ending blog posts too. Sorry. This week's goal: better concision.

So, to make that easier on myself, I'm breaking down my weekend trip into a few posts. I'll also try to give them more photos and fewer words -- because this place was SO gorgeous.

The basics: Sam and I took a Friday afternoon shuttle (SO glad we splurged on the shuttle) for an 8-hour ride to Semuc Champey. Semuc is a spot way out in the middle-of-nowhere Guatemalan jungle, and up until a few years ago it was practically impossible to access. Today, you still have to take a 30-minute pick-up truck ride to finish off the journey, but it's so so so so soooo worth all the trouble of getting there.

Part 1: The Hostel

From some serious blogging research, I heard about this place called El Portal. Located all the way in Semuc, it's harder to get to, but once you're there, you're within walking distance from everything. Everyone in the blogosphere gave it rave reviews, and I'll now add my seal of approval too. This place was amazing.

Open-air dorm rooms with incredible views. Cozy community mealtimes with the other dozen or so guests. Yummy and reasonably priced food. Electricity only from 6 - 10 p.m. (surprisingly, didn't miss it at all), and best location ever. We walked out of our hostel, turned right, walked about 30 seconds down the road, and we were in the Semuc park. Absolutely cannot beat this place.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Story Update 9

A New Student Magazine - Created by and for students, NPH Guatemala presents a new house magazine.

NPHG Receives a New Playground - The Casa San Andrés house has received an exciting prize of excellence from the Viva: Juntos por la Niñez (Viva: Together for Children) organization -- a brand new playground for our children.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

El Progreso for the Weekend

Alright, I'm finally sitting down to blog about this past weekend. First, however, you need a little background info.

Back in March, I went with NPH's student leadership group on a day trip to the department of El Progreso, located about three hours away from us. If you missed it the first time, here's that blog. Basically, a -- let's just say sizeable --- donation came to NPH Guatemala from Germany. The donor wanted the money to go towards an NPH-organized project involving Guatemala's Corredor Seco -- a rural region of the country suffering from serious drought and crop shortages.

In an interesting but exciting move, the NPHG house gave the donation money to the 12 students of our leadership goup -- for them to organize and execute the project. They've been planning for the past month, and last weekend, I was lucky enough to tag along and watch these teenagers put their plans into action.

For starters, it was a full weekend. We left NPH on Friday morning and didn't come back until Sunday night. Each day we were there, we were up at 4 or 5 a.m., outside all day, and not in bed until late. Sleeping on concrete floors; cold outdoor showers. It was busy, and exhausting, but awesome.

Here's the run-down of the project. Last Thursday night, the kids spent hours assembling 150 bags of food. Each bag weighed probably 30 pounds and contained rice, beans, powdered milk, oil, salt, soy protein, oatmeal, cooking oil, and atol (a traditional Guatemalan milk). They also gathered bags of toiletries donated by the NPH house, and they hand-made and decorated a dozen piñatas.

On each day, Saturday and Sunday, we woke up early, filled trucks with the supplies, and headed off to a community of El Progreso. Saturday was to Los Aritos, a village of about 220 people, and Sunday we visited Santa Bárbara, a village of about 200. In each community, the 12 of our kids passed out a bag of food and several toiletries to each family, organized piñatas, soccer, and frisbee with the kids, and spent the afternoon talking to community members.

It was not an easy project, by any means. Los Aritos and Santa Bárbara are only accessible by truck. The trip to Santa Bárbara was especially interesting. Imagine 18 people in one pick-up truck, driving for a full hour on a narrow dirt road through the Guatemalan jungle, parking on the edge of a cliff, and then having to walk 20 more minutes down a hill to the town of Santa Bárbara -- only accessible by foot. Definitely thought were going to die at some point.

I talked about this project in my first blog too, so I'll try not to repeat too much. But, I guess for lack of more eloquent words, it was just an awesome weekend. Projects like this are something I expect to find from adults, or from privileged private school kids trying to complete their service hours (I know, I was once one of those). It's not something I expect from 12 teenagers who live in an "orphanage" and who come from more disadvantaged situations than most of us can even fathom.

Watching the kids this weekend, I saw them organize chaotic piñata sessions with much more patience and I ever could have, speak frankly with adults in the community with much more confidence than I ever could have, and reflect on the whole experience during late-night conversations that were not only wise beyond their years, but also wise beyond mine.

So, I've said it before, but I'll say it again. On paper, these 12 kids are "orphaned, abandoned, and abused children" who 5 years ago didn't even have basic food, clothing and education. Today, they are organizing a several thousand dollar service project, and doing it with passion, maturity, and incredible humility. I'd be pretty willing to bet that they had no idea how much their lives would change when they first stepped into NPH.

Packing up the bags of food.

They filled the ENTIRE house!

Loading up to leave.

Loved their piñatas!

Day 1: Off to Los Aritos!

Los Aritos

Viktor playing soccer with the kids.

Introductions at Los Aritos.

Alex passes out bags of food.

Pedro and Jaime pass out toiletries.

Viktor makes a friend while setting up the piñatas.


Ever and Israel keep the piñatas going.

Vicky climbing trees to bring us lots of...


Day 2: 18 people, 1 hour, 1 pick-up truck, and this incredibly narrow bridge.

As close as you can get to Santa Bárbara by car.

Deic, Vicky, and me arriving at Santa Bárbara.

Viktor speaks to the Santa Bárbara community.

Pedro and Huinter pass out food.

Toiletries distributed at Santa Bárbara.

Starting our walk down to the actual village.

View from Santa Bárbara.

The Santa Bárbara school.

Chatting with the kiddos.

Ever helps with piñatas.

Everyone dives for candy!

Piñatas get a little crazy.

And on Sunday afternoon, after a long weekend, some relaxing in the river. :)