Tuesday, September 28, 2010

There's a Reality to This Place Too

Sometimes it's easy to get lost in a bubble here at NPH, one that's full of birthdays and silliness and grand celebrations. It's easy to think that all of this is these kids' whole world, that they're just normal, innocent kids.

Except they aren't normal kids. There's a reality to this place too. Sunday was Visitors' Day at the house, and Visitors' Days always remind me of what these kids' lives are really like.

Four times a year, families of the NPH children can come visit their kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews for the day. Some kids have great relationships with their families, and they love these types of reunions. Some kids don't, and they'd rather not have to see the man or woman who abandoned them, abused them, or just didn't love them enough. Some kids get their hopes up and their best clothes on, only to receive no visitors, and some kids know that no one's ever going to come.

Even on a normal day at NPH, life isn't hunky-dory all year 'round. Every month, kids leave the house. They're kicked out for bad behavior, or they run away, or their families "win" them back, so to speak. We aren't always in the mood to talk about it, and I'm not always blogging about it, but it doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It's reality here too.

During Sunday's Visitors' Day, all within about an hour's span, we watched a boy laugh and play soccer with the dad who abused him so badly the courts ordered him sent here. I met a young woman who was kicked out of the NPH home a few years ago for getting caught with her boyfriend, and she was back visiting her four siblings still here. And then we chatted with a kid who was everyone's favorite but ran away from NPHG a few months back because he wasn't happy here. He was back yesterday just to visit the place he used to call home.

So of course it's more fun to focus on the crazy birthday traditions and the laughing and the big, fancy events, but there's also a reality that no one can ignore. A home like this, full of kids who have gone through so many different ups and downs, is bound to have ups and downs of its own too. But maybe then there really is something to the kid who ran away yet came back for Visitors' Day. For all its good and its bad, home is a place you keep coming back to anyway.

Belated Independence Day Photos

Every September 15th, Guatemala celebrates its independence from Spain won in 1821. Festivities last almost the entire week leading up to the day, and events include parades, LOTS of school bands, lots of blue and white flying flags, antorchas (torch runs), and more.

Unfortunately, antorchas nationwide were canceled this year (including ours) after the government declared the country still in a state of disaster from this season's rain and mudslides, but don't worry, the party kept right on going with bands, bands, and more bands.

So, check out the photos of the NPH school's very own banda.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Story Update 22

The Melichar Family - (Germany) Clinic Doctors

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blow Out the Candles and Make a Wish

As you already know, my 24th birthday began early. But that was just the start. My loveable section of girls went all-out. :)

After eating dinner in the comedor with them last night, I had to reassure all the girls a million times that, "Si, voy a bajar." Yes, I'm coming down to the section.  They made me promise to bring my iPod and speakers, and I threw my camera in my bag too -- knowing it would probably come in handy. Irma, Esme, and Melanie dragged me to the clinic with them to take care of a few things "Um, because the tia is, um, busy right now. So she said, um, that you should take us," which meant those three had signed up for distract-Carrie duty, and we eventually made our way down to the Girls' House.

At that point, I was blindfolded, my bag was taken, and they made me wait outside for what seemed like forever. Yaaaaaa???

When I was given the go-ahead, they led me into the section, flipped on the lights, and all screamed SORPRESA! SURPRISE! They cued up Justin Bieber on the iPod speakers (hah) ...and then commenced the cutest party I have ever had the honor of attending.

They'd gotten me a piñata, which was strung up across the room, and we spent the better part of 30 minutes swinging at it. They gave me cards, posters, stuffed animals, a pair of their favorite earrings, and about a thousand and one hugs. When we all sat down at the table, they covered my eyes again, and they brought out TWO cakes they had all helped decorate! Chocolate with vanilla icing and sprinkles and cocoa puffs spelling out "Happy Birthday 24."

They wasted no time in giving me another Guatemalan birthday tradition -- the mordida -- and when I'd wiped my face clean of icing, we enjoyed a feast of cake, chips, juice, and our favorite music. "Carrie just said she likes Taylor Swift. PUT a Taylor Swift song on for her now!!!"

When the food was gone, we cleaned up, and it was time for the girls to go to bed. They walked me to the door and got me with the final birthday tradition, just as I'd almost forgotten about it. Me mojaron. The second I was out the door, they were ready with jugs, pitchers, bowls, and basins of freezing cold water mixed with sand. And I didn't stand a chance. They absolutely drenched me in freezing, sandy water. A couple of  buenas noches later, and they headed to bed while I headed home to another cake with friends...and another mordida. :)

Hmm. I'm not finding myself very content with this blog post, because I don't think it really did yesterday's festivities any justice. And while the photos are GREAT (Fidelia is hands-down the best 13 year-old photographer I know), I don't think they really nail it either. I guess I'll just leave it at this:

I get that you're supposed to wish on birthday wishes for things you wish you had, things you hope for in the next year, things you can only dream about. But when I was sitting at that table, cake in front of me, surrounded by 20 little girls all telling me to blow out the candles and make my deseo, I went totally blank. No matter where I looked -- at them, at the cake, at the torn-to-pieces piñata on the floor -- I couldn't think about anything except where I was and who I was with right then.

 Dania and me
 With Marta, Sindy, and Estela
 Everyone. At this point I was blindfolded, so they kept having to tell me which direction to smile.
 Watch out, Tia Eve!
 Sometimes I managed to attack the piñata, sometimes it managed to attack me.
 Me and Marta
 Looking very nervous knowing the mordida is coming.
 Post-mordida. Yum!
 Loving my birthday glasses and headband.
 So much delicious cake.
 Fidelia, Esme, and Marta definitely enjoy the feast.
 ¡Me mojaron! So freezing.
 So, here's to 24. :)

Feliz Cumpleaños from Leeah

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Here, Birthdays Begin at 2:45 a.m.

2:45 a.m. That's when I thought the house had caught on fire.

After hearing an exlosion outside my window at 2:45 this morning, I jumped out of bed. I pulled open the curtains, saw a wall of smoke, and officially freaked out.

And then I heard lots of little girl voices. And then I remembered.

Birthday traditions at NPH Guatemala.

At a quarter to 3 in the morning, my entire section of little pre-teen girls had gotten out of bed, wrapped themselves in blankets, and walked down to my house in the dark. They set off fireworks underneath my window (which is approximately 6 inches from the head of my bed -- no wonder I shot out of bed at the first sound of exploding), and then they sang me Las Mañanitas, a traditional early morning serenade used to wake loved ones.

As they sang, I watched them through the window, worked on catching my breath and regaining a normal heart rhythm, and couldn't stop smiling and cracking up the entire time. When the song ended, I met them on our front porch and received hugs and "Feliz cumpleaños" from 20 sleepy kiddos and all their tías. And then it was back to bed for everyone.

Love them. Birthday número 24 is definitely off to a good start. :)

The scene of the crime.
Not sure who came up with this tradition, but I kind of love it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nine Months

This weekend, my nine month mark crept up on me. It has been nine months since I left the States and made Guatemala home. Someone recently told me, "Whoa! Nine months! You could have had a baby in that amount of time!" True, thank you. That is frightening.

So back to less frightening topics, yes, nine months is a longggg time. I feel like it's flown by, but saying the number out loud reminds me of just how much time that really is. Long enough to no longer be comfortable with U.S. currency, long enough to blank out on English words mid-sentence, and long enough for this to feel normal -- and for any piece of my American life to feel strange.

When I met up with Elise last Wednesday, she said, "It's so weird that you are here," to which I responded, "No, it's so weird that you're here. This is my life now." And it was true.

This is my room now, and these are my friends, and this is the town I live in. This is the music we listen to, this is where we shop, and this is the half-English/half-Spanish dialect we use on a daily basis.

My life in Guatemala may be weird, but after nine months, that weird is just...normal.

Day 2 Working From Antigua

I've gotten used to a lot of things this year. Pretty bad food, no hot water for dishes or clothes, overcrowded school buses as the main form of transportation, constant overcharging of the gringos in the market,  and a new language. I've learned that you can take away my favorite foods, my hot water, my clean transportation systems, my fixed pricing, and my English, and -- surprisingly -- I will still find myself really content. Good job, Carrie.

However, I have learned that there's one thing, when you take it away, that creates one Cranky Carrie. That one thing: my reliable internet access.

Blame it on belonging to my generation, but I've 100% grown up with the internet. I had an email address back when my only reason for using it was to contact Beanie Baby traders from across the country (not making this up), I had an account on The Facebook before it was making Mark Zuckerberg millions, and I never spent a day in college without 24/7 wireless access from any location on campus.

These days, I'm OCD about responding to emails in a timely fashion, and I am an obsessive blogger. Oh, and let's not forget, my entire job here at NPH Guatemala consists of submitting articles, reports, photo requests, and more....ONLINE.

So, when NPHG recently made our already unreliable office internet even more unreliable, I officially lost grip on any fragments of patience I'd managed to hold onto this year. They said "We're installing a new internet line, but in order to do so, we'll be spending a month disconnecting your internet for long periods of time without any warning," and I said "SEE YA."

So here I am, back in Bagel Barn in Antigua, with their amazing wi-fi, working from here for the second day in a row. And loving it.

You can call me crazy for handling parasites from the dirty water with a better attitude than I handle the internet outages, and you can say that my internet history makes me one spoiled chica. And that's ok. Go for it. Nobody's perfect. But I guess if I was any different, you wouldn't be reading anything here, now would ya? :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Re-Learning My Numbers

Believe it or not, it took me nine months in Guatemala and a trip to Honduras to learn that quetzales, the Guatemalan currency, not only list their numerical values in the recognizable 1, 5, 10, etc. form, but they're also written using the Mayan numeric system.

Yep, until now I knew so little about the Mayan number system that I never even noticed I was staring right at it every time I made a purchase. It wasn't until this weekend's trip to Copán when our tour guide said "Since you've been living in Guatemala all this time, you must already know that the Mayan numbers are written on all their currency," that I awkwardly said "Um, actually no" and whipped out some cash to see what I'd been missing all this time.

The Mayans' number system consists of dots, lines, and shells. They could write all the way up to 19 using just these figures. After 19, placement determined a number's value (just like we use today -- we know that 92 really means nine 10s and two 1's because that's where those numbers are placed). However, while our placements have values of 10s (the 10s place, 10x10=100s place, 10x10x10=1000s place), the Mayan numeric system uses values of 20 (the 20s place, the 20x20=400s place, the 20x20x20=8000s place).

A dot means 1.

A line means 5.

A shell means zero. The Maya were one of the only ancient civilizations to understand the concept of zero.

So, onto the money!

Lo and behold, the quetzales bills DO have the Mayan numbers written on them! I'd just never thought for a second that those shapes were anything more than decor. Check it out though!

That green dot just to the right of the figure's head. A dot means 1. One quetzal bill!

 Again to the right of the figure's head: a dot over a shell. Placeholding goes vertically in the Mayan numeric system. So, shell means zero in the ones place. Dot means one in the 20s place. Zero ones and one twenty. Twenty. Twenty quetzales bill!

 Same thing here. Top right corner. Line over a shell. Shell means zero in the ones place. Line means five in the 20s place. Zero ones and five twenties. One hundred. Ta da!

You're impressed, aren't you?

P.S. Thanks goes out to Sam who was incredibly embarrassed that I was taking these photos in the middle of Bagel Barn, but she kept sharing a table with me anyway. That's friendship. :)

Copán with Elise!

Archaeologist Sylvanus Morley called the ruins at Copán the "Athens of the New World." So, beyond a doubt, this was the perfect place for me and Elise to pick up our world travels together. :)

Elise, best best best best friend and travel buddy from our semester abroad in Athens, Greece a few years back, is here in Central America on an adventure-vacation with friends Kate and Alice! We met up for dinner and catching up in Antigua last Wednesday when they arrived, and then I worked Thursday and Friday while they journeyed up to lovely Lake Atitlan.On Saturday, we met up again in Antigua and headed to Copán!

The ruins of Copán are located outside the town of Copán Ruinas (I guess that makes sense, yet slightly confusing), which is right across the Guatemalan border into Honduras. It's the only Mayan part of the country of Honduras, which actually gives it much more in common with neighbor Guatemala, a country distinguished by its Mayan culture. Copán is so close to the border, that if you're only visiting the ruins and not going any farther into Honduras, they don't even bother to stamp your passport. Nope, instead I now have a "You just visited the ruins of Copán in Honduras" stamp en mi pasaporte. Cool.

Though my trip to Copán was a quick one (arrived around 8 p.m. Saturday night, left at noon on Sunday -- Elise, good thing I love you!), Elise, Kate, Alice, and I loved the ruins. After visiting Tikal last month with my dad, I'd wondered if I was going to be a "seen one, ya seen 'em all" kind of girl when it comes to ancient ruins. Uh uh, folks. Copán was amazing!

Where Tikal's structures are gigantic and invoke power, Copán is smaller, detailed, and intellectual. If Copán was a gal pal, she'd be one smart cookie -- flying under the radar. Copán's ruins have more stelae and altars than any Mayan site in Central America, and the huge staircase in the main plaza is inscribed with the longest piece of hieroglyphic writing in the New World. Very very cool.

From the Old World Athens to the New World Athens...
Copán sort of looks like Kentucky.
We're here!
Alice makes friends with the macaws as we enter.
Diagram of the Mayan world
Dancing jaguar
Some of the original color on the stone.
Hieroglyphic staircase.
 The pieces of the staircase form the longest inscribed text in all of the Americas.
So glad you visited!