Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hasta Diciembre

Tomorrow, I leave for vacation again. The last one this year.

Sam, Jess, Nicole, and I are headed to the Bay Islands in Honduras for a week, and then Sam and I will be spending a second week doing Thanksgiving with Cheryl in Pana, enjoying the lake, and just general relaxing. We're trying not to pencil in our exact schedule too much. It's nice.

Entonces, I won't be back until December 3. Cuidate until then, and talk to you soon. :)


Exhausted. That's what I am today. Completely, wholly, emotionally exhausted.

Leeah left yesterday, and Katie left this morning. They spent 17 months at NPH Guatemala, and now they're back to the States to figure out exactly what comes next.

And here, left behind in our house without them, I feel absolutely exhausted. My whole body hurts from crying (is that too embarrassing to publish on a blog?), and I just feel drained. 

It's kind of crazy that a person can feel alone while surrounded by almost 300 energy-filled kids, but apparently that's what happens when two seemingly small, but very key parts of your experience are taken away from you. I've come home to Merleeah and Kaitlyn after every good, bad, crazy, calm, frustrating, or exciting day for the past 11 months. So what happens now? After all, what's an experience without incredible people to share it with?

Yes, I know I'm being dramatic. But just let me, ok? Miss you girls. This will not be the same without ya.

Story Update 26

Cursos de Verano - Pequeños learn new skills from special workshops and externships during this year's summer vacation.

Habit #984 You Develop While Living at NPH

Cleaning your entire plate. Like, compulsively.

As a rule, the kids of NPH Guatemala are not allowed to leave a meal without having eaten every single piece of food on their plates. It's the same philosophy that moms and dads around the world use on their own children -- "There are starving people out there who have nothing to eat. You will not waste this food."

So after months and months of eating with the kids, it starts to rub off on you. No matter where we volunteers eat these days -- in restaurants, in our own houses, on vacation -- we have such a hard time not finishing our plates.

Result: Good that we are not wasting food. Bad that we usually end up going into a food coma after eating too much. We might need to learn to start with smaller portions. :)

Aniversario, Part 2

Now, if you thought Friday was fun, you ain't seen nothin' yet. :)

Saturday, all teams met up again bright and early at 8 a.m. With flags, mascots, more matching outfits, and plenty of energy in tow, we played this year's Aniversario games!

I had heard that the day of games would be long and that I might get dirty at some point, but I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with only a quick break for lunch, we played one intense game after another.

I was drenched after passing a massive sponge over my head. I was covered in mud after crawling on the ground through it about seven different times that day. I was covered in freezing, muddy water after diving through tire swings hanging in a giant mud pit. I was covered in sand after racing to fill up a bucket with as much sand as possible from the volleyball court -- only using our shoes to carry the sand. I was soapy from the running balloons up a slip n' slide tarp, and my arms were killing me after one too many go's at the tug-of-war game carefully placed over a huge trench of muddy water.

Did I mention I got a little bit dirty?

Did I mention it was possibly the most fun I have had in a long time? :)

All day long, teams ran around screaming their cheers and waving their flags, meanwhile covered in mud and water and probably about to get muddier and wetter. It was an absolute blast.

Sunday, I was completely dead, but the exhaustion and aching limbs were totally worth it. Aniversario, I absolutely loved you. :)

 Sponge pass! My team's first game of the day. Way to start the day off soaking wet.
 Tree trunk run! Run this tree trunk around the yard as fast as you can. What?!
 Obstacle course
 Water balloon volleyball.
 A stilts-walking contest. That's a new one for me.
 Tree climbing contest, haha. 
More mud crawling in the obstacle course.
 More tug-of-war!
 Mud pit obstacle course.
 Helping out the team.
 Bryan, our little naranjito.
 More sponge pass!
 Careful not to slip on that soap covered tarp.
Feliz Aniversario!

Aniversario, Part 1

So, in honor of NPH Guatemala's 14th birthday, normal life stood still this weekend to make room for Aniversario!

Aniversario prep started almost six weeks ago, and most people haven't been able to think about anything else ever since. The entire house -- and I mean entire: babies, kids, high school kids, caretakers, volunteers, everyone -- was divided up into 12 teams this year, with each team representing a World Cup tournament year. My team had the 1982 Spain games, and yes, we made many a paper-mâché orange head in order to best show off our mascot, Naranjito!

Friday night, from about 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., all 12 teams gathered around the cancha (basketball court) to present their team's flag, dance routine, cheer, mascot, and matching outfits. If you're wondering what it was like to organize flags, cheers, dances, and outfits with hundreds of crazy kids running around, then yes, the answer is: insane. And so much work.

But like pretty much everything here, when you look back on Aniversario, you don't really remember all the hellish rehearsals and arguing and general "what the heck is going on?" feelings you had. Instead, you remember how awesome Friday night was. Hundreds of kids, waving flags, cheering, performing, and just loving the entire pep-rally-esque experience. Teams' creativity was amazing (pretty skirts made out of potato sacks?!) and their spirit was even better. I was cracking up watching kids I used to think were fairly reserved totally break it down on the dance floor during their team's presentation.

Enjoy the photos! Oh, and we Naranjitos won second place for our presentation Friday night! :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Story Update 25

Chicas Poderosas - Empowering our girls to become strong, confident women.

Congratulations to Our Newest Graduates! - Congrats to the class of 2010 from our Montessori kindergarten, primary, middle, and high schools.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Birthday NPHG!

Today is NPH Guatemala's Aniversario, or anniversary, or birthday. On November 11, 1996, NPH Guatemala opened as the fifth home of the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos organization.

Fourteen years later, after adding lots of new buildings, lots of new programs, and a whole lot more kids to the family, we're still going strong.

Feliz Aniversario, NPHG!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Intra-Office Flirting

My office desk sits in a funny location.

To my 1 o'clock sits a teenage boy from within NPH who is studying in high school but working in our office during the months of summer vacation.

To my 11 o'clock sits a pretty girl from outside NPH who has recently started interning in our office while another employee is on maternity leave.

All day long, every day, the two of them sneak looks at each other, as well as reasons to start up conversations. It started out slow, but the flirting increases daily. This morning, they even progressed so far as to greet either other with a Buenos días and a kiss on the cheek. Talk about intense!

Ay, ay, ay. I'm basically privy to my own personal telenovela every day. Oh, NPH Guatemala.

Celeste Is Visiting!

Attention people: Celeste is visiting!

Early yesterday morning, Celeste, ex-volunteer/housemate/frienemy, arrived in Guatemala for a surprise two-week visit to the NPH house! Ok, so some of us actually knew about the visit in advance. But for the kids, it was a huge surprise!

Celeste left NPHG in July after two years of volunteering here, and now she's back just in time for one of the biggest events of the year -- this weekend's Aniversario celebration.

We're super excited she's here -- mostly because she's staying in the visitors' house, which means Katie, Leeah, and I could help ourselves to the visitors' house's stock of good cereal, cold milk, real coffee, and a coffeemaker yesterday morning for breakfast.

Just kidding Celeste. We love that you're back. Oh, and <3.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Nicaragua Workshop!

 The group. Que guapos.

So, as you know, I spent last week in Nicaragua at the NPH Nicaragua home! NPH International hosted a week-long workshop for all Home Correspondents and Project Coordinators so that we could meet up face-to-face and discuss our jobs, our difficulties, and our ideas on how to keep improving things.

It was an awesome week. We spent most of our time at NPH Nicaragua's San Jorge location, where their office and visitors' house is located. While I looooooved the warm, tropical weather and the incredible food Chef Eva fed us every day, we all agreed the best part of the experience was actually meeting everyone from the other homes.

All nine NPH homes (Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, and Bolivia) are very different from one another. It was incredibly interesting to spend a week comparing, learning, and swapping thoughts about our houses, our jobs, and our volunteer programs. We all came back with tons of fresh new ideas.

As different as they are, however, all nine NPH homes still encounter the same problems, frustrations, and conflicts. It was also incredibly therapeutic to spend a week realizing there are eight other people just like me, in my same job, about to lose their sanity just as often as I am. We all came back with the wonderful feeling of I am not in this crazy experience alone.

So, here's to a great workshop week at NPH Nicaragua. Here's to new friends spread over 9 different countries, inspiring discussions about the work we do, and exciting developments in the Home Correspondent...I mean Communications Officer job position. And here's to being reminded that being part of NPH means being part of something that extends far beyond tiny Parramos, Guatemala.

 Guatemala and Honduras! Roomies for the week! 
The lovely visitors' house where we stayed.
NPH Nicaragua's new property -- they're building a completely new house.
The new house is built village-style with kids living in lots of small homes.
Mid-walk to the bar, it started absolutely pouring. We had to take shelter in some random woman's living room. Awkward. Here: Jane, Kristina, and Danielle wait out the rain.
Loved these friendly signs.
Mid-walk to visit the Babies' House, we encountered a river in the road. Hmm.
 Babies' House! Baby-sized pews. :)
 The Babies' House at NPH Nicaragua -- right on the shores of the lake.
 The babies gave us an adorable song and dance presentation.
 Dance party with the babies!

Wise Words

Vicky Medley, the International Volunteer Coordinator for NPH volunteers from the U.S., passed along a quote to us today.

For those days when we start to let ourselves feel guilty about vacation time, relaxation time, or just plain "me" time, these are wise words:

The world will not be changed, poor people will not receive their basic rights, militarism will not be stopped, trust will not be built between nations, justice will not arrive if tired, bleary eyed, depressed, burnt-out people are those trying to bring about change. -- Jody Shearer

Hiking Volcán Pacaya

A few weekends ago, Katie, Leeah, and I decided to cross off an important Guatemala must-see from our list of things to fit in this year. That's right, we hiked Volcán Pacaya!

Pacaya is probably Guatemala's most famous active volcano. It's situated near Guatemala City and Antigua, making it a super easy tourist stop. In recent news, Pacaya also became famous for its May 27, 2010 eruption that covered the region in ash and shut down the airport for several days.

We <3 danger. 

Now calm down, Mom. Yes, this volcano violently erupted just a few months ago. Yes, I knowingly decided to climb all the way up to its molten lava-filled top. But, the way we see it, what better time is there to hike an active volcano?? Honestly, what are the odds that it will erupt twice in such a short time. Ok, I doubt that makes you feel any better. :P

Anyway, our hike went off problem-free. We left Antigua on a 2 p.m. shuttle, drove the hour and a half to the base of Pacaya, paid our Q 5 to buy a handy walking stick from a really cute kid, and then joined our guide for the hour and a half hike to the top.

  The view from the hike up.
 Katie proudly sports her Q 5 walking stick.
  The view over at Volcán Agua.

Now before the May eruption, tourists used to be able to walk right up to rivers of lava, and you could even roast marshmallows in the fiery liquid. Since the May eruption, however, there's no more lava to be seen. It's mostly rock and ash and hot spots where the heat is so strong it makes the air around you move in funny waves. It's definitely not the Pacaya it used to be, but it's cool in a different way.

 Almost at the top.

The views are beautiful -- we watched the sun set and the clouds roll in over opposite Volcán Agua -- and the experience is just sort of surreal. "I'm standing in what looks like a strange desert wasteland, on top of an active volcano." Oh, and did I mention that we hiked an hour back down the volcano in complete darkness? Between the walking stick and my flashlight, I managed to only wipe out once, but let me tell you, that hike down was an adventure in itself.

 That cave was HOT.
 Throw some brush in a cave radiating volcanic heat, and you get fire.

Finally,we made it back to Antigua by 8 p.m.-ish, grabbed a pupusa dinner, and then, exhausted, hopped a taxi home. Life was good.

Hike Volcán Pacaya: CHECK!