Monday, May 31, 2010

One Natural Disaster After Another

Lately, Guatemala just can't catch a break.

Last week, Volcán Pacaya erupted, spewing ash all over the country (not here though), basically shutting down the capital, and closing the airport for the entire weekend.

That same afternoon, we had a minor earthquake.

And THEN, we welcomed Tropical Storm Agatha. We were not so happy to see her. Starting Thursday night, it rained NONSTOP until early Sunday morning. When I say nonstop, I mean the rain literally did not let up for one single second those entire two days. And when I say rained, I mean poured. We spent the weekend trapped in the house, dodging leaks in the roof, and seriously worrying that we didn't have enough food at home to make it through the weekend. We survived off of Easy Mac, bread, and a bottle of vodka we found in the freezer. (Kidding...or am I?)

Thankfully, the rain stopped yesterday, but the country is still a mess. Mudslides have destroyed entire towns, killed nearly 100 people in Guatemala, and forced over 112,000 people in Guatemala to be evacuated from their homes. The airport is still shut down, transportation isn't running in many parts of the country because roads have been eroded, and school is out nation-wide for the entire week.

To make things even better, forecasts say that the rain will start up again this afternoon and Pacaya might very well erupt again later this week.

Come on Mother Nature, haven't we had enough??

Check out this rain:

Tropical Storm Agatha from Carrie Daut on Vimeo.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Story Update 11

The Acto Civico - Every Monday morning, students at NPH Guatemala celebrate their country with the Acto Civico.

A Harry Potter Kermes - For this month's Kermes, the volunteers of NPH Guatemala presented our children with a magical afternoon in the wizarding world.

Almost Ready to "Step Out" - This year's Quinceañeras took a special trip to buy high heels for June's big celebration.

Yexika Andrade Suazo - Hermana Mayor and Assistant to the House Director

Valentina Venditti - (Italy) Caregiver in Girls'/Babies' House

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mexico! Day Cuatro (the extra day)

So we were supposed to leave on Sunday, but our shuttle company forgot about our reservation and never picked us up. The only shuttles to the Mexican-Guatemalan border leave in the morning, so once you've missed them, you're stuck for the day. Result: we were stuck in San Cristóbal for an extra day. Forced to extend the vacation. I know, awful.

4th Day!

Bagel breakfast, visit to the Museum of Mayan Medicine, more eating and reading, and a final night of Sol cerveza and cards!

Can never go wrong with bagels.

Yes, I know how ridiculous those sunglasses look.

Very happy to see some Mexican beer.

Limes too!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mexico! Day Tres

A (dangerous yet awesome) 4-hour bike ride (complete with busy Mexican highways, barbed wire fences, and steep, slippery pine-covered downhill trails) that was the most intense workout I've had in years, huge slices of carrot cake, souvenir shopping, and wine & tapas!

Bike ride!

We actually thought we were athletic before this trip, hah.

Smiling but about to die of exhaustion.

Crazy plant that latches onto pine trees, catches water, houses frogs, and grows pretty pink flowers!

 AWESOME carrot cake and coffee find.

San Cristóbal postcard/bookmark purchases!

Wine & tapas bar! Free tapa with each glass!

Mexico! Day Dos

2nd Day!

We walked our way around the city, browsed a popular bookstore, ate several delicious meals, spent the afternoon reading on our B&B's rooftop terrace while drinking tinto veranos (red wine + fresca + lime = yum), and visited a local movie theater to watch a documentary on the Zapatista movement!

Church on the hill at one end of town.

View from the church.

Woo! Enjoying the view!

But also sunny...

Our favorite promenade!

So pretty. So full of good food and drink.

Cute kiosk café in the Zócalo.

Palace off of the Zócalo.

View from the church at the other end of town!

Two thumbs up to San Cristóbal.

Fact: San Cristóbal has a freakishly large number of VW brand cars.

See what I mean?

Tinto verano on the rooftop terrace!

Mexico! Day Uno

Leeah and I just got back from our mini-vacation to Mexico, and we had so much fun!

Every six months we have to leave the country of Guatemala because of our visas, so -- darn -- we are forced to take a little vacay time. :) Last Thursday, after taking a 4 a.m. taxi, catching a 5 a.m. shuttle (which in Guatemala time means it doesn't actually leave the city until 6:30 a.m.), and spending about 10 hours driving, we arrived in San Cristóbal de las Casa, Mexico!

San Cristóbal is adorable -- it feels much bigger than Antigua and much less touristy -- and it has a very European flair to it. With brightly colored buildings, lots of pedestrian walkways, and cobblestone streets that didn't ruin our shoes the way Antigua's do, we definitely could have stayed a while longer. Not to mention the fact that San Cristóbal has cheap wine and beer in abundance -- something Antigua is lacking. We also liked that about the place. :)

1st Day!
We make it to the border!

After a good 45 minutes, they finally stamp our passports to let us out of the country. Every other person in our shuttle just breezed through Migration, but they stared at our passports for 20 minutes, told us that we might need to pay 1,000 Q since we had renewed our visas in the capital (which makes no sense, since that's perfectly legal), and then said that if we went and made photocopies of a bunch of pages of our passports, we could go through fine-free. So, we ran through the streets of this random border town, found a librería that made photocopies, and ran back to Migration. Finally, stamped. Phew.

San Cristóbal's Zócalo (central park) at night. These fake little trees covered in light bulbs were all over the place!

We found them very amusing.

You can tell it's Day 1 because Leeah and I are actually following the rules at the B&B. They lock these doors at 9 p.m., locking the kitchen and free internet access inside. By the next day, we were squeezing through the "windows" and climbing inside hehe.

Roxy Is Visiting In June!

Most exciting news EVER, people:

Roxy is coming to visit in less than a month! She'll be here for the weekend of Quinceañeras, and then I'm taking a week of vacation so we can travel around Guatemala together!

Exactly one year ago, Roxy and I became random summer roomies gracias a the NYU Office of Residence Life, and I gotta give ResLife credit. They got it right, and we had such a fun summer.

Roxy and I share a love of weekend morning yoga classes, pommes frites at all hours of the night, wine, accidental trips to Staten Island, random trips to see the ballet at Lincoln Center, the sound her phone makes when it receives a text, cowboy boots, Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights and Ghost (pure coincidence that Patrick Swayze appears in both), and Spanish-speaking countries (she just got back from four months in Cuba) -- just to name a few.

In the entire course of our friendship, we've only actually been in the same city for six weeks. That's weird to realize. However, after dozens of emails and phone calls and Gchats and discussions of eventually rooming together again in New York City, we've just sort of realized: this is one of those happened-upon friendships that really sticks. :)

SO excited to see her three weeks from Friday!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When You Give a Kid a Birthday Present...

...Well, at NPH, you really shouldn't.

There is an unofficial, yet pretty strong policy at NPH that volunteers should not give presents or cake or special outings to a child on their birthday. I know, you're thinking, "How mean! These kids are orphans." So let me explain.

To begin, volunteers have a hard time earning the kids' respect. We think that our year here is such a long time and that the kids are going to remember us forever because we are making such a big difference in their lives. Well, we're wrong.

Over the span of their lives at NPH, these kids see volunteers come and go left and right. After a couple of years, we all blend together. They may be disadvantaged children, but they aren't stupid. They will ask, beg, and plead for things from you, and they'll manipulate you if you left them. And it's hard to not let them. When your options are to a) buy them the 1 Q lollipop and hear them tell you you're their favorite or b) say no and hear them pout and talk smack about you when they think you don't understand their Spanish, of course a) is the easiest way out. Who wants to feel like the kids aren't completely in love with you?

But a) is bad. The kids here think (and who can really blame them?) volunteer = rich = will buy me/make me/give me whatever I ask for = and so will the volunteer after her, and the one after her, and the one after her. Choosing a) does absolutely nothing but reinforce that.

An incredibly important part of being a volunteer here is teaching the kids that I am here to share my time with you and my talent with this organization. If I was only interested in sharing my money with you, I could just as easily write a check from the comfort of my 2-storey, air-conditioned home in the States. That's not why I'm here.

So when one of my girls has a birthday, she gets a birthday note (that stationery set I brought from home really came in handy!) and a big hug haha -- that's it. It doesn't sound like much, but I can remember being 13 and loving personal notes that told me I was nice or smart or mentioned some inside joke with a friend (heck, I still love notes like that).

Celeste is obsessed with asking me about Nueva York (New York City), hence the hand drawn skyline on her birthday card hehe.

So folks, the verdict is that cakes may be delicious, but blue-and-white striped birthday notes last forever -- especially when the girls adorably tape them up to the inside of their lockers. :)

No Toman Mas El Agua

"No toman mas el agua del chorro. La planta de purificación de agua no esta funcionando bien."

Do not drink the water from the tap anymore. The water purification system is not working correctly.

You mean the tap water I have been drinking every single day for the past five months?


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When the Girls Steal Your Camera

Video. While shopping for Quinceañera high heels. Running through the streets of Guatemala City. Ambushing each other while they buy shoes. This is 6 minutes of  pure 15 year-old goofiness, so enjoy. :)

High Heel Shopping with the Quinceañeras from Carrie Daut on Vimeo.

High Heel Shopping with the Quinceañeras

Yesterday afternoon, Sharon and I joined the Quinceañera trip to the capital (we drove all the way to the capital!) so the girls could buy their high heels for the big day in June. Fifteen 15 year-olds. One small shoe store. Hundreds of shoes. None in the right sizes, of course. Had to find the perfect pair. Couldn't buy something similar to someone else. "I want them, but they are killing my feet." Hours later and "Come on, you've literally tried on every pair in the store."

Yes Mom, I had an epiphany revealing what I put you through during all those years of prom and Homecoming dance shopping. Sharon and I left the store exhausted and muttering, "Vaya. Solo quiero hijos." That's it. I only want sons.

Ok, but seriously, we had a great time. We crammed everyone into an NPH van (I was practically sitting on laps and squishing to death two of my girls), drove an hour to the capital in the pouring rain, and spent the afternoon at an outlet shoe store in Zona 3.

For the girls, it was a huge event. They got to leave school early, take a trip to the capital, and pick out any shoes they wanted (the outlet store donated every single pair of shoes to the girls -- pretty cool). It was pretty funny to see which girls knew within two seconds that they wanted the black stilettos with the jewels (Conchita will grow up to be a very efficient, yet stylish, shopper) and which needed to spend two full hours trying on literally every single pair before they found "the ones" (Irma, I had no idea you were so picky).

Everyone ended up with a pair they loved, and it was pretty adorable to watch the same girls I'm used to seeing run around in their school uniforms or lounge around in their PJ's put on a pair of heels and grow up about five years right before our eyes. :)

And there's a video coming soon!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Laziest Weekend Vacation Ever

After losing my voice this weekend (cause = unknown) and being super ultra congested and cracked out on cold medicine today, I am probably in no condition to be writing. So, here is your bulleted summary of our weekend in Panajachel!
  • Girls' Weekend! Me, Sam, Jenny, Sarah, and Cheryl.
  • Sam and I stayed in Cheryl's MANSION! Two rooms, kitchen, tile floors, 3 beds, and cable TV. Definitely a mansion by my Guatemalan standards.
  • Ate at Guajimbo's three different times, as usual for Pana weekends.
  • Delicious pizza and margaritas at Pana Rock.
  • Saturday, Sam and I lounged in bed watching aforementioned cable TV literally all day long while Cheryl picked her sister up at the airport. We only left the house to eat breakfast and not again until dinner. What better way to spend a rainy afternoon than watching A Cinderella Story dubbed in Spanish and several trashy episodes of MTV Tres's Quiero mi Quince?
  • Several visits to the Palapa bar where the president of El Salvador's son was hanging out -- girlfriend and undercover security team in tow.
  • Spent Sunday morning at a beautiful hidden beach Cheryl showed us. Sunburn: check.
  • Did not take a single photo from the weekend. That proves just how relaxing/lazy it was.
Ok, brain exhausted from writing. This cold/lost voice thing better go away before I head to Mexico on Thursday!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Story Update 10

Guatemala's Student Leaders Organize Community Service Project - Testigos del Bien spent a weekend bringing donations to needy communities.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Watch Quinceañera Practice!

Last night was the final night practicing the quinceañera dance just us girls! We finished the dance, and this weekend they start practicing with the boys (their dates/dance partners). Sharon and I have been practicing with the boys on the weekends (best call ever to separate the groups at first), and they are pretty up to speed too. Things are looking good!

Monday afternoon the girls also get to go and buy their high heels at the mall, and they begged Sharon and me to go with them. It's going to be hilarious.

In general, the girls are more excited than you can probably comprehend. Every time we finish running through the dance, they screech and squeal and jump around and applaud themselves haha. Sharon and I also brought our own heels down to practice last night, and the girls had a blast trying out the dance in our shoes.

We have a little more than a month left to practice, but we feel like we're in great shape! Volunteering to teach this dance has been crazy and frustrating and stressful at times, but I'm so glad I did it. We're having a blast, and if you want to know the truth, some of that screeching and squealing and jumping around post-dance routine is also being contributed by yours truly. :)

And now for videos!

I'm video recording in the first one, but in the second one you can see me out there dancing with the girls.

A few notes about the vids: Sorry, there's no sound. I used the weirdo office camera. It also looks kind of goofy because the girls aren't dancing with the boys, so they're doing all the moves with imaginary caballeros (dates) -- unless Sharon and I are partnering them at the moment. And no, it's not at all perfect right now, but just wait until June!

Quinceañera Practice - Girls Only - Video 1 from Carrie Daut on Vimeo.

Quinceañera Practice - Girls Only - Video 2 from Carrie Daut on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Talleres

I've mentioned them before, and today you get a photo tour of the workshops, or talleres, at NPH Guatemala.

At the NPH house, we have five workshops for our básico students. Each student in básico (or middle) school selects a workshop in which to study for their 3 years of básico. They spend half of their day in regular school classes and half of their day in the workshops. The philosophy behind the workshops is that when kids finish school and leave NPH, we obviously want them to continue their education. However, NPH is also realistic. University in Guatemala is expensive, hard, and very uncommon for the average citizen. So, the NPH house wants each child to be proficient in a trade that is practical and in-demand in this country -- just to keep their post-NPH options open.

At the same time, the workshops keep NPH running smoothly and incredibly self-sufficient. The panadería students make all bread, snacks, and cakes for special house occasions. The carpentería makes all wooden bunkbeds, tables, and other furniture. Herrería makes metal bunkbeds and the tables and benches used in the comedor. Cosería students sew all school uniforms and pajamas for the younger kids. And the belleza workshop keeps everyone's haircuts in-house and completely free.

The whole set-up is really cool, and the kids' skills are seriously impressive. I  have no idea how to make pizza from scratch, but Yesika in panadería can rattle off the exact ingredients to me in a split second. You wouldn't want me anywhere near your hair with a pair of scissors, but apparently one of the girls in belleza is absolutely the best stylist NPH has ever seen. :)

So welcome to the talleres!