Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cue Semana Santa

Welcome to Semana Santa! It's Holy Week in Central America, which means it's practically the biggest week of the year here.

There's no school, and the past few days have been full of house events. Starting tomorrow, all volunteers stop their normal jobs in order to work as tíos and tías in the kids' houses. In other words, starting tomorrow, I will be taking care of my section of girls for 24 hours a day, for four days straight.

Wish me luck, hah.

Sunday we'll be recovering, and then Monday is back to regular work. So folks, Happy Easter, and I'll fill you in on all the Semana Santa fun when I'm back blogging next week. :)

This Weekend Flew By: Part 2

So you've heard Saturday, and here is Sunday.

Sunday was Visitors' Day. Four times a year at NPH Guatemala, family and friends of the kids here can come visit them. Older volunteers warned us it would be a weird day, but you still really couldn't prepare for how it would feel.

Some kids are here at NPH because their parents can't afford to feed, clothe, and educate them and their siblings. They may have a mom, a dad, maybe both, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and brothers and sisters. Their families are still very much in the picture. Other kids were abandoned, found on the street, and literally have no one in their life outside of NPH. Visitors' Days are incredibly exciting for the first group of kids, and incredibly depressing for the latter. For volunteers, it's both. An absolute roller coaster day.

You love seeing families show up with homemade food and giant cakes, but your heart absolutely breaks when you see kids get super dressed up, wait around all day hoping their name will be called to say a visitor has arrived, and then no one ever comes. Some kids don't even waste their time looking nice; they know no one's coming to see them. That sucks to watch too.

Sunday was also hard for me because of my assigned job. I was in charge of taking photos of Visitors' Day and in charge of taking family photos -- and then charging people to print them out a copy of it. My initial thought was, "I don't think I can do this." But after talking with some other volunteers, I pulled myself together and started asking people if they wanted family photos. The response was an overwhelming yes. A lot of times so far this year, I'm finding that what I think is totally rude and imposing and completely inappropriate...is actually okay.

So, the afternoon went well, I guess. I took lots of family photos, and lots of families and kids were really excited to get the photos (it was also pretty cool for them that I could take the photo and go print it in my office within 5 minutes).  It doesn't mean it wasn't hard or awkward though.

In general, as a volunteer, you just feel so weird around the families. Here they are, on one of four days they are allowed to visit their own children who they had to give up to NPH -- for whatever reason. And here we are, these well-off, 20-somethings from some other country, hanging out here for a year, playing with and taking care of their kids, and acting like we know anything about life.

So anyway, I survived my first Día de Visitas. I won't say I'm necessarily pumped about the next one that falls in June, but for the 200-ish kids who received visitors, I know they are. At the very least, it's an interesting experience...and a very real part of life at NPH.

Monday, March 29, 2010

This Weekend Flew By: Part 1

I think this weekend went by faster than any two days in Guatemala have. It was a busy, exhausting weekend full of very cool, very different, very eye-opening experiences, and it was definitely a quality NPH weekend. :)


At NPH, there is a group of 11 older kids who make up our Liderazgo, or Leadership, Group. They're the leaders of the house, which means they organize activities, talk about what changes they want to see in their home, and take advantage of a lot of really cool opportunities -- just for them.

Recently, a donation arrived from Germany, and the donor specified that they wanted NPH Guatemala's children to use the money to do something for a community outside of NPH. It's a cool concept. Of course, the NPH house could use that money, everyone knows that. But these 11 kids could also really benefit from the unique opportunity to learn about another Guatemalan community outside of their NPH bubble, to organize a large-scale service project, and maybe most importantly, to realize just how much NPH is changing their lives.

On Saturday, I joined the Liderazgo Group on the 3-hour trip to the department of El Progreso. El Progreso is located in what's called Guatemala's "Corredor Seco." It's a strip of land in Guatemala that receives the least rainfall every year, and this past year has brought a dangerous drought. It's an area of the country with the most severe hunger and nutrition problems.

Saturday's trip was just to meet with some local church leaders and figure out what projects they needed most. The Liderazgo Group received a ton of information on the community and its needs. Over the next few weeks, they'll make a plan for the donation money, and on April 17, we're all headed back for visit #2.

It might not have been the most eventful trip, but I loved everything about it. I hadn't had much contact with the kids in Liderazgo before this weekend, and they were just awesome. They're in middle and high school, and it was amazing to watch them ask questions about El Progreso, its people, and its problems as if they were full-grown adults. They were also so fun to share a crowded 3-hour bus ride with: giggling and taking embarrassing photos of each unfortunate napping soul. Hanging out with them all day just kept making me think, it's no wonder these kids have been chosen to be NPH's leaders. They're awesome.

It was also a day of being in awe of the NPH organization. During the meeting in El Progreso, one of our boys asked a question about how many times a day the children in the community eat. The priest answered with something along the lines of "Who really knows, but it's definitely not 3 times a day. Maybe once if they are lucky." Then another boy asked if they needed toiletries like shampoo and soap, and the priest replied "Not really. The people here only bathe when they have time. It's not really a priority."

I'm not exactly sure what the kids were thinking as they listened to that, but for me, I had this shocking realization. Just a few years ago, every kid at NPH might very well have been a child of the El Progreso communities -- not having enough food, water, anything. Fast forward a few years, and 11 of these kids (clean, well-fed, leaders of their school and home) are sitting around me  in a circle proposing a several thousand dollar service project. It blew my mind. The way NPH has changed their lives is just staggering.

When you first get here, you can't believe how pretty NPH's buildings are, and the quality of the food, and the programs and clubs in the school, and the trips the kids take. But, after three months of living here and making it your home, you start to forget how crazy that all is in one of the poorest countries in Central America. On Saturday, it was good to be reminded.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monterrico and Adorable Baby Sea Turtles

This past weekend, all the volunteers took a salida (trip) to the beach! We took our half days on Friday and headed off to Monterrico! (Which around town was also sometimes spelled Monterico, or Monte Rico, or even Monte Ricco. Apparently, they don’t believe in standardization.)

The trip included:
  • The hottest weather I have ever experienced in my entire life. We’re talking almost unbearably HOT. At one point during Saturday night’s dinner, the restaurant owner brought all 20 something of us fans from the kitchen. It felt like you were living in a sauna all weekend.
  • Beautiful sunsets over the Pacific.
  • Delicious breakfast parfaits and even more delicious licuados (smoothies). I think I ordered approximately three licuados per day.
  • Adorable baby sea turtles! On Saturday, we visited Monterrico's sea turtle hatchery (run by the University of San Carlos). March is pretty late in sea turtle hatching season here, so we actually lucked out! This was the last weekend you could pay $1.50 to pick a baby sea turtle, bring it out onto the beach at sunset, and let it race against its friends into the ocean for its maiden trip to sea! IT WAS SO COOL. Oh, and my turtle won the race!
I'm short on blogging time today, so that's all for the Monterrico wrap-up! Enjoy all these pics though (half of which I stole from Sam). :)

Had to bring the new jellies.

Swings at the hostel!

Adorable baby sea turtles!

My little guy.

Nicole -- super excited for her turtle!

Sam and her turtle.

Turtle with both his hands up in the air.

Nicole's turtle had some issues getting into the ocean.

And a video! If you look closely, you can see the turtles racing into the ocean. But, you mostly just hear me screaming that mine is winning. Also, sorry I kept turning the camera. :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bus Strike in Guatemala

Today, we woke up completely exhausted from our weekend trip to Monterrico (more on that later this afternoon), dragged ourselves through the morning get-ready routine, and then heard during breakfast:

"No hay gente arriba."

"What do you mean there are no people upstairs?" (The volunteer houses are set down on a hillside on NPH's campus. We use "arriba" or "upstairs/up there" to mean the school and office buildings at NPH.)

"I don't know. Something about the buses. There's no one upstairs. There's no school today. The kids are all outside playing soccer, and it's 8 a.m."

As it turns out, the camionetas (our beloved chicken buses) have gone on strike today. For most people (I'm a little less phased...it felt like we had transportation strikes nearly every week in Athens haha), this is crazy. This hasn't happened in years in Guatemala, and if you've been following my blog you know that the camionetas are the main way everyone gets around the country. A bus strike means a serious shut-down.

So today, no teachers, no classes, and hardly anyone in the office. It's sort of eerily quiet at work today. (Yes, sadly, I am at work. I can't really use the bus strike as an excuse when I could throw a rock at our house door from my office desk. Bummer.)

According to the Prensa Libre, Guatemalan's main daily paper, the bus companies have gone on strike to demand higher pay and more security (Guatemala has a bad reputation for thieves holding up bus drivers and passengers). I get that they want some protection against roadside robberies, but I don't completely understand the strike demands. The camionetas of Guatemala are run by private bus companies -- who make their own rules (including what they charge us, how many of us they will cram onto one seat, and how fast they'll take the hairpin turns). I'm not exactly sure who they're aiming these demands towards -- the goverment?

Anyway, that's your Monday morning update from me! Check back later...I'm about to blog about our beach weekend spent playing with baby turtles. :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Irish Catholic Entry

Happy St. Patrick's Day from Guatemala! To immediately answer the question you're pondering, no, they don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day here. Aren't too many Irish in this part of the world. However, the American volunteers are celebrating. You can bet we are wearing our green, and tonight's plans involve two options:

1. Go out to Reilly's Irish pub in Antigua (as long as we get enough people to commit to splitting the cab back)
2. Or if #1 fails, buy a liter of Guatemalan beer and a pound of potatoes and have ourselves the best Irish meal we can come up with in Central America.

Hey, we're trying.

And since we're talking Irish and Catholicism right now, want to know something funny? Just guess what the entire NPH home gives up on Fridays during Lent.

Any ideas?


I laughed out loud when I learned this, but it's true. On Fridays, the comedor doesn't serve tortillas. Now, it's not exactly the same as giving up chocolate or soda, but tortillas are something that we're used to having every other day of the week, so I guess it's a pretty legit sacrifice.

Still, I thought that was hilarious. :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jelly Shoes!

Yeah, I know. I am fully prepared for all the teasing. Bring it on.

But it's true, on my trip to the famous market in Chichi this weekend, I bought...jelly shoes. Remember those? From the 80s? We all ran around our backyards wearing these when we were about five years old?

Well now, the jellies are making a comeback...at least in Guatemala.

When I first got here, I noticed right away that all the girls in my section wear jelly shoes after they change out of their school uniforms. I thought it was hilarious (I mean, I hadn't seen a pair in like what, 20 years?), but I also sort of thought, "Hey, those look cute on them!"

So, it sort of became a joke among friends that I wanted to buy some. Seriously. Ok, not seriously. But, actually, yeah, seriously.


I bought them in the middle of Chichi's market, showed them off to all the laughing volunteers yesterday, and am already excited to bring them to the beach this weekend. Just wait, they'll be showing up in the pages of Vogue before you all know it.

Sunday at One of Central America's Most Famous Markets

Yesterday, I visited Chichicastenango (or Chichi, for short)! Chichi is an otherwise not-too-special-town about two hours away from NPH, nestled in a cute little valley. It's pretty much your standard Guatemalan town -- except for Thursdays and Sundays. On Thursdays and Sundays, Chichi hosts its world-famous market, and it's definitely a must-see day trip.

Local artesans and farmers travel into Chichi from the surrounding Mayan villages on Wednesday or Saturday, camp out that night, and then join one of the craziest markets you'll ever see the next morning.

It wasn't that the market was necessarily huge (there are probably others that cover more ground), but it was more that it was set up like a giant maze of tarp-covered stalls selling literally everything you could want or need: fruits, veggies, meat, live animals, clothing, shoes, jewelry, toys, wooden masks, purses, yarn, kitchen utensils, and all types of tourist souvenirs. The cobblestone pathways were tiny, and they wound from one vendor to the next. I rarely had any idea where I was, and about every five feet I passed another street, jutting off with another 30 stalls. It was like I was walking through the world's biggest, most never-ending craft store. :)

Any interest in buying a live chicken?

Chichi also has two pretty white churches on either side of its main plaza (which you can visit, once you can figure out you're actually in the main plaza), and both are filled with stone platforms containing candles and flower petals. There's a decorative stone arch at one end of town, and the most colorful cemetery I have ever seen at another end! All in all, a very cute place.

Iglesia de Santo Tomás

Smaller church opposite Santo Tomás

Such a cool view of the market-covered central plaza!

El Arco

That brightly colored row of buildings? The cemetery. Crazy, huh?

So Sunday I woke up early, caught a bus to Chichi, meandered my way through the crowded market for a while, visited both churches, snapped photos of the crazy-colored cemetery, allowed myself one purchase (jelly shoes -- see the next blog entry haha), found an adorable breakfast spot, wandered the market a little bit more, then decided it was time to head back on a bus. I was back here by late afternoon.

Great town, great must-see market, great trip. Definitely a great day. Enjoy the photos!

Sam's Photos Are Way Cooler Than Mine

On Saturday, Sam and and I headed to Antigua in the morning, grabbed amazingly delicious (and cheap!) sandwiches at a tiny bakery where you had to know to ask for the sandwiches (definitely a sign that it's a good find), threw them in our backpacks, and hiked up to the top of Cerro de La Cruz for a picnic lunch with an incredible view.

This was my second time up to the cross, so I didn't take too many photos this time. Sam snapped away, however, on her fancy schmancy camera, and her pictures are just awesome. Here's our photo shoot:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tomorrow Marks Week 12

Tomorrow marks week 12 since I left a wintery Louisville and began this Guatemalan journey. I know, I know, 12 weeks isn't really that long. But, out of my 13 months here, that means I'm one-fifth of the way done. Where did that time go?!

Twelve weeks. That's really strange to think about, especially when I compare it to all my other life adventures so far.

Well let's see, a semester at William & Mary was 15 weeks. My time abroad in Greece was also 15. That best-job-ever-best-intern-class-ever-OH-EIGHT (wow I am abnoxious) summer in the 'burg was about 12. New York was only 6, and Birmingham was maybe 19. At week 12 in all these other exciting experiences of my life, I would have felt like the end was racing to a much-too-soon end. Now, I feel like I nearly just got here!

It's pretty hard for me to even imagine an adventure that lasts an entire year -- I really have trouble wrapping my head around it. These 13 months in our tin-roofed volunteer house with no sink in the kitchen where I live off of about $1.60 per day will be the longest I have slept in the same bed since...high school?

So right now, at week 12, it sort of feels like my mind is sub-consciously preparing itself to pack up and head off to the next big thing. Let's be honest, it doesn't know much else haha. But not so fast -- we're not going anywhere for a while. :)

Twelve weeks! So crazy!

Weekly Story Update 6

A Day Out for Birthdays - Every month, the Padrinos (Godparents) Department at NPH Guatemala presents each child celebrating a birthday that month with a day of treats, a special meal, and an afternoon excursion.

Italian Volunteers Bring Clown Therapy to Guatemala for Third Year - Coni VIP, a group of volunteer clowns based in Cuneo, Italy, made its third visit to Guatemala to bring smiles to the children of NPH.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

First Family Project Solo

On a Saturday morning at the end of February, I had my first solo Proyecto Familiar (or Family Project). I’ve mentioned them in an earlier blog post, but in case you’ve forgotten (or in case you aren’t religiously stalking every single new blog post of mine --??), here’s a recap.

Each volunteer does two Proyectos Familiares every month. You get together with a group of biological siblings here at NPH, and for two hours, you do whatever. Eat, make food, play games, walk to Parramos, take the bus into Chimaltenango. With the kids’ busy schedules of school and chores, they normally spend most of their time with either the other people in their classroom grade or with the other children in their section. Proyecto Familiar exists to carve out official time for families of brothers and sisters and cousins to spend some time with each other – without 300 other kids in the same room.

After starting out very Guatemalan (I had to wait 30 minutes for two of the girls to finish morning chores; had to wait another 10 minutes to track down a third sister; brother who was supposed to take the bus to NPH from the high school house in Chimaltenango was nowhere to be found), things went great!

I walked into Parramos with the three younger sisters: Irma, Estela, and Maria. We visited the market so we could buy fruit, because we’d decided we were going to make a fruit salad.

(They initially wanted to make a pizza. I said no. Lots of volunteers make pizzas during proyecto, but I was not about to attempt my first from-scratch pizza when the pressure was on. Someone mentioned ensalada de frutas? That’s what we’re going to make. Besides, you all never see fruits during meals. Fruit salad it is.)

With the money each child receives for proyecto (5 Quetzales each = about 60 U.S. cents), the girls and I bought a pound of strawberries, a small watermelon, a pineapple, and half a dozen bananas. And miraculously, as we were finishing up our shopping, older brother Hermelindo arrived in the park on a bus from Chimal. Perfect!

It was adorable to watch the girls with their older brother. Hermelindo is in his first year of bachillerato (high school), and he studies music in the capital. It’s the first year he’s not living on NPH’s campus, and it was obvious the girls miss him a lot. Once he arrived, they really had no interest in talking to me, but that’s sort of the point of these proyectos.

Hermelindo gave each of his younger sisters another quetzal to treat themselves to dulces, so the girls loaded up on candy and pastries before we headed back to NPH. They even shared the sweets with me, which was so nice, but also made me feel like the stingiest person ever. While I’m a miser about my tiny volunteer stipend, these “orphaned, abused, and abandoned” kids have no problem sharing what they have. It wasn’t the first time I’d been offered a snack that a child purchased with their own money. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt like I didn’t deserve it.

Anyway, it was back to NPH for some fruit salad time! The kids were more than excited to do everything themselves. They wanted to wash the fruit, cut it, and mix it all up. I basically wasn’t allowed to help. We played tracks of Hermelindo’s favorite songs on my computer while we assembled the ensalada, and when we finished, we had a huge bowl of delicious fruit! (And a huge mess of fruit juices all over the table and floor…oops.) We each filled up a bowl, watched the first half hour of Twilight in Spanish (Crepúsculo), and raved about how good the fruit was. (I knew scratching the pizza idea was a good idea.)

Estela in charge of las fresas (the strawberries).

Estela and older sister Irma scoop out servings of ensalada de fruta.

Yummm...ensalada de fruta!

When it was time to go, the four kids also insisted that they clean up, so we wiped down the room and headed off in our own directions. I ran off to lunch with some other volunteers.

After a shaky start, I sort of loved proyecto. Like a lot of experiences here, the getting ready part can be pretty frustrating and stressful, but once you’re actually in the moment (elbows deep in watermelon and strawberries), you sort of wonder why you were ever freaking out in the first place.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Spanish-language translations of English-language movie titles crack me up.

Un Nerd Enamorado ("A Nerd in Love") is I Love You, Beth Cooper. Triunfos Robados ("Stolen Victories") is Bring It On.

My favorite, just because I like the way the word rolls off the tongue, is the movie Twilight in Spanish. It's Crepúsculo.

Crepúsculo. CrePUSculo. Crepúsculo, Crepúsculo, Crepúsculo!

The kids here love it, and I love saying it. They think Rob Pattison is such a hunk, and I think the high-pitched, hyper female Spanish voice dubbed over Kristen Stewart's emo self is just too hilarious. 

Yes kids, we can watch Crepúsculo as many times as you want. :)

Leti and I also got a big kick out of the fact that her Spanish-language camera has a "Crespúsculo" setting for night photos. Here we are being creepy and taking Crepúsculo shots of the moon. We're easily entertained. :)

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. I didn't even know that day existed until today.

Otto and Manuel, two of our chivalrous male co-workers here in the office, just dropped by with a huge crate of flowers (well mine has no flowers yet, but it will, I tell you!), one for every woman who works in our department.

Flowers, snacks (this morning we got fresh fruit), potted plants; I get so many presents in this office. A girl could get used to this.

Banoffee Pie. Best Dessert I've Eaten in a While.

This weekend we took a trip to the tourist-heavy but very cute Rainbow Café in Antigua. It's a restaurant, live music venue, bookshop, and book swap all in one. We sat in a corner "booth" full of throw pillows and decorative curtains, and I ordered what is probably the most delicious thing I have eaten since my arrival in Guatemala.

The Banoffee Pie.

Taken straight from the website menu description, the Banoffee Pie is "A Rainbow specialty; sweet honey biscuit base, covered in a thick layer of caramel and slices of fresh banana, topped with a generous helping of fluffy cream. Dusted with chocolate powder." In my opinion, they should just call it "heaven."

I ordered it with a cold glass of milk (really, how much more perfect could it get?) and amazed my friends at how fast I scarfed it down.

Yum yum yum yum yum.

This made my day.

This too.